Takao Murayama

Books for Tomorrow Project for Children

August 25, 2012 in London

Takao Murayama President of JBBY

Good morning, everyone. Thank you for coming despite the early morning rain. My name is Takao Murayama. I am the president of JBBY. I am so happy to see so many early birds. The number is more than I had expected.

First of all, on behalf of JBBY, I would like to express my sincere gratitude to all the people and participants who have taken an interest in and are supporting children in the great earthquake-stricken area in the eastern part of Japan. I am also deeply grateful to IBBY and the UK branch of IBBY for giving us this opportunity to talk about the Books for Tomorrow Project for Children.


‘March 11’ sounds leaden for us. On that day, I was in the Japan Open-Air Folk House Museum in Kawasaki City, adjacent to Tokyo. About fifteen minutes before three o’clock, one of the watchmen asked me, “Is that an earthquake?” “I didn’t feel any earth tremor,” was what I answered, as the earth began to sway. I soon felt great shocks that I had never experienced before. Then I was shaken by an enormous sway. I barely managed to stay on my feet as I grasped onto a fence. It felt like the tremor was endless.

Right after the tremor had died down, the disaster cable broadcast simply repeated, “There has been an earthquake, and the intensity registered over five in Kawasaki City.” I wondered where the epicenter was and worried about my family. However, the lines were dead. In addition, all the trains stopped running. A few hours later, I took a bus and then began walking to my house. On the way home, there was a huge crowd of people walking to their own homes, and there were also unbelievable traffic jams. My journey took four hours. Fortunately, there was no blackout. I turned on the TV as soon as I got back to my house.

The TV was showing the bay of Kesen’numa engulfed in flames from burning crude oil. Finally, I realized what had happened to Japan. A magnitude 9.0 earthquake, the name of which would later be called the Great East Japan Earthquake, spawned a massive tsunami off Miyagi Prefecture that wreaked havoc over the Pacific Coast on the eastern side of Japan. Kawasaki City is about 400 km from the epicenter. You can easily imagine that the Great East Japan Earthquake was frighteningly enormous.

Extensive Damage from Earthquake, Tsunami, and Radioactivity

The earthquake caused extensive damage from Hokkaido to Tokyo. Moreover, the earthquake and the tsunami caused hydrogen explosions at the Fukushima No.1 Nuclear Power Plant. The radiation readings in those areas have been high ever since three reactors at the plant went into meltdown. The radioactive contamination has devastated the population, agriculture, commerce, industry, culture, and the lives of all the people, not only in the earthquake-stricken area but also in other areas. In particular, most of the children in Fukushima Prefecture have either not been able to play outside at all or have played insufficiently.

According to the government statistics, the fatalities are 15,867 including more than 700 children and the number of missing is 2,904 as of July, 2012. One year after the Great Earthquake, about 270 thousand people are forced to take refuge from their own hometowns and villages. The main disaster zone extended over Iwate, Miyagi, and Fukushima Prefectures. Cultural institutions also suffered in the earthquake; for example, according to the NDL Research Report, 251 library facilities reported physical damage. In Iwate Prefecture, Rikuzentakata City Library, Otsuchi Town Library, Noda Village Library, and Ofunato City and Sanriku Community Center Library Room were completely destroyed by the tsunami. With regards to human casualties, all seven staff members at Rikuzentakata City Library were either killed or are still missing. That is why we have been running a temporary library in Rikuzentakata City, which I will talk about later.

Miyagi Prefecture has been in the same situation. In Fukushima Prefecture, there are six public libraries, such as Odaka Library in Minamisoma City, within the Restricted Area, which is within 20 km of the Fukushima No.1 Nuclear Power Plant, and entry to those libraries is prohibited.

Immediately after the Great Earthquake, many rescue teams and volunteers at home and from abroad entered the devastated area to carry out the initial phase of the relief effort and to support the victims. I would like to extend our sincere gratitude once again to people all over the world who have offered the hand of assistance.

Several Preceding Activities for Children in Disaster-Devastated Area

Several groups, such as ‘March 11 Iwate Picture Books Project,’ led by Chieko Suemori, ‘Hug and Read,’ led by Crayon House, Japan Committee for UNISEF, the Grass Roots Support of the International Children’s Bunko Association (ICBA) UK Branch, led by Yoko Morishima, and ‘Chiisai Ouchi’ , or in English, ‘The Little House’, supported by the Tokyo Children’s Library, started sending children’s books to the disaster-stricken areas. The leader supporting ‘The Little House’ is Kyoko Matsuoka, who is a former international judge of the Hans Christian Andersen Awards. It is very interesting that a trailer house was utilized to build ‘The Little House.’ It is mobile.

The earliest among those activities for children was ‘March 11 Iwate Picture Books Project.’ This picture books project, which made a big impact on our society, will be reported by Chieko Suemori. As you know, she is a former board member of IBBY. In addition, some organizations such as the International Library of Children’s Literature, which is a branch of the National Diet Library, are among those to have set up websites for collecting and sending disaster-related information so that the networks involved in supporting activities will be well prepared.

Books for Tomorrow Project for Children

Now, I would like to focus on the Books for Tomorrow Project for Children. This project was launched in May 2011. The project has been run by four non-profit institutions related to children’s books; Japan P.E.N. Club, Japan Publishers Club, Japan Publishing Industry Foundation for Culture, and JBBY. The mission of this project is to support children and to let them feel people’s heartfelt encouragement by providing books for children on a long-term basis because books are rather important for those children to escape from the trauma or to enter a world other than that they have just experienced under the most terrible of circumstances. This project consists of six main activities; Charity Auctions of Original Artworks, bookmobile visits, holding fun events, running a temporary library (the ‘Rainbow Library’), delivery of the ‘Daijoubudayo’ Package (or The Smile and Carry on Package), and Nomaoi Bunko (small libraries in Minamisoma City, Fukushima Prefecture). The last two activities will be reported by Hisako Kakuage, who is a clinical developmental psychologist. She has also been working to promote the understanding of books for children with disabilities for many years.

