All J.C. Kato needed was for someone to ask the question.
And, as it turns out, that person was her daughter.
Kato, who goes by J.C., had ruminated on and tinkered with a manuscript for years, but eventually she tucked it away.
That story, which became the book, “Finding Moon Rabbit,” is a fictionalized account that traces the story of Kato’s husband’s family and their time incarcerated in Japanese internment camps during World War II.
This year marks the 80th anniversary incarceration of people of Japanese descent. More than 120,000 people were taken by bus or train to 15 assembly centers of temporary lodging and then, eventually, Relocation Camps.
It was a story she knew by heart and one she felt needed to be told, but J.C. could never get it right on paper.
“I’d been nurturing this manuscript for a while,” said J.C., who lives in Lutz. “It was kind of born out of my husband’s family; 13 members were incarcerated, but they never talked about it. Once I had kids, I wanted them to have some idea of what happened, and through the years, I’d take it out, work on it, put it back.
“Then, the instances of violence against Asian Americans kept happening more frequently. That’s when my daughter said, ‘Mom, where’s your manuscript?’”
Her daughter, Jennifer Kato, who became co-author on the book, was referring to the horrific surge in violence against people of any Asian descent.
The violence has stemmed from a belief by some that Asians were somehow to blame for COVID-19, which is documented to have originated in China.
Jennifer, who experienced some of that hostility through non-violent incidents, couldn’t help but see the parallels between the modern-day discrimination and the treatment of Asian Americans during WWII.
“These past several years, especially during COVID, was just this mass increase in hatred toward Asian Americans. It seemed very familiar to what we had heard happened years ago during World War II. It just blew my mind that what happened more than 70 years ago — we’re still talking about,” said Jennifer, who goes by the pen name, JC2.
“It was scary during COVID and seeing that happening to Asian Americans,” said JC2
The book is historical fiction, but it is deeply inspired by the Kato family’s ancestors, specifically J.C.’s husband and JC2’s father, Denny.
The story traces the life of a Japanese-American family held in an internment camp at Heart Mountain in Wyoming. It is told from the point of view of the family’s youngest daughter, Koko. Her story begins when she arrives at Heart Mountain, which according to the ‘Heart Mountain Sentinel,’ was Aug. 12, 1942.
“Since the first evacuee set foot in Wyoming’s newest and now third largest city back on the morning of Aug. 12, a great change has come over the community of Heart Mountain,” wrote the publication in January 1943.
As a Yonsei, or fourth-generation Japanese American, JC2 felt passionately about sharing this close-to-the-heart message.
“I feel Koko’s story is about renewing hope, and I think any kid, no matter their race, will connect to Koko,” she said.
J.C. is a Hakujin, or Japanese for a white person. For her, this is a story she not only married into, but also has experienced in her family — seeing the change in attitude all three of her Japanese-American children are facing.
Over time, not only did she learn more from Denny, but took the time to immerse herself in the rich Japanese history, including the dark times of World War II.
It’s why she and Denny made the pilgrimage to Heart Mountain: to understand what those terrible times in internment camps were like.
“I chose Heart Mountain because my husband’s family weren’t at that camp, to be respectful,” she said. “I didn’t want my family to think I was writing about them, and I’m not. It is a fictional story, but one that has everything someone like Koko would’ve faced, and that was important to tell that story.”
The book was released in late June.
The mother-daughter team debuted “Finding Moon Rabbit” at the Children’s Book Fair at Oxford Exchange in downtown Tampa on June 4, and sold every copy. Even though the book is geared toward the young adult audience, the authors feel anyone can relate to the main character and the story.
“One librarian said she would suggest it to kids, as young as third-graders,” J.C. said. “It’s about Girl Scouts, too, because (Koko) wants to be a Girl Scout, but she doesn’t follow the rules very well. Any kid, or reader who used to be a kid, can relate to that.”
“(The) favorite question of children is ‘Why?’” JC2 added, “and that’s what she (Koko) asks the whole book: ‘Why? Why do I have to follow these rules?’ That’s going to speak to a lot of people.”
The JCs said it was a passion project to finish the manuscript and publish the book.
“It was very important to me, in my mind, to refresh everyone on what happened to my family and what is happening again,” JC2 said. “It was a way to connect to them and to understand, even now in modern day, what they went through.”
J.C. agrees with her daughter, whom she credits for propelling the project forward.
“The book definitely would not have been published, let alone finished or taken back out, if Jennifer hadn’t come forward,” J.C. said. “When she contributed, it made all the difference. When we were editing and taking out passages, she would go, ‘Why?! Why did this happen?!’ Just like Koko. She brought along a lot of the angst that I don’t have because this story, the message, the telling of what happened and is happening, is closer to her heart.
“She brought Koko’s heart to the book.”
Finding Moon Rabbit
Tagline: A war. A camp. A girl. A letter.
Authors: J.C. Kato and JC2 (Jennifer Kato)
Cost: Hardcover $19.99; Paperback $14.99
Details: This fictional account is based on the story of one Japanese American family held in an internment camp at Heart Mountain in Wyoming, as told from the point of view of the family’s youngest daughter, Koko.
To purchase Finding Moon Rabbit, visit FindingMoonRabbit.com. The book also is available on Amazon.
Published July 27, 2022