The story of the “Red Shoes” is well-known in Japan, popularized by a 1922 nursery rhyme of the same name. It recalls how a girl wearing red shoes was “taken away by a blue-eyed stranger” to some far-off country. The popular theory has it that it was based on the life of Kimi Sano, a poor little girl who was adopted by American missionaries after her mother gave her up hoping she’d have a better life in the United States. But Kimi Sano died of tuberculosis before she could travel out of Japan.
While the best-known Girl in Red Shoes statue can be found in the Azabu-Jūban district of Tokyo, Kimi Sano is commemorated in sculptural form all across the country, most notably in the port city of Yokohama, which is known for its history of trade with the States during Japan’s modernization.
Created by sculptor Munehiro Komeno in 2009, the Girl in Red Shoes also stands in the U.S., in the Shelter Island neighborhood of San Diego, California. The location was chosen for its friendship with its sister city, Yokohama. Behind the statue of the girl stands a red pagoda housing the Yokohama Friendship Bell, another gift from Yokohama commemorating the two cities’ sisterhood.