Since many of my Japanese friends married American servicemen, I looked forward to reading Cherry Blossoms in Twilight: Memories of a Japanese Girl by Yaeko Sugama Weldon and her daughter, Linda E. Austin. To my delight, it reminded me of the "Little House" books except that rather than being written about nineteenth century rural America, this book was written about twentieth century Japan, set in a small town near Tokyo with Mt. Fuji in the distance.
This gentle book shows how children entertained themselves before the advent of mass media—playing outside, catching snails and tadpoles, using flowers and seeds for pretend play, daring each other to take scary adventures such as fetching something from the graveyard or icehouse where others hid in order to scare them. Illustrations and photographs by the authors add to the interest, as Weldon and Austin describe holidays and festivals such as Boys' Day, Girls' Day and Tsukimi (Full Moon Viewing in September).
Not all of Yaeko's life was happy. She describes sibling rivalry, hunger during the Depression, and hiding in air-raid shelters during the war, although these events inspire the reader by showing how these struggles helped Yaeko become stronger. After reading this book, I now understand why many Japanese women married American men during the U.S. occupation, since many of the Japanese men had died in the war.
Children studying other cultures could identify with Yaeko as they read about her life and adventures, while the glossary of Japanese terms might motivate them to learn some Japanese conversational language. Also in the appendices are some delightful children's songs in both Japanese and English and photographs of Japan during the 1950s. This is a well-designed and edited little book that will educate and entertain both elementary and middle school students.
Yaeko Sugama was born in Japan in 1925. She grew up in the small town of Tokorozawa, near Tokyo, and there experienced the Depression years and World War II. Some years after the war, she met and married an American serviceman. Her husband brought her to the United States in 1958. They settled in Joliet, Illinois, and raised two daughters, Linda and Kathleen. After a divorce and brief second marriage, Ms. Sugama Weldon moved to Madison, Alabama, for a number of years. She currently resides in St. Louis, Missouri.
Linda Emiko Austin was born in Chicago in 1959. She was raised on the outskirts of Joliet, Illinois, and schooled in nearby Plainfield. She has many fond memories of visiting Chicago's "Japantown" along North Clark Street as a child, especially the old Star Market grocery and J. Toguri Mercantile, where the scent of incense and the feel of an old-time era of Japan opened a window into her Japanese heritage. Linda lives with her husband and two daughters in St. Louis, Missouri.
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