Author: anniedonwerth-chikamatsu

This site is a resource for teachers and librarians for my middle grade novels, Somewhere Among (2016) and Beyond Me (2020) Caitlyn Dlouhy Books Atheneum , Simon & Schuster. My 25 years as a foreign wife in a multi-generational home in Japan inspired Somewhere Among and my experience of the 2011 earthquake and aftershocks was the basis for Beyond Me. My bicultural children helped when I started my photoblog for children, Here and There Japan, in 2006. Teachers follow me on Facebook at Annie Donwerth-Chikamatsu and Twitter at AnnieDonwerth_C

BEYOND ME June 2020

Last February, I was so thankful to have finished the final galleys of my second verse novel, Beyond Me, based on our experience of the aftershocks in west Tokyo from the Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami of 2011. After 3 years of remembering, researching and writing it, we were advised to self-isolate for COVID before being quarantined in March. After these 4+ months of going only to the grocery and hardware store, walking twice to the Botanical Gardens and riding up Mt. Fuji yesterday (for our 30th anniversary) I can still hold strong to the things I wrote about and what got me through Tokyo’s month of aftershocks; family, friends and pets, and tending Earth (for me gardening). Here as in the Acknowledgements, I would like to thank my children for skyping me away from the manuscript, to Papa and friends Mari Boyle, Kathy Schmitz, Kristin Ormiston and Cam Sato for pulling me away to do fun things; to SCBWI Japan’s advisors Holly Thompson, Naomi Kojima, Mariko Nagai, Avery Fischer Udagawa for always organizing an …

An Inspiration

Toida-san started farming when he was seventeen years old. His family owned land from their house (north of ours) all the way down to Tama River. Before World War II, the land where our house now stands was an orchard of mulberry trees for silk worms. There are no mulberry trees around here, but I actually saw a silk moth in the garden here thirty years ago. It was the first time I had ever seen one. Toida-san and his wife farmed the fields behind our house until he retired at 90 years old. I watched them for years from our windows and roof garden. After I got a digital camera in 2006, he gave me permission to get closer to take photos. I photographed every season before he retired. I used the photos for reference for Beyond Me. I will post more photos here. It is bittersweet to go through them and it is hard to choose among them. Meanwhile, if you are interested, check posts at Here and There Japan under the categories “urban farming” …

Birds of BEYOND ME

I see birds everywhere in west Tokyo. They are in my garden and in the farmer’s fields outside our windows. Before the pandemic, I walked to the grocery store or to the station every day so I would see them in the trees along the street, in garden trees, and on buildings. I would take the camera with me (before iphones) and I would take walks just to photograph them. So naturally, birds have shown up in my writing. Click on my photos to look more closely, but also click on the link in red below them to see photos at Cornell Lab’s eBird. Be sure to click on “Listen” on their page. You can hear what I hear almost every day.   White-cheeked Starlings (Spodiopsar cineraceus) come to the fields to forage for insects. One always followed or led our neighborhood farmer as he tilled his field. The same one every day? Every year? I am not sure. The farmer has retired and I still see starlings. But none follow the farmer who rents …

The Cat

All along, I knew there would be a cat in Beyond Me. From the beginning I knew the cat would black, but I started thinking about how a three-colored cat is considered lucky. I decided the cat would be black. With a red collar and bell. Later, as I was going through my farming photos researching the seasons of the vegetable fields I found this photo. It was the first and only time I saw that cat. He was sitting next to taro. The photo was taken March 2012, the year after The Great East Japan Earthquake and Tsunami.

Somewhere Among

Set in Japan 2001. Ema is an eleven-year-old American-Japanese girl; bi-cultural, bilingual and bi-national with an American mother and a Japanese father. Ema has lived in Japan all her life, has attended Japanese public school, has done well and has friends that she has to leave for a few months because of her mother’s difficult pregnancy. She and her parents go across Tokyo to stay at her grandparents’ house. Ema’s grandmother takes care of them and makes sure that Ema knows the finer points of Japanese culture. Ema is miserable trying to keep peace between her grandmother and mother,  to keep cool in the summer heat, and to keep up her studies. She finishes the schoolwork for the semester under her grandmother’s nose and in front of the television. It is always on; her grandfather never misses the news. Things heat up even more for Ema when a bully at the neighborhood school that she has to attend in the fall makes her life miserable as well. Waiting for the sibling she has always wanted, …

Writing Somewhere Among

I didn’t set out to write about 9-11. At the time of the earthquake and tsunami March 11, 2011, I was working on a middle grade prose novel set in Texas, my home state. The earth rocked our Tokyo house for months afterwards. The damaged nuclear plant threatened Japan’s air, food, and water. Leaving Japan was not an option. We were rooted here. We had lived with my Japanese in-laws for over twenty years, one child was in university, and the other was about to start Japanese high school. Who could leave and come back? Health issues, an ageing mother-in-law, and pets made it impossible to go to the area to volunteer. I tried working on the Texas novel and sent out a lifeline by paying for a critique for it. Survival mode took its toll and I eventually had to put it aside. I needed to ground myself in Japan. Gardening and photographing nature and our neighborhood farmer had always been grounding. Writing, too. I wasn’t able to write about the aftershocks, the fleeing …

Heiwa no Daitō, The Great Pagoda of Peace

Over the years, I have seen this building rising from the treetops on our way to and from the Narita airport. Though it does not appear in the story of my middle grade novel, Somewhere Among, a rendering of it by Alessandro Gottardo made its way onto the cover. Its Japanese name is Heiwa no Daitō and its English name is The Great Pagoda of Peace. The two-roof building is a tahōtō, a Japanese structure called a unlike pagodas in other Asian countries. It stands 190 feet high and sits on top of a hill on the grounds of Shinshoji Temple in Narita City. Underneath the ground floor of The Great Pagoda of Peace, a time capsule, scheduled to be opened in 2434, holds messages of peace from 11 world leaders. A Peace Festival is held each May.

Peace Doll

Over twenty years ago, as I was getting off the train at my station, a Japanese woman handed me the paper doll encased in a plastic sleeve. A slip of paper on the outside says,”May Peace Prevail on Earth.” We have used it as a Christmas ornament ever since. I was surprised by the English and have always wondered about it. Was the woman handing out dolls to foreigners she saw on the train? Did she have dolls with the Japanese translation to give to Japanese people? I once found a link to a Japanese group who was giving peace dolls away. I cannot find it now, but it may have been linked to the group who created Peace Poles and Masahisa Goi of Japan. When I started writing for children, I searched for a way to use this doll in a story. After the 2011 earthquakes and tsunami of Japan, a story found me.  It turned out to be a story set in Japan 2001. SOMEWHERE AMONG, my first novel, debuted in April 2016.