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Somewhere Among

This site is a resource for teachers and librarians for my middle grade novel, SOMEWHERE AMONG  (Atheneum Caitlyn Dlouhy Books 2016) based on my 25 years in a multi-generational home in Japan. My photoblog, Here and There Japan, is written for children. Updates can be found at FB Annie Donwerth-Chikamatsu and Twitter AnnieDonwerth_C Read More

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 foreign residents, and the radiation crisis of the nuclear plants. I couldn’t bear reading, hearing or seeing anything more about it. I had to disengage to lighten my heart.

In troubled times, we turn to family and relationships and, sometimes, to the past for comfort. I started writing tidbits, the observations and connections I had made over the years here, things that rooted me here, things about living here within a Japanese family for over twenty years:

the old wooden house Great-grandfather built after World War II that leaned in typhoons, jerked in earthquakes, but stood its ground;

the one-room lifestyle we had upstairs in the old house before we built a new house in its place;

the palm tree that soared above its rooftop but now watches over us from outside the new dining room window;

the loving relationships my children had with all their family, and

the memories of my children’s Japanese public school experience.

A dozen or more short pieces, poems and memories quickly evolved into a story from a child’s point of view. The first draft came fast.

I was still dealing with the grief of the earthquake and tsunami. It was still hard to trust the earth beneath our feet. Hard to trust the roof over our heads. Hard to trust the air we breathed.  The story did not turn out to be about any of that. But it didn’t turn out lighthearted.

It had become Somewhere Among, a middle grade novel set in another difficult time, 2001. I shielded our children, then 9 and 5, from the TV coverage of the attacks, but the TV was always on downstairs at their grandparents. The nine-year-old actually created a tower made of yogurt bottles and bandages for the school’s November 2001 art exhibition.

Somewhere Among highlights the history, anniversaries, and tragedies my two families’ countries have shared. It is about reconciliation. About going on. About finding peace within.

It is built from research of events, weather, and NASA before and in 2001. The story includes some true light-hearted and funny instances from our school and family life. The Japanese grandmother (I was asked to say) is not my children’s grandmother. And my children never fell behind in their studies.

But we do appreciate sky watching. We’ve met more friends than bullies, and once, while exiting a train, a woman, seeing I was having a bad day, placed a peace doll in my hand.

It still brightens our hearts.

posted on THE PIPPIN INSIDER, Pippin Properties, INC. blog

Part 2

Why verse?

A reason for poetry is never needed! But this story came in poems.

I have written poetry and short stories throughout my life. Writing short feels natural. Perhaps this story initially came fast in the form I am used to, love, and prefer. If poetry is a part of your life, perhaps stories will come that way to you. I never questioned it.

The story fell together and then I began researching, making sure of the timeline and layering more details of events, the weather, foliage, moon phases and NASA. The story has an extensive bibliography. An abridged copy can be found here on this website.

Weaving relationship details and sticking to the timeline made revisions tricky. It was a mind-blowing experience. Thank the copy editor and the editor, Caitlyn Dlouhy!

The historical events are documented by newspaper articles, TV reports, and my photographs. The neighborhood is based on my neighborhood. The clump of trees down the street. The timing of cicadas and swallows. Foliage changes (this is different in different regions). The house is the house we used to live in before we built a new house. (We lived in one room and my in-laws’ section did not and still does not have a chair.) We have always been watchers of the sky.

I took Somewhere Among fully formed (I thought) to a verse novel workshop at the Highlights Foundation in 2012. I learned the basics and had critiques from the instructors, Virginia Euwer Wolff, Sonya Sones, and Linda Oatman High. I met other writers there who read and critiqued it. One attendee read the whole novel!

SCBWI-JAPAN offered a critique by an editor. I signed up, submitting the first 20 pages and a synopsis. Afterwards, I made some revisions. I entered the 2013 Writers League of Texas competition in order to have it critiqued. I submitted a synopsis and first pages. I won the contest and made some revisions after I received the critique. I signed up for a critique at SCBWI-LA in 2013 and Somewhere Among was critiqued by the Adams Literary Agency. I then felt ready to submit it to literary agent Holly McGhee. She asked many questions that led to revisions. Then the editor, Caitlyn Dlouhy even more questions that led to revisions.

