Bringing a Peace of Hiroshima to North Carolina

At the home I grew up in, a stately evergreen tree towered over our front yard. This pine tree gave shade every summer. It’s the spot where my father would sit while he made sure my best friend and I did not drown in the pool that we spent hours in-until my friend’s lips would literally turn blue. 🙂

It’s the spot where we all sat on a swing while the smoke from the mosquito coils (remember those?) swirled around us as we ate watermelon or ice cream at the end of a fun- filled summer day. I treasure these childhood memories.

Sadly, some years later, that majestic evergreen had to come down-I don’t quite remember why. The front yard looked so lonely with just a grounded stump in the middle. My mom decided to fill that void with a graceful Japanese Maple sapling. She loved the idea of having a tree that reminded her of the ones in the yard of her Hiroshima home.

This stroll down memory lane, leads me to the event I alluded to in my last blog posts. Since my novel, The Last Cherry Blossom, introduces readers to the culture of Japan in the last year of WWII, I wanted to bring Hiroshima to the state I’m living in when my book published. Last year I found a program called Green Legacy Hiroshima, which was started by two friends: Nassrine Azimi and Tomoko Watanabe. Green Legacy Hiroshima is under the umbrella of the United Nations Institute of Training and Research (UNITAR).

Green Legacy Hiroshima(GLH) cultivates and sends seeds from trees that miraculously survived the atomic bombing on August 6th, also known as A-bomb trees. When we visited Hiroshima two years ago, we viewed these trees and it was a remarkable sight to behold.

GLH has sent seeds to 30 countries to be cultivated into saplings that would then be planted in memory of the victims of nuclear weapons and to spread the message of peace. Currently in the United states, only six states have these saplings. North Carolina will now become the 7th state. (In the future, I’d really like to work on having an A-bomb tree planted in Rhode Island. It is the state I grew up in, and is the first state my mom moved to when she came to the United States and lived in for over 50 years before moving to NC in 2013).

So, in late 2015, I contacted Nassrine Azimi and discussed my wish to partner with GLH and a university in North Carolina to plant a sapling from an A-bomb tree. In July 2016, she connected me with a couple in Atlanta, Georgia (Steve and Elizabeth Leeper) that had nurtured a Ginkgo sapling. This would save time and paperwork normally needed to procure and quarantine the seeds that arrive from Japan. I’m very grateful for the elimination of that process. My husband and I drove to Atlanta last July and picked up the sapling.

The A-Bomb sapling grown from seeds of Mother Ginkgo tree to be planted at UNCW

http://www.lang-arts.com/survivors/shukkeien.html

The Mother Ginkgo tree at Shukkeien Gardens after atomic bomb.

http://www.lang-arts.com/survivors/shukkeien.html

Mother Ginkgo tree today,Shukkeien Garden

My daughter, Sara, attends the University of North Carolina, Wilmington(UNCW) and is minoring in Japanese. It seemed like a great fit. I contacted the coordinator of the Japanese Minor and Senior Lecturer of Japanese at UNCW, Kano-sensei. She loved this idea as well and would work with me to make this happen.

This past spring semester, Sara joined the newly formed Japan Club at UNCW. She discussed having a fundraiser for the dedication plaque for this Hiroshima A-bomb tree. The Japan Club jumped on her idea and set up fundraisers within a week. The Japan Club, with the help of some other donors had raised the funds needed within a few months. The Japan Club members, Kano-sensei, and UNCW have been fantastic. The Japan Club is currently planning the dedication ceremony.

UNCW Japan Club Members

UNCW Japan Club GLH cookie sale

Kano-sensei invited me to speak at the North Carolina Teaching about Asia Network Seminar being held at UNCW on Saturday, September 30th. The dedication ceremony will take place after this seminar.

I’m so grateful to my daughter, her professor, the Japan Club members, and UNC Wilmington. Their enthusiasm and dedication to this cause truly touched my heart.

