When they eventually got back on speaking terms, Sunny wanted Doc Hata to get rid of the piano. She suspected him of keeping it around as a reminder of how she had failed both herself and her “good poppa, who’s loved and respected by all.” Doc Hata said he wanted her to keep playing for the sake of her own self-improvement.
The phone rings in the present time. Liv Crawford has called from her car phone, and she is outside with interested buyers. Doc Hata insists he’s not ready to sell, and Liv relents. Just then, a sputter from the fireplace ignites the carpet. Doc Hata tells Liv his family room is on fire and then tries to crawl toward the patio doors, feeling like he’s underwater.
The experience Doc Hata recounts about a Japanese man he met on a business trip reveals his discomfort with being reduced to his racial identity. When he moved to the United States, Doc Hata sought out a community that would welcome him. At the time Bedley Run needed as many citizens as it could get to boost the tax base, and because the different racial and ethnic populations were not strictly segregated, Doc Hata felt like his status as a Japanese immigrant faded from notice. But in Chapter 2, he tells a story about how on a business trip he met another Japanese immigrant. Although he expected to have an immediate connection with someone from a similar background and in the same line of work, both Doc Hata and the other man felt awkward because standing together made them more visible than usual. Each one reminded the other that their Japanese background made them different from the rest of the people around them. In other words, their similarities with each other made them fit in less with their surroundings. Though proud of his Japanese heritage, Doc Hata would rather not think about it too much in the present.
Through hard work and enduring commitment, Doc Hata has achieved the sense of belonging he sought when he first arrived in the United States, but he feels he has also faded as an individual. In his many years of living in the same place, he has proven so reliable that others in the community now take him for granted. And furthermore, he has placed so much emphasis on politeness and sociability that, even though he has earned the respect of many, he has no real close friends. The routines of his daily life have also become little more than a series of rote and unreflective actions into which his sense of self has disappeared. Doc Hata’s feeling that he has become invisible leads him to conjure an arresting vision of himself as transparent in his swimming pool. With the sides and bottom painted gray, his pool appears not to reflect light, and he imagines that someone looking down from above might not even see him. Thus, as a “secret swimmer,” Doc Hata literally fades from view in a parallel to how he has metaphorically faded from view in his community.
Doc Hata believes in the value of improvement, understood in terms of both economic value and personal development. As demonstrated by the years of labor he has invested in the restoration of his Tudor-style house as well as the careful landscaping of the grounds, Doc Hata has a driving commitment to the improvement of his home. His meticulous home-improvement efforts have added significant economic value to the property. Yet for Doc Hata, the material improvements also symbolize his own self-improvement. The work he has done on his house reflects directly on his character and reveal his industrious nature and class mobility aspirations. Doc Hata attempted to instill in Sunny a similar devotion to self-improvement, particularly in the form of practicing the piano. But to Sunny, her father’s obsession with the improvement of both house and self had a dark side. His incessant work on the house took his focus away from her, and she dislike the chaos of constant renovation. Furthermore, when she reached a plateau in her abilities on the piano, she felt her inability to improve reflected negatively on her worth as a person. Sunny’s rejection of the discourse of improvement reflected her rejection of Doc Hata and his most closely held values.