Miss Kagawa’s Gift

 /   /  By Emma Birches
Stone Soup Magazine
January/February 2016

Megan Lowe

1928

RALEIGH, NORTH CAROLINA

Akemi was taking a while to adjust. Her father, mother, and sister had made the trip to Japan a few weeks before to finally complete the adoption process and bring her home. She was overwhelmed. There were so many new faces and personalities to learn. Everything was so different here in America. The day-to-day life was nothing like she was used to. Akemi had never known that you could miss your old home so much—even if you were in a new home. She’d owned next to nothing back at the orphanage in Japan, so she didn’t even have anything to remind her of her native land.

Her mother, Rachel, understood the way her new daughter was feeling, for she had been adopted herself when she was eleven years old.

Her sister, Grace, was fourteen years old and understood that she was simply to comfort her sister. Akemi had definitely taken to Grace. She still wouldn’t speak to anyone but would stand by her sister whenever she could and sit next to her at the dinner table.

Her father, Chris, knew that Akemi was still trying to get used to her new surroundings. He was concerned for her, though. All of the adoption guidebooks instructed him to just keep loving her, and he tried to do that as much as he could. He only wished that there was something he could do, even a little something, to make her feel a little more at home.

Miss Kagawa’s Gift at the dinner table

Akemi had never known that you could miss your old home so much

Chris knew he had to return to work the following day but couldn’t even begin to think about that. He was absolutely exhausted from their long journey to Japan and only wanted to rest. He knew that wouldn’t be happening in the next few days, though. Chris worked at the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences, where he set up and removed exhibits. He also assisted with some of the cleaning occasionally. All of this took place before and after museum hours, so Chris had early mornings and—sometimes— late nights. He was usually around to help his daughter with her homework, though. Soon Akemi would be going to school, too, and he could help her with her homework as well.

The orphanage that Akemi had lived in for the first twelve years of her life had given her basic schooling and English lessons, as most of the parents looking to adopt from that orphanage spoke English. That made Akemi’s transition much easier, as she would have had much more to learn had she not spoken the country’s language.

*          *          *

Chris headed up the stairs to the girls’ bedroom to say good night to them. The family had a three-bedroom home, but Akemi seemed most comfortable sharing a room with Grace for the time being. Before adopting Akemi, the family of three had spent much time and effort putting a room together for her. The beautiful purple and gray designs painstakingly painted on the walls, the desk and dresser all ready to be used. But, if Akemi wanted to share a room with Grace, no one was going to upset her.

Chris said good night to his daughters and then headed back to the family room. He pulled out his folder of work assignments and sat down to review. The task summary described a doll to be put on display.

“A doll?” thought Chris. “Why on earth would we put a doll in an exhibit?” As he read on, the instructions outlined a bit of the doll’s history.

The doll to be put on display has been christened Miss Kagawa. As some will recall, in the early months of last year, our country sent around 12,000 dolls to Japan as a gift of friendship because of the discrimination being placed on Japanese immigrants here. Eiichi Shibusawa from Japan organized a “thank you” gift and led the creation of fifty-eight Japanese “Friendship Dolls” to be sent to the states. The dolls traveled across the U.S., and the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences has the opportunity to house one of these dolls. Miss Kagawa has in her possession a ticket for a steamship, a passport, and various accessories and furniture. You will place and position these items as shown in the diagram included. This exhibit will be set up on the morning of October 5th, 1928. Please report to the circulation counter at five-thirty that morning for further details.

Thanks,
Tom Highton
Museum Exhibit Manager

October 5th was, unfortunately, the following day. Chris decided to turn in early, for he had a big day ahead of him.

*          *          *

Chris woke to his alarm at five o’clock the next morning and, begrudgingly, readied himself for work. He ate a quick breakfast and climbed into the car. The drive to work wasn’t too long, and Chris was there in a matter of minutes. Chris would have walked to work, but the air was surprisingly biting for October.

Pulling his key out of his pocket, Chris opened the museum’s side door and proceeded to the circulation desk as the directions instructed. There, the exhibit manager, Tom, stood waiting for him.

“Morning, Chris,” Tom boomed. Tom was a very loud man, but he was always smiling. Chris had discovered that no matter how tired he was, Tom’s smile was usually effective in fully waking him up.

“Morning, Tom,” Chris replied. “Do you have the details on this doll exhibit?”

