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2nd Annual Imagine Little Tokyo Short Story Contest

For a Look at New Worlds

Every generation has an obligation to free men’s minds
for a look at new worlds…to look out from a higher
plateau than the last generation. —Ellison S. Onizuka

Griff Onizuka stood in front of his great-great-grandfather’s memorial, a swirl of brightly coloured paper cranes flew around the 27-foot-high copy of the Space Shuttle Challenger, the brass base, the face of Ellison S. Onizuka. As if caught in a beautiful pastel tornado of little wings, the monument had its picture taken from hundreds of different angles. If Griff wanted to reproduce this on Mars, he’d need multiple shots for the holographic display to work with.

His mother and daughter stood a ways behind him as he worked, not wanting to be in the way. A holographic sika fawn stood beside his daughter Amelia and looked around the square, as if watching the people go by. Amelia, only five, spoke to it softly, saying, “Non’t be scared. No one’s gonna hurt you. Non’t be scared.”

His mother, Sharlet, watched Griff go round and round the memorial and sighed.

“I just want to get it perfect, Mom.” Griff said. “I’ll only get this one chance before I go.”

He watched the 3-D picture form in front of him on his tablet, controlling the crane-drones, making sure they didn’t miss even the smallest fraction of the memorial.

She said, “Make sure you get plenty of shots of the base too—there’s a lot of information there.”

“Yep, I’m all over it.” He kneeled down and guided the swirl of paper cranes downward around the base to get pictures of Ellison S. Onizuka, mission specialist, who died in the Challenger explosion in 1985. His face in bronze was smiling, and Griffon felt as if this time, he was smiling on Griffon.

Amelia handed the deer some invisible apple; it was programmed to come to her hand and nibble on the invisible food. Other people walked by on Onizuka Street, past the shops, their shirts wildly animated and moving, sometimes too much for Sharlet Onizuka to look at. She wanted to look at things that were still, calm, peaceful.

She looked forward to visiting the Japanese gardens later today. She was sure that Griffon would take pictures there as well. Another something to capture and take to Mars with him. Why he wanted to leave her, she didn’t understand.

“Okay, I think I got it all,” he looked up at the Challenger statue which pointed towards the sky. “Mr. Onizuka I just want you to know—I’m going up to Mars and I’m going to live there, but I’m taking you with me.”

He looked over at his mother and she had turned away, looking across the street at the Sushi place.

He said, “I just wanted you to know how much you inspired me to be an astronaut.” He knew his mother wouldn’t acknowledge what he was saying. She didn’t want to. His wife, Sesha, and Amelia would join him there in a year, after he put down roots, got a place to live.

Without looking at him, his mother said, “We’re not going to get a good seat if we don’t hurry, Griffon.”

“Sesha’s already got them, I’m sure, Mom.”

“I don’t want to be late.”

“I know. I just wanted to get this.”

He programmed the little cranes to fly above Little Tokyo now, to take thousands of pictures and download them simultaneously, so that he could bring Little Tokyo itself to Mars.

“I don’t think anyone’s brought Little Tokyo yet.” Personal drones, even nanodromes, weren’t that new, but holographic technology had taken off in the last ten years or so, and most of the Mars colonists had already been settled.

He walked towards her. “I hear they have the Taj Majal and the Eiffel Tower and the Grand Canyon—but I really want to bring a little of me up there.”

These little tiny nanodrones could fly all over a place and take this day of Little Tokyo with them. My day with my family, he thought. “It’s a lot of work,” he said aloud.

“You could always stay?” she turned, smiling, knowing that it was a futile effort, but asking anyway. Who knew? Maybe this time he’d say he’d stay.

“Mom,” he said. “That’s not gonna work.”

She looked away. “I didn’t wink enough, did I?”

He laughed. “It’ll take more than a wink to turn government paperwork around. Let’s go see what Sesha’s doing.”

He was an astronaut and a holographic/fabrications engineer. A digital reconstructionist, he sometimes called himself. Able to create anything again. Useful in a new colony that needed to build, and couldn’t ship material.

The three of them walked, followed by Amelia’s sika fawn, past streams of people, shopping, talking, eating little bowls of green tea ice cream, their own animated dogs and cats following them. Some had birds that followed them. Signs on the outside of shops read, “Please turn off holographic projections before entering the store.”

Sharlet remembered having a personal drone take pictures of her and her friends when they were teens. They’d stop and pose everywhere. Little drones followed you like paparazzi, always looking for your good side.

Nothing like what you could do now: recreating monuments and cities you could walk through. If she were young, would she too want to go to Mars?

