World of Japanese Picture Books

Brought to Life through Reading and Music


The World of Japanese Picture Books is an educational programme introducing a fascinating Japanese culture, which pianist and composer Motoki Hirai has been promoting globally as Artistic Director since 2007. It provides a true platform for participatory international cultural exchange.


(2007 - 2012) 

Video Edited by Noriko Sugiura



【Background】

The project began in 2007, when the prevailing Japanese Ambassador to Denmark, Masaki Okada, initiated the Japan Culture Festival to be held in Frederikshavn in August that year, which would introduce the audience to the fantastic world of Japanese picture books through ‘Reading, Music and Images’.  He commissioned composer-pianist Motoki Hirai, who happened to be in Copenhagen for piano recitals, to write music based on and inspired by three picture books including one by the famous Kenji Miyazawa, and thus ‘A Suite of Picture Books’ was born.

For its world première on 17 August 2007, at which the mayor of Frederikhavn and many foreign diplomats were present, images from the stories were shown while a prominent Danish actress read the three stories in Danish, preceded and followed by the four pieces of music Hirai had newly written, performed live by two violinists. It received great acclaim as ‘a project which has depths in its content in that it is artistically excellent and highly entertaining yet significant in terms of “introducing a culture unique to Japan, encouraging cultural dialogues between nations, and promoting education”’.

In 2008, the piece saw its UK première (read in English for the first time) at the Westminster Academy, London, for senior school students (supported by the Japanese Embassy as well as the Japan Society in the UK, and sponsored by All Nippon Airways) and was received with great enthusiasm. 

Since its successful première in Denmark, the ‘World of Japanese Picture Books’ has been performed in many countries in a variety of languages across the UK, Europe, the USA, Middle East and Africa at venues including theatres, concert halls, festivals, institutes and schools.



【Project Aim and Significance】

1.  It is a fresh attempt at bringing both classic and contemporary Japanese picture books and fairy tales, including those which have been loved by many for so long and translated into several languages, to the world through a collaboration between images, reading and live music.

2.  It allows the audience outside of Japan to appreciate and relish the unique Japanese culture, made ever more charming by the beautiful pictures which is very different from the manga (anime) or TV games that have become hugely popular.

3.  It provides a true platform for participatory international cultural exchange (e.g. in the 2012 performances in Israel, the Jews and Arabs performed together, representing hopes to achieve peace through ‘soft power’). The flexible setup allows for the reading to be done in Japanese or in the local language, whilst the performers can be either or more often a mixture of both. Picture books and folklores from other countries maybe introduced as well, which could act as an interesting cultural comparison.

4.  There are profound messages and universal themes embedded in each of the stories which are particularly relevant to the modern society - including environmental issues, human greed or arrogance, the side effect of civilization, peace, life and death, and family ties. The music is placed in such a way to enhance the experience.

5.  The stories, the pictures and the music together create fantastic high-quality entertainment which can be enjoyed by adults and children alike.


【Overview】

Picture Books:

 

‘A Tree of Courage’

 Story by Ryusuke Saito 1971
Pictures by Jiro Takidaira (1971)
Published by Iwasaki Shoten (1971

 ‘The Restaurant of Many Orders’

Story by Kenji Miyazawa (1924)
Pictures by Koji Suzuki (1987)
Published by Miki House (1987)

 ‘A Cat Who Lived A Million Times’

Story and pictures by Yoko Sano1977
Published by Kodansha (1977)

‘Urashima-Taro’      

Story – Traditional (ca. 5th century)
Pictures by Shiro Kasamatsu (1953)
Published by Kodansha (1953)

‘Run, Melos!’

Story by Osamu Dazai (1940)
Pictures by Tuuga Takeuchi 2009
Published by Holp Shuppan (2009)

‘The Cat and Tanabata’

Story by Shinsuke Takasaki (2013)
Pictures by Pana Stamos (2013)
Published by Oxford Brookes University (2013)

‘The Grateful Crane’

Story – Traditional (ca. 9th century)
Pictures by Peter Daly (2013)
Published by Oxford Brookes University (2013)

‘Hana-Oni’
Story by Bunnoh Fujisawa (2006)
Pictures by Toshiya Kobayashi2006
Published by Bungeisha (2006)

 

 Music:

‘Suite for 3 Picture Books’
Composed by Motoki Hirai (2007)

‘Music for “A Tree of Courage” ’

Composed by Motoki Hirai (2007)

‘Music for “The Restaurant of Many Orders” ’

Composed by Motoki Hirai (2011)

‘Music for “A Cat Who Lived A Million Times” ’

Composed by Motoki Hirai (2011)

‘Music for “Urashima-Taro” ’

Composed by Motoki Hirai (2012)

‘Music for “Run, Melos!” ’

Composed by Motoki Hirai (2013)

‘Music for “The Cat and Tanabata” ’

Composed by Motoki Hirai (2014)

‘Music for “The Grateful Crane” ’

Composed by Motoki Hirai (2014)

‘Music for “Hana-Oni” ’
Composed by Motoki Hirai (2014)

 

【Instrumentation】

Two Violins or Piano Solo
(with Japanese Taiko Drum, Cello, Viola, Flute or Japanese Bamboo Flute, optional)


【Duration】  

10 – 90 mins*

*Each of the Picture Books can be performed on its own or can be combined in any order to fit the venue or meet any time constraints, giving it great flexibility.  It can be combined with poetry reading, lecture, roundtables and panel discussions.  They can be used as part of a concert programme as well.



