Japan, for Shino

In my heart, February is for Dan Shinozaki, a close friend I met during my freshman year of college and who remained a dear friend ever since. Dan grew up in Japan, and moved back after college, and he always promised me I would love it there, and I always promised him I would visit. I thought I had all the time in the world to do it.

Dan passed away in 2010 from aggressive colon cancer. He’d had polyps removed in the Fall, I knew, and had gotten a clean bill of health. When he sent me a typical goofy and heartfelt message on my birthday, in January, he mentioned nothing of his recent relapse. I was starting my final semester of graduate school–thesis defense time–as if I’m ever on time with correspondence anyway. When I logged on to Facebook a few weeks later to reply, Dan had died.

En route to Palau, Brian and I booked an extra week layover in Japan. We biked from temple to temple in Kyoto. We visited Mashiko, a traditional pottery town, where we watched artisans dye fabric by hand in a hundred shades of indigo, which fermented in vats in the ground. We rode the Shinkansen bullet train. Best of all, we stayed at the Shinozaki farm, where horses train on a gorgeous track of land surrounded by rice paddies in Tochigi Prefecture, two hours north of Tokyo. Dan was right: I loved it there. I only wish he’d been around to see it with us, his face lighting up with the world’s best smile lines (he inherited them from his father, I learned).

To Koji and Corinne and Sarah and Ben: Thank you. He was the best.

To Dan, with love.

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