The ‘good witch’ who wrote Japanese classic Kiki’s Delivery Service

Eiko Kadono’s playful tales about a young witch and her furry companion have entertained generations of Japanese readers, and have now earned her one of the highest honours in children’s literature.

Last month the 83-year-old was awarded the 2018 Hans Christian Andersen Award, sometimes called the Little Nobel Prize for Literature.

The jury described the “ineffable charm” of Ms Kadono’s picture books and novels, deeply rooted in Japan.

She was inspired to write her most famous series – Kiki’s Delivery Service or Majo no Takkyubin in Japanese – after her young daughter drew a picture of a witch with musical notes flying around it.

“I made Kiki around the same age as my daughter was at that time, just between childhood and adulthood,” Ms Kadono said, according to the Asahi Shimbun.

“It’s all about this kid getting to fly with her own magic.”

Late bloomer

Born in Tokyo, Ms Kadono was evacuated from her home at age ten and sent to northern Japan during World War Two.

After the war was over, she attended university in Japan before emigrating to Brazil for a few years.

Some of her works, including Forest of Tunnel and Brazil and My Friend Luizinho, were inspired by her wartime experiences and years in Brazil.

The author describes herself as a “late bloomer”, owing to the fact that she was 35 when her first book came out.

“I was more a reader than a writer. [But] after trial and error, I realised I loved writing,” she told Japanese media at a recent press conference.

“I decided to write throughout my life, even if my works would not be published.”

She has published close to 200 original works, including picture books, stories for young adults and essay anthologies. But her most famous work is undoubtedly Kiki’s Delivery Service.

Silver screen

Originally published in 1985, the story revolves around Kiki, a young witch who travels around on her broomstick with her black cat Jiji.

The series starts with 13-year-old Kiki as she sets out on a year-long apprenticeship for witches in training, and follows her as she tries to find her place in the world despite various setbacks and struggles.

The rest of the series chronicles Kiki as she grows into a young adult and eventually, a mother of two.

Nearly 1.7 million copies of the books have been sold in Japan alone, and the series has been translated into nine languages.

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    It was later adapted into a film by iconic director Hayao Miyazaki of Japanese animation house Studio Ghibli. The movie became one of Mr Miyazaki’s most popular films.

    But what is it about the book that has made it so loved?

    “Kiki’s Delivery Service makes children believe that everyone has [their] own magic,” Tomoko Honobe, Ms Kadono’s editor, told the BBC.

    “The raison d’etre of children’s literature is giving strength of confidence to children, [enabling them] to become mature.”

    And Ms Kadono seems to have some magic of her own.

    “She’s just like a good witch, who has all these charms. She is mischievous, chatty, energetic and young,” said Ms Honobe. “I have to work really hard to keep up with her energy.”

    ‘Words will be your strength’

    Last month Ms Kadono found out she had won the Hans Christian Andersen Award, given by the International Board on Books for Young People.

    The biennial award is presented to an author whose “complete works have made an important, lasting contribution to children’s literature.”

    “I had no idea I could have [such an award],” Ms Kadono said at the award reception.

    “It is such an honour… being read by many people, all over the world.”

    Yet the acclaimed author says her stories do not belong to her, but rather, her readers.

    “The significance of storytelling is, once it is handed to readers, it becomes theirs,” said Ms Kadono.

    “[And as] you read and read, you create your own dictionary in you. And those words will be your strength through your life.”

    Reporting by the BBC’s Sakiko Shiraishi and Yvette Tan

Japanese women ordered from sumo ring during first aid

Women who rushed to perform first aid on a man who collapsed in a sumo ring in Japan were ordered by a referee to leave the ring, because females are banned from the space.

The ring is regarded as sacred and women, traditionally seen as “impure”, are forbidden from entering.

They ran into the ring when Maizuru city mayor Ryozo Tatami collapsed while giving a speech.

The head of Japan’s sumo association later apologised to the women.

“The announcement [to get off the stage] was made by a referee who was upset, but it was an inappropriate act in a situation that involves one’s life,” Nobuyoshi Hakkaku, the sumo association’s chief said in a statement.

