I’d been doing studies for a Japanese summer festival scene–something of personal nostalgia. That’s when I was told my mother had been diagnosed with Cushing’s disease, caused by a very rare type of pituitary tumor, which, left untreated, is fatal. I was frantic. I’m extremely close to my mother; we’ve been through a lot together, and she’s the only person I’ve always been able to cry to. The massive tumor was all tangled in vital blood vessels in her brain. After the first surgery failed, Dr. Hojo at the Kyoto University Hospital told us he felt it was too dangerous to make a second attempt. I can’t describe how dark a place I was in.
The Japanese have always loved things that seem all the more beautiful because of their short lives. I suppose all such things mirror our own transience, and inspire sympathy in us. Fireworks, cherry blossoms, butterflies, running water, dragonflies, morning glories, and the summer night itself–all favorite themes in Japanese art. I always take pleasure in designing all clothes in my art. My yukata (summer evening kimono) has a typically Japanese, bold theme of a moonrise over stormy waves. It is a favorite Buddhist symbol that suggests, though our lives and hearts are full of turmoil, there is something sublime that, like the moon, remains unshaken by gusts. I have no idea what that sublime something might be, but it’s an enticing idea. I’ve also included cranes and a dragon, symbols of eternal life…I don’t know why–perhaps my heart wants to believe in something my head won’t. Besides, a thing doesn’t have to be factually true to be beautiful or in someway meaningful. I mean, much as I’m an atheist, of course I’m going to keep talking to my mom after she dies. The text on my yukata, mixed with the symbol of the skull, reads, “Is there nothing we can do but wait here for death?” I’ve included the “three stages of man” theme, popular in Western art–each stage is a self-portrait. The store-signs double as inscription inserts typical in Japanese art: the red sign in top left reads, in the traditional manner, “Shôsan, by the brush of Taiyo la Paix (Great Ocean of Peace);” and the bottom right sign is an archaic form of the character for “dreams.”
My mother, with her typical gallows humor, told Dr. Hojo, “Don’t worry, I won’t sue you if I die!” He took a chance and did a second surgery, a third one, radiation, and now continues to treat my mother with pharmaceutics. He tells me there is no longer a threat to my mother’s life. He saved her. And incredibly, while I have been a wreck worrying about losing my mother, she has overflowed with acceptance, positivity, humor, grace, and love. Of course, my mother will die someday, as will all the butterflies and cherry blossoms. Kingyo-sukui, a beloved game at festivals, allows you to take home the goldfish you win. But they’re in such poor condition, they tend to live for but days. But right now, right here, they are alive, and they are together.