Greetings from Hokkaido

Greetings from Hokkaido

Hokkaido, Japan. 10:03pm. Thinking it’s Thursday, or maybe Friday. I lose track of time every time I return here from California, this island thousands of miles away where I spent so much of my early adulthood. I owe so much to Japan, these surroundings, this air…all of which hold such an untouchable place in my soul thanks to the selflessness and timeless wisdom of Sumiko, who brought me under her wing here so many years ago. So much of who I am now I trace back to the examples she set. Now as I enter hour 2 of staring at a blank screen, I begin to accept that the words I so long to write simply aren’t coming. Having been in this situation many times I’ve learned it means to stop thinking and start writing something. Anything. The present moment. I’ll go with that…

Sumo wrestling news on TV. Sumiko on the couch. She keeps half-waking to assure me, in no uncertain groggy terms, that she is definitely not napping; just resting her eyes. And though I haven’t said a word, she assures me she’s been listening to everything I’ve said. She shifts her leg. It’ll be good for another 30 minutes or so. Then it’s back to resting her eyes.

Naps are more frequent these days. She’s recovering from hip replacement surgery that, due to complications, kept her in the hospital for 40 days. It was pretty touch and go there for a while. Thankfully she’s good now. Really good. She’s tough. In a week she’ll be 83.

Otaru, Hokkaido is my hometown in Japan. It’s a seaside city that grew up into the tree-covered mountains surrounding the port. Every day she puts on her leg brace and limps a mile downhill to physical therapy. The pain seems obvious but, of course, she never complains. She’s just glad to be walking. She’s so determined. Her doctor, who lives a double life as a Judo sensei, teaches her how to stretch her leg, then he puts her through the paces. Today, she got her toes moving for the first time in months. She gets excited. He warns her, “Absolutely no volleyball!!!! Yet!!!”

After the appointment, the same hill we walked down must now be ascended. She takes a minute to scold me for hailing a taxi then tells the driver we won’t be needing him, that she’ll walk up the hill as she’s done for the last 50 years.  When I point out I’d only ever seen her take the bus or a taxi up the hill, I get the look.

I walk in front trying not to let her see me panting, happy that she stops to catch her breath every now and then.  Once we get home she heads to the sofa for a “break.” Now, here we are hours later, her tea gone cold, and me trying to sort through all the things I want to write about, and getting nowhere.

A while back, the Graf Lantz 10 year anniversary situation started to really sink in. Since then I’ve somehow lost my ability to come up with a single sentence I like. So much of Graf Lantz has roots right here in Japan. I realize the core of my writer’s block is the volume of stories. I can’t choose. It’s all tangled. I come here to straighten things out.  It never fails. I’m typing this. She’s done it again.

Everything this place has taught me has been by example. In Sumiko’s case, she is the embodiment of uncompromising grace and resilience. What drove Graf Lantz was the hope to be like her. It still does. And here we are, it’s 10 years later. Resilience is the ticket to any destination.

It’s good to have a foundation you can’t betray. It’s the future and the future is good. You just gotta hold on to certain things in order to get there. She showed us what those things are, and that’s what we base our business on. Watch what happens next.

Thanks for reading this far. More postcards coming soon.



ps.: This photo below is a favorite. It’s her grandfather, all her uncles, and in-laws. I just love looking at it so I thought I’d post it.  They were the actual 開拓者 –  the people who settled this frozen paradise called Hokkaido! As you can imagine, they were old school, that’s where Sumiko gets it from.


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