A note from the author
Although THE WOMAN IN THE WHITE KIMONO is a work of fiction, it’s inspired from real events and stories, including my own—or rather, my father’s. His story of the beautiful Japanese girl he loved in post-WWII Japan while enlisted in the US Navy and how her family had invited him to a traditional tea, but despite learning the required etiquette for the ceremony and practicing his Japanese, upon meeting him, an American sailor, he was refused as a suitor. From there, research (and my imagination) took over.
Fact from Fiction
THE GIRL WITH RED SHOES
San Diego and Yokohama, sister cities located on opposite sides of the Pacific Ocean, share another link—a statue of THE GIRL WITH RED SHOES. The statue was inspired by the famous Japanese nursery rhyme, 赤い靴 "Red Shoes” written in 1922 by Japanese poet Ujō Noguchi, and then composed into song by Nagayo Motoori. The poem and song lyrics place the mother on the Yokohama pier, hiding to watch as her little girl—clad in red shoes—leaves to board a ship with blue-eyed foreigners. In the song, the mother cries out how she will think of her daughter every time she sees red shoes and she wonders if one day her daughter will look back across the sea and yearn for home.
The song and the stories that inspired the statues are true. The little girl’s name was Iwasaki Kimi and the original statue in her honor stands in Yokohama, Japan where she was left in an orphanage and died at the age of nine. To commemorate the 150th anniversary of the opening of the Port of Yokohama, Japan, “The Girl in Red Shoes” was presented as a gift to the Port of San Diego on the shore of Shelter Island near the US Naval base on June 27, 2010.
THE VILLAGE WHERE HAJIME RENTS A HOUSE
While Taura is a real location in Japan, the small village in THE WOMAN IN THE WHITE KIMONO where Hajime rents a house is fictional. I simply needed a location between Naoko’s home in Zushi and the Yokosuka port, but the Eta community it's based on was real.
Burakumin were a socioeconomic minority within the larger Japanese ethnic group. They were originally members of outcast communities in the Japanese feudal era, composed of those working occupations considered impure or tainted by death, such as executioners, undertakers, butchers or tanners. Historically, they suffered severe discrimination and ostracism. Even now, more than a century after burakumin status was officially abolished, their descendants - about three million of the country's 127 million people - still face discrimination, largely based on where their ancestors lived.
THE BAMBOO MATERNITY HOME & HOUSEMOTHER SATO
The Bamboo Maternity home is fictional, but it is based on the Kotobuki Maternity Hospital in Shinjuku, Japan where Waseda police officers found the remains of five babies. When the autopsies revealed they had not died of natural causes, the property was searched and 70 more were discovered. However, due to the expansive grounds, the exact death toll remains unknown.
The Bamboo Maternity home’s director and midwife is inspired from Miyuki Ishikawa, the real-life ‘Demon Midwife’ who ran the Kotobuki maternity hospital in the 1940s. She acted as both director and head midwife, although no license for midwifery existed at that time. She was tried in the Tokyo District Court, and based on testimonies, charged with the deaths over 160 babies and infants. Found guilty, she was sentenced to eight years in prison.
After this publicized incident, abortion for ‘economic reasons only’ was legalized under the Eugenic Protection Law in Japan and a national examination system for midwives was established.
In 1952, Miyuki Ishikawa appealed the eight-year sentence citing inadequate economic means to support the influx of unwanted babies born in her maternity home, and won. The Tokyo High Court revoked her original sentence and reduced it to four years.
The orphanage in Oiso:
The orphanage for mixed-race babies in Oiso that Naoko learns about is based on the real-life Elizabeth Saunders Home created in 1948 by Miki Sawada, the Mitsubishi heiress. In her autobiography, Miki states that in 1947, while riding on a train, the dead body of a mixed baby wrapped in layers of newspaper and cloth fell from an overhead compartment fell onto her lap. This incident inspired the orphanage.
The name Elizabeth Saunders was adopted in honor of the orphanage’s first donor, a Christian Englishwoman who spent 40 years in Japan as a governess in the service of the Mitsui family.
Over ten thousand babies were born to American servicemen and Japanese women before, during, and after the Occupation. Out of those, Miki Sawada reported that just over seven hundred children were surrendered to The Elizabeth Saunders Home.
Naoko, Jin, Hatsu, Sora, Chiyo, Akiyo, and Yoko:
Naoko and the girls in the maternity home are inspired from the real-life stories from the many adoptees from the Elizabeth Saunders Home I met and interviewed while attending the first US reunion held on Shelter Island in San Diego near the GIRL WITH RED SHOES statue.
I continue to be a part of this wonderful community through The Elizabeth Saunders Home Reunion Group on Facebook run by the great niece of Elizabeth Saunders.
The USS TAUSSIG, THE TAIWAN STRAIT CRISIS:
The USS Taussig, part of the 7th Fleet, was the real ship my father served on in the US Navy with tours of Japan, so it naturally became Hajime's ship in the novel. And, just as in the novel, the ship did patrol the Taiwan Straits during escalated conflict. It also was delayed when caught within accidental cross-fire which earned the ship a battle star.
The TAUSSIG Cancer Center in Ohio:The hospital with the same name as my father's ship (and Hajime's) does exist in Ohio. And like Pops, my father applied for a cancer trial within their facility. However, unlike Pops, my father's cancer was deemed to far advanced to grant a consultation. Oddly enough, I didn't know the coincidence of the hospital's name until I was researching the novel. It was then I decided to give him and Tori something I wished I'd had - time.
Photo of Hajime with a Japanese woman on the ship:
The photo Tori finds of her father during an open-house community day aboard the USS Taussig where he is standing near a young Japanese woman was pulled straight out of my father's photo album. Other research that made it into the novel: my miltary records request and the fire that caused their delay and the emailed photo of my father from the USS Taussig's yearbook sent from a retired shipmate.
Jizō statues:It is said that mizuko, water children—the stillborn, miscarried, and aborted—cannot cross over alone, so a Jizō statue is placed at the grave wearing a bright red bib and cap to alert the spirit who helps smuggle children into the afterlife. Jizō statues are common in cemeteries throughout Japan.