【Suggested Programme l】

Music 1: Prologue (c. 3 mins)
Reading (& Images): 'A Tree of Courage' (c. 8 mins)
Music 2: Interlude (c. 3 mins)
Reading (& Images): 'The Restaurant of Many Orders' (c. 17-25 mins)
Music 3: Romanza (c. 4 mins)
Reading (& Images): 'A Cat Who Lived A Million Times' (c. 8 mins)
Music 4: Epilogue (c. 4 mins)  
             ~Interval~   

Reading and Music* with Images: ‘Urashima-Taro’
( * short musical pieces are played between each scene)

(c. 30-40 mins)


【Suggested Programme II】

Reading and Music* with Images: ‘A Tree of Courage’         (c. 15 mins)
Reading and Music* with Images: ‘A Cat Who lived A Million Times’

( * short musical pieces are played between each scene)
Reception, Concert or Lecture, etc.

(c. 15 mins)



【Capacity】

Anywhere between 30 and 1,000

 


【Venues】

Theatres, Art Centres, Concert Halls, Museums, Embassies or Consulate Buildings, Cultural Institutes, Schools, Colleges, Universities, Nurseries, Research Institutes, Hospitals, Care Homes, Conference Rooms, Multi Media Rooms, Festivals, Japan-related Events, etc.

 

【Media & Press Reviews】

‘…In the modern era plagued by nationalism, tribalism, religious conflicts and poverty, I believe there are many wonderful aspects of Japanese culture that we can introduce to the world signified by this fantastic project – I sincerely hope that it will be shared with and passed onto the Japanese younger generation in particular, as well as globally.


 

 


# Chopin Magazine (Hanna: July 2014)

 

 

 


# ‘Miwaku-no Denmark’, written by Masaki Okada (Former Ambassador to Denmark), (Shinhyoron: 2012)

 


# Monetary and Fiscal Business (Jiji Press: 28 May, 2012)

‘…In the modern era plagued by nationalism, tribalism, religious conflicts and poverty, I believe there are many wonderful aspects of Japanese culture that we can introduce to the world signified by this fantastic project – I sincerely hope that it will be shared with and passed onto the Japanese younger generation in particular, as well as globally.’

----- Monetary and Fiscal Business (Jiji Press)

 


【Notable Performances】
 
 
August, 2007  
Country: Denmark 【World première
Venue:  Japan Culture Festival (Frederikshavn)
Audience:  Adults (Mayor, Government Officials, Diplomats etc.)
Reading: Danish

Music:  
Organised by:
Supported by:   

Two Violins

Embassy of Japan in Denmark
Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Japan, etc.

Supported by: Embassy of Japan in Denmark, etc.

 

 

 

 
November, 2008
Country:  UK 【UK première
Venue:    Westminster Academy (London)
Audience:  High School Students (6th Form)
Reading:  English
Music:   Two Violins

Supported by:  Embassy of Japan in the UK, Japan Society, Westminister Academy
Sponsored by: ANA (All Nippon Airways)

June, 2011
Country:  UK
Venue:   

Unicorn Theatre (London)
Japan Tsunami Charity Event

Audience:  Adults and Children (Family Event)

Reading: 
Readers:  

English
Including actor Togo Igawa, appearing in the film ‘The Last Samurai’

Music:   Two Violins

Supported by: Unicorn Theatre, Embassy of Japan in the UK, etc.

 
July, 2011
Country:  Slovakia 【Slovakia première
Venue:    Bratislava Cultural Summer & Castle Festival 2011 (Bratislava)
Audience:  Adults (Mayor, Government Officials, Diplomats, etc.)
Reading: 
Readers: 
Slovak
Three readers consisting of a diplomat, a poet and a student
Music:   Piano Solo (world première of the piano solo version)

Organised by: Embassy of Japan in Slovakia
Supported by: VSMU Bratislava, Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Japan, etc.

 
 
October, 2011
Country:  Lithuania 【Lithuania première

Venue:   
Vilnius: 

Kaunus:

 Vilnius and Kaunus
Residence of the Japanese Ambassador to Lithuania
 (20th Anniversary Event of Lithuania-Japan Diplomatic Relations)
Primary, secondary and high schools
 (Japan Tsunami Charity Event)

Audience:  Adults (Mayor, Government Officials, Diplomats, etc.) and Students
Reading: 
Readers: 
Lithuanian
Renowned Lithuanian broadcaster
Music:   Two Violins & Flute

Organised by: Embassy of Japan in Lithuania
Supported by: Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Japan, etc.

