The American B-29 took off from the Mariana Islands in the early morning hours of August 9, 1945, headed for Kitakyushu, Japan. It was carrying an atomic bomb. Heavy clouds and dense smoke prevented the bomb from being dropped on Kitakyushu. Later that day it was dropped on Nagasaki, about 125 miles to the south. Today Kitakyushu is a model Eco-City of just under a million people, and a global pioneer in environmental health. The city is located on the island of Kyushu, the third largest island in the Japanese archipelago, with a population of more than 13 million.*
Noriko Barksdale was born in Kitakyushu where she lived for 30 years, before moving to Tokyo. There she was introduced to John Barksdale by a mutual friend. John was an Ann Arbor resident at the time. Noriko and John have been living in Ann Arbor since 2004. They have a very pretty 9 year old daughter, Chelsea, who is occasionally seen at MLM watching our games and keeping track of stray balls. Noriko is now a full-time wife and mother, but had been a pre-school teacher in Japan. John is an engineer and works in both Farmington Hills and Sterling Heights.
Noriko says she loves pickle ball because “it is just fun, but not so easy.” She and her friend, Akane, also one of our players, first noticed pickle ball after finishing a workout here at MLM. That was last August. Noriko thinks pickle ball is a good way to burn up some calories. She says, “I love food.” She likes American and Korean food but says Japanese food here is “just so-so.” Getting the right grip on the paddle, so she can hit harder shots, is what Noriko is working on now. She is strengthening her arms and wrists with weights.
Life in Ann Arbor, says Noriko, is pretty good compared to her home in Japan. She finds it much less crowded and easier to get around, but she and Chelsea make the trip back home to see the family whenever possible. Noriko is still working on her English. She says it is difficult, especially the grammar. She and her husband speak English and Japanese at home, and Chelsea is also bilingual.
When Noriko apologized to me at the end of our interview for her difficulty with English, I told her that I would try to compensate for that by speaking all the Japanese I knew. After an awkward period of silence, we went off to play more pickle ball.
To this day, justification for the bombings of Japan is still debated. It is good to have among us so many wonderful Japanese people like Noriko, whose ancestors endured the devastating effects of World War II.
Noriko says, “I hope to play pickle ball forever.” Her favorite color is pink.
*The other three major islands of Japan are Honshu (the largest), Hokkaido, and Shikoku. Japan is composed of 6,000 smaller islands, of which 430 are inhabited.