She sighed. Los Angeles, even what was left, was her home.

“I want to go see the seawall after the service, after the gardens,” she told Griffon.

“That’s all the way in Old Jefferson. We can take the LR.”

“The LR is very fast,” she said, remembering how jostled she felt the last time.

“Well, driving will be too slow. You forget how crowded it is down there. Everyone’s going to be walking the seawall on a day like today.”

* * * * *

Sharlet had been overjoyed when she heard that she got to take Sesha and Amelia in to live with her for the year as they waited to join Griffon on Mars. What happiness that they would be hers! But weighing on her were the years that would come after that. When she wouldn’t see Amelia grow up. The family would live on Mars. The rules were pretty strict that if you went to Mars to live, you made a commitment. Amelia would have a chance to leave when she was ready for college, but until then, she wouldn’t be back to Earth. Would Sharlet even be alive when Amelia returned? If Sharlet wanted to see them, she would have to visit on one of the Earth-Mars shuttles and stay six months inside of a shuttle, and then spend a year there on Mars. What was there anyway? Less than 500 people on Mars. It was growing, expanding, but still. She couldn’t imagine it. She felt claustrophobic just knowing she’d have to stay inside a bubble for a year.

“Oh, Mom, you don’t go much outside of Little Tokyo now. And that’s practically the size of the biodome. They have parks. You really don’t think of it as being cooped up inside—the dome is so huge. You’ve seen pictures.”

“I would miss the wind.”

“They have wind.”

“It wouldn’t be the same.”

Why did they have to move so far away? She used to think that if her children moved to New York City, they would be almost too far away from her—but now, now New York looked like across the street compared to where they would take her little grandbaby.

Sesha waved at them across the terra cotta bricked plaza when they arrived for the service. She wore a navy blue dress and motioned them to some shaded seats. Some people sat in the sun on white chairs, but many of the older people sat in the shade. The press stood in the aisles controlling their tiny camera drones.

Across the steps of the stage in front of everyone were racks and racks of real paper cranes, streamers of them in bright colours hanging down, commemorating the short life of Sadako Sasaki following the bombing, and her thousand paper cranes, her wish for peace. Amelia and Griff went up to the front to look at the cranes with several other people. Sharlet wished that she had folded a thousand paper cranes—she knew her wish.

“He’s trying to get every moment with her he can,” Sesha remarked beside her.

“It’s barely a year. That’s nothing,” Sharlet said.

“Well, considering we can’t come back, it’s a lifetime,” she said.

“I still don’t understand why you couldn’t just take a shuttle—.”

“Mama Sharlet, we told you they’re small. Visitors have priority. You can’t build a big city on Mars if people keep leaving.”

Sharlet nodded. Rightfully so. It was hard to try and build a family anymore.

She said under her breath. “People shouldn’t leave.” How come they only get it right when they’ve stepped foot on a red planet?

* * * * *

It was the 118th Anniversary of the bombing of Hiroshima and this service for peace commemorated that moment, but it was also shared by the Indian, Pakistani, and Chinese who had been through the 2021 South Asian War, short lived, but nuclear. Many of them here suffered disfiguring burns, their children, like Sadako, contracted leukemia. They came because they wanted to pray for unity and peace. Little Tokyo pulled them into the ceremony as if it were always theirs. Later, on the anniversaries of New Delhi, Beijing, and Karachi, the Japanese Americans joined them in prayer as well.

As the ceremony began, Griffon rejoined them, but Amelia and her sika fawn still walked around the paper cranes, which gave Sharlet no end of worry. “She needs to come sit down.”

They tried calling to her but she was mesmerized by the sudden procession of religious figures marching out of the glass doors of the Japanese American Cultural and Community Center. Buddhist monks, Muslim imams, Protestant preachers, Catholic priests, representatives from all the major religions in and around Los Angeles came to the service and stood in a line in front of the spectators. Amelia and her fawn walked carefully around them, looking up at them, like Sadako herself. Some of them tried to ignore she was there, others nodded to her, as if she were inspecting the troops of prayer.

Are you ready with that prayer? she could have been saying.

Yes, miss, I am ready. My god is ready.

* * * * *

With the world shrinking, the rising seas and oceans, and everyone crowding closer together, prayers of unity and peace needed to go up every day, not just once a year. Still, the ceremony reminded everyone that violence was the worst way to solve differences.

Amelia walked back to them casually.

“We do this to remember you,” a priest said, speaking to the living and the dead. The interfaith clergy lit butter lamps for peace with a flame that had traveled the long distance from Hiroshima to be with them that day.

