The Girl in the Red Shoes
by Kimberly Pichardo, Secondary Drama and Spanish Teacher
Drama is my passion because its purpose is to bring life to stories of people and community. As a child, I was transfixed by colorful stories made tangible by storytellers and performers on stage. I took to heart the messages within those narratives and heeded their lessons of the human experience and our connectedness. Stories remind us that though hardship and tragedy exist in the world, the human spirit perseveres.
This year, in Grade 8 Drama, we will be studying children who have been significantly impacted by the tragedy of external events in their lives. After researching personal narratives of marginalized children, students will create and perform a series of monologues inspired by the lives of those children.
I recently learned the significance of one Japanese story that has touched me - "The Girl in the Red Shoes." I first noticed red shoes as a symbol of Yokohama upon our arrival last fall. I remember thinking that I needed to investigate the story. But, our first year passed quickly, and left me story-less. Recently, a colleague told me about the statue of "Kimi-chan" she came upon in Tokyo. Given the coincidence in our names, I decided to finally look into this endearing statue. I learned that there are "Kimi-chan" statues in several regions of Japan, and found an article from the Japan Times that revealed parallels between Kimi-chan's story and my own.
Kimi Iwasaki ("Kimi-chan") is the subject of the children's song "Akai Kutsu". Kimi-chan's mother, unable to care for her and in search of work, entrusted her to missionaries who were to return to America from Yokohama. "Akai Kutsu" sings of the girl in red shoes boarding a ship to her new life abroad. The real Kimi-chan never made it to her new life, as she tragically died at an orphanage in Azabujuban after succumbing to tuberculosis. Over a century later, Kimi-chan's red shoes are now an immortalized symbol of friendship and the selfless love between a parent and children.
Kimi-chan's story will forever strike a chord within my heart. Many times I have found myself faced with difficult decisions in order to provide the life that I want for my children. Leaving the security of one's birthplace – for work, for family, for a better life, never knowing the outcome - is a terrifying prospect all those who migrate endure. I remain grateful to be gifted the opportunity to be members of the YIS family and feel the warmth and hospitality of the Yokohama community.
I feel empowered by the story of Kimi-chan and I am eager to share it as an illustration of our interconnectedness. For my students, I hope stories like these help teach them empathy for humanity, and encourage them to reach out to positively impact the experiences of others. They show us there is great strength in the human character, and always the possibility to persevere through hardship with the compassion of our families, friends, and communities.