In Memoriam: Sachiko Yasui 1938-2021

By Carol Hinz, Associate Publisher of Millbrook Press and Carolrhoda Books

It is with a heavy heart that I share the news that Sachiko Yasui passed away on September 30, 2021. She was eighty-three years old and had been living in a nursing home since having a stroke in the fall of 2013. She touched so many people with her story of surviving the atomic bombing of Nagasaki, Japan, as a child, including all of us who helped bring her story to young people in the United States.

Author Caren Stelson learned of Sachiko’s passing from Fumiko Yamaguchi, vice president of the Nagasaki-St. Paul Sister City Committee. Fumiko has been a member of “Team Sachiko” for years, and she was one of a number of contacts in Nagasaki who were a tremendous help as we were working on Sachiko: A Nagasaki Bomb Survivor’s Story.

Sachiko Yasui, Fumiko Yamaguchi, and Caren Stelson in Nagasaki in 2010

Fumiko wrote to Caren, “A small family funeral [has already taken place] and [Sachiko’s] ashes are on her home altar. She returned to her house for the first time in almost 9 years.”

Fumiko commented, “I felt slight ease when I saw her Buddhist memorial tablet with her posthumous name because it was named after both her parents. It says ‘Excellent, graceful, happy lady.’ That’s exactly her!”

Finally, Fumiko spoke for both Sachiko and Sachiko’s younger sister, Etsuko, who was born after the end of World War II and is Sachiko’s only surviving sibling. She said, “On behalf of Sachiko and Etsuko, I would like to express their sincere gratitude to you to give Sachiko eternal life by writing Sachiko. She lives not only in our hearts but in all the readers’ hearts all over the world.”

Caren Stelson presents Sachiko Yasui with a copy of the book Sachiko in January 2017.

Caren formed a close connection with Sachiko over the years and shared the following remembrance:

I knew Sachiko’s story needed telling the first time I met her. In 2005, Nagasaki atomic bomb survivor and peacemaker Sachiko Yasui had been invited to Minneapolis, where I live. I thought: How does anyone survive an atomic bomb as a child and find the resilience and courage to seek a pathway to peace? What is the path she walked? After hearing Sachiko speak, I wondered: Would Sachiko agree to a series of interviews for a book that might answer those big questions of mine?

Five years later, I finally found the courage to reach out to Sachiko. I wrote a letter, had it translated into Japanese and sent it off to Nagasaki, Japan. Sachiko got back to me. Yes, she would agree to work with me—with one caveat—if she could look into my eyes.

They say our eyes are windows into our souls. What did Sachiko want to see? If I could be trusted? If I had the imagination to walk with her through her memories? If I could listen deeply enough to hear her truths? I wondered about those questions about myself too. I would be interviewing a woman who had faced the most apocalyptic trauma humans had devised and somehow found her purpose in it. On our first meeting she gave me a gift, a wooden doll, a Japanese kokeshi. It fit in the palm of my hand.

I went back to Nagasaki six times. On my second trip to interview Sachiko, I brought out the kokeshi. Sachiko’s eyes widened, and she said, “You brought her back? I will tell you anything.” The kokeshi became a reminder of the children who would one day hear Sachiko’s story. We both felt that we were together to take care, not of each other, but of her story. I was free to ask Sachiko about anything, even the unhealed parts. When Sachiko talked about the death of her thirteen-year-old sister, Misa, from leukemia, she cried. It was the first time Sachiko had allowed herself the tears. At the end of that trip on the way back to the Nagasaki airport, Sachiko and I sat in the backseat of a taxi. Sachiko took my hand, and in halting English said, “My mother and father are glad we are talking.” I felt her parents’ presence that night and felt that of my own parents too. I bet my father, a World War II veteran, would have said the same thing.

A rare photo of Sachiko’s parents, Hirohide and Sayano, taken in about 1950.

Martin Buber once said, “All living is meeting.” Sachiko and I truly met each other. We looked into each other’s eyes and saw the whole of one another. If there is a place beyond friendship, a kind of spirit zone, I believe that’s where our relationship grew.

I will miss Sachiko Yasui greatly. She was my dear mentor-in-peace. But for me, Sachiko will never be gone. Her light lives on in many people, and it lives on in me. 

Sachiko Yasui in January 2017, surrounded by a few of the people who worked on the book Sachiko along with members of the St. Paul-Nagasaki Sister City Committee.

Read the Books

Two Lerner books honor Sachiko’s life. Share these inspirational nonfiction stories with young readers.

A Bowl Full of Peace: A True Story by Caren Stelson and illustrated by Akira Kusaka

Grade Level: 1 – 5
Age Level: 6 – 11

In this deeply moving nonfiction picture book, award-winning author Caren Stelson brings Sachiko Yasui’s story of surviving the atomic bombing of Nagasaki and her message of peace to a young audience.

Sachiko’s family home was about half a mile from where the atomic bomb fell on August 9, 1945. Her family experienced devastating loss. When they returned to the rubble where their home once stood, her father miraculously found their serving bowl fully intact. This delicate, green, leaf-shaped bowl—which once held their daily meals—now holds memories of the past and serves as a vessel of hope, peace, and new traditions for Sachiko and the surviving members of her family.

Sachiko: A Nagasaki Bomb Survivor’s Story by Caren Stelson

Grade Level: 5 – 12
Age Level: 10 – 18

“What happened to me must never happen to you.”—Sachiko Yasui

This striking work of narrative nonfiction tells the true story of six-year-old Sachiko Yasui’s survival of the Nagasaki atomic bomb on August 9, 1945, and the heartbreaking and lifelong aftermath. Having conducted extensive interviews with Sachiko Yasui, Caren Stelson chronicles Sachiko’s trauma and loss as well as her long journey to find peace. This book offers readers a remarkable new perspective on the final moments of World War II and their aftermath.

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