In comparison to the legendary director Hayao Miyazaki who adapted Kiki’s Delivery Service for the silver screen, the name Eiko Kadono remains lesser-known outside of Japan. As the author of the eponymous children's book series, Kadono has written and published more than 200 books in her career. At the age of 83, this respected children's author still exudes the curiosity and vivacity of a child.
We met the respected author at this year’s China International Children’s Book Fair, to find out about her inspirations and work ethics that have yielded such long-term success.
What made you decide to become a children’s writer?
I lived in Brazil in my 20s. When I was 34, a professor from college encouraged me to write about my years abroad. I’ve always enjoyed reading, but through the process of writing this book, I discovered my passion for children’s writing, too. I decided this would be my career. My first book (Brazil and My Friend Luizinho) was published when I was 35, and the second book came along when I was 42. So, you could say I’m a late-bloomer.
Are Kiki’s stories based on your own experiences of living abroad?
Yes, they are. When I went to Brazil, I thought speaking English was enough for me to meet people and, well, to survive. It wasn’t so easy. I had to find a job quickly to support myself, and I missed my homeland immensely while I was there. During the most challenging times, I fed on just milk and bread for weeks. But, whenever the breeze blew into my room, I would rediscover my courage to go out, meet the local people and work again. Kiki is like that, too.
Poster for Studio Ghibli's 1989 feature-length adaption of Kiki's Delivery Service. Image via Studio Ghibli/IMDB
Can you tell us about your daily routine?
I prefer to work alone. Every day from 10am to 3pm I devote myself to writing. My only daughter got married and lives elsewhere, so now I have all the time to write.
Do you see yourself as a feminist writer?
Not consciously. Though I was born in Japan in 1935, so you could say I was perhaps always dealing with patriarchy in my books. When I was writing Kiki’s Delivery Service, I simply thought, “Why can’t a little girl be a wizard, too?" As you know, Kiki only has one magical power, which is flying. It is limited, but in my books, everyone has one magical power, and that makes each of them unique.
Book cover for the new Kadokawa Bunko edition of Kiki's Delivery Service. Image via Amazon.com
Can you recommend to families in Shanghai any books you used to read?
My father used to tell me old Japanese tales, and episodes from Chinese classics like Journey to the West and Romance of the Three Kingdoms. I also grew up with Hans Christian Andersen’s stories. Tom’s Midnight Garden by English author Philippa Pearce is also one of my favorites.
[Cover image via China International Children's Book Fair]