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 LEARNING

Start brushing up on your kanji to prepare for the annual Japanese Language Proficiency Test, this year taking place on Sunday, December 3 throughout the country. Passing the coveted ikkyu (level one) is considered the ultimate mark of achievement for a non-native speaker, indicating a comprehensive level of fluency and a guaranteed boost on a resume. Those who want to take the test must apply in advance by September 5, and application forms can be picked up for ¥500 at many bookstores (see www.jees.or.jp for a complete list). Results will be announced mid-February.

For more information, call the Japan Educational Exchanges and Services at 03-5454-5577. NU

PAST ISSUES
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By Roy Mustang

Sai Kon Tan: 100 All-time Precious Proverbs
By Shintaro Tsuji, translated by Kimiko Ishi
(Sanrio, ¥680)


According to an introductory note,
the original Sai Kon Tan was a collection of Chinese aphorisms written by a Ming Dynasty philosopher who grew frustrated with his emperor’s autocratic rule. This new English translation, intended for children, offers practical advice and lessons to combat “the distortion of modern society” in the hopes of creating a world “where everyone cares for each other and helps one another.”

The adages are for the most part simple and easy to understand, and many will be familiar to Western kids. Though numerous Tao-flavored entries are included (“Find happiness in everyday life”; “Let go of a problem and move on”), others are reminiscent of Buddha (“If you’re too close, you can’t see clearly”), the Bible (“Cherish your father and mother”), a New Age self-help guide (“You need some quiet time”), or Western psychologists (“Express your feelings out loud”). Some seem like exhortations to salarymen-in-training (“Always feel you can still do more”), while others are inscrutable (“I’m happy that you’re happy for me”) and a few are hampered by translation issues (“Small good things, not small bad things”). On the whole, though, the proverbs impart a consistently upbeat message by encouraging modesty, honesty, industry and self-reliance.

Another appeal of Sai Kon Tan lies in its format. Each col-orful and uncluttered page shows a single proverb with a brief explanation, a colorful illustration, and a Chinese character related to the particular lesson; there’s even a Japanese-language section in the back. Pocket-sized and made of sturdy glossy paper, the book will stand up to constant handling by young children—and by older readers looking to remind themselves of some essential truths. Steve Trautlein

 

Guri and Gura’s Spring Cleaning
By Reiko Nakagawa and Yuriko Yamawaki, translated by Richard Carpenter
(Tuttle, ¥1,900)

Guri and Gura’s Picnic Adventure
By Reiko Nakagawa and Yuriko Yamawaki, translated by Peter Howlett and Richard McNamara
(Tuttle, ¥1,900)

Having been brought to its knees by the irresistibly cute rodent Mickey Mouse, Japan looks to return the favor with these new translations of classic children’s books. The characters Guri and Gura, two mice who originally appeared in the ’60s and whose simple, lyrically told adventures continue to be favorites here, should now claim a wider audience in the English-speaking world.

Like many successful books for beginning readers, this series shows its characters solving simple (and often fantastical) problems and making exciting discoveries. Illustrator Yuriko Yamawaki’s drawings are uncomplicated and full of color, and serve as expressive counterparts to Rieko Nakagawa’s sing-song prose, whose lilting qualities are ably rendered into English by the translators of the current editions.
Picnic Adventure (originally written in 1979) follows Guri and Gura as they trek through the woods on a warm sunny day. Exercising before lunch, the pair stumble on a bit of thread and decide to see where it leads—an undertaking that soon draws them farther and farther into the woods and into the home of a big bear, whose sweater has become unraveled. The bear is grateful and winds up joining Guri and Gura for lunch.

Spring Cleaning (2002) shares many of the same themes—physical activity, friendship and the enjoyment of food. Here, Guri and Gura are having breakfast when they realize that their house, long shut up for winter, has become filthy. Unfortunately, their cleaning tools are in disrepair, so the two don old clothes and use themselves as brooms. A snooping rabbit mistakes the dressed-up pair for ghosts, and soon the whole rabbit family comes to see what’s up. Invited inside, they admire the spotless rooms and partake of a hearty snack.

The Guri and Gura series comprises seven books in all, and each features a simple-to-follow story complemented by colorful drawings—excellent for all ages. Tuttle’s English versions also come with an audio CD. ST



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