AAS Member Spotlight: Kathleen Burkinshaw

Kathleen Burkinshaw

Author of the middle-grades historical fiction book, The Last Cherry Blossom

Your discipline and country (or countries) of interest:

Historical fiction; Japan

How long have you been a member of AAS?

Two months.

Why did you join AAS and why would you recommend AAS to your colleagues?

I want to be a part of a community that values Asian history and culture that I can learn from and contribute to. I visit with many schools to discuss my mother’s Hiroshima experience and The Last Cherry Blossom, and will be sure to mention the valuable information at #AsiaNow.

How did you first become involved in the field of Asian Studies?

I first became involved when my daughter was in 7th grade. Her class was studying World War II and she overheard some kids saying they couldn’t wait to see the “cool mushroom cloud” pictures. This deeply upset her and she asked me to visit her class and talk about the people under those now famous mushroom clouds—people like her grandmother.

What do you enjoy most, or what were your most rewarding experiences involving your work in Asian Studies?

I’ve had the opportunity to discuss my mother’s experience and my book about her life in Hiroshima during the last year of WWII, including her surviving the atomic bombing, with students and teachers; it truly is inspiring. I’ve also enjoyed presenting a webinar with the Five College Center for East Asian Studies.

My hope is not only to convey the message that nuclear weapons should never be used again, but to also reveal that the children in Japan had the same love for family, fear of what could happen to them, and hopes for peace as the Allied children had. I want the students to walk away knowing that the ones we may think are our “enemy” are not always so different from ourselves. This is a message that needs to be heard now more than ever.

Tell us about an interesting finding in your current or past research.

The most surprising and interesting piece of research happened while I was in Hiroshima. In July 2015, we went to honor my mom at the Hiroshima National Peace Memorial Hall for the Atomic Bomb Victims. (Sadly, my mom had passed away in January 2015. Thankfully, she did know The Last Cherry Blossom would be published and had read one of the drafts). The most surprising information came while visiting with the librarians at the Memorial Hall, who kindly spent about two hours with me. I gave them my mother’s Hiroshima address and they showed it to me on a map from the early 1940s. My mother had always said she was over an hour from the center of the city. However, when we looked at it on the map she was only two miles away from the epicenter; much closer than what I had thought! To me, it’s a miracle that she survived considering how close she was to the epicenter.

Also, while there I realized the beauty of Hiroshima. I had been so focused on the horrific destruction of August 6th itself. But while we were there I saw the beauty of the sea, the mountains, and palm trees! My mother always said she grew up in a beautiful place and I finally could see it through her eyes. This came in very handy when I returned to my first round of edits from my publisher. 

What advice or recommendation do you have for students interested in a career in Asian Studies?

I would recommend that they take courses to learn about the various cultures and history of Asian countries. One way to do this would be to join organizations like the AAS. Also, to look for opportunities such as the TOMODACHI-Mitsui & Company Leadership program.

Outside of Asian Studies, tell us some interesting facts about yourself.

Before writing historical fiction, I used to write and negotiate business contracts during my 10+ year career in healthcare management. Unfortunately, it was cut short by the onset of Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy (RSD). Writing gives me an outlet for my daily struggle with chronic pain. Writing historical fiction also satisfies my obsessive love of researching anything and everything.

I’ve acted in plays with a dinner theater group. I love spending time with my daughter when she is on break from college, going to the beach (I’m always able to write when I’m near the ocean), or reading a fun book that has nothing to do with research or history.

We invite all AAS Members to submit a profile to the Member Spotlight feature at #AsiaNow. See the instructions for submission here.