Sharlet tried to pray for Unity and Peace, but felt as if the world, specifically Griffon and Sesha, had undermined that prayer. How could she pray for unity when he was tearing them apart? How could she find peace when her family was being tossed across a galaxy?

Then, she heard the bell, the bell from Hiroshima that had rung at 4:15 p.m. when the bomb dropped. They rang it again here. A clear sound. A sound of going away. Of launching. Of disappearances. Of sudden goodbyes. Of no goodbyes. It startled her, gripped her, as if her son were leaving her right then.

Then they brought out the mandala, a beautiful sand painting, fragile, easy to blow away, of blue and orange and startling green. The monks who had crafted it invited people to come up now and destroy it.

Many walked up, and with a hundred fingers they carved swaths of themselves across the sand to ruin the beautiful design. The destruction of such beauty was supposed to bring home the price of violence, the pledge for peace. But today, it felt like those fingers had pushed into her heart. She could see the back of Amelia, her hand enveloped in the bodies of others, her fingers no doubt clawing through the bright sand. Her fawn looked lost without her, backed away from the crowd and looked around.

Looked at Sharlet.

For a moment, this creature, not really there, looked at her, with an expression of so much loss that Sharlet wanted to hold it, but she was sure the fawn would shiver, and when her own hands passed through the deer, she might shiver too.

* * * * *

After the ceremony was over, and the sand, now all mixed together and placed in a bottle and given to the great, great, great grandson of Sadako’s brother, Sesha gathered Amelia and Griffon together.

But Sharlet wanted to see what was left of the mandala. She walked up after the crowds dispersed, and saw what remained: just tiny grains of green sand, crumbs on a brown board, on a brown table, in the sun. She ran her finger down the front of the board, just in case a bit of sand might cling to it. He’s taking all the beautiful things with him.

Her heart felt like it dropped into a well. Her eyes blurred with tears as she looked down at the erased mandala.

Then something flapped in front of her face. She looked up. Around her in the air were a thousand paper cranes flying, their bright colors like a reconstructed mandala in the air. They begged for her, it seemed, to come to them.

“I think I got the whole service!” Griff said from way behind her as the cranes rose.

Could he take the service back to where the mandala was whole again?

She turned to look at them, across the terra cotta courtyard, a surface the colour of Martian sand. All she’d known was Little Tokyo. Raised here. Married here. Buried her husband here. Buried her friends here. Her family was all she had left.

The cranes surrounded Amelia.

“Amelia,” Griffon called out from outside the colorful whirlwind, “don’t touch them. I’m trying to capture you for Gramma. So she can have you to play with.”

Like a fawn she couldn’t touch.

Would she rather have a holographic granddaughter, or a holographic city?

She could hear something like a bell in the distance.

The cranes flew to her now, surrounded her in a breeze.

“And now you, Momma. Hold still,” Griffon said.

“Don’t be scared, Gramma,” Amelia called.

Sharlet, holding still, her smile wide, looked up, as if to Griffon, and mouthed a message to the cranes, one that her son would see when he got to Mars.

I’m coming with them to Mars to stay. You are the Little Tokyo I take with me.


*This story was one of the finalists in the Little Tokyo Historical Society’s Imagine Little Tokyo Short Story Contest II.


© 2015 Jerome Stueart

astronaut Ellison S. Onizuka family fiction hiroshima Imagine Little Tokyo little tokyo Los Angeles Mars Onizuka memorial peace short story

About this series

The Little Tokyo Historical Society conducted its second annual short story (fiction) writing contest which concluded on April 22, 2015 at a reception in Little Tokyo in which the winners and finalists were announced. Last year's contest was entirely in English whereas this year's contest also had a youth category and a Japanese-language category, with cash prizes awarded for each category. The only requirement (other than the story could not exceed 2,500 words or 5,000 Japanese characters) was that the story had to involve Little Tokyo in some creative manner.

Winners (First Place)

Some of the Finalists to be featured are:



      Japanese (Japanese only)

*Read stories from other Imagine Little Tokyo Short Story Contests:

1st Annual Imagine Little Tokyo Short Story Contest >>
3rd Annual Imagine Little Tokyo Short Story Contest >>
4th Annual Imagine Little Tokyo Short Story Contest >>
5th Annual Imagine Little Tokyo Short Story Contest >>
6th Annual Imagine Little Tokyo Short Story Contest >>
7th Annual Imagine Little Tokyo Short Story Contest >>
8th Annual Imagine Little Tokyo Short Story Contest >>
9th Annual Imagine Little Tokyo Short Story Contest >>
10th Annual Imagine Little Tokyo Short Story Contest >>