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Authors: Tetsuko Kuroyanagi,Chihiro Iwasaki,Dorothy Britton

Tags: #Biography & Autobiography, #Personal Memoirs

Totto-Chan, the Little Girl at the Window

BOOK: Totto-Chan, the Little Girl at the Window
2.57Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
Totto-Chan, the Little Girl at the Window
Tetsuko Kuroyanagi & Chihiro Iwasaki & Dorothy Britton
Kodansha USA (2011)
Biography & Autobiography, Personal Memoirs
Biography & Autobiographyttt Personal Memoirsttt

This engaging series of childhood recollections tells about an ideal school in Tokyo during World War II that combined learning with fun, freedom, and love. This unusual school had old railroad cars for classrooms, and it was run by an extraordinary man-its founder and headmaster, Sosaku Kobayashi--who was a firm believer in freedom of expression and activity.

In real life, the Totto-chan of the book has become one of Japan's most popular television personalities--Tetsuko Kuroyanagi. She attributes her success in life to this wonderful school and its headmaster.

The charm of this account has won the hearts of millions of people of all ages and made this book a runaway bestseller in Japan, with sales hitting the 4.5 million mark in its first year.


is a quiet indictment of sterile education."

New York Times

"Sensitively written, delicately illustrated, poetically translated,
is, like a haiku, filled with aesthetic and philosophical depth."

Library Journal

has reminded millions of Japanese what children think education should be."

International Herald Tribune

can be expected to attract American educators, parents, and perhaps some children who appreciate the international view beyond their own first-floor window."

Christian Science Monitor

About the Author

, daughter of the celebrated violinist, was voted Japan's most popular television personality fourteen times. She studied to become an opera singer but then became an actress instead, winning a prestigious award for her work in radio and television. She spent 1972 in New York studying acting, and was critically acclaimed in Japan for her leading role in works by Albee and Shaffer and in Melchior Lengyel's "Ninotchka." Her daily television talk show, "Tetsuko's Room," is still going strong after more than twenty years. Japan's first such program, it was recently awarded television's highest prize. This and the other shows on which she regularly appears all enjoy top viewer ratings.

Devoted to welfare and conservation, Kuroyanagi is Asia's first UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador (see Totto-chan's Children and serves on the board of the Worldwide Fund for Nature. The Totto Foundation-financed with her book royalties-provides professional training to deaf actors, with whom Kuroyanagi often appears. Kuroyanagi has twice brought America's National Theater of the Deaf to Japan, acting with them in sign language. She is the author of ten books.

, author, poet, and composer, was born in Japan and educated in the United States and England. A pupil of Darius Milhaud, she is well known for her popular Capitol Records album "Japanese Sketches," in which Tetsuko Kuroyanagi's father is violin soloist. Her distinguished translation of Basho's Narrow Road to a Far Province is a classic. She is author of The Japanese Crane: Bird of Happiness and co-author of National Parks of Japan. Her most recent work includes a translation of Princess Chichibu's autobiography, The Silver Drum and Kuroyanagi's Totto-chan's Children.

The Little Girl at the Window


Tetsuko Kuroyanagi

Translated by

Dorothy Britton

The Railroad Station

They got off the Oimachi train at Jiyugaoka Station, and Mother took Totto-chan by the hand to lead her through the ticket gate. She had hardly ever been on a train before and was reluctant to give up the precious ticket she was clutching.

“May 1 keep it!” Totto-chan asked the ticket collector. “No, you can't,” he replied, taking it from her.
She pointed to his box filled with tickets. "Are those all yours!"

“No, they belong to the railroad station,” he replied, as he snatched away tickets from people going out.

“Oh.” Totto-chan gazed longingly into the box and went on, “When I grow up I'm going to sell railroad tickets!”

The ticket collector glanced at her for the first time. “My little boy wants a job in the station, too, so you can work together.”

Totto-chan stepped to one side and took a good look at the ticket collector. He was plump and wore glasses and seemed rather kind.

“Hmm.” She put her hands on her hips and carefully considered the idea. "I wouldn't mind at all working with your son,” she said. “I’ll think it over. But I'm rather busy just now as I'm on my way to a new school."

She ran to where Mother waited, shouting, “I’m going to be a ticket seller!” Mother wasn't surprised, but she said, “I thought you were going to be a spy.”
As Totto-chan began walking along holding Mother's hand, she remembered that until the day before she had been quite sure she wanted to be a spy.

But what fun it would be to be in charge of a box full of tickets!
“That's it!” A splendid idea occurred to her. She looked up at Mother and informed her of it at the top of her voice, “Couldn't I be a ticket seller who's really a spy!”

Mother didn't reply. Under her felt hat with its little flowers, her lovely face was serious. The fact was Mother was very worried. What if they wouldn't have Totto- chan at the new school! She looked at Totto-chan skipping along the road chattering to herself. Totto-chan didn't know Mother was worried, so when their eyes met, she said gaily, “I've changed my mind. I think I'll join one of those little bands of street musicians who go about advertising new stores!”

There was a touch of despair in Mother's voice as she said, “Come on, we'll be late. We mustn't keep the headmaster waiting. No more chatter. Look where you're going and walk properly.”

Ahead of them, in the distance, the gate of a small school was gradually coming into view.

The Little Girl at the Window

The reason Mother was worried was because although Totto-chan had only just started school, she had already been expelled. Fancy being expelled from the first grade!

It had happened only a week ago. Mother had been sent for by Totto-chan's homeroom teacher, who came straight to the point. "Your daughter disrupts my whole class. I must ask you to take her to another school.” The pretty young teacher sighed. “I'm really at the end of my tether.”

