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Editorial: Japan nat'l book essay contest a chance to reflect on life-changing encounters

The winners of the 68th national youth book essay contest, a yearly contest sponsored by the School Library Association and The Mainichi Newspapers Co., have been decided. Over 2.97 million essays were submitted from a total of 24,459 elementary, junior high, and high schools across Japan and Japanese schools abroad.

    Encounters with books nurture people and expand their world. People across the globe are facing various issues, from Russia's invasion of Ukraine to environmental destruction, and essays that considered these issues through books stood out, hinting at the high level of interest in these topics.

    There were also students whose eyes were opened to issues in society though the books they read. Minami Hase, a third-year student at No. 2 Minamisuna Junior High School in Tokyo's Koto Ward, read the Japanese translation of "Man's Search for Meaning" by Viktor Frankl.

    The book chronicles Frankl's experiences as a Jewish psychiatrist who survived imprisonment in Nazi concentration camps during World War II. Touching on the prisoners who would give up their bread for their starving friends, it praises the noble spirit of humans who choose themselves how to behave even when facing the most extreme circumstances.

    At the time she read the book, Hase was worrying about her future course, and she picked up the book in search of emotional support. She realized that until then she had only been pursuing her personal happiness.

    "A life dedicated to making other people happy is what fulfills the heart." The solid growth Hase achieved through reading the book was recognized, and her essay was awarded the education minister's prize in the junior high school division.

    In a lecture in 1980, Frankl said that being a human means we can be different anytime we choose. He stressed that the ability to overcome oneself and to grow is something that everyone possesses.

    However, whether a person can actually change or not likely depends on whether they have an experience that triggers them to do so. An encounter with a book can serve as such an experience.

    Books broaden the perspectives of readers, and turn their interest to the societies surrounding them. How can we achieve a better society? By changing ourselves we can take the first step toward considering that question.

    By deeply interacting with the books we encounter, we can discover a new side to ourselves. We want many children to know the joy of doing this.

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