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The Balloon That Turned into Tangerines
When two boxes of tangerines arrived at Dai-go Elementary School in Neyagawa, Osaka Prefecture, in November 2001, school officials at first were puzzled as to what they were for. Reading the letter that was attached to them, though, they soon realized that the unexpected present was a return gift from a tangerine grower in Wakayama - some 120 kilometers away - who found a red balloon that drifted from the school.
The balloon was one of 60 that were released the day before during a ceremony to mark the schools fiftieth anniversary.
On the morning of November 11, 60-year-old tangerine farmer Reiko Kubo found the balloon in a tree in her field and pulled it down. Attached to it was a tag with the name and address of the school, as well as a message saying, "Celebrating 50 years. Grade four, class one is a happy class."
Images of smiling children's faces flashed across her mind, and she was so delighted that she immediately decided to send a gift. She picked all the tangerines off the tree where the balloon landed - 300 in all - packed them into two boxes, and shipped them to the school.
The pupils were truly surprised when the boxes arrived. "It's really neat that someone responded at all,"one of them said. "We never expected to receive tangerines!" The school has 1,030 students, though, so there were not enough for each student. Principal Tadayoshi Nakamura decided that everyone - students and teachers - should share the tangerines, even if each person got only a few pieces each.
He also decided to write a story about how one red balloon brought happiness and tangerines to so many people, and he finished this right away. Nine students drew illustrations to go with the story, and a 12-page picture book titled Mikan ni natta fusen (The balloon that turned into tangerines) was completed in August 2002.
The response to this book, which Mr. Nakamura published at his own expense, has been much bigger than expected. Though only 300 copies were initially printed, there have been nearly 100 inquiries about the publication, including from local libraries, and the principal has donated six copies to them. He also sent some to TV stations that reported on the story. Inquiries keep coming in, notes Mr. Nakamura happily. "Soon, we'll probably have to print more copies." The story of how a red balloon and two boxes of tangerines made so many people smile could become famous across the country.
"It's a big surprise that the book turned out so beautifully,"comments
one of the students who contributed an illustration. "It's something
I'll treasure for the rest of my life. I want all my friends and relatives
to read it!"