The story remained the same, but it became richer with each reader and critique.

Thank you all!

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.

Here and There Japan

My blog of this and that from here and there in Japan is written especially for children. It was started in 2006 while my children were in Japanese public school. Read More

Story Calendar with Links

Somewhere Among  takes place in Japan 2001. Anniversaries, holidays, solstices, and historical events that Japan and the United States share were woven throughout the story. For verification and further study, I have included links to English sources. Links to other sources are included in each post on this website.

It is important to note that Sea Day and Respect for the Aged Day now fall on the third Monday of July and September respectively. That was not the case in 2001. Also note that moon-viewing is traditionally mid-September but it depends on the year  Check here for the holiday calendar for 2001.

Space/moon data and weather charts for west Tokyo were used as reference for the scenes.

For Japan 2001

Thurs. June 21, 2001 summer equinox                                 

Sun. July 1, 2001 Hawaii raising Ehime Maru, Star Bulletin        

Thurs. July 5, 2001 12 pm Japan; July 4 8pm CA world server time meeting planner

Sat. July 7, 2001 Tanabata, Kids Web Japan  

Thurs. July 12, 2001 textbook issue


Issues: History Books    George Washington University

Japan’s Refusal to Revise Textbooks Angers Neighbors    New York Times

North Korea Fires Missiles Over Japanese Territory New York Times Sept. 1, 1998 

North Korean Missile Flies over Japan into Pacific August 31, 1998

Fri. July 20, 2001 Sea Day (holiday is now on the third Monday of July, see link for 2001)
Sea Day Kids Web Japan
holidays Japan 2001

Sat. July 21, 2001 Japan time
July 20, 1969 Apollo 11 USA time         Smithsonian Air and Space  Museum Apollo 11

July 20, 2001 Ehime Maru mast removed USA time, Honolulu Star article
Honolulu Advertiser July 21, 2001

Mon. August 6, 2001 Hiroshima anniversary Washington Post

Thurs. August 9, 2001 Nagasaki anniversary, Koizumi visits Memorial 

Anglican News Memorial Prayers at Holy Trinity Church  Nagasaki Anniversary

Sat. August 11, 2001 launch of Discovery video NASA Television August 10 US time       
NASA pages

Expedition Three Crew

Russian and American docking 1975

Mon. August 13, 2001 Koizumi visit to Yasukuni Shrine Japan Times

Wed. August 15, 2001 announcement of Japan’s surrender
V-J Day

Sun. August 19, 2001 US Navy meets families of Ehime Maru victims, LA Times

Tues. August 21, 2001 Typhoon Pabuk, LA Times                               

Wed. August 29, 2001 H2A launch,  Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency

Space Daily News

CBS News

Friday, August 31, 2001 not mentioned in story, article on the Ehime Maru, Chicago Tribune

Sat., September 1. 2001 full moon                                                                  

Sunday, September 2, 2001 formal surrender not mentioned in story

Sat., September 8, 2001 Peace Treaty signed in SF mentioned on Day and on the stamp

Tuesday, September 11, 2001 typhoon, LA Times                    

USA Today
death toll

Sat., September 15, 2001 Respect for the Aged Day (now the third Monday of September) This holiday has become more like Grandparents Day over the years. But our obaachan always said it was for really old people. View the 2001 calendar

Tues. September 18, 2001 rice monitoring,  Japan Times

Wed. September 19 , 2001 Congress considers Gold Medals                                             Congress considering Gold Medals, CNN

Equinox in September 2001

Sun. September 23, 2001 Sunday equinox O & J going to graveyard
Mon. September 24, 2001 Monday national holiday; ride down by river
Sun Sep 23 2001 Autumn Equinox National holiday
Mon Sep 24 2001 Autumn Equinox observed National holiday

