Momoko Ishii, 1907-2008

Author, editor, translator, and Japanese children’s literature pioneer Momoko Ishii died on April 2 at the age of 101. Although few people outside of Japan (and many people in Japan, I suspect) recognize her name, Ishii was an important figure in the development of modern Japanese children’s literature. At the very least, she should be remembered as the person who first translated Winnie-the-Pooh into Japanese.

I was introduced to Ishii’s work through a footnote in an otherwise unremarkable book on postwar Japanese children’s literature. That note led me to Ishii’s 1947 children’s book Non-chan kumo ni noru (Non-chan Rides on a Cloud), with which I fell instantly in love. Since then, I have been obsessively gathering everything I can find about Ishii–much to the puzzlement of both my American and Japanese friends and several (very helpful and patient) American and Japanese book dealers.

The news of her death makes me wish that I had been more diligent in my efforts to turn my personal research into a published article or a useful Wikipedia entry (or, more importantly, a completed MA thesis). Perhaps, if there are not permissions restrictions (and LibraryThing resolves some of its East Asian language support issues), I will enter the catalog of Katsura Bunko, Ishii’s children’s library, into the LT legacy library project.

Although, sadly, I never met Ishii, I feel this week as if I have lost a great friend, a wise mentor that I always thought would be around. In some ways, she will always be around–in her writings and in the work of her successors. Rest in peace, Ms. Ishii.

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