An excerpt from the book by Tetsuko Kuroyanagi
The Sports Day
Takahashi won every time. Totto-chan tried hard, too, but she never managed to beat
Takahashi. They could outrun him in the straight stretches, but lost to him over the
Takahashi went up to collect his prizes, looking happy and as proud as Punch. He
was first in everything so he collected prize after prize. Everyone watched enviously.
“I’ll beat Takahashi next year!” said each child to himself. But every year it was
Takahashi who turned out to be the star athlete.
Now the prizes, too, were typical of the head-master. First Prize might be a giant
radish; Second Prize, two burdock roots; Third Prize, a bundle of spinach. Things
like that. Until she was much older Totto-chan thought all schools gave vegetables
for Sports Day prizes.
In those days, most schools gave notebooks, pencils, and erasers for prizes. The
Tomoe children didn’t know that, but they weren’t happy about the vegetables.
Totto chan, for instance, who got some burdock roots and onions, was embarrassed
about having to carry them on the train. Additional prizes were given for various
things, so at the end of Sports Day all the children at Tomoe had some sort of
vegetable. Now, why should children be embarrassed about going home from school
with vegetables! No one minded being sent to buy vegetables by his mother, but they
apparently felt it would look odd carrying vegetables home from school.
A fat boy who won a cabbage didn’t know what to do with it.
“I don’t want to be seen carrying this,” he said. “I think I’ll throw it away.”
The headmaster must have heard about their complaints for he went over to the
children with their carrots and radishes and things.
“What’s the matter? Don’t you want them?” he asked. Then he went on, “Get your
mothers to cool them for you for dinner tonight. They’re vegetable you earned
yourselves. You have provided food for your families by your own efforts. How’s
that? I’ll bet it tastes good!”
Of course, he was right. It was the first time in her life, for instance, that Totto-chan
had ever provided anything for dinner.
“I’ll get Mother to make spicy burdock!” she told the headmaster. “I haven’t decided
yet what to ask her to make with the onions.”
Whereupon the others all began thinking up menus, too, describing them to the
“Good! So now you’ve got the idea,” he said, smiling so happily his cheeks became
quite flushed. He was probably thinking how nice it would be if the children and
their families ate the vegetables while talking over the Sports Day events.
No doubt he was thinking especially of Takahashi- whose dinner table would be
overflowing with First Prizes-and hoping the boy would remember his pride and
happiness at winning those First Prizes before developing an inferiority complex
about his size and the fact he would never grow. And maybe, who knows, the
headmaster had thought up those singularly Tomoe-type events just so Takahashi
would come first in them.
Totto-Chan is a beautifully written book by Tetsuko Kuroyanagi and equally beautifully translated by Dorothy Britton. I think this book must be read by everyone – especially teachers. In my opinion, the main ‘attraction’ of the book is the simplicity of its language. I love the way Mr Kobayashi (Tomoe Gakuen’s headmaster ) understands children and encourages their creativity in every possible way. The book was sweet, cute and lovely. I shall keep my eye open for more books like this!