January 2018

Our monthly online newsletter, "L'ESPACE".
L'ESPACE is a diverse French word that means place, area, cosmos, and gap.

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RAINBOW Multilingual Picture Book Club

- Using Multilingual Picture Books to Convey Native Languages to Children with Overseas Links -

In Close Up this month, we have the pleasure of introducing the RAINBOW Multilingual Picture Book Club. Based in Tokyo’s Meguro, in addition to its holding of multilingual book readings, Rainbow produces readable and listenable electronic picture books in the languages of many countries. For children who live in Japan who also have overseas links, Rainbow grew from the desire to create for them opportunities to have some contact with the cultures and languages in which their roots lay. On this occasion, we had the opportunity to chat with Rainbow Founder Ms. Ishihara Hiroko, and also with Ms. Tsukazaki Mitsuko, an individual who has actively supported the group’s activities since its founding. During our discussions, we talked both about what led to the founding of Rainbow and the nature of its current activities. We also had the opportunity to touch upon the challenge of native language retention, which is an issue that confronts children who live in Japan who happen to also have overseas links.

Founder Ms. Ishihara Hiroko (R) and Tsukazaki Mitsuko

Please tell us about the background to the establishment of the RAINBOW Multilingual Picture Book Club.

Ms. Ishihara

After relocating myself from Osaka City to Meguro here in Tokyo, I decided that I wanted to open a Japanese language class to which accompanying children would be welcomed and could also participate in. Thus, the basis of what would subsequently lead to the establishment of Rainbow was the setting up in 2000 of a Japanese language class called Nihongo no Kai Crayons. Anyway, when observing some of the foreign mothers who subsequently came to the class, I began to realize that those of a North American or European background tended to speak to their children using either two languages (Japanese + their native tongue), or possibly even three (Japanese + English + their native tongue). Meanwhile, the mothers of an Asian or African background tended to only use Japanese in raising their children. When I subsequently asked those mothers, “why don’t you use your own country’s language when speaking to your children,” they tended to tell me that, “my own country’s language is not necessary here in Japan.” On hearing that, my reaction was that a “society that didn’t value the native languages of individuals was a strange one indeed!” Accordingly, I began to think about the creation of opportunities whereby foreign mothers could read picture books to their own offspring using their native tongue so as to convey something of their own languages and cultures. However, at around the time that I started considering such issues, within wider society there was still the mindset that it was most important for individuals to master Japanese if they intended to live in this country. The idea that other languages were not necessary if living in Japan was also still strongly entrenched. Although it proved difficult to gain the understanding of many people with regard to what I was thinking, in that I was able to get a number of Japanese language volunteers and foreign mothers to participate, in 2006 it became possible for us to establish the RAINBOW Multilingual Picture Book Club.

School Visit
The photo shows a picture-story show with
narration in Indonesian and Japanese.
©RAINBOW Multilingual Picture Book Club

At Tokyo Women’s Plaza
A picture book reading of a Taiwanese story involving
the Chinese zodiac being given in Chinese and Japanese.
©RAINBOW Multilingual Picture Book Club

Please tell us about the book-reading activities that RAINBOW undertakes.

Ms. Ishihara

RAINBOW’s activities commenced with us wanting to create situations in which foreign mothers could speak in their own languages, and situations in which their children could see them doing just that. From such humble beginnings, we subsequently evolved to holding multilingual book readings in a wide variety of different locations. Such events started by having foreign mothers come along to story-telling sessions held at public libraries here in Meguro. After setting that up, we also began to have foreign mothers make visits to elementary schools. Within the context of the classes in international understanding that are held at schools, we just haven’t had our visitors simply read books to children. Rather, we have also had our foreign mothers who visit a school on a particular day give students a simple lesson that introduces their home country. Additionally, we also conduct events at facilities that have some involvement in the rearing of children, etc.

At an elementary school in Adachi City, Tokyo
A staff member from the Embassy of the Togolese
Republic giving a presentation on the country.
©RAINBOW Multilingual Picture Book Club

At Ho Net Hiroba at the Meguro City Office
Participants enjoying a rendition of
“Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes.”
©RAINBOW Multilingual Picture Book Club

And what about at such events, what sort of things do you do?