I do have one other very important reason why I feel that UNCW is a perfect fit. In the summer of 2014, my mother toured only one college with my daughter. And yes, that college was UNCW. 😊

I hope that whenever someone walks between the UNCW Student Union and the pond near Leutze Hall, they might find respite from the heat of the Carolina sun under this A-bomb tree. And while sitting there, would read the plaque, be reminded of what happened on August 6, 1945, and the wish for peace that these trees bring. I pray that these Hiroshima A-bomb trees are the last ones that will ever need to be planted to remind us of why nuclear weapons should never be used again.

When the A-bomb Ginkgo tree is dedicated to the Ishikawa family, on September 30th, I am sure my mom will be smiling. Just like she did whenever she looked at the Japanese maple in our front yard.

My thoughts and prayers go out to all those affected by Hurricane Harvey and Irma.

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TLCB BLOOMING ANNIVERSARY TOUR

So for the first(and most likely the last) time, here is my second post in one week as promised.

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One year ago, today, THE LAST CHERRY BLOSSOM bloomed! I remember the excitement that bubbled inside me when I spotted the book that had my name on it at Main Street Books, in Davidson, NC on that day! (Happy squeal!!)

After fawning over my books on the shelf and taking many pictures, I had just stepped outside when a wonderful moment of serendipity happened. A man came in wanting to pick up a book that his daughter pre-ordered and it was MY book!!!

It was a surreal, incredible moment that I shared with my husband and daughter. The only one missing was my mom. I like to think that she and her family were celebrating with us in spirit that afternoon.

To this day my stomach does the same happy flip-flop whenever I see it on a bookstore or library shelf. THAT feeling will never get old 😊

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So, to celebrate this milestone, I have a Rafflecopter giveaway(link at the bottom of this post) that starts today! It will run through August 31st . Two winners will be chosen at random by Rafflecopter. The goodies that I’m giving away to each winner are: a signed copy of THE LAST CHERRY BLOSSOM. TLCB silk fan, TLCB notebook, TLCB lip gloss, magnet, and cherry blossom origami paper.

TLCB & Beautiful Blooming Swag

I’m honored that these fantastic blogs and podcasts will be featuring THE LAST CHERRY BLOSSOM throughout the month of August, please visit if you can:

August 1st    Interview on WPFW Pacifica Radio Network, w/host Dave Rabin on Community Watch & Comment
August 3rd   Darlene Beck Jacobson’s blog
August 6th   Interview on Reading With Your Kids Podcast with host, Jed Doherty

August 7th    Kathy Temean’s Blog Writing and Illustrating
August 12th  Smack Dab in the Middle Blog
August 21st  Guest post on Carol Baldwin’s Blog
August 28th The Kidlit Exchange blog

As I mentioned in my last blog post, as excited as I am for TLCB’s Anniversary, the most important August date for me is August 6th. I’ll be honoring the memory of my mom, her family, all the victims who died, were injured, and those that are victims to their chilling memories from that day, in a special celebration September 30th. All I can say right now is that I will be bringing a piece of Hiroshima to North Carolina. More information in a future post.

My mom gave me life, brought me up with love, gave my daughter the same love(probably more 🙂 ), and entrusted me with the memories (some sweet, some horrific) from her heart. As a daughter, I can’t ask for anything more than that. I’m so very grateful I was blessed with her as my mom. ❤

Thank you to my husband, daughter, friends, family, reviewers, librarians, teachers, fellow authors, and all the readers for your encouragement for and support of THE LAST CHERRY BLOSSOM! This Blooming Anniversary tour wouldn’t be possible without all of you as well! 😊

a Rafflecopter giveaway

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MEMORABLE FIRST DATES

Two years ago, on July 15th, we visited Hiroshima for the very first time. I remember that we had our first dinner in the ryokan (traditional Japanese inn) that night and we toasted my beloved Godfather, Roger (the one who taught me to laugh through my pain who passed away in January 2014) because it was his birthday. And we of course, toasted my mom (it also happened to be exactly 6 months since she had passed away).

