One of Japan’s foremost writers of children’s literature, Niimi Nankichi (1913-1943) was born in the city of Handa, Aichi Prefecture, which lies almost in the center of the Japanese archipelago.
Nankichi’s childhood was a lonely one. His mother died when he was just four years old and he was adopted into his mother’s parents’ family four years later. He began writing children’s stories when he was in junior high school, and published his debut work, "Gon, the Little Fox", at the tender age of 18. He went on to study English literature at the Tokyo University of Foreign Studies, but illness later forced him to return to his hometown. He worked there as a teacher at a girls high school while continuing to write. In 1942, he published his first collection of children’s stories, called Grandfather’s Lamp. Sadly, the following year, he died of tuberculosis. He was 29 years old.
The many children’s stories, novels, poems, nursery songs, and plays he left behind were published one after the other after his death. His works, which have a rich sense of story and are filled with humor and pathos, convey universal themes of the meeting of hearts in the midst of sadness and of the beauty of life, set against the scenery of his hometown of Handa. Even today, his stories are much loved by many in Japan.
In recent years, the rest of the world has had the opportunity to read Nankichi’s works, with picture books and children’s story collections published in other countries such as China, South Korea, the United States, France, and Germany.
Nankichi Niimi is well known as a favorite author of Michiko, the Empress Consort of Japan.
When Empress Michiko gave a speech about the books she had read as a child to the International Board on Books for Young People in 1998, she made particular mention of Nankichi’s children’s story, "The Sorrow of a Snail (Denden Mushi no Kanashimi)", as one that had left a deep impression on her heart.
"Denden Mushi no Kanasimi" Pictures: Yasumasa Suzuki. Publisher: Shinjusha ▶
▲"Denden Mushi no Kanasimi
Pictures: Yasumasa Suzuki
Niimi Nankichi wrote "Gon, the Little Fox" when he was just 18 years old. It was published in "Akai Tori" (Red Bird), a children’s magazine that was very famous at the time. The story has been included in elementary school textbooks in Japan continuously since 1956 and it is one of the most beloved of children’s stories among the Japanese populace.
"Gon, the Little Fox", begins with the words, ‘I heard this story from Mohei, an old man in my village.’ It is a sad story that ends with Gon being shot.
However, even amid that sadness, readers have loved Gon and, transcending the generations, it continues to be read today.
Paper art: Sumiko Sakakibara
A memorial literary museum which houses handwritten manuscripts, correspondence, etc. of Niimi Nankichi. It is built on the ground which was the stage for "Gon, the Little Fox". In the fairy tale forest, there is a walking route where you can observe the plants that appear in the story.
In this room, the life and the literary activities of Niimi Nankichi are introduced, with the display of such materials as the manuscripts of his own handwritting, some of his works,his diary and letters.
The literary world of Nankichi can also be learned through the georama and the video theater of his best works and the various programs offered in the audiovisual corner.
In the reading room are collected not only Nankichi's complete works and picture books but also critiques and books on his life,literature of Japanese juvenile literature and the local historical information on this area.They will help you increase your understanding of Nankichi's literature.
|Closed||Mondays, 2nd Tuesday of every month (open on holidays and substitute holidays and close the following day), year end and new year period|
|Fee||220 yen (free for middle school students and under), 170 yen per person for groups of 20 people or more|
|Transportation||5 miunutes'drive from the Handa Central Interchange on the Chita Peninsula
20 minutes on foot from Handaguchi Station on the Meitetsu Kowa Line
>>View location on google map
|Parking lot||57 cars · 2 for disabled · 3 dedicated buses (free)|
|Address||1 Chome-10-1 Yanabe Nishimachi,Handa-shi|
From the Edo period, the city of Handa when Nankichi was born had a flourishing brewing industry, producing Japanese sake, vinegar and the like. Remnants of the city’s past can still be seen in the traditional kura warehouses that even today line the banks of the Handa Canal.
Handa has many traditional festivals and the city’s ten districts have 31 dashi floats between them. From spring through to early summer, these giant floats are pulled through the streets in lively scenes, amazing tourists with their elaborate carvings, gorgeous embroidery, and karakuri puppets.
▲Handa Canal, lined with brewer's kura warehouses
▲Handa Dashi Festival, at which all 31 dashi floats come together once every five years.
▲The red brick building that was built as a beer brewery at the end of the 19th century.
In the Yanabe district of Handa City, where Niimi Nankichi was born, the house where he was born and many of the temples and shrines depicted in his works still exist today. The Yakachi River that runs to the north of the district is the setting of "Gon, the Little Fox". In late September, the river levee is ablaze with the red blooms of the same spider lilies mentioned in the story.
▲The house where Nankichi was born
▲3 million spider lilies blooming by the Yakachi River