If you live in Japan or stay in touch with recent Japanese publications, you certainly have come across the title 「君たちはどう生きるか」by 吉野源三郎（よしの・げんざぶろう）. Though not living in Japan, I happened to see several times the cover of the manga version of this book but never really paid attention to it. The other day, however, I saw the same title again in a bookshop but with a different cover. Curiosity got the better of me and, before I could tell myself that buying a new book when I already have so many to read at home is not reasonable, I found myself queuing at the register with the book in hand.
The book is a novel written in 1937 by Genzaburo YOSHINO. The novel was originally written for children or young readers, but it is now seen as a book that adults can enjoy too.
Last year, a manga adaptation by 羽賀翔一（はが・しょういち）put an eighty-year-old story back on the bookshops’ bestsellers shelves. At the same time, a new edition of the novel was published, and this is the book I bought. It contains some illustrations taken from the manga which, though sparse and few, help to find the atmosphere of the 30’s. This new edition also has a bigger size than usual pocket editions, and I would not be surprised if they added more furigana too.
While reading the news, I came across this Mainichi article some days ago about the best-selling books for the first half of 2018. Shoichi Haga’s manga adaptation ranked first, and the novel is ranked fourth.
Finally, Hayao MIYAZAKI announced last year that his next film will have the same title as Yoshino’s work.
Why are adults reading this book now?
This other article on NHK analyses why this story enjoys such a popularity among adults readers. For it seems that, even though the book was originally written for young readers, it has now gained the heart of adults. It features short interviews with Shigesato ITOI (Hobonichi’s creator, which was the topic of my previous post) and Genzaburo YOSHINO’s son.
The article says that despite the 80 years that have gone by since the first publication of 「君たちはどう生きるか」, the questions raised in this book are still very topical today.
Among the adults that read this novel or this manga today, many seem to be willing to reconsider their life, its meaning or its purpose. As the title of the story suggests, this book encourages its readers to ask themselves what kind of life they want to lead. As a book that invites us to think about the choices we make, this books is bound to be appealing to adults.
The general impression that I have after reading the article is that the book’s success lies in the message it prompts to its readers: learn to think by oneself and reflect on one’s life.
A word about the story
The book follows the story of コペル, a 15-year-old boy whose father died two years ago. He is a lively boy with good results at school. His uncle has taken him under his wings and sees to his moral education.
Sadly, I can’t say how the manga is structured or how close it remained from the novel. As for this last one, it is composed of ten chapters that more or less follow the same pattern: After having accompanied コペル through his daily adventures, we are able to read the notebook of his uncle. The uncle is addressing コペル in his note and comments on the recent events of コペル’s life.
I have great expectations with this novel. First, I am curious about the book itself, the story seems interesting enough, and I am eager to see what kind of message it conveys and in which way it makes the readers reflect on their own life. More than that, however, I am curious to see why this story has created such enthusiasm in Japan. Certainly, it tells us a lot about the society of the 30’s as well as today’s society. Why shall adults read today an eighty-year-old book for children? I will certainly find out by reading the novel!
[…] 「君たちはどう生きるか」by 吉野源三郎: I finally finished it and will post my review the day after tomorrow, but I can already say that I did not enjoy reading this book. It is a novel for children written in 1937 that, for some reasons, is very popular now in Japan. But, even if I can see all the qualities of this novel, it just wasn’t for me… To say it plainly, this book was the most boring reading experience of the year. I am not at all blaming the novel in itself but it addresses young readers, and I really cannot fathom why it is so popular among adults now… […]
[…] This book was first published in 1937. It is a novel for children or at least, young readers, and it has gained considerable popularity with the publication of a manga adaptation last year. It seems now that this story is very popular among adults. (learn more) […]