We have beautiful memories-visiting the same shrine my mom visited when she was a little girl-seeing the beauty of where she grew up as she would describe it before the last year of the war. There were some bittersweet moments as well- standing in front of the cenotaph where the names of all the people who were in Hiroshima that day are written after they pass away, knowing hers would now be listed there along with her Papa.

 

(Hiroshima Bay 7/15/15 Kathleen Burkinshaw)

(Cenotaph Hiroshima Peace Park, Kathleen Burkinshaw)

 

 

 

 

 

 

And now in that same month two years later, on July 7th, 122 countries in the United Nations historically voted on adopting a Treaty to Ban Nuclear Weapons. And yes, the main countries who have nuclear weapons (U.S. and Russia being two of them) were not at the meeting and are not planning to sign it any time soon.  Neither was Japan. However, Japan will be holding a meeting on nuclear disarmament later in the year and are inviting experts from both nuclear and non-nuclear nations to rebuild trust between them. But every journey begins with taking a first step.

I was invited to celebrate this first step last Thursday, at the Sowing Seeds of Peace meeting hosted by the Western Carolina region of Physicians for Social Responsibility(WNCPSR) and Nuclear Information and Resource Service(NIRS) in Asheville NC. It was an honor to discuss my mom’s experience in Hiroshima on 8/6/45, with a room full of people who have fought and continue to fight diligently for the abolishment of nuclear weapons (including State Representative for Buncombe County, Susan Fisher).  It was so interesting to hear from people who marched in the June New York City Woman’s March to Ban the Bomb (in the pouring rain) discuss their dedication to this cause.

In addition, people who were at the United Nations(UN) and spoke at the various side sessions also presented.  One speaker was Mary Olson (a staff biologist at NIRS). The UN cited her paper GENDER AND RADIATION, (that discussed how women are more at risk from radiation than men) as one of the reasons for this Treaty. Dr. Terry Clark (Chairperson of WNCPRS) closed the meeting with a glass of sparkling grape juice and a toast, “To the Treaty which works against passivity and brings a sense of hope.” I truly believe my mom would be filled with hope, knowing that this first step(albeit, of many) has been taken.

 

Speaking of firsts……August 2nd is the First anniversary of THE LAST CHERRY BLOSSOM(TLCB) being published-Woohoo!! Who knew how fast time would go and that in the first four months it would go through 3 print runs and in the last 8 months be on school summer reading lists, read by students in Australia, and a Finalist for SCBWI Crystal Kite Award(Southeast region)?! I’m so grateful to everyone who made these events possible!😊

To celebrate this First anniversary, I’m doing a GIVEAWAY!! It will start on August 2nd and end on August 31st.  A link to the Rafflecopter giveaway, info on surprises, list of blogs and podcast that will be hosting me for the TLCB Blooming Anniversary Tour will be in my blog post Wednesday, August 2nd. Which will also be a first for me-having 2 blog posts in one week! 🙂

As exciting as all that is, the most important date in August for me is still August 6th. A day that never escaped my mom’s memory, a day that caused horrible nightmares, a day that her world ignited, and her childhood went up in smoke. And yet, she persevered, found her way to love, and realized she still had a reason to live.

I still can picture my mom sitting in the dining room of the home I grew up in with her treasured picture of her and her Papa prominently displayed when I first began to write down her childhood memories. The dining room was her favorite room.  A large picture window let in the afternoon sun and she loved the way it made the goldenrod color of the walls glow. She also insisted on feeding you when you visited-so if you were at the dining room table she knew you would eat and that made her happy. That day was no different, and I had to move plates of fruit, cheese curls, eclairs, and Social Tea Cookies so that I could have space for my notebook to write-now this was just for an afternoon snack-so you can imagine what the table looked like at an actual meal (&those of you who knew my mom, know I’m not exaggerating)! 😊

She stopped in the middle of her story, and told me that she finally understood why she survived that day. She survived so that her Papa and all the people she lost wouldn’t be forgotten (she never mentioned herself).  She wasn’t the one to tell the story, but God blessed her with someone who would be brave enough to do it. I cried when she said it then and am crying now as I write this post.