“We deeply apologise.”

Local reports later emerged that spectators saw salt being thrown into the ring after the women had left.

In Japanese culture, salt is thrown into the sumo ring before a match to purify it. Some on social media said the gesture implied that the women had “dirtied” the ring.

“How rude is it that they threw salt to cleanse the ring after the women went in?” one Japanese Twitter user said.

“This is the response to someone who tried to save a life? I think we’d better sprinkle salt on the head of the sumo association,” another added.

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    Mr Tatami was taken to hospital and is in a stable condition.

    It is not the first time women entering the sumo ring has sparked controversy.

    In 2000, the then governor of Osaka Fusae Ota asked the sumo association to allow her to enter the ring so she could present a trophy to the champion wrestler, but her request was rejected.

Studio Ghibli to open ‘Totoro’ theme park in Japan

Japanese animation giant Studio Ghibli has unveiled plans for a theme park to open in 2020.

The 200-hectare site will be built in Nagoya city, in Aichi prefecture, said Governor Hideaki Omura on Thursday at a press conference.

The park will be based on the popular film My Neighbor Totoro, embodying the movie’s theme of “respecting and embracing nature”.

The studio’s feature films are loved by many and critically-acclaimed.

My Neighbor Totoro was released in 1988 and tells the story of two young sisters who settle into an old country house while waiting for their mother to recover from an illness.

During their adventures, they encounter and befriend playful forest spirits, most notably the massive cuddly creature known as Totoro.

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    The site of the park, previously the home of the 2005 World Expo, currently has a life-size replica of the house from the film.

    Co-founder of Studio Ghibli and producer Toshio Suzuki who was also at the announcement, said the attraction will be “set in the world of Totoro”. There will not be any amusement park rides.

    “Construction will be planned around existing clearings to avoid felling trees,” Governor Omura said.

    Ghibli fans around the world reacted to the news of the upcoming park.

    “Wow literally reading [about] a Studio Ghibli theme park and I started crying! Not joking. This makes me so happy,” wrote a US fan on Twitter.

    Notably, there was much excitement from adult Ghibli fans who spoke about wanting to take their children with them to the attraction.

    “I think our kids might be able to handle the trip by 2020,” Charles Tran said to his wife on Facebook.

    “Time to get working on raising funds for the kids,” wrote James McGlone from Perth.

    But others parents just wanted to go enjoy the experience themselves.

    “Leave the boys at home, we’re heading to Japan in 2020 for the Summer Olympics and this,” said Paul Newman to his wife Anita on Facebook.

    “It isn’t just children who want to ride the Cat Bus! This makes adults excited,” said Maryam Lee.

    The proposed park would not be the only Studio Ghibli attraction in Japan. It currently has a museum in Tokyo and many fans visit a bathhouse in Kyoto city which was the inspiration for the Oscar-winning anime Spirited Away.

    This year, legendary founder Hayao Miyazaki came out of retirement and announced plans to direct a new movie.

Studio Ghibli co-founder Isao Takahata dies at 82

Japanese anime director Isao Takahata, co-founder of the famed Studio Ghibli, has died at the age of 82.

Mr Takahata was nominated for an Oscar in 2014 for The Tale of the Princess Kaguya but is best known for his film Grave of the Fireflies.

He founded Studio Ghibli with iconic director Hayao Miyazaki in 1985.

It has produced several blockbusters and become one of the world’s most renowned animation studios.

Mr Takahata started his career in animation in 1959 at Japan’s Toei studio, where he met Mr Miyazaki, who is usually seen as the face of Studio Ghibli.

The duo went on to co-found Studio Ghibli, and were described by local media as friends and rivals at the same time.

Mr Takahata’s film The Tale of the Princess Kaguya earned him an Academy Award nomination in 2014 for best animated feature.

But his most loved work remains was the 1988 film Grave of the Fireflies, a heartbreaking tale of two orphans during World War Two.

He also had a hand in producing other well-known works like Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind and Castle in the Sky.

How effective are earthquake early warning systems?

Earthquake early warning detection is more effective for minor quakes than major ones.