Ms. Tsukazaki

Actually, just yesterday at Ho Net Hiroba, a space that has been set up at the Meguro City Office to assist people who are engaged in child-rearing, we held an enjoyable event that included book readings along with songs and games. Joining a number of foreign mothers who attend the Nihongo no Kai Crayons Japanese language class or who participate in RAINBOW’s activities, there were also numerous Japanese mothers who had seen the event advertised. In both cases, those who participated were accompanied by their small children. As to the program of the event, in addition to book readings in multiple languages, we also sung the playful song “Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes” in a number of different languages. The participants were also divided into a number of teams in order to play “Stop the Bus.” Even those who were meeting one another for the first time soon became friends by working together, and I feel that both the foreign and Japanese mothers in attendance greatly enjoyed themselves.

Please tell us about your production of multilingual picture books.

Ms. Ishihara

Some time ago, I saw a picture book whose title in English was subsequently to become “You Did It Timmy.” The original Japanese version was published by Meguro City in 2009 in association with it passing the Meguro Ordinance on the Rights of the Child. On seeing the original, I felt it would be a wonderful book if foreign mothers were able to read it to their children in their own language. Thus, we initially had it translated into four languages, and we then got it placed on the shelves at the public libraries in Meguro. Once that was done, while increasing the number of languages that we were translating into, and also increasing the number of picture books we were translating, we took steps to commence transliteration activities as well. Next, when we were considering how we might go about combining together such translated and transliterated content, we were given the opportunity to use a piece of software free-of-charge called “Multimedia DAISY.” It was provided to us by the Japanese Society for Rehabilitation of Persons with Disabilities. Multimedia DAISY is reading-support software that assists people who have difficulties with reading printed matter. Anyway, the net result of all these developments is that, by accessing a dedicated website, for the people who read our multilingual picture books, it is now possible not just to see them, but to also listen to their transliterated soundtracks. Furthermore, a feature of the software is that it highlights where on the page is being read. That makes it very easy to follow along. Additionally, we have uploaded a number of digital picture books to YouTube so that everybody can enjoy them.

At the moment, in addition to the 10 e-books that have
been uploaded,there are a number of others being prepared.
©RAINBOW Multilingual Picture Book Club

Many foreign volunteers have cooperated in the
laying down of transliterated soundtracks for e-books.
©RAINBOW Multilingual Picture Book Club

Please tell us about the results of your activities and any issues that you have.

Ms. Ishihara

In carrying out our activities, RAINBOW has three aims. Firstly, for children living in Japan who have links overseas, we want to create contact opportunities with respect to their native languages. Secondly, for Japanese children, we want to create opportunities for them to come into contact with foreign languages other than English. Thirdly, another aim that we have is to create opportunities through which foreign residents in Japan are able to participate more fully in society. As such, as to what our activities have been able to achieve, I think that one big result has been the enjoyment that foreign mothers have experienced in participating in our school visits and our translation and transliteration of picture books. Furthermore, I think another big result has been the feedback that we have received from participants “who feel very happy in that they have been able to volunteer while making use of their own native language.” Meanwhile, as to one issue that we have, because neither the foreign mothers who participate in our activities nor ourselves are professionals in the fields of translation or transliteration, I don’t think the content we produce is 100% perfect. As such, little-by-little we are brushing things up by re-doing some of the translations and transliteration soundtracks. Furthermore, so as to increase the number of languages that we can handle to include Vietnamese and Nepalese, etc., we would like to broaden the scope of our requests for cooperation, so that we can get in contact with more foreign nationals in addition to those who we have met through Nihongo no Kai Crayons and the activities of RAINBOW.

What initiative do you plan to undertake in the future?

Ms. Ishihara

As to the important issue of native-language retention among children living in Japan who also happen to have overseas links, compared to how things used to be, there is a lot more social understanding these days. That being said, the reality of the situation is that levels of social support are still not sufficient in that the essential question as to how native languages are to be conveyed to children is still left up to each individual household to sort out for themselves. That is a problem for households in which both parents are working, etc., because they find it hard to spare the time that is required to pass on their language to their children. It is exactly because of that reason that we feel that it is necessary that multilingual picture books need to be made available at public libraries and within schools. In 2017, after obtaining the approval of the Board of Education of Osaka City, we turned a picture book that they had published into a DVD. Going forward as well, for the purpose of using our multilingual electronic picture books as teaching materials at schools, I would like to see us push on with the DVD format. In that it would take a fair bit of time to turn all of our books into DVDs, my attitude is that we should proceed little-by-little. Finally, if there are any of your readers who have an interest in the production of such materials, we would certainly welcome their participation. We look forward to hearing from anybody who is interested.