But to me, my mom was the brave one. She decided to take that first step toward her new life (and to those that have read TLCB, you know where that first step led her).

I hope that she is smiling in heaven- happy that her Papa, the people she loved, (and yes, mom, you too), will be remembered; not only by friends and loved ones, but even by people all over the world!

This year marks the 72nd anniversary of the atomic bombing in Hiroshima (and Nagasaki on the ninth). Unfortunately, due to health issues, I was unable to schedule anything to commemorate the actual day of August 6th.  However, a very special memorial celebration will be held on September 30th, that I will talk about in more detail at the end of August.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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MOMENTS OF WONDER

A few days before Mother’s Day I came across this photo in my mom’s photo album. Although, taken a few(ahem) years ago, I still remember telling my mom that I had to dress up for Sunday School for her “Mother’s Day surprise card” (I’m much better at keeping surprises/secrets now though).

A few memorable Mother’s Day moments for me are from my first one as a mom.  Two weeks before this Mother’s Day, we had pictures taken of three generations-my mom, my daughter(6 months old), and I. On Mother’s Day, my daughter sat up by herself for the very first time! My parents also drove 40 minutes to my house to hand deliver their first Mother’s Day card to me. We had my mom and mother-in-law over the day before to celebrate them, but my mom insisted on handing it to me on the actual day.

Mother’s Day is also observed in Japan. In 1914, Christian missionaries introduced the second Sunday in May holiday. During WWII, the Japanese government briefly halted this celebration due to it being a western tradition. But now it is celebrated with cards of thanks and carnations are a favorite for this holiday because it is a sweet, enduring flower-like a mother’s love.

This was the second Mother’s Day without my mom, yet I still woke up with the notion to call her and then felt the now familiar ache in my heart when I realized I couldn’t.

I still have many moments like that, especially after I’ve discussed her book with a class or read an email from readers who say the main character Yuriko, is an inspiration to them. I’d like to share one of these recent moments:

Mrs. Park, a wonderful teacher at Cheatham Elementary School in Springfield, Tennessee, wrote me to say that her class read The Last Cherry Blossom, and enjoyed it. Not only that but, they had received a grant from the Dollar General Corporation, and they chose to buy a hard cover copy of TLCB for 125 Fifth Graders with this grant!! I nearly fell off my chair when I heard that-what an honor. If that wasn’t enough, she shared the various projects they did in relation to my novel. Here are a few of them: they learned to write their name in Japanese. I hate to admit this, but I didn’t know how to do that, until my daughter recently showed me.(I also can’t cook rice on the stove without over or under cooking it.My mother loved teasing me about this-but that’s what we have rice cookers for, right?) 😊 The class learned about tea ceremonies, and how to use chopsticks.

But what made my heart melt, was when they told me they made origami flowers in honor of my mom for Mother’s Day!

I, of course, wanted to meet and thank this wonderful teacher along with her fantastic students. I arranged a Skype visit with the entire fifth grade class. My biggest Skype assembly yet! I’m very grateful to Mrs. Park for choosing The Last Cherry Blossom and the time she put in developing a lesson plan around it in the midst of standardized testing.

Visiting with students/readers is one of my favorite things about being an author. I’m so grateful for programs like Skype and Zoom that allow me to virtually visit schools that I can’t physically visit because of pain or monetary cost.

The awe I felt when I visited with Mrs. Park and her class reminded me of my mom’s feelings when I showed her the publication contract for my book. She was completely amazed and wondered why anyone would want to read a book based on events in her life. I hope that she looks down from heaven and she now can see why her story is important. That by talking about what she went through on August 6th can make a difference in the way people may view nuclear weapons. Readers can learn that she and other children in Japan had the same hopes, fears, and dreams as the Allied children had.