Mother was completely taken aback. What on earth did Totto-chan do to disrupt the whole class, she wondered!

Blinking nervously and touching her hair, cut in a short pageboy style, the teacher started to explain. “Well, to begin with, she opens and shuts her desk hundreds of times. I've said that no one is to open or shut their desk unless they have to take something out or put something away. So your daughter is constantly taking something out and putting something away - taking out or putting away her notebook, her pencil box, her textbooks, and everything else in her desk. For instance, say we are going to write the alphabet, your daughter opens her desk, takes out her notebook, and bangs the top down. Then she opens her desk again, puts her head inside, gets our a pencil, quickly shuts the desk, and writes an 'A.' If she's written it badly or made a mistake she opens the desk again, gets out an eraser, shuts
the desk, erases the letter, then opens and shuts the desk again to put away the eraser-
-all at top speed. When she's written the 'A' over again, she puts every single item back into the desk, one by one. She puts away the pencil, shuts the desk, then opens it again to put away the notebook. Then, when she gets to the next letter, she goes
through it all again--first the note-book, then the pencil, then the eraser--opening and shutting her desk every single time. It makes my head spin. And I can't scold her because she opens and shuts it each time for a reason.”

The teacher's long eyelashes fluttered even more as if she were reliving the scene in her mind.
It suddenly dawned on Mother why Totto-chan opened and shut her desk so often. She remembered how excited Totto-chan had been when she came home from her first day at school. She had said, “School's wonderful! My desk at home has drawers you pull out, but the one at school has a top you lift up. It's like a box, and you can keep all sorts of things inside. It's super!”

Mother pictured her delightedly opening and shutting the lid of this new desk. And Mother didn't think it was all that naughty either. Anyway, Totto-chan would probably stop doing it as soon as the novelty wore off. But all she said to the teacher was, “I'll speak to her about it.”

The teacher's voice rose in pitch as she continued, “I wouldn't mind if that was all." Mother flinched as the teacher leaned forward.
“When she's not making a clatter with her desk, she's standing up. All through class!” “Standing up! Where?” asked Mother, surprised.
“At the window,” the teacher replied crossly.

“Why does she stand at the window?” Mother asked, puzzled.

“So she can invite the street musicians over!” she almost shrieked.

The gist of the teacher's story was that after an hour of almost constantly banging her desk top, Totto-chan would leave her desk and stand by the window, looking out. Then, just as the teacher was beginning to think that as long as she was quiet she might just as well stay there, Totto-chan would suddenly call out to a passing band of garishly dressed street musicians. To Totto-chan's delight and the teacher's
tribulation, the classroom was on the ground floor looking out on the street. There
was only a low hedge in between, so anyone in the classroom could easily talk to people going by. When Totto-chan called to them, the street musicians would come right over to the window. Whereupon, said the teacher, Totto-chan would announce the fact to the whole room, "Here they are!" and all the children would crowd by the window and call out to the musicians.

"Play something," Totto-chan would say, and the little band, which usually passed the school quietly, would put on a rousing performance for the pupils with their clarinet, gongs, drums, and samisen, while the poor teacher could do little but wait patiently for the din to stop.

Finally, when the music finished, the musicians would leave and the students would go back to their seats. All except Totto-chan. When the teacher asked, "Why are you still at the window?" Totto-chan replied, quite seriously, "Another band might come by. And, anyway, it would be such a shame if the others came back and we missed them."

"You can see how disruptive all this is, can't you?" said the teacher emotionally. Mother was beginning to sympathize with her when she began again in an even shriller voice, "And then, besides...
"What else does she do?" asked Mother, with a sinking feeling.

"What else?" exclaimed the teacher. “If I could even count the things she does I
wouldn't be asking you to take her away.”

The teacher composed herself a little, and looked straight at Mother. "Yesterday, Totto-chan was standing at the window as usual, and I went on with the lesson thinking she was just waiting for the street musicians, when she suddenly called out to somebody, 'What are you doing!' From where I was I couldn't see who she was taking to, and I wondered what was going on. Then she called out again, 'What are you doing!' She wasn't addressing anyone in the road but somebody high up somewhere. I couldn't help being curious, and tried to hear the reply, but there wasn't
any. In spite of that, your daughter kept on calling out, 'What are you doing?' so often I couldn't teach, so I went over to the window to see who your daughter was talking to. When I put my head out of the window and looked up, I saw it was a pair of swallows making a nest under the classroom eaves. She was talking to the swallows! Now, I understand children, and so I'm not saying that talking to swallows is nonsense. It is just that I feel it is quite unnecessary to ask swallows what they are doing in the middle of class."

Before Mother could open her mouth to apologize, the teacher went on, “Then there was the drawing class episode. I asked the children to draw the Japanese flag, and all the others drew it correctly but your daughter started drawing the navy flag - you know the one with the rays. Nothing wrong with that, I thought. But then she suddenly started to draw a fringe all around it. A fringe! You know, like those fringes on youth group banners. She's probably seen one somewhere. But before I realized what she was doing, she had drawn a yellow fringe that went right off the edge of the paper and onto her desk. You see, her flag took up most of the paper, so there wasn't enough room for the fringe. She took her yellow crayon and all around her flag she made hundreds of strokes that extended beyond the paper, so that when she lifted up the paper her desk was a mass of dreadful yellow marks that wouldn't come off no matter how hard we rubbed. Fortunately, the lines were only on-three sides."

BOOK: Totto-Chan, the Little Girl at the Window
2.57Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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