They were best friends, then pen pals — until one day, the letters stopped coming | Finding Fukue

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Published 2018-11-14
Almost 30 years after receiving the last letter from her pen-pal, Jessica Stuart returns to Japan to try and solve the mystery of her long-lost friend, Fukue. #CBCShortDocs

Produced in Association with Real Stories.

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It’s a mystery that spans decades, continents and cultures, and bridges one Toronto woman’s life with her childhood in Japan: what happened to Fukue?

In 1988, Jessica Stuart was nine years old. Her family embarked on a cultural odyssey that would greatly influence her life: the Stuarts dug up their middle-class roots in Vancouver’s Jewish community and replanted them in a rural Japanese town called Saku for a year.

It was during this absorbing year that Jessica met Fukue, a bright and bubbly girl with rosy red cheeks and an endless smile. Fukue and Jessica became like sisters, spending their days frolicking in the autumn leaves, dancing under snow-blanketed trees, watching hot air balloons illuminate the skyline in spring and sneaking through rice paddies in early summer.

Strangely, Fukue never invited Jessica to visit her family home. One day after school, Jessica insisted. Fukue reluctantly brought Jessica to her house; it was a derelict shack on the outskirts of town. Shocked and disturbed, Jessica started to make sense of the name-calling and bullying that Fukue suffered at school.

As the Stuarts’ year in Japan came to an end, Jessica and Fukue assured one another they would keep in touch. They became pen pals, writing letters back and forth for two years, until the letters from Fukue stopped — with no explanation.

Now a musician in her 30s, Jessica has never forgotten Fukue. Her memories of their time together are beautiful, but haunting. And so her thoughts turn to the unknown. Where is Fukue now? Does she remember Jessica? Why did her letters stop all those years ago?

Now, nearly 30 years after she left Japan, Jessica is going back to find the answers to these questions. She’s going to find Fukue.

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A special thanks to The Stuart Family, Norie-Ichikawa Doyle and Saku City Junior High School.

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All Comments (21)
  • 10 million views of Fukue and my story?? Holy moly! I can’t believe that people would even care - thank you, from the bottom of my heart ❤️🙏🤗
  • Alex K
    This happens often in online gaming communities. Somebody recently who I was starting to know very well as his friend went dark for a 4-5 days. His Best friend posted in a few discord servers and informed all of us that he had passed away. The worst feeling is never knowing what happen to them and if they will ever call you back.
  • Yuna Moonlight
    This story hit me really hard. I myself had a good friend like that from South Korea in middle school. She came to live in Austria for a few years and since we were neighbours and went to the same school, we quickly befriended each other. I tried teaching her german and in turn she taught me english.

    In fact, it was her who first got me to read english novels, something that had a huge impact on my life. She'd always have already read the newly released novels in their original language (english) while I had to wait for the german translation. It drove me nuts. And when she told me it was my own fault I wasn't reading them in english, as a jest of course, I was like "screw it, I'm gonna do exactly that!". And I did (though it definitely was difficult at first. But in retrospect, so worth it)

    Nowadays, I seldomly read german, because I just love english. I even wrote my prescientific paper in english this year ^^. Eventually, I'd like to write fantasy novels in english, even though it is not my first language. All of that was only made possible because of her, I doubt I would have ever come to love the english language as much as I do today if I had never met her.

    Sadly, our friendship ended similar to the two girls/women in the video. Her father had only a temporary job in Austria and eventually they had to move back to South Korea's capital, Seoul. Back then, I wasn't using any social media but Whatsapp. And of course that wasn't exactly used in South Korea. Like wisps of smoke fading from sight, contact broke off.

    Around two years ago I think, we tried contacting her mother through E-mail, unsure if that would work, but it did! You can imagine how excited I was to get a reply. And a few days later, my friend herself sent another reply too. She asked me if we could keep contact through Instagram because that was popular in South Korea at the time, so being ecstatic I wrote her my username.

    She never replied.

