Every day Japanese tourists visit the cathedral in Antwerp. In front of Rubens The Elevation of the Cross many cry. Why? Nobody in Flanders cries. So why do the Japanese? Furthermore at the initial influx of Japanese tourists, city and cathedral officials could not understand why they wanted to visit the cathedral on Christmas Eve and why they all asked about the dog. What dog? Well, it’s all to do with a book. A Dog of Flanders is a novel about a boy Nello and his dog Patrache written in English by Marie Louise de la Ramée under the pseudonym Ouida in 1872. The book is widely read in Japan and has been adapted for Japanese television twice and for the cinema three times. The animation series was broadcast on Japanese national television and was watched by thousands of children and is being shown over and over again. Apparently any Japanese person can sing the theme song in Dutch or can hum or whistle the theme tune. The story is little known in Belgium and has been Flanders’s secret ambassador for more than 100 years. There is a commemorative plaque in front of the Antwerp Cathedral donated by Toyota.The Dutch translation was only published in 1985.
So here is the story: In the 19th century, a boy named Nello became an orphan at the age of two when his mother died in the Ardennes. His grandfather, Johan Daas, who lived in a small village, Hoboken, near the city of Antwerp, took him in. One day, Nello found a dog, who was almost beaten to death, and named him Patrasche. Due to Johan’s good care, the dog recovered from his wounds and from then on Nello and Patrasche were inseparable. Since they were very poor, Nello had to help his grandfather financially by selling milk. Patrasche helped him pull the milk cart which Nello used to sell milk in the town. Nello made friends with, Aloise, the daughter of a well-off man in the village. The father didn't want his daughter to befriend a pauper. Although Nello was illiterate, he was very talented at drawing. He took part in a junior drawing contest in Antwerp, hoping to win the first prize of 200 francs per year. However, the jury selected somebody else. Afterhis grandfather’s death his life became desperate. Being homeless and orphaned, Nello wanted to go to the cathedral of Antwerp and see Rubens The Elevation of the Cross. But he didn't have enough money to enter. On Christmas Eve, he went to the cathedral with Patrasche and, by chance, the door to the church was open, and he found the painting he loved. The next morning the villagers came looking for the boy and found him with his dog frozen to death in front of the triptych.