In my second year of junior high, I had a fight with one of my classmates and got in trouble because I hurt him. At the time, I was in the middle of a relapse into adolescent revolt. But, since I was also defending some friends this classmate had bullied, I thought I had done the right thing and didn’t have any second thoughts about it. As it was, I wasn’t taken to the teachers room to discuss how the incident occurred. I was immediately given sole blame for the injury. When I kicked up a storm about how he’d bullied my friends and why wasn’t he getting into trouble, they asked my father to come to the school.
I left school with my father. He hurried me along to the taxi stand and into a cab, then we headed straight to my classmate’s house. Once on our way, he turned to me and patiently asked, “And you, what do you think of all this?” I explained the whole story and energetically defended my part in it. My father murmured, “Really.. I see” and fell into silence. His silence lasted just the five minutes till we arrived, but I remember feeling they were the longest five minutes I’d ever known.
Once at the house we rang the intercom and someone yanked the door open. It was my classmate’s father. He questioned me closely on the extant of his child’s injury and whose responsibility it was. My classmate didn’t seem to be around.
When he stopped bombarding me with questions for a moment, my father stepped in and said, “My son says that he had a legitimate reason to quarrel with your son. As his parent, I believe him. But, also as a parent, I must apologize to you for the injury done to your son. I will pay for any medical care that’s needed,” and bowed to him in silence. Then, turning his back to the house, he whispered in a small, dry voice, “We’re going home.” On the way home in the taxi my father’s regard was full of gentleness. There was never so much as a word of blame. When I looked at him, I had the feeling that his shoulders had never looked so broad. My father, as a parent had stood by me and taken responsibility for my actions. At that very moment, my adolescent revolt came to an end.
Soon you’ll be six years old ! When you were at the Kindergarten, you got good at drawing and would bring your drawings home. My favorite was one of us holding hands with big smiles on our faces. It’s a comfort to think that we were happy then.
You’re so bright. You probably already know why your Mother and Father don’t live together. We talked about what went on at our house a lot before we left, when you were four and we’d just come back from the shelter. You remembered so much I was surprised. It must have been hard for you, but thank you for coming with me. I promise we’ll be happy.
There are both happy and painful things in life. In happiness, we feel like the sun is shining on us and we’re full of energy. When things are painful, we move into shadow. It’s dark, and we feel weak. Back in our old house, we slipped imperceptibly into the dark and barely ever saw the sun again. I was so ashamed, all I could do was cry. When I did, you would bring me a towel to hearten me or line up your toys to play with me. It was moving to see how adult you acted.
The world is wide and full of wonderful things. I want you to enjoy them, innocently as a child, laughing without guile. That’s why I took you out from the little world without sun where we were trapped.
Up till now, I’ve put you through things no child needs to go through. So from now on, I’d like to think we’re going to enjoy things to the full.
If you look at flowers and insects, you know that even the smallest plants and animals have life and for all we know, a heart. I want you to know that it’s OK to play with those younger than you, and that you should take special care for those who are smaller and weaker than you are. Learn as much as you can and grow up quick and strong. Watching you grow tells me how good it is to have you here.
Let’s be close, enjoy everything that is out there and take on the world, wherever it leads us.
MITSUBISHI ESTATE – SIMON Prize
10,000-yen Shopping Coupon
“I’m leaving right now”
From Tōhoku to Kanto, my mother dropped everything and left immediately.
When I became pregnant with my second child, I was struck with such fits of vomiting that I couldn’t manage my daily life. Maybe if I lived alone, I might have been able to, but my first child was there. And my daughter was the image of health, brimming over with energy. I couldn’t very well take care of her with me shutting myself up in the toilet with repetitive attacks of vomiting. Like most small children, her concern over me was patent. She quickly fell quiet and played by herself. Her bravery brought tears to my eyes, but my constantly churning gastric juices left little time for tears. I didn’t see how my daughter and I could get through this, so I called my mother for help.
“I can’t take it any more” I said.
Mom left to join me as soon as she got off the phone. Once she arrived at my house, she started washing clothes, attacked the dirty dishes, ran the vacuum cleaner, and while playing with my daughter, straightened up whatever fell within her reach.
At the time, I was the head of a circle of friends who’d formed a support group for bringing up children. We were in the middle of managing a big event. My mother stepped right in to pinch hit. In one fell swoop, she took away all my cares.
“If you need rest, that’s all you can do: so rest”
Surrounded by the familiar sounds of her Tōhoku dialect, I was able to carry on with my pregnancy.
“I’m sorry to be so much trouble”
“This is no trouble for a parent, so who are you talking about,” my mother answered, as if it was evident. “Your father told me to get here as quick as I could”
My mother stayed by my side until my health stabilized, and then I went to my parent’s house until I had the baby. With all the support I got from my parents, I had an easy delivery.
“I want to do something to show my gratitude,” I said in all honesty to my father. So many things that I would have been embarrassed to say when I was younger, now seemed to come easily. Holding the newly-born child in his arms my father said, “The most wonderful thing you could do for your mother and I would be to do your best to bring up your two children.”
