Now, read on to see Dr. Mikamo's responses to 10 questions I sent her way after reading her book.
Kristina: The book reads like it was narrated to me by Shinji himself. What was the general writing process like?
Dr. Mikamo: I grew up listening to his stories and always wanted to tell his stories to the world in a book since I was a child. When I co-started our non-profit charity organization for peace education and promotion, San Diego-WISH:Worldwide Initiative to Safeguard Humanity, in 2010, I felt it was important to have the book out to reach out to more people all over the world with his messages. My father was 84 years old at the time (now 87), and I felt I needed to take actions while his memory is intact.
I wrote my initial draft in 3 days and 3 nights straight with few breaks as I knew exactly what I wanted to write. Then, it took me 3 years to research historical facts for accuracy, interview my father on the phone and via fax back and forth for further details, edit, explore publishers, and finally published it on July 15 this year.
Kristina: If Ashes is successful enough, do you think you'll write more of what he has to say?
Dr. Mikamo: Yes, he and I have a lot to convey to the world. He is a wise man and has many sayings based on his experiences and beliefs, such as "Ten years to build trust, One moment to lose it."
I will also write about [humanity] in terms of empathy and tolerance of people that are different from yourself, on a similar topic to forgiveness. I mean a various type of diversity including physical and mental disabilities or the absence of, race and ethnicity, religious preference, sexual orientation, socioeconomic status, age, gender, educational level, and so on. I will probably portray the examples of my elder sister, other real people and their family relationships as well as what we could do to make a better world with different people holding hands. My next focus includes how to understand and support persons with mental or developmental disabilities as I'm a clinical and medical psychologist in practice.
Kristina: Are there any plans to translate this book to Japanese and release it overseas?
Dr. Mikamo: Yes, I'm in the planning stage for the Japanese version now, and I hope to publish it in the first half of 2014. I would like to have it translated into many other languages in the near future, too.
Kristina: Was the book Shinji's idea? How did it all begin?
Dr. Mikamo: Shinji has been asked to give talks and share his experiences many times, and he has had bits and pieces of stories written down. But putting all in a book in English was my idea, encouraged by my fellow students at INSEAD, a leading international business school I attended in Europe for my executive masters degree in consulting from 2009-2010. The classmates there are mostly executives and consultants who come from many countries, and they told me my father's story was one of the most moving stories they had ever heard.
Kristina: What led you to the decision to write this book from your father's perspective?
Dr. Mikamo: I was partly influenced by Clint Eastwood's movie, Letters from Iwojima, and how it was from the young main character's (Saigo's) perspective. It just felt right to "speak" to the audience as if my father (especially, as a young man) were talking to each of them.
Kristina: Do you believe in coincidence?
I believe everything has a meaning, but it is sometimes not so obvious at the time. One may later realize 2 things happened at the same time for a reason.
Kristina: If your mother had had a voice in this book, what lessons would she have imparted on readers?
Dr. Mikamo: She passed away 6 years ago, and it was very unfortunate she didn't get to see this book come to life. She was a very traditional Japanese woman, who had learned to swallow all the pain and keep it to herself. She had taught me the virtue of tolerance and accepting. So her voice was not in the book directly, but her silent voice was reflected in the book through my personality and perspectives.
Kristina: Are there any films or other books you'd recommend to people who loved Ashes and want to see more material like it? This includes both the historical aspects of the story as well as its ultimate message of empathy and forgiveness.
Dr. Mikamo: It's not directly about forgiveness, but I think Letters from Iwojima is a brilliant and very touching movie about the WWII in the Pacific involving Japan. It really expands one's perspective when you watch it with Flags of Our Fathers also on Iwojima by Clint Eastwood.
For children, I recommend Sadako and One Thousand Cranes by Eleanor Coerr.
Tariq Kahmisa Foundation in San Diego is a not-for-profit organization to educate teens to eliminate teen violence, and it is based on the importance of forgiveness. It was co-founded by the father of a teenager who was killed by a 13-year-old gang member and the murderer's grandfather. http://www.tkf.org/
"The Amish Project" is a fictional play by Jessica Dickey (playwright and actress) based on a true story of a schoolhouse shooting, and it is a powerful story of forgiveness. http://www.amishproject.com/
Kristina: Do you have any advice for people who are living in or planning to move abroad somewhere, even if just to study abroad?
Dr. Mikamo: To put aside judgment on people, behavior, or customs using your own scales, and to listen, observe, and try to understand where they are coming from first. You don't have to agree with them, but just try to understand and empathize. You will gain so much more. Not only will you learn about other cultures, but you will also gain a new and expanded perspective on your own.
Kristina: Besides visiting the Memorial Park and Museum, what is one unmissable experience travelers should have when visiting Hiroshima?
Dr. Mikamo: To visit Miyajima (Itsukushima Island) with the big shinto shrine and Torii gate. Very historical and beautiful. There is a photo in my book toward the back with a couple of deer with the Torii gate in the background. It is one of the Three Best Scenes of Japan. You can take a ferry there from the coast, or you can take a boat there from the river next to the Atomic Bomb Dome.
And you MUST try the Hiroshima favorite, "Okonomiyaki." It's a casual meal with layers of crepe, veggies, thin meat or seafood, eggs, and with or without noodles. Hiroshima has its own famous special style, and the sauce is to die for. Okonomiyaki teppan (iron grill) restaurant is almost on every corner, and it's like what pizza is to Americans: just more nutritious and much healthier.
Thank you so much, again!
Japanator would like to thank Dr. Mikamo once again for taking the time to grant us this interview. We look forward to covering more of her work in the future.
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