In Memory of Dorothy Britton and Miyoko Matsutani

By Deborah Iwabuchi, Maebashi, Japan

Totto-chanInai inai baa

Recently the world of Japanese children’s literature lost two important figures. They are not connected—except perhaps in our hearts—but I would like to note their passing here and express great appreciation for their long careers.

Translator Dorothy Britton (February 14, 1922–February 25, 2015)

The Girl with the White FlagDorothy Britton was a translator known for her renderings of bestseller Totto-chan: The Little Girl at the Window by Tetsuko Kuroyanagi (above left), as well as The Girl with the White Flag by Tomiko Higa (left).

Britton was British but born in Japan, a survivor of the 1923 Great Kanto Earthquake while an infant. She spent much of her life in Japan. The Japan Society in London had planned a launch (fully booked!) this month for Britton’s memoir, Rhythms, Rites and Rituals: My Life in Japan in Two-step and Waltz-time, but it was learned days beforehand that Britton had died. The launch became a memorial gathering. A Japan Society page provides more information on Britton’s eventful life and many accomplishments.

Author Miyoko Matsutani (Feb. 15, 1926–Feb. 28, 2015)

Little MomoAnyone who has raised a child in Japan since the 1950s will have read at least one picture book—and probably many—by prolific author Miyoko Matsutani. The titles perhaps most mentioned in Japanese media are Tatsu no ko Taro (Taro the Dragon Boy) and Chiisai Momo-chan (Little Momo, left), but many, many Japanese were introduced to reading as infants with Matsutani’s Inai inai baa (Peek-a-Boo, top right of post), published in 1967. My own children were! The Miyoko Matsutani Official Website offers photos and information about this beloved author, and the Goodreads website includes an English bio.

Matsutani enjoyed a writing career of some six decades, and dedicated herself to children’s literature. She opened up part of her home in Tokyo as a lending library, which she named Hon to ningyo no ie (The House of Books and Dolls). She was often on hand to read books to young visitors. The House of Books and Dolls remains open to the public on a regular basis.

A quick check online shows that many of Matsutani’s books have been translated into English. Many are no longer in print but available secondhand.

The works of Dorothy Britton and Miyoko Matsutani will enrich children’s lives for generations to come.

Dorothy Britton memoirThe Crane Maiden

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2 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by jwcarp on March 29, 2015 at 11:08 pm

    Thank you for these comments, Deborah. My kids loved いない いない ばあ too! Just seeing the cover brings back such warm memories. And I had the privilege of knowing Dorothy. She came and spoke at our school one summer. Just a lovely person, one of the finest women I have ever known. I always admired her rendition of the furuike-ya haiku:

    Listen! a frog jumping into the stillness of an ancient pond!

    Juliet Winters Carpenter

    Reply

  2. I just read that Totto-chan: The Little Girl at the Window is one of the world’s 50 most-translated books. This infographic shows it tied with Charlotte’s Web and Gone with the Wind!

    http://electricliterature.com/infographic-the-worlds-most-translated-books/

    Reply

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