Ashby Ponds Author Aims to Educate Young Readers About Japanese Culture

Retired educator Reiko Matsumoto started publishing children’s books at age 75

Reiko Matsumoto (photo by Art Nevins)(Ashburn, Va.) — Reiko Matsumoto officially retired from teaching twenty years ago, but continues to educate today by publishing children’s books.  Her books aim to teach American children about Japanese history and culture often by detailing factual events with fictional characters.  Now 85, she recently completed her fifth and sixth books, and hopes to publish them this year. 

In 1929, Matsumoto was born in Hawaii shortly after her parents moved to the United States from Japan.  After the U.S. entered WWII, she spent three years in two internment camps with her family; one in Arkansas and one in California.  Matsumoto went on to attend the University of Hawaii and San Francisco State University, earning a bachelor’s degree in elementary education and a master’s degree in education, respectively.  She spent 30 years as a school teacher in Hawaii, California, Japan, and here locally in Fairfax County.  During her career, she taught 3rd and 4th grades, English-as-a-Second-Language, and was instrumental in the initiation and success of the Japanese Immersion Program in Fairfax County.  Matsumoto moved to Ashby Ponds retirement community in Ashburn with her husband in 2014.

“I realized that many American children were not exposed to cultures other than their own,” said Matsumoto.  “I felt the best way to inform them was through books and pictures.” 

Matsumoto’s first book, “The Princess with the Magic Bowl,” is a retelling of a Japanese folk tale that her mother read to her as a child.  Her second book entitled, “The Sweet Potato,” recounts a young boy’s desire for one of the sweet potatoes sold from a wooden cart on the streets of Japan.  Now, Matsumoto said, the wooden carts have been replaced with motorbikes, taking some of the “color” away from old Japan.  The young boy buys a sweet potato, but chooses to give it to two hungry children he encounters on the street.  He later received a sweet potato as a New Year’s gift from his family.

“There is a lot of morality in my stories,” said Matsumoto.

The third book, “My Jacaranda Tree,” is meant for children in higher grades of elementary school and middle school.   “This story is essentially my story,” said Matsumoto.  “I have written a fictional memoir.”  The book includes letters to and from family and friends in internment camps across the U.S. during World War II.

Matsumoto’s final published book, “The Mushroom Over Hiroshima,” is also intended to be read by older children.  The book follows one child’s story in the aftermath following the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima in 1945.  This year marks the 70th anniversary of the event. 

“The purpose of the book is to help readers understand how the people of the city coped in the war’s aftermath,” said Matsumoto.  “It focuses on one youth whose aspirations for the future were destroyed by the war and then regained through a simple truth.” 
While Matsumoto was not in Japan when the atomic bomb was dropped, she crafted this story from memories and events shared by her husband and his mother who were living in Japan at the time.

Matsumoto has written two additional books entitled “Mii-chan and the Kamishibai Man” and “Koji and Jizo” that she is in the process of having published.  These books also describe customs and events characteristic of Japanese culture.

“I’ve always wanted to write and wanted to inform,” said Matsumoto.  Now in her retirement, she is capitalizing on that opportunity and staying busy with many other activities.  Matsumoto continues to participate in Tai Chi classes at the Cascades Senior Center, attends line dancing classes at Ashby Ponds, is a member of the Ashby Ponds Songbirds choral group, and has recently begun sharing her knowledge of Qigong, an ancient Chinese activity focused on balance and breathing, with her neighbors at the Ashburn retirement community. 

About Ashby Ponds: Ashby Ponds, one of 18 retirement communities managed by Erickson Living, is situated on a scenic 132-acre campus in Ashburn, Virginia (approximately 30 miles west of Washington, D.C.). The community is home to over 850 residents and has over 120 resident-run and resident-driven clubs and groups, an indoor pool, a fitness club, transportation services, 24-hour security, and flexible dining options. More information about Ashby Ponds can be found at www.ericksonliving.com.