Thursday, January 12, 2017

Dispatch from Nagasaki: Visiting Sachiko Yasui

As readers of Sachiko: A Nagasaki Bomb Survivor's Story know, it took fifty years before Sachiko was able to speak publicly about surviving the atomic bomb as a young child and experiencing bullying, thyroid cancer, and much more in the years that followed. Beginning in 1995, Sachiko traveled in Japan, Canada, and the United States to share her story and her message of peace. However, Sachiko had a stroke in fall 2013, and she is no longer able to travel or give public presentations. Author Caren Stelson had conducted multiple interviews with Sachiko before the stroke, but the book-in-progress took on new meaning for them both after it became clear that the book would be the only way for Sachiko to continue sharing her story.

Arriving at Nagasaki Station
In early January of this year, author Caren Stelson and a number of others traveled to Nagasaki, Japan, so that we could bring Sachiko to Sachiko. After arriving at the nursing home and dutifully removing our shoes and putting on masks, we went to greet Sachiko herself. It was quite an emotional moment for everyone as Caren presented Sachiko with her own copy of the book. Sachiko was delighted to page through it, and she said to Caren, “I have been dreaming of this day for a very long time.”

Caren Stelson and Sachiko Yasui
The group visiting Sachiko with Caren included a couple of members of the St. Paul-Nagasaki Sister City Committee as well as art director Danielle Carnito and me. Our hosts were members of the Nagasaki-St. Paul Sister City Committee, along with Sachiko's younger sister Etsuko, and we couldn’t have asked for more fantastic guides.

The whole group with Sachiko--we were allowed to remove our masks for the photo.
After our visit with Sachiko, we took part in a variety of meetings and events, including meeting Nagasaki mayor Tomihisa Taue. We did some sightseeing as well and especially enjoyed the spectacular nighttime view of the harbor from Mount Inasa. Yet the sights that will stay with me the most are the places we saw that are part of Sachiko’s story.

One-Legged Torii Gate
Above is the One-Legged Torii Gate, which was damaged by the blast on August 9, 1945. About 1,000 meters south of the hypocenter, the torii has stood for 71 years as a symbol of atomic destruction.

Sakamoto International Cemetery
Also in that same neighborhood is the Sakamoto International Cemetery, to which Sachiko’s family retreated in the immediate aftermath of the bombing. In 1950, Sachiko entered the cemetery through the gate shown above when she met with a group of war orphans to teach them things she was learning in school.

The camphor trees are at the top of the stairs.
Finally, we saw the camphor trees, which are estimated to be 500 years old. Camphor trees are sacred in Japan, and these particular trees are just 800 meters from the hypocenter, yet they miraculously survived. When Sachiko’s family began to rebuild their home in Nagasaki in 1947, Sachiko’s mother praised the survival of the trees, and their strength inspired Sachiko in the years that followed. To see them in person was truly moving—their resilience and their beauty will stay with me for a long time to come.

Looking up to the sky through the camphor trees

To see more about our trip, check out the following:
#LernerinJapan on Twitter
Facebook Page for the Nagasaki-St. Paul Sister City Committee
Yahoo! News article (in Japanese)

For more about the book, check out:
New York Times review
Washington Post review
Caren Stelson's website
Q&A with Caren Stelson
The Book That Took a Village
The Return of the Sword

A special thank you to Danielle Carnito and Mike Hinz (my dad!) for providing some of the photos included in this post.

5 comments:

  1. Thank you for sharing Sachiko's story. The book is beautiful, compelling, and poignant; I also recently used it in a presentation as an example of a book with exceptional back matter. And thank you for this blog post; your words and pictures amplify the book's message of hope.

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  2. What a powerful and compelling story!

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  3. It sounds like a trip of a lifetime. Thanks for sharing the journey with us!

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  4. Thank you so much for reading and commenting, Tracy, Brian, and Rebecca! Domo arigato gozaimasu.

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  5. Great post about our ability to learn from the past--and about the power of books to bring us together. Thanks for sharing. I loved seeing your images of places I read about in this fantastic book!

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