The House That Tanaka Built

We were out walking yesterday, when we came upon the strangest house. Our district of Shiga, Hira, is known for its artists, but most do not advertise their presence. On the other hand, this house had a life-sized sculpture of a woman next to it, and its stucco walls were covered in reliefs that looked vaguely like something one might see in a painting by Chagall. Obviously, the owner was trying to make a statement.

I took out my camera, and sure enough the owner appeared wearing workman’s clothes. His name was Tanaka, and he was delighted to show me around and let me take pictures. His workshop was on the first floor of the house, while he used the second for his home, and the third as apartments for a handful of students attending the nearby sports college. He explained that he had spent twenty years building this dream home and decorating it with his art work. While he was eager to show off his work and the features of his house, and encouraged me to take pictures and post them online, he was not very forthcoming about his own life.

When I got home and did some research, I discovered why.

Kazuki Tanaka is an award-winning artist, well known in the Shiga art world. However, this was never his occupation. According to the Mainichi Shimbun, he installs air conditioners by trade. It seems that when he was in junior high school, he told his father that he dreamed of becoming a painter and going to art school. However, his father argued that he could not feed himself as an artist, and enrolled him as a welder’s apprentice. He wept bitter tears as he sat at home while his friends graduated from high school. Later, he had enough free time to attend art school, but his family refused to allow this, as they felt that it was his sole duty as a son to increase the family’s income. It was only when he passed the age of forty that he was able to move away and start his own life and follow his own dreams, with this house on a hill overlooking Lake Biwa.

He graduated from high school in his sixties by taking night courses. He continued taking night courses until he could pass the entrance exam and enter Seian University, a local art college.

It is understandable that he would feel somehow humble in his circumstances. Yet, at the same time, his life is nothing less than heroic. The world tried to keep him from following his dream and becoming who he really was, but he would not let it. His perseverance is a testimony to us all.

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