A Snake, a Kitchen Ninja, and Japanese Art? (Plus Announcement*)

Back in early October my dog, Scarlet (aka the kitchen ninja I mention in my author bio) wanted to befriend a snake. Determined to kibosh that opportunity before it got started, I intervened. I knew it wouldn’t end well. As a result, I fell, hit my head, and suffered a mild concussion. (On the upside, I was right- it didn’t end well. But only for this silly human-snake and Scarlet were unharmed).

Scarlet resting after Snake encounter- while I was on opposite couch with ice pack on my head and back

  Thankfully, CT scan ruled out any internal bleeding from the blood thinners I take. But I became overly sensitive to lights/sounds which led to some severe headaches. A scarier symptom I had at the beginning was having a word in mind to write down yet writing a completely different word. I’m happy to say that hasn’t happened in a while.

Concerned when my severe headaches continued into December (past the usual 20-30 days), I decided to do what calms me- research. (Some people knit, I research) 😊 Before that, my husband reminded me that my noggin’ had been jostled in a rollover accident years ago. So, this is not my first concussion-is anyone who knows me really surprised?! 😊 (29 years ago, my husband and I were in a rollover accident on my birthday-yup true story! I hit my head on the passenger side window. My guardian angel definitely watched over us because it could have been so much worse-the car looked like an accordion). This could account for my symptoms lasting longer.

According to the Concussion Alliance, a concussion breaks the connections of the “billions of neurons” that form a pathway allowing our cells to communicate to do various tasks as well as react to emotions.
It takes a lot of cell energy to reconnect the network of neurons. That’s been the probable cause of my difficulties performing normal daily functions like focusing, forming words, pouring that much needed cup of java in the morning.

To complicate things further, as many of you know, I have Complex Regional Pain Syndrome (CRPS), also known as Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy (RSD). RSD already messes (technical medical term) 🙂 with the sympathetic nervous system, so that could also prolong my concussion headaches.

But another issue resurfaced after my CT scan- anxiety attacks. The test brought back traumatic memories of the two years that I spent having MRIs and CT scans as I went in and out of hospitals-at weeks at a time and nearly dying from a blood clot I had no control over. It probably doesn’t help that February 14th marks 20 years since that first hospital stay with a DVT that began my RSD journey.) Those memories added to the layer of swirling anxiety we all have with COVID-19, put my panic attacks on warp speed.

On a day that my headaches wouldn’t let up and I was feeling sorry for myself eating crispy rice treats straight out of the pan (yeah it was one of those days); I was reminded of God’s perfect timing when I received this beautifully painted wooden ornament from a talented artist and sweet friend- Kat Whitham in the mail.

This ornament represents the art of Kintsugi. Kintsugi (golden joinery) is a Japanese art form (over 400 years old) that mends broken pottery. But it isn’t just gluing pieces back together-the art is expressed through the materials used such as a lacquer mixed with gold, silver, or platinum. So instead of blending in or hiding that it was ever broken in the first place, it highlights the broken area thereby bringing a new beauty to the item.

Interestingly, over 9 years ago while researching and writing TLCB, I came across Kintsugi art for the first time. I kept the notes in my folder labeled “to be used in sequel”- I was nothing if not hopeful 😊.

Being someone who tends to drop things a lot (even before RSD affected my hands) I have become quite a whiz with a glue gun. Whenever I mend a broken object, I try to make it look as seamless as possible so no one can tell (anyone else remember that Brady Bunch episode of trying to fix the broken vase from playing ball in the house?) I digress…

So, as I work on my sequel (ever hopeful), I truly feel that Kintsugi-beauty in one’s brokenness- applies to my mother. Her heart and life shattered into so many pieces on August 6th. Because of her survivor guilt, PTSD, and prejudice against atomic bomb survivors (out of fear of radiation poisoning) she didn’t think she had a reason for existing anymore, so why should anyone else want her? She felt she should hide so much of her pain.

When I look back 20 years ago, I see the beauty of the time my mom poured her heart out to me with memories of the atomic bombing at a time when I felt broken and that my life would never be the same because of the RSD diagnosis. Kintsugi’s concept that objects can still be beautiful even while emphasizing the breaking point made me realize that when life events shook me leaving a crevice that I felt could never be filled, followed by the belief that I would never be whole again-nor even want to be whole again; hope still existed. Instead of hiding these fractured moments in my life, it’s okay-even preferable to let them shine recognizing that they make me who I am today. The spaces in my heart now filled in with fortitude, empathy, and compassion.