This is according to a new study from the United States Geological Survey.

Seismologists modelled ground shaking along California’s San Andreas Fault, where an earthquake of magnitude 6.5 or more is expected within 30 years.

They found that warning time could be increased for residents if they were willing to tolerate a number of “false alarms” for smaller events.

This would mean issuing alerts early in an earthquake’s lifespan, before its full magnitude is determined. Those living far from the epicentre would occasionally receive warnings for ground shaking they could not feel.

“We can get [greater] warning times for weak ground motion levels, but we can’t get long warning times for strong shaking,” Sarah Minson, lead author of the study, told BBC News.

“Alternatively, we could warn you every time there was an earthquake that might produce weak ground shaking at your location… A lot of baby earthquakes don’t grow up to become big earthquakes,” she added.

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    Earthquake early warning systems have been in place in Mexico and Japan for years. Now, a system called ShakeAlert is being developed for the west coast of North America.

    So how can it predict the unpredictable? In short, it can’t.

    “It’s a misnomer… because it’s not earthquake early warning, the earthquake has already happened… It’s ground motion early warning,” said Dr Minson.

    Earthquakes occur along tectonic plate boundaries and faults in the Earth’s crust – long fractures where friction has built up over time.

    Dr Lucy Jones, a seismologist who was not involved in the study, explained: “The whole fault doesn’t move at once. It starts at an epicentre and the rupture moves down the fault like how you would rip a piece of paper.”

    This release of energy moves in two parts.

    Primary waves (p-waves) accordion out first and fastest.

    They are followed by slower secondary, or s-waves, which cause the ground to ripple up and down – the shaking that people experience during a quake.

    Life on the line

    The physics of earthquakes is one of the reasons why a single, universal warning system hasn’t been rolled out across all quake prone countries.

    California and Japan have populations living directly alongside fault lines, and cannot waste precious seconds before warning their citizens.

    In both countries, the p-waves and some very rapid algorithms determine the potential magnitude and dispatch an alert.

    But in Mexico, the capital city is about 300km from the nearest tectonic plate boundary.

    This allows geologists to use a system that can take some more time to issue a warning. They wait to detect the s-waves.

    Sirens blare in the streets of Mexico City whenever ground shaking above M5 is detected.

    Better living through algorithms

    However, the country’s usually robust SASMEX early warning system didn’t have sufficient time to respond to last September’s second earthquake.

    The system can usually provide up to a minute’s warning but the M7.1 earthquake originated much nearer the city than usual. The ground began to shake almost immediately after the alarm was triggered.

    A new algorithm was being tested for the SASMEX system at the time, which could, in the future, issue a warning 8-10 seconds earlier.

    Similarly, Japanese seismologists have looked to improve their early warning system after the devastating 2011 M9 earthquake.

    Dr Mitsuyuki Hoshiba, who has developed the new PLUM algorithm launched this week, explained. “In PLUM method: strength of shaking is predicted directly from observed shaking, skipping the process of estimation of epicentre and magnitude.”

    This will, Dr Hoshiba says, reduce the problem of missed alarms for future earthquakes.

    The big one

    Back in California, work continues on ShakeAlert.

    It is due to have a limited public rollout later this year, supported by federal funding which was approved on Friday 23 March.

    The system will use both ground-based seismometers and satellite observations to provide the maximum warning time to populations on the west coast.

    The work done by Dr Minson and her colleagues shows that for San Francisco this may be about 50 seconds for minor shaking, or as little as eight seconds for a major earthquake.

    If the system is to be as sensitive as possible, false alerts may also become a necessary part of life for Californians in the future.

    Dr Cochran, who spent time in Mexico following the 2017 earthquakes, noted that “people wanted as much information as they could get, and they were not particularly bothered as long as they heard there was an earthquake associated with that alert.”

    Dr Jones agrees: “I do not believe that is a great shortcoming of early warning systems as long as it is understood… we need to invest in appropriate education for the general public about early warning for the information to be most effectively used.”

How effective are earthquake early warning systems?

Earthquake early warning detection is more effective for minor quakes than major ones.