I will explain the other activities of our project in order.

This picture shows one of the exhibitions for the Charity Auction of Original Artworks from Children’s Books in Tokyo. Charity auctions to raise funds for this project were organized. In responding to the appeal for authors and illustrators of children’s books to donate their original artworks, 259 original works by 133 artists were collected. These donations came from artists even outside Japan, and we are very thankful for their contribution. With those works beautifully framed, exhibitions and auctions in 11 places were held, both in urban areas and the disaster-affected areas. Online auctions were also made available on the Internet. The second plan has been put forward to practice sustainable support for children. We really would be very appreciative if as many authors and illustrators as possible donate their own artworks to our project. Please convey our intentions to illustrators in your countries.

This picture shows Bookmobile Visits to Fukushima. With 2,000 books loaded onto a refurbished, second-hand bookmobile bus, which had been lent from the Society for the Promotion of Japanese Diplomacy and SAPESI-Japan, the project members have regularly visited elementary schools and kindergartens in the Fukushima and Sanriku coastal regions. It aims to expose children in these devastated areas to the joy of reading as well as giving each a copy of his or her favorite as a gift. In April 2012, regular circulation of the books was started along with visits to the parking lots at the supermarkets of SEVEN & i Holdings Co., Ltd., where people in the area gather, and they can return borrowed books.

This picture shows Fun Events; a puppet theater by Akiko Sueyoshi, author of children’s books. In addition, there is a picture-story board by Yumiko Sakuma, translator of children’s books. With the co-operation of story-telling volunteers, authors, and illustrators, various events, such as, storytelling, picture-story boards, workshops, and puppet shows have been held in order to encourage children to take an interest in books, as well as to enrich their minds. On Christmas Day last, a famous actress in Japan, Juri Ueno, attended our Christmas Caravan to the tsunami-stricken areas and read picture books for children. She had experienced the Great Hanshin-Awaji Earthquake in 1995.

This picture shows the ‘Rainbow Library.’ As I have already mentioned, all the libraries in Rikuzentakata City were entirely lost along with many other public facilities. It had become crucial to create a place where children could feel at home. The ‘Rainbow Library’ was built and donated by MITSUI & Co., Ltd. Moreover, with considerable support by various organizations and companies, the ‘Rainbow Library’ was opened on November 11. This library service runs on every Wednesday and weekends, while offering a collection of 3,000 children’s books and a comfortable space. The library, with its electric lights, glows in the enveloping darkness in the completely devastated region of Rikuzentakata City. I heard a story from the director of the library, Soko Araki, that one evening a driver caught sight of the Rainbow Library’s lights, and the driver felt so happy. Its lights have become a symbol of hope and comfort for the people.

Jella Lepman’s Firm Practice: a Guidepost of Certainty for our Project

I have also heard many times from the earthquake victims, “If you don’t forget us, we can make our own efforts for reconstruction.” They spoke for all the people in the devastated areas around the world. It is absolutely essential to sustain support, so I would like to ask you to “Never forget the children of the earthquake, tsunami and the radioactive-contaminated areas in Japan.” In addition, we should say, “Never forget the children of Haiti, Indonesia, Afghanistan, Lebanon, and all the war and disaster-stricken areas.”

It will take a lot of time to reconstruct the devastated lands in the eastern part of Japan. The more time it takes, the more difficulties our project will encounter. Even under these severe circumstances, we should learn again from Lepman’s actual practices after the Second World War in Germany.

In rebuilding order from chaos, Jella Lepman thought, “If one is to believe in peaceful coexistence, the first messengers of that peace will be children’s books.” Then, she proposed the idea of an international children’s book exhibition and set about organizing it. This budding effort eventually paved the way for the founding of both the International Youth Library in Munich and the International Board on Books for Young People. She realized the fruits of her ideas in rapid succession. I think there are three main points we should learn from her. The first is that she resolved to provide books as ‘spiritual nourishment,’ as well as food, to children through her inspirational observation of children in chaos. The second is that she maintained her will without discouragement under terrible circumstances. The third is that she discussed her ideal with her colleagues or friends over the border and established a broad base of support for children’s books. When we let children maintain hope in their own lives, we, the elder generation, should never give up our will to keep supporting children in devastated areas under any circumstances. Her firm practice provides a guidepost of certainty for our Books for Tomorrow Project for Children.

Ladies and gentlemen, thank you so much for your very kind attention.


(1) Damage Statistics on Casualties, National Police Agency, Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology (as of July, 2012)

(2) The Japan Times Special Report: 3.11 One Year On, Japan Times, 2012, p.8.

(3) NDL Research Report No.13, “The Great East Japan Earthquake and Libraries,” National Diet Library, 2012, p.328, 330, 333.

(4) Foreign Ministry, International Rescue Teams Offering Assistance in Disaster-Hit Areas (Data of March 29, 2011) (from the Japan Times Special Report, A Chronicle of Events Following the Great East Japan Earthquake, The Japan Times, 2011, p.25.)

(5) ‘A Bridge of Children’s Books: the Inspiring Autobiography of a Remarkable Woman,’ O’Brien Press, 2002, p.5.