Mom & I shortly after my RSD diagnosis 20 yrs ago

My Mom never discussed Kintsugi with me, so not sure if I’ll actually use the specific art in the sequel. But I can say you’ll definitely recognize a similar theme for the main character, Yuriko, as she tries to come to her own conclusion as to what “living her life” means for her after the atomic bombing.

Okay, back to the beautiful and timely gift. I love the hearts on the ornament. I feel that they are representative of the love of family, friends, along with my faith that slowly fills in the gaps yet, leaving me open to opportunities. Opportunities to share empathy with others who may have gone through something similar health wise as well as keeping my mother’s voice as a Hibakusha alive. I can find my purpose again (just as my mom once told me 20 years ago). ❤

It’s taking longer than I’d like for my neuron pathways to reconnect and I’m still working through my anxiety attacks. But the timing of receiving this ornament, being reminded of Kintsugi, has given me a new way to look at what I saw as a loss because of the months I had to take off from email, virtual events, and screen/phone time to deal with extra pain. I’m already limited from my RSD pain and I was angry at myself for doing something so stupid that made me feel even less productive.

Yet in that space, I found comfort working on my sequel. I couldn’t do it for too long because of the headaches but that took the pressure off of writing until I thought it was “perfect”. We eat by candlelight which was kind of nice-dare I say, romantic. Okay we can’t always see what we were eating, but sometimes that works to my advantage though. In addition to this, I’m learning to be better at setting boundaries with my time/energy.

So along with a lot of deep breathing, mindfulness exercises, virtual appointments with my therapist, and prayer, I have also been journaling my thoughts of helplessness, fear, and panic. I hope that it will give me some peace. I’m also hopeful that journaling about my panic attacks, will give me insights to my character Yuriko’s (based on my mom) PTSD symptoms in the sequel to The Last Cherry Blossom.

January and February can be reminders of the various breaks in my heart. My Godfather passed away on January 4th 7 years ago, my mom passed away 6 years ago on January 15th and February 14th marks the event 20 years ago that my current panic attacks are connected to. But even though I still feel the loss, I can also feel the love of all those that were there for me then and are here for me now.

I hope that some of my rambling today may help someone else see beauty in their brokenness. And I pray I’m able to continue to share my empathy and compassion for the emotional scars that my mother had from the atomic bombing with students/future voters so nuclear weapons are never used again.  Which leads me to my announcement:

*I’m humbled by and very grateful for an invitation from the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum to participate in a virtual event to honor my mom and discuss being a 2nd gen Hibakusha in the US, this Friday night(Feb 12th 8pmEST)!! ❤   My session is titled “A Hibaku Nisei’s (2nd gen survivor of atomic bombing) Labor of Love.” My friend (Hibakusha sister) and amazing award winning author Naomi Hirahara (Mas Arais mystery series) will also be speaking about her parents who were both in Hiroshima atomic bombing. The museum enjoyed the program we did together for the Japanese American National Museum last August.*

P.S.  In case you’re wondering, the snake was a black rat snake (Pantherophis Obsoletus – for you snake aficionados out there). They are supposedly harmless but did not look that way to me at the time! From now on the (aging) kitchen ninja can fight her own battles-I (also aging) have learned my lesson…

 

 

 

Also sharing at Joanne Viola

Flashbacks

The other day an app on my phone sent me a “5 years ago” grouping of pictures-usually it just reminds me that I take way too many random pictures of food, or my dog in such a short time span. But this time, these pictures sparked memories of when my husband, daughter and I visited Hiroshima for the very first time. It was July 15, 2015-6 months (to the day) after my mom passed away. As you may know, we honored her at the Hiroshima National Peace Memorial Hall for Atomic Bomb Victims.

We stayed at a ryokan (a traditional Japanese inn with traditional meals serving local and seasonal items) on Miyajima Island (10-minute ferry ride from port of Hiroshima). Interesting fact-the actual name is Itsukushima Island after the famous Itsukushima Shinto shrine (a UNESCO World Heritage Site) built over water there-but has been called Miyajima-Japanese for shrine island, for quite some time

We spent July 16th, at the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park and Museum. We stood in front of the iconic A-dome building in shock and awe, we bowed our heads in prayer at the cenotaph (built in 1952-the year that all Allied Occupation Forces left Japan) that protected the cement vault holding 108 leather bound books inscribed (by hand) with names of over 297,000 people(2015 numbers) who had since died but were in Hiroshima on August 6th . My mother‘s name was added in time for President Barack Obama’s historical visit in May 2016.