Monday, October 1 – 7  2001 moon-viewing  The date changes every year according to the solar calendar. In 2001 the full moon was October 2. In the paperback edition of Somewhere Among, mochi pounding is not mentioned.  Dango (round balls) made of mochi (glutinous rice) are ubiquitous in our neighborhood during this time for decoration and for eating.                                                                                                                                                              moon phases October 2001

Sunday, October 7, 2001 U.S. invades Afghanistan, World History Project

Sunday, October 14, 2001 Hawaii, LA Times

Tues. October 16, 2001 Galileo passing by Jupiter’s moon, NASA news    

Ehime Maru, Japan Times                                                          

Friday, October 19, 2001 bodies found on Ehime Maru, LA Times

Wed., October 24, 2001 IRA lay down arms yesterday; baby false alarm

Thurs., Nov. 8, 2001 Hawaii time Ehime Maru recovery ends (watching in evening), CNN

Search Ends for Last Ehime Maru Victim,                                                                       

Monday, November 12, 2001 Japan Veterans Day hospital TV
Monday, November 19, 2001 Japan time meteor show

mid-November gingko festival

Friday November 23, 2001 Labor Thanksgiving Japan; Thanksgiving 22 America

Thurs. November 29, 2001 school art exhibition (my children’s actual)

Fri. November 30, 2001 Japan time, George Harrison passed away, NY Times

Thurs., December 7, 2001 Memorial for Pearl Harbor              ,+2001&source=bl&ots=XXyXIejcRc&sig=vYIMDR7tHtSlx2lEnc5HHX5v_ZU&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwjg3P6fk8vJAhXBKKYKHdG_BisQ6AEIMTAE#v=onepage&q=pearl%20harbor%20memorial%20on%20December%207%2C%202001&f=false

Washington Post article                                                                           

LA Times 60th anniversary                                                                    

Honolulu Advertiser 60th anniversary Pearl Harbor public events

Pearl Harbor Memorial History Net

Sat. December 8, 2001 anniversary of Pearl Harbor (Japan time); Princess going home

photos of Baby Princess                                                                             

CNN Princess going home                                                                                

Tues. December 11, 2001 NY time ceremony on board shuttle
flags for heroes✓&affiliate=nasa&query=flag+for+heroes+and+families+2001


Shuttle, Station Honors September 11 victims

video of commemoration                                                                        


Thurs., December 14, 2001 annular eclipse not seen in Japan

Wed., December 19, 2001 NASA will track Santa

Thurs. December 20, 2001 personal items from Ehime Maru, newspaper article the day after, Japan Times article

Friday, December 21, 2001 snow, Jiichan’s return winter solstice

Monday, December 24, 2001  NASA helps Santa 

Our school did not follow this schedule in Kids Web Japan about final exams and winter break

January 2, 2001 New Year’s calligraphy 2001                                                                          ‘Kakizome’ Practice Perfects New Year’s Calligraphy     The Japan Times  December 28, 2001

School Calligraphy Here and There Japan


Coordinated Universal Time – Current Time                                                                    National Hurricane Center
example:     5:12 AM UTC on Wednesday, September 30 2:12 pm Japan

Sept. 10, 2014 Gold Medals, The Inquirer                                          

The Ehime Maru Memorial Draws Japan Tourists June 27, 2002, Honolulu Advertiser

World Peace Prayer Society                                                    


Feb. 2002 Ehime Maru Victims’ families gather                   

Story Playlist

Many songs influenced the writing of Somewhere Among. I have included links to some of them.

I listened to these four songs almost daily:

two songs, “Inochi no Namae” (the Name of Life lyrics) and “Itsumo nando demo” (lyrics Ghiblink) from Hayao Miyazaki’s movie Spirited AwaySen to Chihiro no Kamikakushi, were played on TV and radio so often after the release of the 2001 movie in Japan,

U2’s “Stuck in a Moment You Can’t Get Out Of” (2000), was a filler between shows on Japanese cable in the weeks before September 11,

and this solo version of George Harrison’s “While My Guitar Gently Weeps”  was quiet, reflective comfort during the months after September 11. The up-tempo version came out in 1968 when I was eleven, the age of the main character, Ema.