Each of us have had a mother or a mother figure in our lives that has given us an example of strength that goes beyond expectations. It happens even in the most mundane tasks that are done for the ones we love. Because some days the ordinary tasks can take extraordinary effort to push through any emotional or physical pain. It wasn’t just the fact that my mother survived the bombing that made her strong (although definitely a big part of it), but that she fought through her emotional pain so she could love and take care of me, and later my daughter. She risked opening her heart to love again, despite her constant fear of a loved one suddenly being taken from her.

I’ve been having more bad pain days then good, but on Mother’s Day I had a wonderful day with my daughter who introduced me to her new favorite drink-Boba. For those of you who don’t know what Boba is (and I was one of them), Boba (also known as bubble tea) is a Taiwanese cold tea drink. It comes in coffee or fruit flavors. The bubble is the tapioca balls at the bottom of the drink. It tasted okay, but sipping a drink and then having to chew the tapioca bubbles confused the senses. Or at least confused mine 😊. But it was fun to try something new. The best part was knowing she still loved having our mom/daughter days even though she’s a junior in college. It has become one of my new favorite Mother’s Day moments.

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Why did I choose The Last Cherry Blossom for my title?

©JapanGuide

Since the cherry blossom season is winding down in Japan, I thought I’d answer the question I get asked quite a bit. It’s also a question on the teacher’s discussion guide for the students to contemplate(shh….it will be our secret).

I have always loved the look of cherry blossoms long before I had an inkling of the importance they would play in my life.  I was 8-years-old when I first gazed at cherry blossoms while we were in Tokyo, Japan for a month. We were visiting the woman I knew (and loved) as my grandmother.

I wish I could post a picture of the cherry trees from that time. However, back in those days there were no cell phones, no digital cameras-but no dinosaurs either -I’m old but not that old 🙂 My dad had an 8-mm movie camera and a 35mm film camera. Can the kids today even imagine that we would have no idea what the movie/photo would look like until it was developed? Sadly, because of this and the fact my dad was not good at taking pictures; many of the photos taken did not come out. I have come across these 8mm films recently and hope to look through them this summer, hopefully catching a glimpse of the blossoms.

In Japan, sakura hanami (cherry blossom celebration) depends on what part of the country you live in. Hiroshima’s season was April 5-12th this year. A popular spot is still Hijiyama park with 1300 cherry trees and is where the main character, Yuriko (as well as my mom) celebrated cherry blossom viewing with her family and best friend. And now, unlike during WWII in my book, visitors can admire the pink blossoms dancing in the evening under the lantern lit, starry skies.

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©GetHiroshima

Now,back to why I named my book The Last Cherry Blossom…

There are actually a few reasons. My mother’s favorite celebration was sakura hanami, it was the last celebration together as a family, and the cherry blossoms bloomed the Spring after August 6, 1945- showing their resilience and strength.

But I also think the cherry blossom in the title can have meaning in the present. Just as I know the cherry blossom’s bloom is short and will eventually cascade to the ground; certain events are out of my control and will happen no matter how much planning, worrying, or proactive work I may do. In the past, it was my mom being sick and leaving me so devastatingly soon.

But some recent examples for me were:

Several weeks ago, we went to Myrtle Beach for our family Spring Break vacation. As some of you may know, the beach is a special place for my daughter and me. We always get one beach day in together-not for the suntan (or in our case the sunburn) but for the company of each other. And we both love the sound and look of the waves lapping against the sandy shore. I feel very close to my mom there as well. So, we looked ahead at the weather, decided on the warmest day, and planned the week around it. When our beach day finally arrived, it was sunny but windy! We could not control being pelted-no exaggeration- by the sand. We tried to tough it out, but within minutes so much sand blew onto our towels it formed a small hill. No matter how much we planned, we weren’t getting our beach day.

An ongoing example- I’ve been marketing my book, which could be a full-time job in itself 🙂 I don’t always know what area to focus on and have not been very good at pacing myself in accordance to my pain levels. But even when I am, I still can be slammed with a two-week full-blown, stuck in bed with burning pain that no amount of crispy rice treats or chocolate could help, flare up. I also became so disappointed in my body all over again for betraying me.