We stopped at the school children monument to pay our respects to my mother’s classmates that died that day. At the Hiroshima Memorial Hall, I lovingly and proudly added her story to the database and her picture  on the Memorial Wall, near her Papa.

Inside the Peace Museum we listened to a survivor story, but instead of being told by an actual survivor or family member it was by a trained volunteer. Since the survivors are dwindling, and some family members may move away, the museum recognizes the importance of keeping these stories alive. TLCB wouldn’t come out until a year later, but after listening to that compassionate volunteer’s respectful manner telling that survivor’s emotional story-even though had no relation to them at all -sparked the decision that I would do my best at making sure these stories-of my mom’s , my families’ suffering and loss that day were also never forgotten. I think I cried from the moment we arrived until after we left. I’m tearing up as I write this now….

Okay, got my tissues-we can move on…

We not only took in the splendor of my mother’s hometown with the Seto Inland Sea, Mount Isen, and palm trees. But, as we walked the sandy path to the Itsukushima Shrine(famous also for the giant red Torii gate that seems to float in high tide) where my mother went for various festivals, we saw Hiroshima through her eyes. I finally understood why she always said she grew up in the most beautiful of places. Fun fact – Nara may be known in Japan for having over 1,000 sacred deer, but Miyajima Island also is home to many photo friendly deer. You might even see deer eating “street food” or wearing a pine cone on its back! 🙂 

Of course, as with any trip we had some drama-just a little typhoon headed for Hiroshima. We caught the last ferry back to Miyajima Island where a lovely ryokan employee waited for us at the ferry station, knowing we were due back that afternoon.  They didn’t know when, but wanted to be sure someone was there when we did return-so they waited all day-so very kind and thoughtful (heck, we can’t even get everyone to wear masks,here). I’d also like to mention that while in Hiroshima Peace Park and back on Miyajima Island,everyone was so calm about the typhoon-even as the wind picked up. It would be like having a summer thunderstorm here in NC-expected and usually no big deal(except to Scarlet, our kitchen ninja dog, whose only nemesis is booming thunder). I fully empathized with her and lost my feeling of calm, knowing the typhoon was headed our way. And oh yeah, we were staying on an island-you know- by definition- surrounded by water.

It was unnerving to hear the wind and the rain that night. I don’t think any of us got much sleep. However, the next morning we woke up to gorgeous weather. The worst of the typhoon veered around us-coincidence, I say not…. Especially if you knew my mom! She would never let something happen to us after we honored her and her Papa.

This trip down memory lane leads me to the fact that this year is the 75th Anniversary of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima (8/6) and Nagasaki(8/9). I am beyond grateful for the upcoming opportunities to honor my mom, family, and other atomic bomb victims. I hope that I’m instrumental in giving a voice to what they endured. And that the type of horrific deadly destruction that lived in their hearts, dreams, and memories for their entire lives never happens to families ever again.

I truly wish that my body holds out so I may use the skills, and compassion the Lord gave me to continue sharing the message that we must remember our connection to one another as human beings. Hopefully my words can open readers,(future voters’) hearts as well as their minds to what happened at 8:15am that August day 75 years ago. Deadly mistakes that we are at risk of repeating if we don’t connect with the fact that the people under those now famous mushroom clouds were someone’s child-like my Mom or someone’s parent-like her Papa-my Great Grandfather.

My mom & family in their back yard

Below is the list of events along with description of the sponsoring groups. Please check out these sites and catch their commemoration if you can, not just to see me (which I would love to ‘see’ you), 🙂 but to hear other survivors stories, and from coalitions, that are working toward peace and elimination of nuclear weapons:

August 1 Ribbon2020 10am EDT   

(Sara and I will be holding the banner ribbon that Sara made.)

I met June Tano by email and a few months later we met in person at the UN Bookshop signing and she gave me two beautiful ribbon banners. The Ribbon was founded by Justine Merritt who had visited Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum in 1982. She was greatly affected by the tragedy caused by the Atomic Bomb. After arriving home, it came to her to create a Ribbon, and decided to have a Ribbon event on the 40th memorial anniversary of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

August 4th Interview on Asian America Podcast with Ken Fong

ASIAN AMERICA: THE KEN FONG PODCAST is a weekly show that explores the cultural, artistic, historical, and spiritual aspects of the Asian American community. Each podcast, host Ken Fong shares stories and thoughts from his own life, and then interviews guests across all sectors of society who are transforming what it means to be Asian American.

