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Japan meets Edgerton: New book discusses Rascal’s real-life origins

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Stacy Vogel
December 30, 2007
— At this very moment, someone in Tokyo, Japan—population 12 million—might be reading about the tiny city of Edgerton, Wis.—population 5,000.

She might be looking at pictures of Lake Koshkonong, the train depot or the shops of downtown Edgerton. She might see a map of Wisconsin or read about how tobacco is grown.


Mostly, she will learn about Rascal, one of the most beloved animated characters in Japan.


Until now, most Japanese knew Edgerton as Brailsford Junction, the fictional name of the town in Sterling North’s book “Rascal” and the wildly successful animated series in Japan.


But a book by Japanese author Kaori Chiba aims to change that. The book, loosely translated “Want to Meet Rascal?”, was published in November to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the “Rascal” series in Japan.


Of course, every good Edgerton resident knows North wrote the 1963 book “Rascal” based on his childhood experiences in the city and his pet raccoon. The book was turned into a Disney movie in 1969 and a Japanese anime in 1977.


Mika Conway remembers the anime well. She grew up in Japan and moved to Edgerton with her husband and children in 1999.


“I watched this cartoon when I was 10 years old,” she said. “Everybody watched it.”


So Conway jumped at the chance to help Chiba research the book when the author visited Edgerton.


Actually, Chiba visited Edgerton three times. She asked Conway to help with the process after the first visit a few years ago, but it took a while to get the process going.


“I almost forgot about this lady,” Conway said. “Then last year, she sent me an e-mail.”


Chiba returned to Edgerton in the spring and fall of 2007. Conway served as tour guide and translator, taking her to the Sterling North Home and Museum and other places of historical note.


Walt Diedrick, tour guide at the museum, showed Chiba the house and answered questions about American culture and Edgerton in the early 20th century.


“She had a lot of questions about everything,” he said.


Chiba wasn’t the first Japanese person to research “Rascal” in Edgerton. The cartoon’s creators visited the city before starting work on the animation.


Chiba’s book shows animated pictures side-by-side with the real places they depict, and the similarities are remarkable.


Today, many Japanese visiting the United States stop at North’s boyhood home, Diedrick said. The home has shelves full of toys and other items related to the Japanese cartoon.


Chiba’s book will go on the display, too, he said.


Conway isn’t sure why Rascal became so popular in Japan, but it was a well-made cartoon, she said.


Besides, who could resist such an adorable character?


“People always enjoy little, cute cartoon animals,” she said.


IN THE BOOK

The Japanese book “Want to Meet Rascal?” by Kaori Chiba describes Edgerton and explains many elements of American culture that appear in the Japanese cartoon based on Sterling North’s book.


Included in the book are:


-- Photos of the Sterling North Home and Museum, downtown Edgerton, tobacco warehouses and the Rock River.


-- A column explaining what sugar cubes and strawberry soda. Both items appear in episodes of the “Rascal” cartoon, and neither is common in Japan, said Mika Conway, who helped Chiba research the book when she came to Edgerton. The book even includes a picture of a Gray’s soda bottle.


-- Histories of Edgerton, Sterling North and the tobacco industry.


-- A description of Wisconsin’s weather and agriculture.



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