Well, this will be my fifth attempt at making an entry on LJ today...for some reason the LiveJournal cut option is not working.  :-/    Whatever...you still need to hear my news!  I'm really sorry this is so long (I apologize!)...I did my best to make it neat but, LJ is obviously broken today.

This morning I was greeted with something simply lovely; an e-mail from my favorite ninja fisherman!  I sent him this dragon mask (you can read all about it here) and a letter, and he wrote back with these two pictures attached:
So now apparently he has a small collection of my art on his boat (yes he really is a fishing boat captain), which I think is really adorable.   The gold dragon keychain is actually for his wife (I thought it'd be polite to send her something too), so now they have a matched pair of his-n-hers dragons.  Everybody say "aww".    ^__^

I want to include the two letters that were written...one from me to him (which is LONG) and the one he sent back.  Unfortunately, like I said, LJ is not cooperating with cuts.   I really REALLY tried.  Sorry.  :-/
Anyway, you really probably need to see them both 'cause they're beautiful.

My letter to Nagano-san:

Dear Nagano-san,
While it was my initial intention to send this gift to you as a gift of gratitude, it has come to my attention that you are recently married.  Congratulations!  (banzai!!)  Please accept my warmest wishes for a long happy life with your new bride.  The smaller package is a gift for your wife...I do hope she likes it, as I made it especially for her.  I am very happy for you both!
It has been an auspicious year for both of us.  You may remember me from Sasuke 21 last September...I was the American artist introduced to you in front of far too many cameras.   When Higuchi-san heard the story of how you inspired me to health, he graciously invited me to see Sasuke being filmed in person!   I must apologize for the cameras...I was at the mercy of the wishes of TBS (Tokyo Broadcasting System) and G4TV, and of course I was Higuchi-san's guest so I wanted to comply with his wishes.  Yet, I could tell that the timing was bad because Yamamoto Shingo was about to begin his run, and I was so embarrassed to be distracting you at that time!  Please forgive me.
Still, meeting you in person and thanking you was the end of an incredible journey for me, or so I thought at the time.  Terrible health issues had clipped my wings all winter, but when a friend shared a video of you conquering the Sasuke course in 2006, it changed everything for me.  That is what I wished to thank you for. 
What I didn't know at the time was that my journey had only just begun.  Shortly after arriving home from seeing Sasuke 21 (an incredible, wonderful experience I will never forget) I was contacted by Higuchi-san again.  He asked me to help him with his next "Muscle Musical" show; Magicarade.  I was asked to design almost fifty masks for the stage show, that appeared in Shibuya from October through the middle of December. 
I had very little time to create these masks.  I remember that I invoked two mantras to help me through the task; I reminded myself of the Japanese concept "Doryoku", and whenever I was tired or discouraged I told myself to think "What would Nagano-san expect of me?"  It helped me to reach an incredible goal.
In less than three weeks, I had finished all the masks for the show.  Not only did I finish two weeks ahead of schedule; I also did some of the best artwork I have ever done in my life.
When I was brought back to Japan in October of 2008, in preparation for the opening of Magicarade, it felt like the final piece of a puzzle falling into place.  As I stood in front of the Muscle Theater in Shibuya and looked up at the poster for the show, with one of my dragon masks beautifully featured on it, I felt probably the same emotions you felt from the top of the final tower in Sasuke 2006.  It was my kanzenseiha (完全制覇).
So now, I am sending you this mask.  It is the most beautiful thing I could manage to make for you...I do hope you like it.  I was so pleased to learn that you liked the dragon keychain I made for you so much that you displayed it on your boat.  Of all the many thousands of things I have made for thousands of people, and of all the thousands of places that my work have ended up, the thought of that tiny blue dragon hanging on your ship somewhere off the coast of Southern Japan makes me happiest of all. 
As I said to you when I met you; I do not really know you and you do not really know me, and yet, because of you and your good example, my life has changed in a hundred little ways.  I learned some important lessons from you.  I learned to keep trying with a smile on my face, even when I don't succeed.  I learned that the journey and the way we pursue it is more important than the goal, sometimes.  I learned to reach out and say thank you, even to strangers!, because it is important to let people know when they have been beneficial in your life. 
When I tried to thank you at Sasuke 21, even as the translator told you that I felt my life had changed because of the inspiration you provided,  you shook your head and said "No no...I'm just an ordinary person".  When I said I was an ordinary person too, you looked at me like you didn't believe me; ordinary people don't travel across the globe as guests of entertainment moguls, or make beautiful art, do they?

