Since we came to Japan we always spent our winter holiday with the Nozaki family. Takayuki Nozaki, the head of the family, is a part-time painter and a part-time newspaper distributor. Yoshie Nozaki is a dedicated wife and a wise mother of two. Kumiko Nozaki is the daughter who works as a part-timer every night in a Japanese pub (izakaya). Kumiko is still single and therefore lives with her parents, while her brother, Nobu Nozaki, who recently got married, lives separately. Since Kumiko always works from dusk until late at night, we rarely see her at home. Naturally, we feel closer to the parents who has considered and treated us as part of the family. Nevertheless, both Nobu and Kumiko are always warm and friendly when they have a chance to join us, always around the dinner table.
January 1, 2011 was our first winter with the Nozakis. They took us on a trip to Lake Yamanaka, at the foot of Mt. Fuji, in Yamanashi Prefecture. It was our first barrier-free sight of the majestic volcano. The lake was deep blue with white sparkle under the sun and white swans floated on the surface, the wind blew in our face.
January 1, 2012, a time of impending turmoil in our life, but we were yet to realize it. The Nozakis again took us on a trip. This time a gourmet trip to a fish market in Oarai, Ibaraki Prefecture. We were treated with the fresh fish delicacies, the pride of Oarai. They also took us to the fisherman wharf, a place inspired by a place in California or so I was told, and to the beach, a few yards from the splashing water of the Pacific.
January 1, 2013. A year had passed since our battle of life and death, career-wisely. Even though until now I could not really fathom why, the Nozakis were again there for us in the winter, the beginning of a new year. When a year-long work ceased in the winter break, we would look for each other. For warmth, for a sense of belonging, for a family. Even if we had to go to one of the coldest place in Japan, the back side of Japan (ura nihon), with its merciless blizzards. Then, we found ourselves in Shirakawa-go and Gokayama, at the border of Gifu and Toyama Prefecture. There was one more person joining our trip, the elder sister of Mr. Nozaki, whose name I forgot soon enough after meeting her. After the trip I came to a conclusion that I did not like this person at all. She thought that I could not understand Japanese and would speak of her impression of us in front of our nose to Mrs. Nozaki. She kept referring to us as “that person” or “them” (yes, I felt de-personified..is it a correct English word? haha). Once in a while she would roll her eyes of disagreement with our conduct. Suddenly, I felt like a little child under the care of a mean nanny.
December 30, 2013. It will be our last winter in Japan. This time we decided to visit the Nozakis at their house. Mr. Nozaki will soon retire as a newspaper distributor, which he’s been doing for decades. He will be 60 this January. Sixty means a new life in Japanese culture. He plans to be a full-time painter, his life-long passion. I wanted to understand more why he loves painting so much. I wanted to understand a bit more about his world. So I asked him to teach me how to paint. He asked me what kind of painting I want to make. Flowers would be nice, I said. So he brought a pot of flowers to the room and began drawing. I watched how he held his pencil, how his fingers moved, how he filled the sketch book with his impression of the flowers. And I followed. The results were so different, as expected. Despite how amateurish my painting may look, that day my passion began to bud for painting. As I found peace and spiritual outlet in painting, I understand my Japanese father a little bit more.