Moomin characters are all the rage in Japan. It became evident when an art exhibition of Moomin illustrations by Tove Jansson started in Tokyo. Only in three weeks, more than 135,000 visitors turned up! Japanese editors who did meet Jansson share their memories.
At Kodansha Company Ltd, that has published translations of Jansson's book, Ryohei Suzuki was the first Japanese editor and he was also involved in the birth of TV animation series. He met Jansson for the first time at Haneda International Airport in 1971 when Jansson and her longtime partner Tuulikki Pietilä arrived at Japan.
Jansson did not enjoy the crowds, he said. On the contrary, once in the country side, she was always happy and even funny as she invited Suzuki for "rendez-vous"‒this is exactly what she said‒and walked along the lake together.
Despite her cheerfulness, she became emotional at night. One day, Pietilä told Suzuki that Jansson was weeping in her hotel room. At another time, he was informed from an employee at a Japanese-style hotel that she had heard sobbing outside Jansson's room.
"Everywhere she went in Japan, she received a fervent welcoming. I can imagine how deeply moved she was," Suzuki said. "On the shinkansen, the conductor approached us and said to her on his knee, 'My child loves Moomin so much. Could I have your autograph?' She was surprised and lost for words for a while. Then, on his small notebook, she gave him her autograph accompanied by sketches of Moomin and his girlfriend."
Suzuki himself received a surprise souvenir when Jansson returned from a short trip to the seaside resort Toba, Mie Prefecture. It was a paper placemat full of illustrations by Jansson, and one of the characters is a Moomin holding a wine glass! Nearby is drawn a sake bottle. This placemat is also on display at the Moomin exhibition that is touring Japan.
"Soon after she had handed this over to me, she retrieved it and added the word sake on the bottle," Suzuki said. According to this former editor, Jansson and Pietilä enjoyed the taste of sake very much during their stay, and preferred it hiya (cold).
After learning that they wanted to own a Konica 8-mm camera, Suzuki gave one as a present. With the new gadget, Jansson and Pietilä recorded their journey with enthusiasm. Their footage became part of a documentary film including the scene showing the two talking about Suzuki. The films were screened at the Tokyo Northern Lights Festival in February.
Hiroko Yokokawa, who took over Suzuki's position in 1990, met her idol writer twice: the first time in Tokyo, the second time at Jansson's atelier in Helsinki.
On April 20, 1993, when she arrived at the hotel in Helsinki in the evening, Yokokawa was handed a message from Jansson that said she would be expecting her at 11 a.m. the following day. Yokokawa went to see Jansson in a super nervous state, but the moment the door swung open, Jansson welcomed her very warmly. “We probably talked a little bit about her books or something. But soon after that, party started!" Yokokawa said. Jansson's two brothers and Pietilä joined and they enjoyed wine, food and a lot of laughter together.
For this visit, Yokokawa brought a handmade sleeveless silk vest she had asked her grandmother to make for Jansson, as a souvenir. In return, Tove gave the young editor a hand-knitted shawl. "She soon put the vest on. I later learned she had often worn it," she said.
This short journey to Finland gave Yokokawa more insight and inspiration, that culminated in a book titled Moomindani he no Tabi (Journey to the Moominvalley) she edited. She still treasures Jansson's thank-you message that included all parties involved in realizing this book. Yokokawa said she was so surprised to read Jansson's letter full of gratitude, because it was not common for writers to compliment book designers, Yokokawa said. "I really think Tove was a warm-hearted, considerate person who understood what it takes to publish a good book."
The two editors have kept all the letters from Jansson. Quite amusingly she added "san" to address her editors and even herself (Japanese usually do not use this affix when referring to oneself). Her handwritten "Tove-san" at the end in each letter induces a chuckle, leaving whoever reads it feeling warm at heart.