She was just an ordinary girl who cared for the environment. But Aika Tsubota, who died in 1991 at age 12, has captured the hearts of children and adults with her environmental cartoon book now printed in several different languages.
At a ceremony held last week at the Vietnamese Embassy in Tokyo’s Shibuya Ward, organizers in charge of publishing and distributing the book, “Secrets of the Earth,” presented the latest version of Aika’s work, this time in Vietnamese.
The book has been translated into English, Chinese, Arabic, French and Korean, and distributed to more than 4,000 young people around the world through various meetings on the environment.
Aika, a sixth-grader at Nishino Elementary School in Hikawa, Shimane Prefecture, died of a cerebral hemorrhage in December 1991, shortly after completing the story.
“Secrets of the Earth,” which has gained popularity among children and adults at home and abroad, is a cartoon featuring three characters — Rumi, a girl in the sixth-grade who is a bookworm, Eiichi, an inquisitive boy, and Earth, who springs out of Rumi’s book.
In an easy-to-understand and reader-friendly way, the book informs readers about major environmental issues, including an explanation of how nature works and suggestions on how to protect the environment.
In the book’s afterword, Aika writes, “The most important thing is for people to stop thinking they can’t do anything just because they are only one individual. If everybody thought that way, planet Earth really would be doomed!”
Vietnamese Ambassador Vu Dung offered his gratitude for Aika’s contribution, saying he was deeply moved by her story.
“As the environment has become a big issue not only in Vietnam but in the world as well, I believe that readers of Aika’s book have a lot to gain from it,” he said.
He also said he hopes the book will help strengthen and heighten awareness about the environment among Vietnamese children.
The ambassador said they have passed the baton on to Vietnam’s Kim Dong Publishing House, a major publisher of children’s books, the Vietnamese Foreign Ministry and local media to help disseminate information about the book.
Over 4,000 copies are to be distributed in Vietnam.
According to the project organizer, the Foundation for Global Peace and the Environment, Aika used cartoons in order to reach out to a younger audience.
The organization said the idea to have the book translated into Vietnamese was broached by a Vietnamese participant to a youth forum in Shimane, but the project did not materialize until three years later when Honda Motor Co. offered to sponsor it.
In 1993, two years after she died, Aika was awarded the U.N. Environment Program’s top environment prize, the “UNEP Global 500 Award.”
FGPE is an environmental organization that aims to spread awareness among youth on the importance of a sustainable global environment and of protecting the environment for present and future generations.
Its other activities include various environment-oriented ones geared toward children. , such as an international competition of children’s paintings on the environment that it jointly sponsors with the UNEP.