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Cream and Sugar
Special of the Month:
Kei Ishiyama Interview

Cream and Sugar

A Japanese manga artist who published her graphic novels in Germany.
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Eric Kotani
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October 2011 Flavor of the Month:

Paper Dolls: Legacy of an Issei

by May Nakano

An introduction by Chizuko:
When did I come to know May? It must have been either 2005 or 2006. This means I’ve known her only for a few years. But she is one of those rare people who makes you feel you’ve known them for decades. The truth is that I had May’s contact information through a Japanese Canadian couple in British Columbia I’d known for many years. May was related to them.

May Nakano is a Sansei (third-generation Japanese in literal translation), born in Canada, but living in Chicago for several decades. The word Sansei is not a third-generation Japanese American in western definition. Issei (first-generation) is, in fact, an immigrant, and Nisei (second-generation) is a first generation, Sansei (third generation) a second generation, and so forth.
Refer to Wikipedia for details.

When we met May the second time in Chicago - it was a cold day, so it must have been February - she took me to her workplace, Heiwa Terrace, the first Japanese seniors housing in Chicago built in 1970’s. I’d had no knowledge of the place until I got there. She showed me the facilities, introduced me to residents, and handed me some newspaper articles about the apartment building. I created a website for my Carlock Book Café two years ago, and am always on the lookout for Nihon-kei (Japan-related) articles. Earlier this year I asked May to write about Heiwa Terrace. Here it is. She gave me this article about what she learned from an Issei. She graciously shared the doll making steps with me.

Thank you, May, and I hope you will write more about Japanese Americans.

If you make these paper dolls, please send me pictures. An Issei’s legacy is alive.


In September of 1994, I began a new job as assistant manager at Heiwa Terrace, a 200 unit HUD subsidized seniors housing development on Lawrence Avenue in Chicago. I soon learned that the adorable Japanese paper doll mobile hanging over my desk was made by one of the Issei residents, Kimie Fukai.

Whenever she could, Mrs. Fukai would gift us with a couple of these Japanese doll mobiles, saying that her family supplied her with an abundance of Japanese washi paper and they encouraged her to continue pursuing this craft. She made dozens of mobiles not only for us in Chicago but for her family in California to donate to their favorite fundraising bazaars and the like.

Indeed, when I visited any office, business or medical, which Japanese Americans might have frequented, there would be hanging one of Mrs. Fukai’s distinctive Japanese paper doll mobiles! Shades of Johnny Appleseed!

One day, I asked Mrs. Fukai to show me how to make these dolls. She invited me to visit her any time after work which I gleefully started to do immediately. Mrs. Fukai by this time was over 90 years old, hard of hearing, hard of seeing, and losing her balance. However, her clarity and preciseness when it came to these dolls was not diminished. In her tidy apartment, she had every tool and material in precise order and showed me over several weeks how to construct the dolls. My crowning moment was when she said, “The student has surpassed the teacher!”

I decided to put magnets on the backs of my dolls and attach them to notecards. I would wager that I have made some 5,000 notecards and taught dozens of people how to make Mrs. Fukai’s Japanese paper doll. It would not be overstating it to say that being able to sit down and make these dolls makes my day!

In May of 2001, Mrs. Fukai chose to move to California to live with one of her sons. He was the only one who happened to have a ranch style house where she would not have to negotiate stairs. There Mrs. Fukai thrived until she was 103 years old. I am still using some of the paper she left for me when she moved. Issei like Mrs. Fukai are the most beautiful threads in the tapestry that is Heiwa Terrace.

Download the pdf Instructions