I had the pleasure of spotlighting Jeanne’s book earlier this year. The painting on the cover of her book Kaerou, drew admiring attention and inspired a discussion between Jeanne and myself. She gave me a few details about the artist who created the book cover and how much she loved it. She also let slip that she’d be open to doing a guest post featuring the paintings created by award-winning artist Shinko Yamaguchi, for Kaerou.
I’m delighted to present to you today the paintings by Shinko Yamaguchi and a Guest Post by Jeanne on how the artwork came about.
Another bonus: An excerpt from the scene that inspired the fireflies painting!
“In Japan…everywhere…red strings tie all people we meet together. Some strings are weak. Some have tangles. Some strong.”
Meryl—Vietnam War widow—misses her grown son, feels left out after her father’s recent marriage. A WWII Japanese flag falls into her hands. The gentle push of a love-struck professor starts her adventure—take the flag home. From the neon of Osaka, to the ancient capital Nara, to the forests of Akita, the trail follows British and US expats, a newspaper reporter, factory manager, ikebana teacher, a Matagi hunter and winds through Japanese culture, past and present. A story of shared humanity and love“in the simplest things.”
Available on Amazon.
KAEROU Time to Go Home
A Collaboration of Love
Osaka’s award-winning artist Shinko Yamaguchi painted the spectacular painting on the cover of my novel, KAEROU Time to Go Home.
At one of his art exhibitions, Shinko had guessed, “love story” when I told him that I was writing a novel. Our conversation went something like this…my translation from Japanese.
“Four love stories,” I told Shinko. “Maybe more. Depending on how you define love story.”
He stuck to the W-questions .
“An ikebana sensei and her shamisen sensei, a professor and an American widow of the Vietnam War, expat English teachers, a newspaper reporter and the woman of his dreams.”
“Downtown Osaka, the mountains of Akita, a suburb in the Arizona desert.”
“Switches between WWII Japan and modern Japan. Oh, I forgot a minor character. He makes a choice between life or death for love…a Matagi hunter.”
That surprised Shinko. Matagi hunters aren’t well known in Japan.
“I’ll do a painting for the cover. It’ll be like a Hollywood movie. One memorable scene.”
I hadn’t even finished the first draft, but I sent Shinko a photograph to inspire him…a photo of a setting in the novel, the forest near Komagadake Hot Spring in Akita.
Shinko didn’t need any inspiration. He had finished his painting by the time my photo reached him.
But Shinko used the photo I sent—for the spectacular painting on the back cover! He named it, “The Stream of Fireflies.”
The only time I see Shinko is when he puts on an exhibition in my neighborhood. His gorgeous paintings of forests and of the streets of Nice (he loves France) surround us as we talk.
Shinko never asked me when I would finish my novel.
A few years later, however, he asked me about the title.
“My list of titles has over thirty—mostly ideas from friends.”
“I have images for the story,” he said. “They’re not in your novel. Only my images…Small boats coming from different directions. Perfect storm. Then a lighthouse and arrival to the same place. Following the same light. Everyone’s home safe. Everyone’s happy. There’s a festival to celebrate.”
Those images ignited the imaginations of my husband and friends from Armenia, the US, and Australia, leading us to KAEROU Time to Go Home.
The word “kaerou” conjures up a sunset on a fine day, a cozy house after a fun outing, dinner waiting.
The red lettering and dots on the cover evoke images in the novel.
Shinko loves the title, the lettering, and the story.
I love his paintings.
We invite you to enjoy our collaboration of love.
Our thanks to Nina, from the bottom of our hearts.
Excerpt from KAEROU Time to Go Home
One by one from out of the forest the fireflies flew toward Meryl, zipping and diving like fiery comets. Falling stars in a forest.
How they entranced her. If they had swarmed and flown in one direction she would have followed them, but they didn’t. They performed their aerial acrobats right before her eyes.
Mr. Ono and Okamisan joined her.
“Mr. Ono, I can see the fireflies!” Two twinkled on a cluster of leaves high above Meryl. “You said maybe I would.”
“There’s a famous story about fireflies in Kyushu.”
“The big south island?”
“Yes.” He told her that thousands of kamikaze pilots had trained at military bases there. “Is a War story OK with you?”
Okamisan asked him if he was talking about a place called Chiran.
“Does everyone know the story?” Meryl asked.
“Please tell me.”
In Chiran, a woman ran an eatery for pilots. They called her Mom because she treated them like sons and they wanted to be home.
One particular squadron saw her trying to hide her sorrow on the last night of their lives. Their leader raised his voice. They would come back the next night…as fireflies! The others jumped up and cheered.
But Mom was about to bawl, her fist at her mouth.
The boys barely understood her.
“How will I know the fireflies are you…and not plain, old ordinary fireflies?”
As soon as the words were out, she wished she hadn’t said them. But she couldn’t keep quiet. Not that night. Not with those boys. She wanted to believe, really know they were coming back to her.
The pilots gathered round Mom and laughed and patted her shoulders.
One boy shouted, “We’ll come inside!”
Another pointed to the rafters. “Light up the whole dining room.”
And another made one more promise. “To prove it’s us, we’ll show up again the next night.”
“Keep the door open.”
“There now. Stop the gusher from your eyes.”
“You’ll see us again—as fireflies!”
She wiped her tears and put on a brave face, nodded and waved good-bye, promised not to be;. sad.
The next morning the boys took off.
That evening Mom kept the door to her eatery open. If anyone could come back as a firefly, it was those boys who had gulped down their suppers…and second helpings as if they would always have a tomorrow.
Mom got busy cooking.
She didn’t notice the sun had set until someone said, “Is that a firefly?”
She looked up. And on one of the rafters was a glowing dot of green. She glanced at the open door and another flew in. And another! They lit up the room, all seventeen of them, the same number of boys who had promised to come back.
Mom laughed and cried and cried some more along with everyone there…on the next night too.
You can find out more about author B. Jeanne Shibahara on her website.