Every day, Ranjo goes down the road to his studio to make shinobue (bamboo flutes). Each flute he makes, he hopes, is better than the last. He’s made hundreds of flutes over the years and has given many away. Whenever my husband and I visit him in Japan, our families eat lunch together and then go to his studio to chat and watch him carve away, pour the wax, paint the lacquer…

Every day, with vigor, Traci writes and reads her poetry, stories and convictions. Whenever I see her, her eyes glow of inspiration and her voice bursts with excitement as she describes people and places and even the mundane (which never sounds mundane when she speaks about it). In constant reflection, whenever we speak, her energy is always searching for something to sculpt into new words of her own.

Every day, Marcus and Kaoru wake up with the sun to bake perhaps the most scrumptious bread I’ve ever tasted. They deliver batches of tasty morsels around Sado Island. They work painstakingly to understand food, to grow food and to care for their family. There is something very raw about their lives that reminds me how far removed I am from nature.

Every day, my father cooked and tasted and invented new cuisines. He sailed from Japan to America to open up his own restaurant. He made food into sculptures, experimented with new sauces and flavors. He worked passionately to satisfy the palate and put more than a hundred percent of himself into everything he laid his hands on. From the moment I was born until the moment he passed, he was always an epicurean and chef.

Embodiments of prosperity — these are just some of the people in my life whom I admire dearly, whose life work penetrates through them. With a disciplined passion, they carve away at their days, leaving deep impressions on me and on the world. I sit here today not yet one of them. Though my life has been beyond fruitful, I could not describe myself or be described by others in the same ways as I’ve described these people. While I can label myself with certain job titles or be told that I’m good at this or that, the bottom line is that I have far yet to achieve a sort of continuity in my life’s work.

I dabble in all sorts of things, and while I’ve been well schooled in a few things, what’s left to do is to fervently practice a craft and vocation that I can identify as my own. It has troubled me for years now to not be in that place. I’m 33 years old, and however young or old it may seem, time seems to pester me unlike it did in my twenties when the passing days didn’t matter as much.

In just the past three years, I have become a professional designer and committed to a loving life in marriage. I am soon to become a mother as well. All big achievements, but without an anchor point, I still can’t help but feel like I’m aimlessly bobbing in the sea.

It sounds funny, but I feel fortunate to feel this way. Of course it’s frustrating at times, but I suppose if I didn’t feel this kind of estrangement from some core part of my being, I would never bother to reflect, nor would I bother to look deeply at the examples of the great lives surrounding me. What I seek is a through-line and what I know is that cannot come about with just a simple thought. It takes practice and commitment, day in and day out.

I am humbled and humiliated when I think about the people I spoke of, but at the same time, encouraged to pursue something greater that what I am now.

Mari Nakano can be reached by e-mail at The opinions expressed in this column are not necessarily those of The Rafu Shimpo.

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