This book is based on a true story. In 1976, the Japanese people gave the United States fifty bonsai trees (one for each of America’s fifty states) as a present for America’s Bicentennial, or two-hundredth-birthday celebration. The Emperor of Japan also added three trees from his private collection. Masaru Yamaki donated his family’s beloved bonsai tree to the National Arboretum in Washington, D.C.
I’ve nicknamed the bonsai in this story Miyajima, after the island where it was born, during the time of castles and samurai. At the National Arboretum the bonsai is referred to as the “Yamaki pine” in honor of the Japanese family that cared for it for over three hundred years, and also as “the Peace Tree” because it is a symbol of friendship between Japan and America, two countries that were enemies during the Second World War.
In 1979, Masaru Yamaki flew to Washington to tour the bonsai collection. He stopped to look most carefully at the white pine his family had donated. When his host saw that Masaru had tears in his eyes, he asked, “Is everything okay?” “Oh yes,” replied Masaru, “These are tears of joy, because I can tell the tree is happy here.”
While it’s true that Masaru had two grandsons, in real life they didn’t go with him to America. But when they were college students, Akira and Shigeru Yamaki visited the United States to meet the little bonsai tree—the oldest member of their family. When they returned to Japan, their grandfather told them the white pine had survived the bombing of Hiroshima. Masaru died a few years before I wrote this story, but Shigeru told me he felt his grandfather would “rejoice in the heavens” to know that his little bonsai’s big story would be shared with others.