Mariko Sato and Japan

Michael Ende in his Munich apartment, 1989
Michael Ende in his Munich apartment, 1989
Michael Ende and Mariko Sato were married on 4th September 1989
Michael Ende and Mariko Sato were married on 4th September 1989
Michael Ende, 1990
Michael Ende, 1990

S Even as a child Michael Ende had been fascinated by Japan. He loved Lafcadio Hearn’s Japanese legends and ghost stories, and in 1959 he wrote a play inspired by Hearn’s material. Die Päonienlaterne (‘The Peony Lantern’) was written for radio, but never broadcast. Ende was primarily interested in Japan because of its radical otherness. The Japanese language and script were so different to Ende’s native German that it seemed they were grounded in a different kind of consciousness – an alternative way of seeing the world. His study of Zen only increased his desire to find out more about this mysterious culture. He was particularly intrigued by the way in which everyday circumstances were shaped into intricate rituals, such as the tea ceremony. There was, he realized, a sharp contrast between the traditions of ancient Japan and its industry-oriented modern-day society. Ende soon won a devoted following in Japan, and by 1993 over two million copies of Momo and The Neverending Story had been sold. Perhaps Ende’s critical treatment of modern industrial society found particular resonance in Japan.

Michael Ende first met Mariko Sato in 1976. Sato had moved from Japan to Germany in 1974 and was working for the International Youth Library in Munich. After their meeting at the Bologna Children’s Book Fair, Sato translated some of Ende’s books into Japanese and helped answer some of his questions about Japanese culture. From 1977 to 1980 Michael Ende and Mariko Sato worked together to produce a German translation of ten fairy tales by Japanese writer Kenji Miyazawa. The German text was never published, but the working partnership turned into a friendship.
Mariko Sato accompanied Michael Ende on a number of trips to Japan. The first trip took place in 1977 and included visits to Tokyo and Kyoto. For the first time Michael Ende was able to experience Kabuki and No theatre, and was greatly impressed by traditional Japanese drama. He also learned about the art of archery and met with a Roshi (learned teacher) in a Zen temple.
In 1986 Michael Ende was invited to attend the annual congress of the JBBY (Japanese Committee for International Children’s Literature) in Tokyo. He gave a lecture on ‘Eternal Child-likeness’ – the first detailed explanation of his artistic vision.

1989 marked the opening of the exhibition ‘Michael and Edgar Ende’ in Tokyo. The exhibition was subsequently shown in Otsu, Miyazaki, Nagasaki, Osaha, Nagoya and Fukuyama. At the invitation of Shimbun, a Japanese newspaper, Michael Ende attended the opening and spent two months touring Japan. It was his third trip accompanied by Mariko Sato.
The following year an archive devoted to Michael Ende was established at Kurohime Dowakan, a museum in the Japanese city of Shinano-machi. Ende donated letters and other personal items to the collection. On 23rd October 1992 Michael Ende made his final trip to Japan. He was accompanied by his second wife Mariko Sato-Ende, whom he married in autumn 1989. In the course of their three-week visit they visited the Dowakan museum, joined Ende’s Japanese publishers, Iwanami, in celebrating the millionth sale of Momo, and travelled to Kanazawa and Hamamatsu and a number of other cities that were new to Ende.

Whilst travelling in Japan Michael Ende was always keen to gain a deeper insight into Japanese culture. He was intent on trying to understand as much possible about the country, despite the ‘immense distance’ that separated him from its culture. In his view, Japanese cultural traditions such as the haiku, No theatre and Zen could only truly be understood by a native of the country. ‘All the same I love and admire these things, and my ideas and writing would not have been the same without them.’