“That I do,” Tom said as he reached over the counter and grabbed a folder. Tom then showed Chris everything he would need to know to set the exhibit up that morning. There were diagrams, handwritten notes, and photos of exactly how the case was to look when it was completely set up.

Chris thanked Tom and went to find the empty display case he was to use. The doll and her accessories would be inside this case, which would be on top of a table. Finding the case in a back room, he set to work.

Gently, he lifted the box she was in to the floor. Sliding it open, he was greeted by much packing material, no doubt meant to ensure her safety across the ocean.

The doll was fragile, he could tell that much right away. Her hair was soft and flowing and felt incredibly real. The kimono that adorned her was a deep blue that faded into a peach color. The top section was bright red. He set her in her stand that had been made especially for her and placed her gently on the floor at his side. He then turned once again to the box.

Miss Kagawa did indeed have many accessories, as Chris had been told. Finding a cloth bag nestled in the packing material, Chris’s curiosity rose. Opening it, he found many little packages. Upon opening them, he discovered that he had stumbled upon one of Miss Kagawa’s tea sets. The pieces were beautiful, each of them intricately painted and designed. There were tiny cups to drink out of, hot pads to put under hot dishes, and containers to store the tea in.

Glancing at the diagram and pictures he had been given, Chris began placing accessories where they were supposed to be. There were many items to be unwrapped and displayed, and it took Chris a few hours to finish the job. Each piece had to be thoroughly inspected for any possible damage that might have occurred.

As Chris worked, his mind drifted to Akemi. She was supposed to begin attending school the following week. Based on her current behavior, he wasn’t sure that she would be ready to meet so many new people in just one week.

Miss Kagawa’s Gift raising a teacup

As Chris worked, his mind drifted to Akemi

Chris and Rachel, his wife, had been discussing ideas for how to make Akemi feel more comfortable in her new home. They certainly hadn’t come up with any stellar ideas, and Chris was extremely concerned. He was desperate for a plan. Maybe something that would remind her of her home would make her feel better…

Chris was just finishing up when Tom came around the corner. “Are you all finished?” Tom asked.

“Just about,” Chris replied.

“Make sure you lock up the display case. We have requirements to keep her as secure as we can. Don’t want anything to go wrong with this exhibit,” Tom said.

“Already done,” Chris assured him. He then carried the now empty box back to the storage room and locked the door behind him. Dusting off the top of Miss Kagawa’s display case one final time, Chris headed out the museum doors to his car.

On the drive home, Chris smiled, hardly able to wait to arrive home. When he did reach the house, he quickly ran inside to the storage closet and grabbed the supplies he would need.

He emerged from the closet with wrapping paper, a small box, and filler paper. He set to work in the living room, completing his task as quickly as possible, before the rest of his family awoke.

He wrapped it in the filler paper, being ever so careful. He put a bit of filler paper in the box, too. Gently, he lifted it into the prepared box and sealed it shut. He then wrapped the box in the solid purple paper and tied it with a white bow.

Chris hurriedly reached the breakfast table and placed the parcel at the seat next to Grace’s. Now all he had to do was wait.

*          *          *

One by one, his family members stumbled down the stairs around nine-thirty. Everyone had enjoyed sleeping in. After all, they’d had a big week. Slowly but surely, they reached the breakfast table and sat down to eat. When Akemi spotted the box sitting by her plate, her eyes filled with curiosity. “Good morning, Akemi,” Chris said. “That’s for you from the rest of us. You can open it, if you’d like.”

Akemi hesitated slightly. After a few seconds, she reached out and picked up the gift. Carefully, she unwrapped it, the paper crinkling as it fell to the table below. Chris watched as his daughter opened the flaps on the box and began pulling out the filler paper. He knew to let her take her time, but he was excited to see her open it.

Akemi couldn’t imagine what might be in the box. She had only received a gift at one other time in her life, and that had been a washcloth at the orphanage.

Ever so slowly, Akemi pulled out the wrapped item. She pulled the paper away and gazed at the delicate piece of art.

The tiny tea cup was doll-sized.

Miss Kagawa’s Gift Megan Lowe

Megan Lowe, 13
Lake in the Hills, Illinois

Miss Kagawa’s Gift Caitlin Tynanes

Caitlin Tynanes, 12
Kapolei, Hawaii

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