Lastly, this past month, I was reminded that I can’t control when someone may continue to disappoint me. I can try to make excuses for the past, bury it deep, deep down but something can trigger it and there is no way of nipping it in the bud (see what I did there?).

And when that happens, I can only react and decide how I’m going to face that challenge. Sure, I can throw my plush ‘poo’ emoji (that’s a story for another time) against a wall repeatedly, but I can only do that for so long especially before it causes another pain flare (it’s a vicious circle).

In the case of our sandstorm beach day-we moved it to the indoor pool. We had a wonderful day just the same!

When the pain flares strike, I try to accept it sooner and let my body rest, telling my type A personality everyone needs a break-I’m still working on this one (heavy sigh..).

In the last situation, I keep the memories of the good times available, while also reminding myself I’ve done what I could and some people aren’t going to change. But, I can change how I answer myself when I’m questioning if I did the right thing.

That thought reminds me of the toast Yuriko’s Papa said to his family during what would be their last celebration together:

“Cherry blossoms are like life itself-so beautiful, yet so fragile that they bloom only a short time. A toast to my family and to enjoying our time together!”

Enjoy what you can-the rebirth, the new life of the season. And when the blossom falls, know that there will be a change-it may be good or bad, you can’t always control how it unfolds, but you can control how you view it. Papa’s words remind me that you can embrace what’s coming while also letting go. After all,

“The season changes when the last cherry blossom falls……”

 

Also linking up at :

In celebrating May as Asian American Heritage Month, VisitMulticultural Kid Blogs to register for Giveaway. Second Prize pkg includes a signed copy of THE LAST CHERRY BLOSSOM!

Also on 5/6/17 will be linking up atDiverseKidLit

Bringing Historical Fiction to the Modern Classroom

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Please enjoy my recent guest blog post on KIDLITERATI Blog by clicking on the title below:

Reaching Readers Guest Post with Kathleen Burkinshaw

Today we’re fortunate to have debut middle grade author Kathleen Burkinshaw with us to discuss how she brings historical fiction to the modern classroom. Enjoy…click to continue

GETTING THE WHOLE PICTURE….

I remember one day coming home from school – after walking uphill both ways- (sorry couldn’t resist 🙂 ) and being mad at a girl in my class because of something one of my friends told me she said. To be honest, I have no recollection of what the issue was.  However, I do remember my mom asking me if I went up to the class mate and asked her if or why she said anything about me.  I needed to have a better understanding- needed to have the whole picture before making an assumption (and we all know what can happen when we assume).

One of the reasons that I chose not to start THE LAST CHERRY BLOSSOM on the day of the bombing, but instead give the reader a glimpse into Yuriko’s family life first, was to show readers that even though Yuriko lived in Japan she still had the same love of family, fear of losing loved ones in the war, and enjoyed being with her friends. She acted very similar to and had the same emotions as the children in the Allied countries. I hope that by discussing her family traditions and introducing the readers to a culture they may not know much about, I am giving them more than just a couple of paragraphs in a history text-book about the end of WWII in the Pacific. And by the end of the book, they could discover that the people we might see as the ‘enemy’ are not always so different from ourselves.

Which is why I’m so excited to be an Author Sponsor of Multicultural Children’s Book Day which is this Friday, January 27th!! Multicultural Children’s Book Day(MCCBD), co-founded by Valarie Budayr and Mia Wenjen began on January 27, 2014. It is a chance for authors, illustrators, publishers, bloggers, librarians, and teachers to work together and introduce children to books that celebrate each other’s cultures and heritage. But just as important- to be sure these books are available in libraries and classrooms.

Please visit MCCBD’s website and check out the book reviews, reader activities, and book lists. There will be a Twitter party/giveaway of many fantastic books (including mine 🙂 ) on Friday at 9pm. Information can be found on Twitter under #ReadYourWorld.

Multicultural Children’s Book Day is a great start to introducing children to books that encourage them to look at the whole picture – a skill they can develop for years to come.

waystocelebratemccbd2017