Maybe the truth is, no one is ordinary.  Maybe the truth is, we all have it inside us to be better than we think we are, and to inspire.  Even if it's by competing in an obstacle course, or making something beautiful, or making a new friend, or being a good mother, or reaching out in little ways that make the world a kinder place for someone...even just for a minute.  You never know when you're being extraordinary.
So Nagano san, I am telling you in my own way that we are all extraordinary, and that is why you deserve this mask.  I know how humble you are, and I am sure that you think it is too much.  I want to assure you, however, that if I made you a hundred such masks, it would never begin to repay the debt of gratitude I owe you.  When I use "naikan" (a Japanese reflection on gratitude) I feel compelled to let you know that what you do profoundly and positively affects people all over the world, and my only way of thanking you for this is though my art. 
Please accept this humble gift in that spirit.  I am calling this mask "The Dragon of Strength and Gratitude"  My most sincere wish is that when you see it, you will perhaps think of the American artist who had a chance to see her dreams come true, and you will remember the part you played in that. 
Thank you very much, and best wishes always!
Andrea Masse-Tognetti
PS...I think you should know this.  When I was at Sasuke, I spent most of the day with Henry Cejudo...he was the American who won the gold medal in Wrestling, at the Beijing Olympics last summer.  He was invited to participate in Sasuke at the last minute, and had never heard of it before.  I told him many stories about Sasuke, and especially about you.  Even after he fell at the Half-Pipe (he is a wrestler and when he came upon the rope so suddenly, it surprised him and he tried to hug it in his arms rather than grasp it properly with his hands!), yet he remained late into the night to see the rest of the competition.  You fought so bravely to the end; we were all sure you would make it even as you fell.  After, Henry came up to me with tears in his eyes.  He said to me "Your hero Nagano...he should have one of these.  He deserves it."...and he pulled his beautiful gold Olympic medal out of his shirt.

My friend Carol kindly translated it...she's a saint for translating such a long letter.  She also translated his response:

日本の3月16日に、SASUKE 22回大会があります。

It's been quite a while since we had contact. (It really has a "Long time no see!" kind of meaning)
Thank you for your congratulory message.
I do remember you and I still have the dragon as a decoration. 
Thank you very much for the new dragon. It is truly remarkable.

In Japan, on March 16, Sasuke 22 will be held.   
I hope to be able to inspire many people by giving my best effort.
Your journey has still not ended yet. Every day is the middle of a journey, and if someone keeps trying new challenges, his/her life will be enriched.  
Thank you again for the dragon.
Makoto Nagano

I think my favorite part is when he says my journey has not ended yet, because I strongly feel that to be true.   I have a third Daruma with one eye painted, winking at me from my bookshelf, reminding me that there are still dreams and goals to reach for.  With me, nothing is ever "finished".  The book is still open.  I'm still writing in it.  There are still so many blank pages to be filled. 

Anyway, it's wonderful that my gift and letter were received in the spirit in which they were given.   ^_^  A beautiful thing to know on this very lovely Mardi Gras day.

*smooch*  Love you all!

PS...Suze...your reply to my first attempt was lost because I had to delete (and delete, and delete) the whole mess.  *hugs*  Sorry!  Please re-post 'cause you know I always love hearing from you!


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