J-Boys: Kazuo’s World, Tokyo 1965

On March 4, the International Olympic Committee delegation arrived in Tokyo for a facilities inspection. While the new Olympic bid is underway, adults wax nostalgic about the 1964 Tokyo Games, as well as the economic boom years of the 1960s.

Shogo Oketani’s novel J-Boys, Kazuo’s World, Tokyo 1965 (Stone Bridge Press, 2011, translated by Avery Fischer Udagawa) tells the story of Kazuo, a nine-year-old living in Tokyo after the 1964 Japan Olympics.

Mr. Oketani began the novel when living in Northern California, where everyone eats tofu. “Most Americans think Japanese love tofu, and of course, we do eat a lot of tofu in Japan. But when I was a boy, I hated it,” he recalled.

In California, Oketani came across an article about the passing of Bob Hayes, who won two gold medals in the Tokyo Olympics — the 100m where he broke the world record, even while running on a chewed-up lane in borrowed spikes, and the 4 x 100m relay, also setting a world record. The article jogged Oketani’s memory, so he created the character of Kazuo, a boy who hated tofu and wanted to be a good athlete like Bob Hayes. “Hayes was the Usain Bolt of his time,” Oketani said.

In the 1960s, there were lots of American cartoons and dramas on Japanese TV every night, which Japanese kids like Oketani loved. He began to write scenes of 1960s Tokyo through the eyes of a boy who grew up influenced by American pop culture. The fifteen stories that became J-Boys describe several months in the life of nine-year-old Kazuo and his friends, looking into their future.

Mr. Oketani and Ms. Udagawa visited the American School in Japan, using J-Boys as a springboard to introduce aspects of traditional Japan, the influence of American culture, daily life in the 1960s, and social concerns such as migrant workers and bullying. Weighty topics (urban expansion, the effects of war) balance with lighter ones (rock and roll, school lunches) to create a book that interests readers while inciting curiosity about social issues.

More international school visits are planned for 2013. For more information or to arrange a school visit, see http://www.j-boysbook.com. — LEZA LOWITZ

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