I donated “Children’s Book Forest” because I want children to4cultivate their thinking skills by reading a lot of books.
This article was originally published in the Summer 2021 issue of The ROYAL.
Guests of the RIHGA Royal Hotel:
Architect Ando Tadao
Ando Tadao shares inspiration from a past hero behind the “Children’s Book Forest,” a library he donated to the City of Osaka.
Reading nourishes the soul. It is a way to learn about freedom and courage and to nurture the strength to live.
Ando Tadao, a world-renowned architect, has a special place in his heart for Nakanoshima. Following the “Association for the Heisei-Era, Alley of Cherry Blossoms Campaign, ” which aimed to create the world’s longest row of cherry trees along the rivers of Nakanoshima, he designed a library called the “Nakanoshima Children’s Book Forest” and made a donation to Osaka City for its construction.
“I was born in downtown Osaka and didn’t have access to a library as a child. I managed somehow, but I can’t say that it didn’t make things hard for me. Reading nourishes the soul; it is a way to learn about freedom and courage, and it gives you the strength to live. Providing an opportunity for children to encounter many good books and acquire the ability to think will change the future of Japan. I created this library with the hope that it will serve as a place for children to nurture their thinking skills and the starting point of their limitless future.”
The “Nakanoshima Children’s Book Forest” offers views of the rivers from the terrace in front of the entrance and other locations throughout the building.
“I want the children of Osaka to be proud of their city, so I wanted to make the view of Nakanoshima from the library extraordinary.”
On the terrace is a sculpture of a green apple titled “Youth.” The building has three levels. The walls are covered with built-in wooden bookshelves, and in the center is a grand staircase. There is also an open corridor in the atrium, dimly lit areas that feel like the bottom of a well, and other features that encourage children’s curiosity. Children seem to love the narrow space under the staircase, where they can look down on the Dojima River through the gaps between the bookshelves, and love reading there rather than sitting at the desk.
“Nowadays, children are very busy with cram schools and other activities and have very little free time. I believe that’s not how children should grow up. In order for children to develop into successful adults, they need to do things they can only do while they are children, like play baseball with all their might or read books to their hearts’ content. I hope this library can provide them with the opportunity to spend their time as they please.”
Thoughts on the donors of the Carnegie Library and Osaka City Central Public Hall.
There were other reasons why Ando decided to donate a library.
“Andrew Carnegie, the steel magnate, used to borrow books from the library when he worked as a telegram delivery boy in Scotland. He was deeply thankful that it gave working boys a chance to learn and improve themselves, so he later donated more than 2,500 libraries, mostly in the United States. Knowing that I’ve always wanted to donate at least one library myself.”
There was also a reason why Ando picked the location next to the Naniwa Bridge in Nakanoshima.
“The Osaka City Central Public Hall was built by Iwamoto Einosuke, a stockbroker known as a “chivalrous stockbroker.” He donated one million yen for its construction in order to create a place for big gatherings in Osaka. In today’s value, that would be several billion yen. However, before it was completed, he failed in stock trading and committed suicide. He never saw the completed public hall. I can’t imagine how disappointing that must have been for him. Additionally, the Osaka Prefectural Nakanoshima Library, which was built with a donation from the 15th Sumitomo Kichizaemon, and the Museum of Oriental Ceramics, Osaka, which houses the Ataka collection donated by the Sumitomo Group, are also located in close proximity to the public hall. Therefore, I wanted to build a library for children in this area, which is full of the aspirations of the people of Osaka. I shared my idea with then-Mayor Yoshimura Hirofumi (current Governor of Osaka Prefecture), and thankfully he liked the idea. Consequently, this project started.
A building should be continuously nurtured
However, libraries cost approximately 50 million yen a year to operate, and Ando was told that the City of Osaka could not afford it.
“I talked to about 80 companies in Osaka to find someone who would donate 300,000 yen a year for five years, and eventually collected about 900 million yen over the five years. In addition, I sold my paintings and posters for about 50 million yen. In the end, I was able to raise about one billion yen, enough for 20 years of operations. It is not enough to just build a building. You have to nurture it. Preparing the money for that is just the beginning.”
Currently, two more “Children’s Book Forest” are scheduled to be built in Kobe and Tono in Iwate Prefecture. Despite his apparent energy, he has suffered two major illnesses.
“In 2009, I had my gallbladder, bile duct, and duodenum removed due to cancer, and in 2014, I had my pancreas and spleen removed, but I’m managing. There were also good things that happened because of my illnesses. I’m taking more time to eat, and I walk 8,000 steps every day. I am healthier than ever. Moreover, Chinese people like ‘auspicious,’ so I’m getting more job offers from China. They say, “It’s good luck to work with Ando because he is healthy even without five internal organs.” (laughs)
Ando has given many lectures at the RIHGA Royal Hotel Osaka.
“I have known this hotel since it was the Osaka Royal Hotel. I still come here once every two or three weeks. I like the fact that it is spacious. I think that hotels should be big. I also like the fact that it overlooks two rivers. I think the RIHGA Royal Hotel Osaka is one of the landmarks that Nakanoshima should be proud of.”
Interview/ Shivaguchi Yasuko
Photography/ Kawasumi Tomoaki
Location/ “La Rondeo” at All Day Dining REMONE, RIHGA Royal Hotel Osaka