Wow. Almost February already. Welcome to 2024, everyone! I didn't want to let January pass me by without posting something, so I figured this would be a great time to share some relevant backstory to my next release, which is coming in a couple weeks. So, let's jump right in!
My new book is titled Hinode and, just like all my other books, there's a specific meaning behind what I chose. Hinode is the Japanese word for sunrise, and it fits in with the other books in the series by referencing the setting of the story, along with the rest. While the main books are all named after a ship or base central to the plot, the companion books don't have that. Summit takes place in Breckenridge, CO, which is in Summit County, so that's where it got its title. Hinode was a bit tougher to pin down, since the events take place all over the island of Honshu in Japan. So, I chose something which references Japan itself--hinode, sunrise, or the Land of the Rising Sun. The photo above is from my family's trip to Japan in June 2023. We got so lucky to see Mt. Fuji unobstructed by clouds, especially since it had rained for the few days before our visit to the Fuji area.
I simply adore Japan. I've been twice now, and it was just as awe-inspiring last year as it was on my first visit. Everything is clean, the people are amazing, the food is spectacular, and no matter where you want to go, there's a train, a bus, or a sidewalk to get you there. Tokyo is the only big city I've been to where I feel completely safe wandering around and exploring. I can't even say that about Denver. There's just something about that endless metropolis which makes my heart sing with happiness, and I don't even consider myself to be a city girl. I could live there easily, I think, and never see everything it has to offer.
One of the things I love most about Tokyo is that it's not just densely packed buildings and crowds of people. In the nighttime city shot above, you can see that the streets are mostly deserted. Granted, our hotel was in a business district, and it was after working hours, but the tranquility which can be found everywhere in the city is an unexpected surprise to those who are more familiar with places like New York and Los Angeles. The park in the photo is nestled in the heart of a Tokyo neighborhood, lush and green and quiet. We had tea at the house pictured in the back and enjoyed a lovely walk around the pond, watching koi and turtles. The city has countless places just like this.
Many of the things I wrote about in Hinode are places and activities I actually experienced during my visits to Japan. My Japanese language skills are about on par with Ethan's in the story. When he says that he knows enough to get himself in trouble but not nearly enough to get back out, that's pretty much my skill level as well. I mention Shibuya Scramble in the book, and this is it. This infamous intersection in the Shibuya ward of Tokyo is exactly as chaotic as it looks. When the lights change and the traffic stops, all the pedestrians flood the street to cross to the other side. And trust me when I say that the crossing allowance isn't nearly enough time to swim like a salmon upstream. Crossing that intersection was a thrill I'm glad I experienced, but I'm not eager to do it again.
In the book, I also have Ethan and Ren ascend to the top of Tokyo Tower. Before the taller Tokyo Skytree was built, this was where most visitors went to get a bird's eye view of the city. Tokyo Tower's reputation as a date night spot is still renowned, though, and it still sees plenty of visitors. There were certainly lots of others at the top when I was there.
This is one of my favorite photos from the trip--the view of Tokyo from the top of Tokyo Tower. The city just goes on and on as far as you can see in all directions. It feels a bit like staring up at the stars and definitely makes a person feel small.
Another event taken almost directly from my trip for the book was the hike Ethan took to the summit of Fushimi Inari shrine. My husband and I did it. My daughter was the one who didn't want to go with us, so she waited at the little cafe for us, like Ren does in the book. Yes, it was raining that day. And we did meet a few friendly cats along the way. My husband was the one who got the lucky fortune at the summit. I created a rendered image of Ethan at the summit--as close as I could get it to the real thing--and I'll share that in the next post.
By far, the most emotional part of my trip to Japan was our visit to Hiroshima. It was a part of the country I hadn't experienced before and I was a little nervous, given the history involved. I won't go into all of my thoughts here, but the way Ethan feels in Hinode captures it pretty well. I'm very glad we took the opportunity to visit such a thriving, resilient, and beautiful city and I highly recommend it to anyone thinking of going. The whole area around Peace Memorial Park is serene and offers many chances for reflection. I found it to be very worth the trip.
The text on the sign above reads:
The Hiroshima Prefectural Industrial Promotion Hall
A lot of what Ethan and Ren do in Hiroshima were things my family and I did in the city as well. There actually was a festival being held in Peace Memorial Park on the day we arrived in the city, and we took the chance to wander around it. I especially enjoyed the taiko drumming performance. The whole wishing lantern thing in the book is purely fictional, but it was great to stumble upon something so iconic as a Japanese matsuri. We also walked to Hiroshima Castle (pictured above), though couldn't go in because it was already closed for the day.
The Children's Peace Monument commemorates the children lost to the atomic bomb and is the part of Peace Memorial Park with which most people are probably familiar. It also memorializes Sadako Sasaki, a girl who died of leukemia from the radiation she sustained in the attack. She's known for folding one thousand origami cranes, which is a Japanese tradition for making a wish. She wished for world peace and a world without nuclear war, and now the monument accepts paper cranes and other paper gifts from around the world in solidarity for that wish. The artwork pictured above was only one of the beautifully handcrafted pieces on display when I was there. It was amazing to see all the colorful donations. I'll never forget it.
Something I did not recount in Hinode was my experience in the Peace Memorial Museum, part of which can be seen above the monument pictured. It was very important to me to visit the museum, even though I knew how the exhibits would likely affect me. Some of the things I saw in there still occupy my mind and the pain and suffering depicted still makes my heart ache. It's a humbling, sobering experience, but one that I think is necessary for anyone wanting to truly understand such a pivotal period of history. It's also a very personal experience and everyone will take something different away from it. I saw what I needed to see and I'm glad I got to visit, but I'm not sure I could handle going again. My heart is too soft and bleeds for every single life lost to such violence. Reliving the experience wasn't something I wanted to do in my writing, and I certainly don't want to predispose anyone to my opinions. See it for yourself if you have the chance, or at least visit the park. It's worth the trip to Hiroshima if you're in Japan.
I'll close this (rather lengthy) post with the message which is at the heart of Hinode. This book is ultimately about love. Love through heartbreak, love through perseverance, and love through discovering inner strength. I love Japan and I love my characters, and I hope that comes through in my words. As much crap as I put my poor boys through, I still want to see them happy, so I'll always find a way for them to find love.
By the way, yes, that is a replica of the Statue of Liberty, standing by Tokyo Bay in the Odaiba area of Tokyo. We were in Japan during pride month, and this was a rather popular installation. It was cute to see people taking selfies with heart hands and big smiles. I loved it.
This post has been on my mind since I got back from Japan and began writing Hinode. I wrote the book with my own experiences in mind, and I'm thrilled to now be able to share them with whoever wants to read them. I hope you all enjoyed my photos and the explanation behind some of the things I wrote about. The book is releasing soon, and I'll share some of the pretty artwork with the publishing announcement.
Until then, I wish everyone a very happy new year. Thanks for joining me on my adventure and thank you very much for reading!
Leah Ross is a writer and graphic designer with a penchant for loud music and sappy love stories. She believes that love should be both unconventional and unconditional, rules are negotiable, and age is nothing but a number.