    Maybe one day she will. Maybe she won't. Regardless, I owe her a lot, because without meeting her, I'd probably not be the person I am today.
  • J S
    I am so glad this turned out happily. My grandmother had a similar experience, but it did not turnout well. Grandma had a very good Japanese BFF who lived in the US for nearly 20 years before she moved back to Japan. This was in the days before the Internet became available to the general public, so they wrote to each other often. I remember the stacks of letters Grandma kept. The last letter she received from her friend, she wrote she was coming back to the US and I remember Grandma was so happy and it seems like she was 20 years younger after receiving that letter. Sadly, her friend never returned to the US because she lived in Kobe, and about 4 months after she wrote the letter, the Great Hanshin Earthquake struck and killed more than 6,000 residents of Kobe. Grandma's friend was among the dead. Our family was so afraid for her because of the deep depression Grandma went into. Even though Grandma was not a Buddhist, she had made shrine in the style of a Japanese butsudan in an alcove of her house in memory of her friend.
  • i think this shows the true nature of Japanese people with how much they all wanted to help and even though there is a language barrier i can tell how sincere they are
  • JeremySolo
    I think 'soulmate' is an often misused term. Its always about love, but its not always about romance. The fact that these two found each other as children when they needed each other the most, even coming from very different backrounds and even a language barrier, and they simply fit together. How many people can you remember from 3rd grade?? Yet they continued to think about each other, and consider each other best friends for 30 years. And again, they simply fit together. Love is an amazing thing. And friendship can be just as powerful as romance. If not more so.
  • san t
    Fukue was bullied in school, yet she was so important to 1 person that after so many years and no contact this 1 person flew across the world to find her again. How beautiful! Never doubt how special you are Fukue
  • Muireann
    This was so heartwarming and a really special tribute to how important friendship is in our lives, well done Jessa and Fukue for finding each other again and making it all happen - thank you for uploading this.
  • Rice Lily
    That’s so wonderful that you found each other again after so many years. I know first hand how difficult it is to keep in touch with people who live abroad after forming such a close bond. Definitely a miracle. I’m very happy for you and Fukue.
  • sharon D
    That raw emotional trauma bullying causes just breaks my heart. When will it ever end. I'm so glad you found each other again. You made Fukue feel so special and valued and she needed that after what she's been through. You both have beautiful souls!
  • Paul Sharpe
    I lost touch with a school friend when he emigrated to Western Australia and divorce.
    We parted with unspoken friction.
    Many years later I began my search on the internet until I finally tracked him down.
    There after we wrote and called regularly until his untimely death earlier this year.
    I am so glad we renewed our friendship and I understand completely how deep the bonds are.
    Well done!
  • Misty Vaughn
    This is my 3rd time watching this. Nothing is more beautiful than the journey of two friends reuniting.
  • Ezed
    Fukue is like that friend you met on steam that was last online 7 years ago.
  • Lillie Hodges
    I was crying. I’m so happy you found her and that she was doing well.
  • charli bee
    So sweet. I would’ve loved to hear more from Fukue and her life, along with where she is now. It’s lovely to see so many people were happy to help Jess on the mission to find her old friend. Aaaa this was so heartwarming to see 💖
  • Navin
    The whole story was emotional. It brought tears to my eyes, when I heard Fukue's voice over the phone.

    Now I have decided to search for my friend. 18 years have passed. No trace of him online though. Thanks for the motivation Jessica.
  • Hansy
    We really need to do something about kids and bullying. It seems like a problem that has been there forever and doesn't go away. Kids don't understand what they are actually doing to their victim.
    Another typical problem is that schools will move the victim to another school, instead of the bullies, which is just so odd. The bullies does't get punished at all.
  • Keith Cleaver
    Jessa ( Jessica Stuart ), I just watched your incredible, heart warming story "Finding Fukue", my goodness what a uber powerful journey you took ( and took the viewers on ). Your dedication to one friend for 30 + years is so incredible. I hope that you and Fukue-san still write and speak to each other regularly.
  • Roza ZB
    The principal remembers everything and still keeps old yearbooks. Amazing. He's so caring and involved with his students.