August 5th May Peace Prevail on Earth 6-8pm EDT 

(I will be one of the people saying a few words.)

I was introduced to Fumi Stuart, Executive Director, USA World Headquarters, whom I instantly felt a feeling of friendship. The Organization’s first seeds were planted in Ishikawa, Japan where a small gathering of peace workers joined Masahisa Goi to listen to his philosophy and visions for a better world. Masahisa Goi came to be respected as a great master in his field throughout Japan and his ideals for peace on earth gained much support.

August 6 HiroshimaNagasak75 #StillHere

(Sara and I will be speaking live at 7:30-7:55pm EDT)

I had an interview on the podcast, Nukes of Hazzard(Center for Arms Control and Nonproliferation Washington, DC) last year on 8/6.  They are one of the 150 coalitions that are organizing this National Virtual Event. and who invited me to submit a proposal for this event.

August 7 Greensboro NPR THE STATE OF THINGS 12-12:30 pm EDT

August 15 The Japanese American National Museum Virtual Event: Daughters of Hibakusha Tell Hiroshima Stories

“Two award-winning Japanese American authors Kathleen Burkinshaw and Naomi Hirahara,(Hiroshima Boy) join together for the first time to discuss how they felt compelled to tell the stories of their Hiroshima hibakusha (atomic bomb survivors) parents through novels.”

Mom, I love you and you will always be the bravest person I will ever know ❤

Will also be sharing on Welcome Heart

Always Check your Spam Folder

Way back in November,2019 PC (pre Covid-19)… November 5th to be exact I had the honor of speaking at the United Nations in New York City!!!(I know, crazy, right?!) Now, you may remember that in December 2018 I did my chair happy dance when the United Nations Office of Disarmament Affairs (UNODA) listed The Last Cherry Blossom (TLCB) as an Education Resource for Teachers and Students!

Well in April 2019, John Ennis, UNODA Chief of Information and Outreach invited me to participate in a New York City teacher education program in conjunction with Hibakusha Stories, an organization in NYC whose mission is to keep the stories of atomic bomb survivors(hibakusha) alive and taught to the younger generations. Not only that, but as a partner with International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN) Hibakusha Stories share the 2017 Nobel Peace Prize*! This teacher education program will assist teachers in adding nuclear disarmament to their curriculum. As if that were not amazing enough, I also would participate in the UN Bookshop Meet the Author event and discuss my mom’s experience of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima, and TLCB. I still feel so giddy just thinking about it 😊

The night before I spent time going over what I would say and taking in the view of Manhattan traffic in the glow of the city lights (my family knows that’s one of my favorite things to do). The view was just so amazing!

NYC lights view

The next morning, I woke up about 3 hours before we had to leave (we had to arrive 8;30). Watching the darkness of early morning burn off from the first ray of sun for the day- a perfect setting to pray, review my notes (again), marvel at the view, and repeat. While I was getting ready, my husband had returned with a surprise treat of a chocolate croissant with my much -needed large cup of coffee. He knows me so well 😊

We had a short walk toward the United Nations building. An interesting note about the UN building- did you know that once you enter you are no longer in the United States?! Yup, although its headquarters’ address is in New York City, once you go through security and enter the courtyard you are entering 18 acres of international territory. Yes, 18 acres- definitely a much larger facility than it looks from the outside! I was very grateful for their kindness in making sure that a wheelchair would be waiting for me(thanks to Diane Barnes)-I’d have never been able to walk everywhere we went that day. Before we entered the UN, I met Suzanne Oosterwijk, a lovely person who had been my main contact before our arrival and the person organizing where I needed to be that day.

View of UN from hotel window

Moments before my magical day began

With Susan Oosterwijk

Our first stop-meeting room for the teacher symposium. Next to the table of fresh fruit and bagels from Brooklyn(yes, I know, I am all about the food), we were greeted by Dr. Kathleen Sullivan, Hibakusha Stories Director and Education Consultant to UNODA along with, Robert Croonquist founder and treasurer Youth Arts New York(parent organization of Hibakusha Stories). Dr. Sullivan and Mr. Croonquist also share the Nobel Peace Prize as partners of ICAN. So not only did I have amazing opportunity to meet Nobel Peace Prize winners, I worked alongside them and they let me hold the actual medal!! THAT was so cool.

