Monday, 18 April 2016

Momo and Akane

I wrote about the first books in this series by MATSUTANI Miyoko (松谷みよ子) two years ago. As then, the volume I've just been reading contains two separate books, published together in one paperback. The first モモちゃんとアカネちゃん (Momo chan to Akane chan, Momo and Akane, 1974) gives its title to the paperback reprint, the second is the slightly later, ちいさいアカネちゃん (chiisai Akane chan, Little Akane, 1978). The stories follow little Momo, who is just entering primary school at the start of the first book, and the rest of the family, her baby sister Akane, her mother and father, and the cat Pū. Akane, who goes from a newborn baby to a two year old by the second book, gets a little more attention than Momo.

The books are made up of linked short stories, each complete in themselves, but often preparing later developments. Almost all contain some element of fantasy; but the heart of the story is not fantasy but the depiction of life in a modern Japanese family. The fantasy element serves as metaphor or other comment on some aspect of family life, or reflects the way that a young child sees the world. The style is often whimsical, although the subject matter is not always so light.

Perhaps because of her sickness, mama's eyesight seemed to have gone wrong. Sometimes papa would be visible, sometimes not. It was like this.

Papa came home in the evening. 

Trudge, trudge.

Mama recognised papa's footsteps straight away.

Ring, ring, the doorbell rang, and mama flew out to open it. But papa was not standing there. All there was was papa's shoes.

That was it. Mama gazed at the shoes not knowing what to do. How on earth was she to give an evening meal to shoes? It would be ridiculous to say, "The bath is ready" to shoes. All mama could do was wipe the dust off the shoes, rub in shoe cream and polish them with a rag. She polished them so long that they sparkled. Mama's tears dropped onto them.

The next morning the shoes left the house again.

 Not surprisingly, the parents separate towards the end of Momo and Akane; and Little Akane follows mama, Momo and Akane getting by in a smaller house with mama trying to manage work and family alone.

The fantastic elements of the stories mostly comes from the attribution of human understanding to animals or inanimate objects (like the clumsily knitted baby socks that Akane's mother made while she was pregnant). Occasionally more familiar figures appear, both western (Santa Claus) and JapaneseHere Momo and Akane have been thrown off the new red sledge that their grandfather made for them.

Just below them there was a deep ravine.

"There it is, the sledge, there it is."

When Momo peered in the direction that Akane was pointing, she saw a figure wearing a white kimono with long white hair. Even so, it was a young woman. She was standing by the sledge on the floor of the valley. 

"Akane." Momo clasped Akane to her.

"Thank you ..... Thank you for the red sledge. I'd have liked to get you two as well, to take you to my place with me; but since you gave me the sledge, I'll let you off ....."

Ho ho ho ho ho, the laughing voice echoed, hyuuh, the wind blew.  The woman raised her hand, and from around it snow drifted in spiralling clouds.
The general trend of the books is optimistic, while still showing some of the sadness built into the experience of family life and growing up.

According to the Japan Foundation's Books in Translation database, there is a translation of the first of these books, モモちゃんとアカネちゃん, as Momo-chan and Akane-chan by M. McCandless (Kodansha International, 1987).

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