The King of Circles - Shuntaro Tanikawa and Kiyoshi Awazu

50 Watts Books


The King of Circles by Shuntaro Tanikawa, designed and illustrated by Kiyoshi Awazu, translated by Yosuke Kitazawa and Ottilia Tanaka / ISBN 9781957625010 / 24-page hardback, 9 x 9.25 inches, printed offset / published in July 2023 by 50 Watts Books


First published in 1971, The King of Circles is a free-spirited and imaginative collaboration between poet Shuntaro Tanikawa and graphic designer Kiyoshi Awazu. They take the reader into a colorful world where round objects compete for the title of "King of Circles."

Betsy Bird from a Fuse 8 list of Unconventional Children's Books: "This is what you get when you decide to combine a poet with a graphic designer, my friends. And I will confess that often when I hear the term “graphic designer” anywhere near a picture book, I want to go hide my head in a hole for a while... But should I be the kind of person who paints an entire occupation with so broad a brush? There are some marvelously creative graphically designed picture books out there and as luck would have it, this 1971 Japanese import is one of them. For one thing, it’s just a legitimately good story. Different round things proclaim themselves to be perfect circles, or capable of creating perfect circles, and they must therefore be the KING of circles, doggone it. Does Pi make an appearance? It sure as heck does, as does mention of the Japanese flag. It all comes to a head when the Earth declares that while it is a circle, it is fully aware of even larger circles in the universe and could never declare itself king. But what really kicks this book up a notch is the fact that in the back the book it instructs kids to draw their own circles. It reads: “Let’s draw a circle—it’s ok if it’s a little bumpy. Let’s draw a circle—it’s ok if it’s a little crooked. Let’s draw a circle—on a white sheet of paper, with all your might—draw your very own circle.” And as anyone who has ever tried to freehand a circle will tell you, this simple instruction, saying that it’s okay if your circle is bumpy or crooked, is incredibly important. Like I say. A legit great book."

Writing about A Tiger in the Land of Dreams and The King of Circles, the legendary bookseller Japanese Avant-Garde Books said: "These are likely the coolest two children's books published in Japan. It's truly delightful to see these cool Japanese books being translated and enjoyed in languages other than Japanese."

About the author: Born in Tokyo in 1931, Shuntaro Tanikawa is a poet, translator, author, and screenwriter. During a prolific career spanning more than sixty years, Tanikawa has become one of the most well-regarded modern poets in Japan. His work has garnered praise both domestically and abroad, with his collection Floating the River in Melancholy winning the American Book Award in 1989. Tanikawa translated Mother Goose rhymes, Leo Lionni, Maurice Sendak, and Charles Schulz’s Peanuts. Tanikawa has also authored many stories for children and was nominated for the Hans Christian Andersen Award in 2008.

About the illustrator: Kiyoshi Awazu was a self-taught graphic designer born in Tokyo in 1929. Fascinated by the intersection of Japanese tradition with modern culture, his imaginative works blended elements from Japanese woodblock prints, calligraphy and Buddhist art with bold colors and confident lines. Influenced by the works of American artist Ben Shahn, a strong political conscience is evident in Awazu’s works. The Return Our Sea poster, which won the grand prize at Nissenbi Exhibition in 1955 and cemented his position as an influential artist in post-war Japan, was created to protest the disruption to the lives of traditional fishermen caused by the American occupation of Japan. Known primarily as a graphic designer, Awazu’s curiosity and keen interest in the world around him led him to expand his colorful portfolio to painting, theater, three-dimensional works, and picture books.

About the translators

Yosuke Kitazawa is a Los Angeles-based writer and producer, whose work includes writings on music, history, and the Japanese American experience. He has produced numerous archival music projects, including the Grammy-nominated Japan Archival Series for Light In The Attic Records. He recently launched his own record label, Temporal Drift. Kitazawa previously translated Tiger Tateishi’s A Tiger in the Land of Dreams (50 Watts Books, 2022).

Ottilia Tanaka is a British illustrator, writer, and Japanese language specialist. A fascination with woodblock prints led her to study BA Japanese at Leeds University. A year spent studying abroad in Kyoto on a JASSO Scholarship at Doshisha University (2011–12) allowed Ottilia to immerse herself in Japanese art and visual culture. Following an internship at the East Asian Art Museum in Bath (2014–15), she gained a place on the JET Programme working as Coordinator for International Relations in Hagi City, Yamaguchi Prefecture and Tokyo (2015–20). During this time, Ottilia translated her first published book, The Hagi World Heritage Sites and undertook an MA in Illustration with Falmouth University, focusing on children’s books. Today, she seeks to occupy the intersection of art and language by exploring communication, both visual and linguistic, from her home in Machida, Tokyo.

A huge thank you to the booksellers who are stocking the book:

Atomic Books (Baltimore)

Beacon Hill Books (Boston)

The Beguiling (Toronto)

Book Thug Nation (Brooklyn) 

Brickbat Books (Philly) 

Desert Island (Brooklyn) 

Dog Eared Books (San Francisco)

Floating World (Portland) 

Iris (West Orange, NJ)

Kinokuniya Los Angeles

Omoi Zakka (Philly)

Revolution Records (Kansas City)

Partners and Son (Philly)

Point Reyes Books 

Skylight Books (Los Angeles)

S & S Corner Shop (Spring, NY)

Take Heart Shop (Austin)

Topos Books (Ridgewood) 

Verbatim Books (San Diego)

Wig Shop Web Shop (Denver/online)

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