Some of the books by Icelandic children’s author Jón Sveinsson, better known as Nonni (1857-1944), have been translated to Japanese, and this year a special Nonni book fair was held in the country, attended by the Crown Princess of Japan.
Nonnahús, the Jón Sveinsson museum. Photo by Páll Stefánsson.
“The fair was very successful and I was much honored that our crown princess came, and she showed great interest,” Motokatsu Watanabe, a former employee of the Japanese Embassy to Iceland and Nonni’s biggest fan in Japan, told Morgunbladid.
“I went to Akureyri and visited Nonnahús [the author’s childhood home, which is now a museum]. I found out that when Nonni […] was 80 years old, he spent one and a half years in Japan. I was fascinated by Nonni’s story and read his books and sought information about him,” Watanabe said of his first encounter with the author.
Since then, Watanabe has tirelessly promoted Nonni’s books in his home country—most of which Nonni wrote about his youth in Iceland—while collecting information about the author’s stay in Japan.
When asked what fascinates him so much about the author, Watanabe recited the story when Nonni and his brother Manni were in a small boat on Eyjafjördur fjord. They couldn’t see anything because of the dense fog that suddenly appeared and their boat just drifted further and further out the fjord.
“It was horrible,” Watanabe said. “But when Nonni realized the danger they were in he decided to devote his life to God and he did. That is what is so fascinating about Nonni. He was determined and followed his goal until he died. I’m not a Jesuit like Nonni, but because of this I find his life a fable which applies to all of us, always.”
“I have been translating Nonni’s books,” Watanabe added. “You Icelanders are in a crisis right now. But that is nothing compared to the richness of your culture. In my mind the value in Nonni’s story is international and important to people everywhere.”