Miyoko Matsutani:
"Futari no Iida" / "Two Little Girls Called Iida"

Naoki and Yuko visit their mother's hometown of Hiroshima from Tokyo. They encounter a small chair moving about and searching for someone. Yuko and the chair become friends and the chair insists that Yuko is Iida, the girl the chair has been looking for. Naoki seeks to solve this riddle with Ritsuko, a neighbor, and they come to learn about the tragedy wrought by the atomic bomb.

The book was published in 1969. In 1979, the International Year of the Child, the book was placed on the Hans Christian Andersen Honor List.

Moved by the A-bomb victims
War experience underscores importance of peace

Miyoko Matsutani

Born in Tokyo in 1926. Her first book, a collection of short stories for children titled "Kaininatta Kodomo" ("A Story of a Child Turned into a Shell"), was published in 1951 and won the first Japan Juvenile Literature Association Award for New Writers. She has published as many as 300 books including a series called "Chiisai Momo-chan" ("Little Momo-chan") which was modeled on her daughter. In 1970, she established, and serves as president, of an organization that pursues research on folk tales.

"Two Little Girls Called Iida" has lost none of its appeal and is still widely read today, about 40 years after it was published. As the book resolves the riddle of the child's chair in the vacant house, the sorrow for the tragedy of August 6th slowly seeps into the reader's mind. Ms. Matsutani smiled and said, "There are various kinds of war literature. In my case, I simply wrote the kind of book I wanted to write."

"You might laugh," she said, "but one day I imagined a child's chair approaching me and speaking to me. 'Where is she?' it asked. I said to the chair, 'Who are you looking for?' Later, I was on a local train, traveling to Hiroshima, and just as I arrived, I saw a victim of the atomic bombing sit down in the chair. That experience prompted me to write the book.

She finished writing the end of the story in a hotel near Peace Memorial Park. She opened a window and saw that it was snowing. "I felt their souls at rest," she recalls.

She heard from her friend, the late painter Toshi Maruki, that bodies floating in the river after the bombing flowed back into the city from the sea at high tide. She also heard the story of a convent located on an island near Hiroshima where the shadow of an A-bomb victim remained visible on the floor. "I find such stories heartbreaking, even today," Ms. Matsutani said. When she visited Hiroshima last summer, the many dead that once bobbed in the river near the A-bomb Dome stirred her mind.

"The Japanese people have to convey to the world how horrible the atomic bombs were and the huge number of victims," Ms. Matsutani said. Regarding the argument that the atomic bombs put an end to the war, she feels this view is too cold considering the fact that many thousands of people were killed.

Her own experience of war informs her writing, too. Because of food shortages at the time, she was often hungry. During the war, her family owned three houses in Tokyo and each house suffered damage. One time she was standing in a burnt field and she put on lipstick, from the only tube of lipstick she had, and thought: "Now I'm a woman, and I'll be strong."

"I survived the war so I understand how important peace is," Ms. Matsutani said. Such sentiments produced other children's books like "Machinto" and "Misako's Bombed Piano."

She has also built a community library in the garden of her house in Tokyo. The library for children is open every Saturday. People from the community read aloud books and tell stories illustrated with picture cards. Puppet shows are performed, too. Through these activities, she promotes the ideas of an open mind and peace. "I try to do this with children's books, literature, and storytelling. If I can be helpful to people, I feel very happy," she said with a smile. (Rie Nii, Staff Writer)

My Reaction ..Miyu Sakata

The sorrow of the chair, as it clattered along looking for the girl, touched my heart. If you suddenly lost something that had been part of your life for a long time, you would grieve. Such grief linked the chair to Yuko and Ritsuko, I think.

However, I wonder if something couldn't have been done in order to prevent the chair from falling to pieces after it heard the truth from Naoki? If the chair had been a human being, it would be as if losing the will to live.

I was deeply moved by Naoki's last words of prayer for happiness.