Okei-san: A Girl’s Journey, Japan To California 1868-1871
Okei was seventeen years old when she came to America in 1869 and only nineteen when she died in 1871. I had stated repeatedly that I would never write a chapter book and I would never write a story with an unhappy ending! I am a picture book author and I enjoy writing cheerful stories for elementary school-age children. But, this is a local story, a true story about a girl who came to this country, probably not by choice, who worked very hard to do her best, and by so doing would honor her parents. She was a pioneer in every sense of the word.
In 1868 Japan was embroiled in a civil war. Okei’s hometown was destroyed, her family’s whereabouts unknown. She came to California with a group of gardeners and samurai to start a tea and silk colony. The leader of the group, John Henry Schnell, was an honorary samurai. His wife Jou was the daughter of a samurai, and Okei was the nanny for the Schnell children. After two fairly successful years, the colony began to fail. Herr Schnell went back to Japan promising to return with more supplies. He took his wife and two daughters, but left everyone else behind, including the nanny.
This is my interpretation of Okei’s story. I liked her very much. She was never able to overcome her homesickness, but she tried. She did not think she was courageous, but she was steadfast and loving. The neighbor, Louisa Veerkamp loved her like a daughter. Matsu, the samurai, cared enough to have a tombstone made for her. She was just “Okei” when she came to America, but when Henry Veerkamp was interviewed many years later, he referred to her as “Okei-san” with the honorific title.
For many years people have come to visit the gravesite, often from Japan. The gravesite is small; sits by itself atop a small hill overlooking Gold Trail School, and beyond that, thousands of miles away, Japan. Okei was never forgotten. Could it be that she was somebody special, after all? I think so. If all she did was to leave a legacy of friendship between people of two countries, then that is pretty remarkable in itself!
I hope you enjoy reading this story,
Joan Barton Barsotti
By: Joan Barton Barsotti and Alpen Kelly (Illustrator)
ISBN: 0981818846 ISBN-13: 9780981818849
Publisher: Barsotti Books (2019) Paperback | 86 Pages | Product Dimensions: 9.1 x 6 x 0.5 inches
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