 
 
December, 2011
Country:  UK
Venue:    Hotel Russell - Ballroom (London)
Japan Society Annual Dinner
Audience:  Adults (Japan Society Members including Japanese Ambassador to the UK, Former British Ambassadors to Japan, etc.)
Reading: 
Readers: 
English
Renowned opera singer (with appearances in The Royal Opera House, Covent Garden)
Music:   Two Violins

Organised by: Japan Society of the UK, etc.
Sponsored by: JTI

 
 
February, 2012
Country:  Lithuania
Venue:    National Museum (Vilnius)
The Japanese Ambassador’s Leaving Reception

Audience:  Ambassadors and Government Officials
Reading: 
Readers: 
Lithuanian
Renowned Lithuanian broadcaster
Music:   Two Violins

Organised by: Embassy of Japan in Lithuania

 
 
March, 2012
Country:  UK
Venue:    Eden Project (Cornwall)
Japan Tsunami Charity Event (One Year Anniversary)
Audience:  Adults and Children
Reading: 
Readers: 
English
Two Readers including a BBC broadcaster
Music:   Two Violins

Organised by: Japan Cornwall Society
Supported by: Eden Project
Sponsored by: Great Britain Sasakawa Foundation, Kath Kidston, etc.

 
 
March, 2012
Country:  USA 【US première
Venue:    National Building Museum (Washington D.C.)
Opening Event - 100th National Cherry Blossom Festival
Audience:  Adults and Children (Family Event)
Reading: 
Readers: 
English
Three readers including Discovery Channel Broadcaster and NCBF Goodwill Ambassador
Music:   Two Violins

Sponsored by: ANA, Sharp, SAFEWAY, etc.

 
 
September, 2012
Country:  Tanzania 【Tanzania première
Venue:    Residence of the Japanese Ambassador to Tanzania

(4 performances including the world première of ‘Urashima-Taro’ with newly composed music)

Audience:  Government Officials, Diplomats, Locals, Japanese Family Club Members
Reading:   Swahili, English and Japanese
Music:   Two Violins
(The Japanese Ambassador to Tanzania played the First Violin)

Organised by: Embassy of Japan in Tanzania
Supported by: Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Japan, etc.

 
 
November, 2012
Country:  Palestine 【Palestine première
Venue:    Al-Kasaba Theatre (Ramallah)
Audience:  Secondary School Students (Three Schools)
Reading:   Arabic
Music:   Piano Solo

Organised by: Embassy of Japan in Palestine and Israel
Supported by: Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Japan, etc.

 
 
November, 2012
Country:  Israel Israel première

(60th Anniversary Event of Israel-Japan Diplomatic Relations)

Venue:  
Haifa:  
Tel Aviv:
Haifa and Tel Aviv (Japan-Israel 60th Anniversary Event)

Auditorium, Haifa Museum
The Cameri Theatre

Audience:  Adults and Children
Reading: 
Readers: 
Hebrew
Actor appearing in numerous Disney films
Music:   Two Violins

Organised by: Embassy of Japan in Israel
Supported by: Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Japan, etc.

 
 
June, 2013
Country:  UK
Venue:  

Embassy of Japan – Ballroom (London)
Speech Contest (‘Nihongo Cup’)

Audience:  Secondary and High School Students, their parents, teachers, judges, etc.
Reading: 
Readers: 
English
Actor appearing in numerous Disney films
Music:   Piano Solo

Organised by:  Japanese Language Committee of the Association for Language Learning, Japan Foundation, Embassy of Japan in the UK
Sponsored by: Toshiba, Ricoh, Sumisho Computer Systems (Europe), JP-BOOKS, JOBA, Japan Centre, etc.

 

August, 2013  
Country: 

Slovakia 【Slovakia première of Urashima-Taro’】
 (20th Anniversary Event of Slovakia-Japan Diplomatic Relations)

Venue:  

Academy of Performing Arts in Bratislava - Dvorana Concert Hall
Bratislava Cultural Summer & Castle Festival 2013 (Bratislava)

Audience:  Adults (Diplomats, etc.) and Children
Reading: 
Readers: 
Slovak
Jana Soucova
Music:  

Piano Solo (World première of the piano version for ‘Urashima-Taro’)

Organised by: Embassy of Japan in Slovakia
Supported by: VSMU Bratislava, Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Japan, etc



May, 2014 
Country:  UK
Venue:  
Haifa:  

Pegasus Theatre (Oxford)
Oxford Brookes Festival 2014

Audience:  University Students and Adults
Reading: 
Readers: 
Japanese and English

Japanese: NHK Broadcaster, Students of Department of English and Modern Languages (Oxford Brookes University)
English: Professor and Students of Department of English and Modern Languages (Oxford Brookes University)

Music:   Piano Solo

Organised by: Suzuko Anai and Keisuke Honda (Department of English and Modern Languages)
Supported by: Oxford Brookes University, Brookes Festival 2014
Sponsored by: Japan Foundation

 



【Past Performances】 (Music Only)

 

            

 

            

 

            

 

© 2017 Motoki Hirai - All rights reserved