I’ve spent the past few days remembering Toshio Otaka, aka Toshi, an ITP student who graduated in 1997 and who died of liver cancer on January 16, 2001. I believe he was 34 when he died.
ITP (Interactive Telecommunications Program) is a graduate program at NYU. (I’m from the class of 1989.)
There was a big party this weekend celebrating ITP’s 30th anniversary and Toshi’s name came up. Everyone who knew him liked him, and people who knew him well loved him. Toshi interned at Echo in 1996 and because I was his “boss” I had a more formal relationship to him, but I came to love him through his online diary, which I will get to in a second.
Tom Igoe, a classmate of Toshi’s (who now teaches at ITP) recently turned over a table and uncovered this reminder that Toshi had been there.
Toshi was so proud of having gone to ITP. He described it as “the hottest institution in the world pursuing multimedia field” on his diary, and on his resume he put: Graduated with departmental award for “Pioneering Work in Interactive Media.” The first Japanese student who got the award in the more than-20-year program’s history.
That award meant a lot to him.
I read though all of Toshi’s online diary yesterday and made myself cry. His death is hitting me harder now than it did at the time and it really upset me at the time. I was sad then, but it feels inexcusably tragic and wrong now. I think I appreciate more how short a time we have to begin with and how much people who die young are gypped.
But he was just so sweet and special. That gets said about a lot of people, and maybe a lot of people deserve to be described that way, but I’m telling you. This guy was something else. Sweetness and specialness at a whole other level. I’m going to prove it shortly.
It kills me that he didn’t get to have a family (he wanted one) and to grow old with them. It kills me that he didn’t get to do all the things he wanted to do, and he had a lot of dreams. It kills me that he didn’t get to come back to New York. He really loved it here.
He had hoped that he’d get to stay in New York for a little while after he graduated, but his company wanted him back right away and he felt he had to respect their wishes. (He was the Webmaster and a Staff Editor at “Nikkei Entertainment!” magazine, which was published by Nikkei Business Publications, Inc.)
This is his very last post from his online diary:
May 31, 1997
I was on the plane on May 31st, 1997. The seat I was sitting on was on a business class, Club ANA. I upgraded my economy class ticket. It must be really comfortable to sit on a wider seat than those in ecomony class but I didn’t have enough room in my mind to feel that comfortability. That is not to say that I was very sad at that time because I had to leave this country, I thought. I could not name my feeling which I had then. I had a very weird feeling.
I ordered a glass of champaigne to a stewerdess. With a graceful smile, she brought it which was mild pink. With sipping it, I was reading the New York Post in which Irabu, a Japanese New York Yankees’ pitcher, was introduced to be a member of the team. His smiling picture was on the cover.
“I am leaving. Irabu is comming…two Japanese, different lives,” I thought.
The article reminded me of the article which I had read on the plane just coming to JFK from Narita. In the paper, Nikkei Newspaper, I remember Mr. Yasuhiro Taze, one of the greatest journalists, wrote about Hideo Nomo. Mr. Taze had specialized in politics but he tried to picture the difference between Japanese culture and US’s by depicting what Nomo, Japanese only then Major Leager, was doing in the US. He had been chosen as a member of the all star games at that time. US is better when it comes to develop their own ability as a person or whatever. I forgot the detail of it, but what I had thought then was the day I was comming to the US, July 3rd, 1995, one Japanese pitcher was finally considered to be a real major league player, which had encouraged me a lot.
Irabu followed Nomo. Both of them are really great. On the other hand, do I have to say I am just an ordinary man compared to them? I don’t know. But nobody can not deny the fact that I am always playing the main role in my own life.
Probably what I was being on the plane heading for Narita was sentimentalist. I don’t know.
It took seemingly 20 minutes after the plane’s taking off. I felt like drinking coke. When I ordered it, tears suddenly droped from my both eyes. The waitress probably recognized it but pretend not recognizing it. I didn’t understand why tears were comming out. I didn’t feel I was crying. I just felt my tears on the cheeks were hot. Then, I finally realized the name of my weird feeling that I had had that day after waking up was sadness.
She brought a coke with a smile.
Cheers to an American symbol, Coca-Cola!
The post before was heartbreaking, just because of his obvious pride about all the fellow students who came to say goodbye to him the night before. Those of us who knew about his diary followed it avidly. The charm and heart of it is just incredible. It was written up in the Wall Street Journal, among other places, and he was interviewed on NPR.
It used to be when you first went to his diary you’d see the headline:
“It’s PRIVATE! Nevertheless, You’ll Keep Reading, Won’t You?”
You can explore his entire diary here, but a sample follows.
I went through it with the intention of pulling a few entries to give people an idea of what it was like and ended up pulling a ton. I’ve kept them as is, typos and all, but I inserted paragraph breaks just to make it easier to read.
Thank you Tom Igoe for the photograph and for helping me track down when Toshi died (thank you as well Marianne Petit and Midori Yasuda).
A very, very special thank you to Matt Davis for sharing Toshi’s last emails with me and for the pictures (which are from Matt and Dana’s wedding), and to Nancy Lewis for fixing the broken links in Toshi’s diary so we can still read it and remember the very wonderful and amazing Toshi Otaka.
Rest in peace Toshi. We miss you.