With New Years Eve that had been and gone, there was little between Natasha and the mysterious snowy capped alps of Hokkaido, except a somewhat rushed trip to Kobe. Natasha had welcomed in the New Year at Takashi`s family house in Odawara, eating mochi and drinking warm sake into the night. Around a low table surrounded by golden candle light, Takashi`s father spoke in hushed whispers about visiting their great uncle`s grave in Kobe. His weary, deep brown eyes turned to Natasha and suggested she should join. The respect and honour of being part of such a ritual had not yet dawned upon Natasha as she climbed heavily into the large people carrier, wiping her eyes of
sleep. Leaving Tokyo in the distance, they drove steadily past mountains covered in evergreens, as the rising orange sun tinged the morning clouds with a bright candy floss pink. Seven hours later through heavy snow and some ugly coastal towns, they finally reached Kobe.
Entering a cold, sparse wooden room they waited for Takashi`s great aunt. Natasha was feeling particularly tired and unable to fully understand the quick, familiar exchanges of Japanese between the family, so she withdrew into warm, sunshine filled memories. Takashi had stopped translating and Natasha had escaped through unlocked windows of her mind, wondering how she could hide there for a little while. Just as these thoughts were rushing into the forefront of her mind, Takashi`s, aunt, Aki-san entered, lively chatting, addressing them all. Taking Natasha by the arm, she spoke of her early days using English to help traders in Japan achieve the best deal with foreigners. Without her, Natasha would have delved into an oblivion of safe and joyous memories, instead the aunt, had brought her soaring back to the present.
Aki San drove the family up a narrow winding road to the burial ground. It stood on top of a hill looking over the city of Kobe. "This is where I learnt to drive" Aki-san says in perfect English with her eyes twinkling back at Natasha through the rear view mirror, "so there is no danger of hurting anyone". She chuckles as Natasha casts her eyes down over the steep hill covered by uniform rectangular grey, grave stones. Aki-san`s sharp wit makes Natasha acutely aware that her eyes cannot reveal all there is to see alone. A silent movie needs epic breaks to reveal meaning.
Arriving at the grave of Takashi`s uncle, Natasha reaches for her camera unsuccessfully. "They`re waiting" Takashi whispers in an agitated tone. Natasha makes one last desperate grab for the camera´s strap and tugs it towards her, off the seat as he briskly slides the car door shut behind her.
In the freezing air they stand as Father O`Mally, a large reverend missionary that had arrived in Japan after the war, voices a few careful thoughts as the family bow their head toward the silent grave. Takashi hands her a prayer book, and briskly whispers "You know the melody right"? Before she can answer, everyone but her is singing the Japanese, christian prayer. Looking up, Natasha notices tears running down Takashi`s face, as he concentrates upon leading the family through song. She breaks away and to capture the moment and sees in the distance, a figure dressed in black, with his hood up covering his face. As she tries to take a closer look the figure turns away and disappears behind the grave stones.
After the blessings, Father O'Mally points out the red Hirigana inscribed on the gravestones indicating the places reserved for the rest of the family. Natasha cannot help but think that this is obsessive planning taken too far. Later at dinner, Aki-san confides in Natasha that she resents having to insure the site in case of an earth quake. "It`s just feeding money into the system, just protecting bones. Their spirits are around us and in our memories and our hearts beyond the grey stones" Natasha settles into honest talk and ripples of laughter between Takashi`s close family. Knowing that he is relaxed, relaxes her as the warmth envelopes the room. Upon leaving, Father O´Mally, having lived in Kobe for over 45 years, leaving Chicago after the war, advises Natasha to learn the vowel sounds of Japanese. Aki-san embraces her, welcoming her back to visit even without Takashi. As Natasha climbs into the back of the people carrier, she collapses into the car seat to the sound of Takashi`s father joyfully exclaiming in broken English "I´m happy, so very, very happy".