Matt and I holding Nobel Peace Prize Medal!

With Nobel Peace Prize winners Dr. Kathleen Sullivan and Robert Croonquist

Before the symposium started, I met, Mitchie Takeuchi. I was thrilled to finally meet a second generation Hibakusha like myself! I felt an immediate connection with her. As I listened to her tell the story of what happened to her mother and grandfather in Hiroshima atomic bombing, my heart ached with empathy. I know that we are both doing what we do to honor our loved ones’ voices, and to give a voice to victims who never had a chance to speak. It humbled me to participate in a session with over 40 compassionate teachers who came, on their own time, to discover ways to add nuclear disarmament to their curriculum.

With Mitchie Takeuchi

With NYC teachers, ICAN, Hibakusha Stories, and myself.

{Before I move on to the UN Bookshop presentation, I just want to say if you have a chance to eat at the UN Cafeteria (once it is safe to do so) the views alone are worth it! But the international selection of food is also delicious. 😊}

I am normally a little nervous before I speak no matter if it is in person or on Skype. But when we exited the elevator and I saw all the people in the bookshop, the various Japanese newspapers/photographers, and NHK World Japan, I’m not gonna lie, I was a potpourri of shocked, humbled, and suddenly extremely nervous. However, once I got to the front, I, reminded myself that this wasn’t about me. I prayed that I would honor the memory of my mom, family and all atomic bomb victims, and that my heart would shine through my words. I looked at my husband for that reassuring smile, and finally, I savored that moment and my once in a lifetime paparazzi experience. Having Dr. Kathleen Sullivan as the moderator was surreal. Did I mention she won the Nobel Peace Prize?! 🙂

Maher Nasser introductions

 
During the question-and-answer section someone commented that TLCB could be the “Anne Frank of Japan”. That totally blew me away. During the book signing I met so many wonderful people and educators. Our new friend Suzanne whisked me off for the United Nations podcast, The Lid Is On, (that aired on my birthday few months ago-a perfect gift)!

With Ana Carmo of UN podcast

Speaking with Fumitaka Sato ,NHK World Japan

The afternoon ended back where we began this joyous day and I had a chance to chat with the UN ODA staff and wonderful members of Hiroshima Stories. I’m so incredibly grateful to John Ennis, Chief of Information Outreach for UN Office of Disarmament Affairs and colleagues Soo Hyun Kim, Diane Barnes, Suzanne Oosterwijk, and Maher Nasser(United Nations Bookshop). As well as to Dr Kathleen Sullivan, Robert Croonquist, Diane, Debra, and Carolina from Hibakusha Stories/Youth Arts New York.

Dr.Sullivan on phone making Matt & my dinner reservations!

John Ennis, UNODA

Matt and I capped off the day with a delicious dinner at Sakagura restaurant. When we returned to the hotel room, I spent the rest of the evening looking out the window at the city lights and traffic below. Before I fell off to sleep, I relived all the amazing moments of the day. If I had to pick one word to describe that day it would have to be magical. The only thing missing was having my Mom there with me to share that day and to know her voice had mattered. But I believe my parents were there in spirit. ❤ The magic of that day shall live in in my heart forever. ❤

Sakagura restaurant,NYC

Matcha tiramasu-as beautiful as it is a delicious dessert


So, now to the reason I named this blog post… One of the interviews I had after the book signing was with NHK World Japan, that filmed part of my presentation at the UN Bookshop. Later they posted about it on NHK World Japan website.

A few days after I returned home, I happened to glance at my Spam folder and found an email from Fumitaka Sato the award winning Senior Correspondent for NHK World Japan that I met at the UN Bookshop! Sato-san wanted to learn more about my mom, how my daughter started my journey to write TLCB, and how it has been used in schools worldwide. And the rest you know from my social media posts about the Japanese and English segments on NHK World Japan TV 🙂 

So, my advice to you all is ALWAYS check your Spam folder. You never know if there is an email waiting to change your life. (Spoiler: if it is from a Prince in a far-off country-that is DEFINITELY NOT the one). 🙂 

* for the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons that the United Nations adopted on July 7,2017. Although it has not been ratified by all the countries involved, including the ones with the largest number of nuclear weapons (the United States and Russia)- it is a beginning and a sign of hope.