“What is essential is invisible to the eye.” -Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, The Little Prince
The Little Prince has become a phenomenon: 200 million books sold worldwide translated into 290 languages; a successful movie with 23 million viewers; 80-episode television series broadcasted in 50 countries; a musical play; the first aerial park in the world located in Colmar, France; Little Prince Village in South Korea; and The Little Prince Museum in Hakone, Japan.
It is in the latter where I revisited one of my favorite childhood books. The Hakone Museum was created on the global celebration of the book’s author and illustrator (Antoine de Saint-Exupéry)’s birth centennial.
The townscape composite of facades allows you a sense of going back to the past while exploring the life of the author, Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, and his most famous book. It is in partaking of the tribute to a beloved character with whom one shared a connection, a friendship, a journey —as well as to the writer who created him— that this homage bears significance and brings satisfaction.
The buildings depicted significant aspects of Saint-Exupéry’s life. Cafe François was in reference to his younger (only) brother, François, who died at fifteen of rheumatic fever while both boys were away at school in Switzerland.
François, a blonde-haired boy, was said to have been Antoine’s closest confidant and at the former’s deathbed, the author in later years wrote that François “…remained motionless for an instant. He did not cry out. He fell as gently as a [young] tree falls.” [SOURCE] … a scene that was matched in the way The Little Prince went:
“He remained motionless for an instant. He didn’t cry out. He fell gently the way a tree falls. There wasn’t even a sound…” -Chapter 26, The Little Prince
Fleuriste Consuelo was in reference to the author’s Salvadoran wife, Consuelo, with whom the author had a passionate but tumultous marriage. Consuelo was thought to be represented in the book by The Rose.
The Hotel Pilote de Guerre references Saint-Exupéry’s career as a war pilot.The corner bank references the posthumous feature of Saint-Exupéry’s portrait, drawings (including The Little Prince) on France’s 50-franc paper money (from 1993 until the Euro replaced the currency).
The indoor hallways contain a photo essay of the author’s life.
More displays are on the second floor but no photography allowed there.
Most of the exhibit information for the indoor museum are in Japanese, so reading up on Saint-Exupéry’s life and brushing up on his book prior to your visit may give you a better appreciation.
Saint-Exupéry was an aviator (a highly decorated one by the end of his life) and his own plane crash in the Libyan desert where he suffered dehydration in 1935 resonates of the opening of The Little Prince.
“I had an accident with my plane in the Desert of Sahara… It was a question of life or death for me: I had scarcely enough drinking water to last a week.” – Chapter 2, The Little Prince
There is a restaurant and a gift shop where you can linger.
Antoine de Saint Exupéry failed… TWICE…his final exams at a preparatory Naval Academy. [This is an encouragement for you if you’ve ever failed at anything.] In the end, he gained the highest French order of merit, the French Medal of Honor. There are historical markers on the home where he stayed in Quebec for a summer. In his birthplace, Lyon, there is a statue of him beside The Little Prince. The Lyon-Saint Exupéry Airport and station, Gare de Lyon Saint-Exupéry, are named after him. A street in suburban Paris is named Rue Antoine de Saint-Exupéry. There are many more honors that he received posthumously.
“There is something mysterious about the little prince who looks at the world through the eyes of a child but articulates his observations like a wise man. It’s a book for the child within us. [Saint-Exupéry,] had a lively imagination that seemed to be constantly active… His whole life was a sort of fascinating and very likable chaos.” -Joseph Hanimann, Author of Saint-Exupéry’s biography [SOURCE]
Walking through the Hakone Little Prince Museum and gardens brought back memories of childhood, innocence, hope, inspiration. Thank you, Monsieur Antoine de Saint-Exupéry for reminding me to never lose my childlike wonder!