I first met Shinobu when I was an exchange student to Ubuyama village in Kumamoto in the 90’s. I lost contact with the village afterward, but with the help of Shinobu’s brother, Haruki, I was finally able to reconnect with everyone again. My friendship with Shinobu and her family has grown stronger ever since.
I always knew that Shinobu has cancer for a long time. But every time she could always overcome her illness with her great positivity. In fact, Shinobu always appeared healthy, happy, and cheerful that no one would be able to detect by her look that she had cancer for 10 years. I always believe that positivity is her strength and no matter what, Shinobu will always be ok.
In mid March 2016, Shinobu was admitted to a hospital quite often. I also detected a strange atmosphere from Haruki and people around her. I knew that her condition might have gone worse. I talked to Haruki and asked if there's anything I can do to help. Haruki replied "If Rinna doesn't know, I don't know what we could do to”. That was when I decided to book my ticket and fly over to see her.
I stayed up really late that night. Thoughts were running through my head in search of what I could do for her. As an artist, giving her my medical advisory seemed to be off my expertise. But as an artist, I could paint for her. Then a vague memory came to me that Shinobu must have mentioned somehow that someday she would love to publish a book. "A Book", I thought. So I instantly texted her a really long text in my mumbling Japanese, half asking/encouraging/persuading her to do a simple picture book together.
“You have experienced lots of things which make you stronger. To me you are the most positive person I know. You have the power to help a lot of people. Through your book, you can inspire them to become positive and cheer them up during their tough times. Book is also timeless. Your daughter, Ririka chan, as she grew older and read your book over and over again, she will gradually understand more and more of its depth and feel your love always.”
Then I slept. The first thing I heard the next morning was Shinobu’s reply text saying “that’s great”. I was quite surprised that later that day she also wrote the whole text of this book for me in one go.
I flew over to see Shinobu at the hospital, She was beautiful and radiant as always. Up until she showed me 2 big lumps behind her ears which were always covered by her hair, that’s when I knew her condition was quite serious.
Haruki told me later that week that actually the doctors informed the family that Shinobu might have roughly a month left. The doctors have stopped all the treatment since the beginning of March. “But I’m not giving up hope yet”. Haruki said. “I will not give up”. Then he told me about a lady in Kumamoto who actually survived cancer at the same stage Shinobu was in. The lady even mentioned that if Shinobu got better she would love to invite her to go around the country with her giving talks to cheer other people up. I could feel Haruki’s strength and determination and I decided that this is not the time to cry. I came here to help my best friend, to believe in her when everyone else had given up.
I went to see Shinobu again the next day to show her the book dummy and sketches. Shinobu carefully examined each pages and said “This is perfect, Rinna. Thank you” then I saw tears running down from her eyes for the first time. She normally didn’t shed tears in front of anyone that easily. My voice was half shaking, but I told her that “This is not our last book together. This is our first book. Starting with this book, we are so going to continue helping and inspire so many people with our positive power. You and I together as a team, we are invincible”. Shinobu laughed and said “Yes, I decided to get better, Rinna. I decided to live. Let’s do this together”. Haruki also said “Anything to make my sister’s dream come true, I will do my best to help”.
After that the 3 of us were working on the book together everyday, editing texts and pictures, and prepare for the publication. I would show Shinobu and Haruki my sketches and adjusted according to their comments. Then in mid April, there was the great Kumamoto earthquake. Although Shinobu kept telling me there’s nothing I should worry about, but I couldn’t help it. On the day she replied my texts I would be able to paint. On day day she didn’t, I could hardly concentrate.
By mid May, half of the illustrations were completed. I was talking to Shinobu about donating part of the proceed of this book to Kumamoto earthquake relief and cancer research. Shinobu didn’t reply for few days. I was extremely worried. But later she texted me back and said “That’s the great idea Rinna. Thank you so much for everything”.
I found out later that she went unconscious for few days, but finally managed to gain conscious again when she replied my text. It was her last text. Haruki informed me that night that Shinobu passed away in her sleep, smiling with a tear drop on her cheek.
I flew over to Kumamoto again to attend her funeral. When I looked at Shinobu’s family and Haruki, I felt more numb than ever. I could still hear Shinobu’s voice and I knew that this is not the time to cry. As I carefully pick up pieces of her bones into the urn, I knew that I have to carry on being positive and complete the book.
After the funeral, Haruki and I still worked hard on the book together. It took me longer than usual to focus and paint all the illustrations. Haruki helped me so much with the research and inspiration behind each illustrations on his sister’s behalf. In order to paint the illustrations which could best enhance the text Shinobu left us, we would search through her notebooks, Facebook, and all things while trying to interpret and understand her words thoroughly.
Finally in the end of September 2016, the first edition were completed.
Although Shinobu maybe gone, but I know that this book still serves its purpose as the starting point at which Shinobu, Haruki, and I can continue to pass on our positive power and inspire readers to love and cherish themselves even a little bit more.
It has been quite a process. But this book made us happy. And I hope it could make you happy too.
23 January 2017
The Team チーム
Writer : Shinobu Sakata
Shinobu was a certified colour and aroma therapist who survived cancer for 10 years.
Illustrator : Rinna Clanuwat
Rinna is an award winning artist and designer as well as Shinobu's best friend.
Publisher : Haruki Morimoto
Haruki is Shinobu's younger brother who is publishing and distributing the book on her behalf.
Rinna and Shinobu リンナさんとしのぶさん
Haruki and Shinobu 春樹さんとしのぶさん
© 2016 Shinobu Sakata © 2016 Rinna Clanuwat. All Rights Reserved.