NEW DELHI – Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko on Tuesday visited the India International Centre, a cultural exchange facility in New Delhi, 53 years after taking part in a ceremony to launch its construction when they were still the Crown Prince and Princess.
Among those the Empress met at the center was Indian author and critic Manorama Jafa, 81, secretary-general of the India branch of the International Board on Books for Young People (IBBY).
The Empress and Jafa have known each other for years, last meeting in 2004 in Japan.
Jafa introduced her to members of the India branch of the reading-promotion group. The Empress spoke to all of them in English.
The Empress, who has a deep knowledge of children’s literature, was invited by Jafa to give a keynote speech at an IBBY congress in New Delhi in September 1998.
Jafa invited the Empress after being moved by her English translation of poems by Michio Mado, known for popular nursery rhymes such as “Zosan” (“Elephant”).
She ended up not attending after India tested a nuclear bomb in May 1998 and caused an international uproar. Instead, she delivered a speech through a video linkup.
In her speech, the Empress spoke of her childhood reading experience.
“At times it gave me roots; at times it gave me wings,” she said. “These roots and wings were a great help to me as I threw bridges out and in, expanding bit by bit and nurturing my own personal world.”
Picture book editor Chieko Suemori, an old friend of the Empress who saw the video, wanted people all over Japan to read the speech.
It was published under the title “Hashi o Kakeru” (“Building Bridges”) and was translated into eight languages.
Among the books on display at the center were a book for promoting literacy in India produced with assistance from Japan and the English version of “Building Bridges.”
The Japanese Board on Books for Young People began collecting donations in 1998 to produce a picture book intended to improve the literacy rate in India. The project was suggested, among others, by Chitose Suzuki, who has translated works by Jafa and also leads a group on Indian children’s literature in Japan.
With India’s literacy rate standing at about 65 percent at the time, picture books were considered a good way for children to learn how to read.
A donation of about ¥3.3 million was sent to the IBBY India branch, which published 54,000 picture books in eight key languages in use in the country, including English, Hindi and Tamil, for use in elementary schools and other locations.