This is according to a new study from the United States Geological Survey.

Seismologists modelled ground shaking along California’s San Andreas Fault, where an earthquake of magnitude 6.5 or more is expected within 30 years.

They found that warning time could be increased for residents if they were willing to tolerate a number of “false alarms” for smaller events.

This would mean issuing alerts early in an earthquake’s lifespan, before its full magnitude is determined. Those living far from the epicentre would occasionally receive warnings for ground shaking they could not feel.

“We can get [greater] warning times for weak ground motion levels, but we can’t get long warning times for strong shaking,” Sarah Minson, lead author of the study, told BBC News.

“Alternatively, we could warn you every time there was an earthquake that might produce weak ground shaking at your location… A lot of baby earthquakes don’t grow up to become big earthquakes,” she added.

  • ‘Phone seismometers’ prove their worth
  • Gravity signals show true size of giant earthquakes
  • History of deadly earthquakes

    Earthquake early warning systems have been in place in Mexico and Japan for years. Now, a system called ShakeAlert is being developed for the west coast of North America.

    So how can it predict the unpredictable? In short, it can’t.

    “It’s a misnomer… because it’s not earthquake early warning, the earthquake has already happened… It’s ground motion early warning,” said Dr Minson.

    Earthquakes occur along tectonic plate boundaries and faults in the Earth’s crust – long fractures where friction has built up over time.

    Dr Lucy Jones, a seismologist who was not involved in the study, explained: “The whole fault doesn’t move at once. It starts at an epicentre and the rupture moves down the fault like how you would rip a piece of paper.”

    This release of energy moves in two parts.

    Primary waves (p-waves) accordion out first and fastest.

    They are followed by slower secondary, or s-waves, which cause the ground to ripple up and down – the shaking that people experience during a quake.

    Life on the line

    The physics of earthquakes is one of the reasons why a single, universal warning system hasn’t been rolled out across all quake prone countries.

    California and Japan have populations living directly alongside fault lines, and cannot waste precious seconds before warning their citizens.

    In both countries, the p-waves and some very rapid algorithms determine the potential magnitude and dispatch an alert.

    But in Mexico, the capital city is about 300km from the nearest tectonic plate boundary.

    This allows geologists to use a system that can take some more time to issue a warning. They wait to detect the s-waves.

    Sirens blare in the streets of Mexico City whenever ground shaking above M5 is detected.

    Better living through algorithms

    However, the country’s usually robust SASMEX early warning system didn’t have sufficient time to respond to last September’s second earthquake.

    The system can usually provide up to a minute’s warning but the M7.1 earthquake originated much nearer the city than usual. The ground began to shake almost immediately after the alarm was triggered.

    A new algorithm was being tested for the SASMEX system at the time, which could, in the future, issue a warning 8-10 seconds earlier.

    Similarly, Japanese seismologists have looked to improve their early warning system after the devastating 2011 M9 earthquake.

    Dr Mitsuyuki Hoshiba, who has developed the new PLUM algorithm launched this week, explained. “In PLUM method: strength of shaking is predicted directly from observed shaking, skipping the process of estimation of epicentre and magnitude.”

    This will, Dr Hoshiba says, reduce the problem of missed alarms for future earthquakes.

    The big one

    Back in California, work continues on ShakeAlert.

    It is due to have a limited public rollout later this year, supported by federal funding which was approved on Friday 23 March.

    The system will use both ground-based seismometers and satellite observations to provide the maximum warning time to populations on the west coast.

    The work done by Dr Minson and her colleagues shows that for San Francisco this may be about 50 seconds for minor shaking, or as little as eight seconds for a major earthquake.

    If the system is to be as sensitive as possible, false alerts may also become a necessary part of life for Californians in the future.

    Dr Cochran, who spent time in Mexico following the 2017 earthquakes, noted that “people wanted as much information as they could get, and they were not particularly bothered as long as they heard there was an earthquake associated with that alert.”

    Dr Jones agrees: “I do not believe that is a great shortcoming of early warning systems as long as it is understood… we need to invest in appropriate education for the general public about early warning for the information to be most effectively used.”