5 days after I turned 35, Kana, my niece turned 5 years old. June 16th, Sunday. Mike and I left our ryokan in Kyoto early in the morning and took a train to Omi Hachiman to join Kana's birthday party. She had decided to have a BBQ outside, had been telling everyone about it, and had obviously been looking forward to it for a long time. Her mom (my sister-in-law) is having a very difficult time with pregnancy with her second child, and for these past few months she's been either in the hospital or been in bed at home. So, it's been a tough time for Kana too, not having her mom around when she needs her.
When Mike and I got off the train, we saw dad's Honda waiting in the rotary in front of the station to collect us. As we walked toward his car, we saw a small head popping out from the car window. Kana came along with dad and was waiving her small hand to us. I bet she insisted that she come along with dad. She was very excited to see us, and that made me happy. We got inside the car, Mike sat in front and I sat next to Kana in the back. She was smiling at me. On our way, dad stopped the car in front of the cake shop and said they should have the birthday cake ready to be picked up for us, so I was going to go inside the shop alone, but Kana wanted to go inside with me. I untied her seatbelt and once she got out of the car, she held my hand, and she didn't let go of my hand the entire time when we were at the shop. We must have naturally looked like a mom and her daughter to everyone who was at the cake shop. Though nobody probably paid a special attention to us at all, I really liked it for some reason. I really really liked feeling Kana's small hand tightly holding onto mine, as if I were the only one in the whole world that she could depend on. I enjoyed being responsible for this little girl, also being trusted and depended on by her, even though it only lasted for a little while. There was nothing like that feeling, and I'd never felt it before. Such a powerful and sweet feeling.
The day before that, Mike and I were strolling around the ancient city of Kyoto with our friends, Anne, Ann and Johanna. Anne is a tall Dutch guy who now lives in London, doing web technology related work like Mike does. Mike and Anne have known each other for a long time, and I think Mike told me that he met Anne online when Anne was about 15 years old, so to Mike, Anne is like his little brother that he's never had. Anne loves Japan and every time he visits here, Mike and I hang out with him. He's an easy going happy go lucky kind of person who is adventurous and who would try just about anything, either food or things, from natto to zazen, so easy to be pleased. Ann is an American who's working for a big and famous airplane company in the U.S., and she was attending W3C meetings in Tokyo the previous week. Johanna is Ann's niece who lives in Berlin, who speaks multiple languages, who knows how many languages, but let me try...English, Spanish, German, Italian, French, and probably Portuguese too. Both Ann and Johanna are very cool people who share so much cultural sensibility. I personally thought it was very very cool that Ann is traveling with her niece, Johanna, who is in her late 20's, because it would be so wonderful if Kana and I would be close enough that she would want to travel abroad with me when she's adult, one day. When I told Ann about my niece Kana turning 5 years old, she looked into the distance and said, "I remember when Johanna turned 5..."and smiled. It was such a gentle smile, filled with love.
So, Kana, dad, Mike and I arrived at my brother Koji's house soon after we picked up two cakes, a green tea cake for Father's day and a strawberry cake for Kana's birthday. We had a BBQ outside, like Kana had originally planned, and after that, Kana took time to open all the presents from everyone, took a bow many times, and blow candles, twice :) We had some drama, mostly because of Kana being spoiled thus misbehaving and all, but overall, it was a good day, and when I see this photo of Kana, smiling like this, my heart melts. Kana, my sweetheart, I love you.