Those song titles became poem titles or influenced poems along with two Beatles’ song,  “With a Little Help from My Friends” (1967) and “Let It Be” (1970).

The Beatles’ “Ob-la-di Ob-la-da” (1968) provided the title and structure for the poem about the Sports Day relay in Somewhere Among. The music without lyrics was played for my children’s relay at their elementary school Sports Day every year.

Another Beatles’ song, “Across the Universe” (1970) was not used as a poem title but comes up several times in the text of poems. Other poem titles are from Beatles’ songs

John Lennon’s post-Beatles’ song “Imagine” (1971) sung by Neil Young at the concert “America: A Tribute to Heroes” (US September 21, 2001) provided inspiration for a poem. His “Instant Karma” (1970) provided a fitting title for a poem.

I was thinking of U2’s song, “Peace on Earth” released in 2000 when I titled the poem about the Irish Republican Army laying down their guns in October 2001.

A line from Train’s “Drops of Jupiter”  (2001) became a title for a poem noting a NASA mission and gave the perfect sentiment for Jiichan’s long hospital stay, “a soul vacation.”

Other strong influences were “Ue o muite arukou” (I Look Up as I Walk) (1961 Japan) the song Americans call “Sukiyaki” (1963 United States) sung by Kyu Sakamoto and “Kawa nagare no youni “(Like the Flow of the River) (1989 Japan) sung by Misora Hibari. Both are legendary Japanese singers. These songs always pull my heart strings. I remember listening to Kyu Sakamoto sing “Sukiyaki” in Japanese on the radio in Texas in the 1960s.  NPR All Things Considered aired a piece called “Bittersweet at No.1: How a Japanese Song Topped the Charts in 1963” about the international hit song.

U2’s  “Walk On” (2000) is not mentioned in Somewhere Among, but it was an inspiration and comfort during the days after September 11, 2001 and after March 11, 2011 during our days and months of aftershocks (earthquakes) after the Great Earthquake and Tsunami. U2 performed it on the concert “America: A Tribute to Heroes” via satellite from London, UK. The prelude to the song was from their song “Peace on Earth.” It is interesting to note that the lyrics were changed for the concert. Instead of the original

“I’m sick of hearing again and again that there’s gonna be peace on Earth”

Bono sang

“I’m sick of hearing again and again there’s never gonna be peace on Earth.”

There are many songs that did not make the pages or titles of poems of Somewhere Among. Most were songs I listened to when I was in elementary school in the the 1960s and when I was in high school in the 1970s. The work of Bob Dylan, Joan Baez, Pete Seeger, and especially Simon and Garfunkel  inspire other stories.

Other inspirations for Somewhere Among:

Sound of Silence    Simon & Garfunkel  1963

All You Need is Love   Beatles 1967 (link update needed)

Revolution   Beatles 1968     Played on an old music player called a record player. I was 11, the age of the main character in Somewhere Among, when this song came out. The lyrics are still relevant today for 2016 as are the lyrics of all these songs.

Give Peace a Chance  Lennon 1969

Here Comes the Sun    Beatles 1969 written by George Harrison (the link is George Harrison in the 1970s)

My Sweet Lord   George Harrison 1970

Give Me Love, Give Me Peace on Earth    George Harrison 1973

It Don’t Come Easy    Ringo Starr 1973

Mind Games   John Lennon 1973

What’s so Funny About Peace Love and Understanding?   Brinsley Schwartz 1974

What’s so Funny About Peace Love and Understanding?    Nick Lowe later version

Elvis Costello & The Attractions’ 1979 cover of “What’s so Funny About Peace Love and Understanding” was also popular in the 1980s.