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Pilgrimage   Pastel on paper   Akiko Hirano

The Journey
Akiko Hirano & Tim Wong

After a night drifting in and out of sleep, the woman wakes up with a start. The room is brighter than usual; it must be close to noon. She scolds herself for oversleeping; she has promised to take her daughter to the seashore today. She gets up and finds her daughter waiting impatiently in the sitting room, already all dressed up and ready to go. She does not border to put on makeup, just pulls on a black shawl before taking her daughter’s hand and leading her out the door.

They walk to the train station and take the express train to Iwate in northern Japan. The train passes through towns and countryside familiar to her, but this is the first trip for her daughter. She smiles watching her little girl kneeling on the window seat, waving at every person and tree that zooms past. A lady staffer pushes a cart through the aisle, calling out, “Obento… obento...” She buys two lunch boxes and some green tea from her.

They get off the train at a seaside town and walk to the ocean front. There is a beautiful beach under a clear blue sky. Waves crash against the picturesque rocks offshore, sending sprays into the air that sparkle in the sunlight. Seagulls fly overhead making loud caws. She lays a tablecloth on the sand and puts out the picnic lunch while her daughter plays with a sandcastle. She cannot remember the last time she was so happy.

When the sun is hanging low, they decide to go home. They walk back to town but cannot find the train station again. Her daughter starts to panic and cries. She reassures her there is another subway-line that can take them home. She grabs her daughter’s hand tightly and walks towards another part of town. They descend a flight of stairs into a dark tunnel and find themselves alone. That subway station must be seldom used. For the first time, she is scared. They keep walking for what seems like a long time before seeing some light at the far end. When they get closer, she realizes the tunnel dead-ends there under a bright opening with a ladder propped against it. Somehow, it all seems natural to her. She tells her daughter she will go up first and wait for her on top. Her daughter gives her a reassuring nod that says everything will be alright. She lets go of her daughter’s hand and climbs through the opening. The light is so bright on the other side it blinds her momentarily. When she looks back, the opening is filling up with bright yellow liquid that reeks of rotten eggs. That also seems perfectly normal to her. She has forgotten how or why she is there, but it no longer matters. An overwhelming sense of peace and well-being takes over her as if she has been reborn.

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Emergence   Pastel on paper  Akiko Hirano

In the dark hospital room, the daughter and her husband of 30-some years have stayed by the bedside all night. When dawn comes, the daughter feels her mother’s strong hand-grip loosening and slowly losing its warmth. The husband puts a hand on her shoulder as she says a silent prayer.

Last night, the wind was howling at Osorezan in northern Japan, sounding like children wailing. Full of volcanic activities and hot springs, Osorezan meaning 'Fear Mountain' is regarded as a portal to the spiritual world. In the morning, a caretaker of Bodai-ji is cleaning up the blown-down tree branches around the temple ground. He walks past an oozing sulfur hot spring and finds a black shawl lying on the ground. Thinking some visitor must have dropped it there, he picks up the shawl and throws it into a basket full of lost-and-found items that no one ever comes back to claim.