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Japanese Picture book Author Wins Prestigious Award (July 7, 2005)

Arai Ryoji (Photo by Tamura Naoki)
The Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award (ALMA) is given annually to authors, illustrators, and storytellers who help stimulate and promote interest in children's and youth literature around the world. The prize is also aimed at maintaining the spirit of the late Lindgren, the Swedish author of the popular Pippi Longstockings series of children's books. This year, one of the two recipients was picture book author Arai Ryoji, the first Japanese to receive the prize. He shared the award with Philip Pullman from Britain.

"Genuine and Truly Poetic"
In deciding the award in March, the ALMA judges described Arai as "an illustrator with a style all of his own: bold, mischievous, and unpredictable. His picture books glow with warmth, playful good humor, and an audacious spontaneity that appeals to children and adults alike. In adventure after adventure, color flows through his hands in an almost musical way. As a medium for conveying stories to children, his art is at once genuine and truly poetic, encouraging children to paint and to tell their own stories."

Arai was born in Yamagata Prefecture in 1956. During his career, he proved himself as the most prominent author of illustrated books during the 1990s by picking up numerous awards and other distinctions. His book Melody was published in 1990. The following year Yukkuri to Jojoni (Slowly and Gradually), released by Holp Shuppan, Publishers, was chosen to represent Japan in the Ezra Jack Keats Award for new authors of illustrated books. Arai has also received the Shogakukan Children's Publishing Award, a special award at the Bologna Children's Book Fair, and the Kodansha Publishing Cultural Award for Illustrated Books.

The works of Arai shown at a press conference

Besides authoring picturebooks, Arai has worked on projects involving advertising, stage art, and music, and he has held workshops teaching youngsters how to make their own illustrated books. "It's strange for me to get the award, since my books aren't even translated into English," he told the Japanese media. "The time that children spend in contact with their illustrated books is short. So I would like to offer Japanese illustrated books to the children of the world."

For the ALMA award, he and Pullman each received 2.5 million Swedish krona, or about ¥38 million (about $362,000 at ¥105 to the dollar). It was the third ALMA award to be presented since its establishment by the Swedish government in 2003.

Finding Older Audiences
News of Arai's award seems to have given a further boost to the picture book industry in Japan, which was already experiencing something of a boom. Although Japan's declining birthrate has been squeezing the traditional children's market, picture books are finding new readers among adults, who see them as a pleasant way to relax and are also attracted to their cute and appealing images.

The works of Arai shown at a press conference

Apart from love-themed publications aimed at grown-up readers, illustrated books that have enjoyed prolonged popularity in Japan among readers of various age groups include Hyakumankai Ikita Neko (The Cat That Lived a Million Times), written by Sano Yoko and published by Kodansha, and Arashi no Yoru ni (One Stormy Night . . .), written by Kimura Yuichi, illustrated by Abe Hiroshi, and published by Kodansha.

There is clearly a lot more to illustrated books than mere child's play. That, at least, was the conclusion of a report by the Bandai Character Laboratory. In its study examining changing attitudes to picture books, the laboratory found that the books play an important role in facilitating communication between children and their mothers, while many mothers also derive entertainment and relaxation from flipping through their pages.

In some cases, the books' owners need not even open them to be satisfied. The Bandai report also found that illustrated books are effective as decorative objects that give a room a sense of comfort and affluence.

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Copyright (c) 2005 Web Japan. Edited by Japan Echo Inc. based on domestic Japanese news sources. Articles presented here are offered for reference purposes and do not necessarily represent the policy or views of the Japanese Government.

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