The Last Sakura: Tales of the Yuta by Ashley Nakanishi is not my normal reading material but I’m glad I picked it up. The reason for my interest came from the reference to yuta. A yuta is an Okinawan medium, which figured heavily into the research I was digging through with for Tortured Willows.
If I did need anymore convincing to read a YA, how could I resist any book that features the hajichi—Okinawan hand tattoos—featured so prominently on the cover? Hajichi are a cultural practice by Okinawan women that has been all but stamped out because of cultural oppression. I plan to get hajichi myself one day when we are no longer in lockdown. To see the tattoos featured so beautifully, I was hooked.
This is a cute story about a girl named Kiko and her sister who are packed up and sent to live with their obaa in Okinawa after their mother dies. The text is rich with cultural reference and while the yuta “magic” is really ramped up with some Hollywood-grade special effects, on the whole I not only enjoyed the story but learned some things from it. There are some good messages here for younger readers about anger, guilt, regret, forgiveness and the importance of culture.
The illustrations by Toni Silva add a lot to this book. I probably spent as much time studying the illustrations as I did reading the text. Humorous and clever, The Last Sakura: Tales of the Yuta is a pleasure to read and look at. Definitely worth it. Parents looking for a different type of “witch” book for teens with some true cultural value can find it here.
Find it on Amazon here.