Rebecca Kool lived in Aichi from 1994 to 2000 before moving to Mexico and then back to Canada with her husband Takeshi Fujibe. She has tried micro-farming, welding, home businesses, and knitting. Nothing held her interest until she began writing. Her book Fly Catcher Boy, which is based on a story from her husband’s youth, was written as a way to introduce Japanese words to English speakers. Rebecca is proficient at kamishibai (a type of storytelling using paper scrolls) and will be back in Nagoya to perform during October.
Tell us about your writing life?
I’ve always been passionate about writing but after retirement I began to take it seriously. I was as surprised as anyone when I found myself gravitating towards writing for kids
Tell us about your book, Fly Catcher Boy.
Fly Catcher Boy is a bilingual book, written in English with Japanese words and expressions in the text. After I moved to Japan in 1994 I began working with small juku schools throughout Aichi. Moms and juku teachers urged me to write bilingual stories for children, engaging stories that could serve to introduce English words in a story setting before formal education began. My book was dedicated to those who planted the seed.
How did you come up with the idea for Fly Catcher Boy?
Prior to our marriage, Takeshi told me many stories about his youth and how his grandmother taught him a special skill – catching troublesome flying insects by hand and throwing them to the ground.
This sounds unpleasant but his job was to keep all flying objects out of the ramen his mother was preparing for hungry patrons.
In 2000 we left Japan, moved to central Mexico, and within three months adopted a kitten who grew into a long, lean, leaping machine! The first time I saw him jump into the air to catch a moth, a light bulb went off! I had a story, a true story based on Tak’s childhood and our leaping feline. I went straight to the computer and began writing.
What’s the storyline?
Kenji is afraid of thunder. One stormy night he hears a noise outside. He finds a wet cat on the doorstep and brings him inside to warmth and safety. After introductions to his grandmother the next morning, Kenji and his new friend set off on adventures in their small Japanese town.
It’s a simple story that crosses generations. My audiences range from age 2-98. I originally wrote the text separately – one English paragraph and one Hiragana / Katakana paragraph per page.
I blanketed the globe with my manuscript but no one was interested in a bilingual story. Once we relocated to Canada I submitted the story to several Vancouver publishers, one of whom suggested that I write it in English and insert Japanese words into the text. I was successful and was offered a publishing contract. I launched the book on my 65th birthday! I never gave up; I knew one day my book would see print. Persistence paid off!
You perform your story using a kamishibai theatre? How did that come about?
I had little knowledge about kamishibai but after doing some research I decided that my book would be a good fit for this type of performance storytelling. We ordered a replica theatre from Japan and had large story cards printed, each one corresponding to a page in the book. Takeshi and I were soon ready to take our show on the road! We performed at every Asian festival in Vancouver, schools, libraries, museums, and summer camps. Children and adults alike were fascinated with the history of kamishibai and enjoyed ‘watching’ the story unfold.
Your book appears to be focused on helping children learn Japanese? How does this work for children who want to learn English?
My love of immersing myself into another country’s culture and language spurred me to begin writing bilingual books for kids. This is what I offer children everywhere – a window into another country’s culture and language. The book is fun; there’s no pressure to memorize so kids relax and learn new words easily.
Fly Catcher Boy is available on Amazon in soft cover, correct? Is it available as an iBook? Do you have any other plans for the book?
Yes, it’s available through iTunes, currently only for iPAD and Mac, but soon for the iPhone. I’ve been working a sequel to Fly Catcher Boy but nothing I can announce just yet. I’d love to see Fly Catcher Boy reworked for the Japanese market.
You lived in Japan for six years, 1994-2000. What was that like for you? What do you miss most?
I’m a risk taker. When I turned 50 I decided now was my time for adventure and travel, perhaps living in another country? I chose Japan and arrived in Nagoya in the fall. I had no job, no apartment, no friends, and sparse language skills. I could count to ten and make change though! My homestay family was my anchor and with their help I found a small apartment in Issha. I took the subway into Sakae almost every day. I met foreigners on the train and on the street. I made new friends, inherited jobs, and did some traveling. My six years in Japan were some of the best years of my life but that first year was rough. I was alone and on my own; some days I was afraid I wouldn’t make it. But I did; little by little my life settled. I grew to love and appreciate almost everything about Japan—the beauty of the landscape, the convenience, the polite and kind people, the food. I was treated like a Queen. What do I miss most? Being treated like a Queen, the food, onsen, deep soaking tubs. Definitely the soaker tubs. Oh, yes, and free tissues.
How do you imagine Japan will have changed?
I hope not too much but I’m very excited to experience it for myself. I’ll be blogging every day so there could be some unexpected revelations during the month.
What types of activities do you have planned while in Japan? How can people contact you about doing a kamishibai event?
I arrive in Nagoya October 5 and will stay for one month. My first kamishibai performance will be at Bilingual Nagoya. I’ll be in Tokoname for two separate performances; first at Onizaki-Minami school, and later at a community event at Taya City Hall. I have some library performances booked but there are a few openings for last minute bookings. Contact me firstname.lastname@example.org
Visit Rebecca’s website at www.rebeccakool.com for more information.