This past week, history was made when a major political party nominated a woman for President of the United States. I stopped to think about what my maternal grandmother, born in Japan in the early 1900s, would think if she were alive today.
Although my grandmother and my mother were both raised in a different era in a country where women were not given equal footing by any measure, they were both strong women who taught my three sisters and me that we were each unique with a gift to be embraced; that our thoughts and feelings as young people were worth listening to; that we should accept those around us without judgment; that we had in us to be whatever we wanted to be; that supporting our community, including appreciating nature, was a part of who we were as a family, and that the concept of “home” was sacred.
My mother worked as a translator in post World War II Tokyo, where she met and married my father who was in the Navy, stationed in Japan. The Navy sent her to classes on how to be an American housewife, but after they moved to Washington, DC in 1953, my parents bought a townhouse with a storefront on M Street in Georgetown where my mother opened the Hiratsuka Nippon Gallery. Hers was the first Asian woman-owned gallery in Washington, DC at a time when the city was still considered a Southern town. My grandmother came to the US in 1957, after which they marketed and managed the gallery together, introducing Japanese artists who were until then largely unknown to the west. The two men in the family, my father who was then a journalist and later a film editor-producer, and my grandfather supported every endeavor the women took on with unbridled enthusiasm. My grandfather, Unichi Hiratsuka, was a woodblock artist who created a movement called “Sosaku Hanga” in Japan, meaning one artist who creates artwork from start to finish: sketching, carving, printing and publishing, a veritable celebration of individuality.
During my childhood, my mother and grandparents would bring my sisters and me to visit their friends and collectors of my grandfather’s woodblock prints, and frequently buyers would come to our home. As guests in others’ homes, we were told basic tenets: respect others’ sacred space, don’t allow our eyes to wander, and thank the hosts for sharing their time and home. When buyers came to our home, dusting, cleaning, putting away our toys, and being gracious and patient was de rigueur. The artwork was presented in a particular way, not on an easel but on a wide dining chair, described simply but with a little dash of poetry, accompanied by a pot of green tea and rice crackers. If the visitor was a regular customer, a platter of mochi-gashi or rice cakes made locally, was ordered. After the guests went home, from my bed I could hear my mother and grandmother speaking Japanese in quiet tones downstairs, about how the presentation went, recounting the buyer’s reaction to each and every print, and wondering whether they had sold any of my grandfather’s works of art.
Each spring on the grounds of the National Cathedral there was a festival sponsored by the Japan America Society. For several years, my mother rented a kiosk. My grandfather prepped for the event by creating small woodblock prints, and my grandmother worked through the night to cut mats to display each print. My older sister and I, both in elementary school, helped set up displays and, wearing kimonos, sat beneath the high tables on the grass listening to my mother and grandmother sell artwork, with my grandfather standing along the sidelines, chatting and being his affable and modest self. Afterwards, my grandmother bought us enough cotton candy to get a royal belly ache, but being a part of a family team, being recognized for our small contributions, and seeing complete strangers appreciate my grandfather and his talents made it a day to remember.
Although my grandmother did not speak English, she followed politics as we all did, growing up in the Nation’s Capital. Every now and again when we needed encouragement, she paraphrased John F. Kennedy, “some see things as they were and say ‘why?’– we should see things that never were and say ‘why not.’”
Respecting boundaries, appreciating differences and similarities in people, tapping into my own creativity and individuality, treasuring the gift of “home” and helping my community are just a few of the things that two strong women in my life gave me and which I bring to my work in real estate, and which I hope helps those who work with me and who place their trust in me.