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Invitation to Children's Literature

Masayoshi Ikeda
Professor Emeritus, Chuo University
Area of Specialization: Small and medium-sized business theory


I have just published a book titled Sekai no Jidou Bungaku wo Meguru Tabi (A Journey Through the World of Children's Literature) from X-Knowledge Co., Ltd. This book introduces the background of the stories and the sources of their creation by visiting and photographing the settings of world-famous works such as Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, The Tale of Peter Rabbit, The Secret Garden, and The Wonderful Adventures of Nils.

As the title of this book implies, I traveled around the world in search of the settings of works of children's literature in various countries, with a particular focus on the United Kingdom. In these places, the worlds of the stories are not fictional. You can see it with your own eyes, with real-life scenes and models set up in the background.

Some of the settings I explored for this subject include a Roman fort built 2,000 years ago (Sutcliff's Roman Britain Trilogy), a manor house where Mary, Queen of Scots was imprisoned (Alison Uttley's A Traveler in Time") and a rose garden full of vines (Burnett's The Secret Garden). The settings and time periods may vary, but what they all have in common is that they still exist in the real world, and can be easily reached if you want to visit them.

It was 40 years ago that I came up with the idea of exploring the settings found in children's literature. At that time, I was a professor at Chuo University's Faculty of Economics. My expertise at the university was the theory of small and medium-sized businesses, and children's literature was a hobby that had nothing to do with that. Because of this, it was unthinkable for me to spend a lot of money and effort to go on a journey to explore the settings of children's literature.

However, through a strange turn of events, this project suddenly started to take off. In the 1980s, Japan's automotive industry was rapidly gaining global competitiveness, and was on the verge of conquering the US market, which led to serious troubles surrounding export reductions between Japan and the United States. Around this time, MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology) took the lead in organizing the International Motor Vehicle Program to explore the secrets behind the rapid progress of Japanese cars, and I joined the program as a researcher of subcontractors.

Since then, I have conducted research on the automotive industries of Europe and the United States on numerous occasions, and in my spare time I toured the settings of famous works of children's literature in Europe, achieving results beyond my expectations.

The photos and materials collected during these tours have been edited according to themes, and explanations have been added. Since then, I have been invited to public libraries and children's libraries across Japan to present a slide show titled "A Journey Through Children's Literature." By then, I had compiled 46 slides by theme, and in the last 20 years I have held nearly 1,000 slide shows. All of these shows were for small groups of 30 to 40 people, and this volunteer organization has expanded from the Tohoku region to Okinawa in the west.

Some of the feedback I received from participants include that they were able to clearly visualize the worlds of the works of literature, that they could enjoy traveling abroad vicariously, and that the show caused them to want to read the books again. I received many such encouraging comments of wonder and joy. I also received many requests to compile a book with slides on the subject of the journey through children's literature.

I remained too busy to act on this request due to the many volunteer activities I was involved in. However, at the end of 2019, I received a request from X-Knowledge Co., Ltd. to start writing the book and I started working on it with the goal of publishing it in October 2020.

Having been close to children's literature for many years, I have come to realize that in the best works of children's literature (which are mostly found in the UK, a country known as a treasure house of children's literature), there are concrete settings and models behind the stories, and by searching for them you can broaden and deepen your interest in the story.

Fascinated by this new way of enjoying children's literature, I have spent the latter half of my life tirelessly exploring it, and have shared the results with mothers who have a deep love of children's literature. In fact, if you read the chapters on Knight's Fee, A Traveler in Time, and Tom's Midnight Garden in this book, you will understand how wonderful these discoveries were, and how they filled me with joy.

They say that children's literature is akin to treasure hunting for children, but for me, who grew up during World War II and missed my opportunity to encounter these valuable works, I wanted to experience as an adult the treasure hunting that I was not able to experience as a child. However, if I were honest, I would have much preferred to go treasure hunting as a child. Considering this, I hope to help today's children, who are often too distracted by video games to read, experience excellent children's literature and the joy of treasure hunting. This is my heartfelt wish.

Masayoshi Ikeda
Professor Emeritus, Chuo University
Area of Specialization: Small and medium-sized business theory

Masayoshi Ikeda was born in Tochigi in 1932.

He was a trustee at the Tokyo Children's Library. He is passionate about children's literature, and visits the settings of the stories to photograph the scenery associated with them.

He was awarded the 2011 Japan-British Society Award.