So now I throw all my life into my children. That may sound like an exaggeration, but I hope to be worthy of all the love that I’ve received.
“Mom, I’m going out to buy you some carnations.”
“Really! I can’t wait to see them!”
On Mother’s Day when I was little, I’d always tell my Mother that I was heading out to buy her some carnations as I was leaving the house. But I’d go off and play with my friends till the end of day and completely forget about buying anything.
“Yū-kun, did you get the carnations?” Mom would ask when I got home. And that’s when I’d shudder to remember why’d I’d gone out that day in the first place and have to think up some lie.
“The carnations were all sold out.”
In the face of such a blatant lie, my mother would always just answer with a laugh, “Oh really? Well then, I’ll look forward to seeing them next year.”
Whether next year or the year after next, the same thing would happen. I’d play, forget and tell the same lie.
On the other hand, my mother never forgot my birthday. She also came to all my soccer matches and wore out her vocal chords cheering for the team, a first-line mother. Even after I’d left home and was living by myself, my mother continued to support me. Since I was addicted to the mikan oranges they grew in our region, she’d send me boxes of them. When I protested that I had no way to repay her kindness, she just laughed and shook her head.
Around 23 years old, I became more stable. I finally showed my affection for those 23 years of love by buying her 23 red carnations, one for each year.
“Mom, thank you for these 23 years. I’m sorry the flowers are so late.”
“Oh! This year the carnations weren’t sold out. That’s wonderful isn’t it!” she said to me, laughing all the while. In spite of myself, this brought tears to my eyes. “Yes, it is,” I answered.
My Mom’s the best in the world.
In late June, I suddenly received this mail from my father back in Shizuoka:
“I’ve got something important to talk to you about, so let’s go get a drink together.”
Since I’d left home ten years ago, I saw my parents just a few times each year. When I got this note from my father, I got so anxious that I called my mother to ask if anything had happened to him. But my mother just said, “No. I wonder what it’s all about. I have no idea.” She seemed as much at a loss as I was.
The note worried me. Since there was no reason to beg off, I set a date to meet my father on the 15th of July in front of the Minamiza in Kyoto. As far as I could remember, it would be the first time in my life that the two of us were going out drinking together.
Kyoto was sweltering that evening. I was mopping the sweat away while waiting at the Minamiza. My Father showed up shortly.
“Thanks for waiting. Why don’t we go straight to the bar.”
No sooner said then he was on his way, laughing to himself and saying, “Back in the day, I often used to entertain at this place.” He led me to a small restaurant in Gion.
We were seated and our beer had been poured, so I thought we were going to get to the heart of the matter, but the important subject was not forthcoming. There was talk of my mother being difficult, plans for retirement, …my father kept chuckling away, speaking of this, that and nothing. It used to be that when I had something serious to tell my father, I would beat around the bush speaking of this and that, but down to the bitter end that night, there was no sign of anything important he needed to tell me.
We spent about two hours together. My Father was in high spirits when he left to catch his express train back to Shizuoka. I was half-relieved and half-freaked out, perplexed enough to feel like I needed to call my mother back again.
“Well then, for your father seeing you must have been what was important, don’t you think?” she said.
My father had raised two children and was about to retire. Perhaps talking to his son, who was now a man of the world, about what had been and what was to come, the this and that of it, while getting mildly drunk was not just a pleasure but an important story for my father. I’d gone off from home to take up my life elsewhere. How many more times would I be able to see my father? So for both myself and my father, that time spent together, the time itself, was as precious as it was irreplaceable. This is what our summer’s evening in Kyoto led me to think.
MAINICHI NEWSPAPER Prize
“Your stomach aches again? You know, if you say that every morning, people will stop believing it’s true. Then when it really hurts, no one will help you. Now get up and get ready to go.”
From kindergarten through first grade, for 4 years, it was the same every day. My daughter would complain of stomachaches and refuse to get dressed. Even if I drove her to the kindergarten, she wouldn’t get out of the car. When it came time for us to separate, she’d burst into tears, and I’d be stuck with her at the doorway for twenty or thirty minutes. Back in the car, I’d bemoan my own fate, try not to see my daughter following me and coldly leave her in her tracks. I’d be filled with guilt. “All those happy students; why was it only my daughter…” I’d think over and over again. In elementary school it was the same thing. Every day I’d take her to school, to the doorway or all the way to her classroom, and every day she would make a scene when I left.
When I asked her why she hated school so much, she said, “I don’t hate school. I just don’t want you to leave. I always want to be with you.” When I heard my daughter say this, I was suddenly filled with regret. Until now, she hadn’t said anything like that, just complained of stomach pains. I really felt that I’d failed her, that I should have understood all this much sooner.
Around about that time, my daughter was reading picture book called “Genki-san kara no tegami”. It’s the story of a mother who while in the hospital wrote letters to her daughter in the name of “Genki-san” to keep her spirits bright. I decided to do the same kind of thing. Because she’d liked the book, I thought she’d quickly get in the habit of checking the mailbox each day when she came home from school.
I wrote a short letter to my daughter and put it in the mailbox.
“Dear Yuna, thank you for checking the mailbox everyday. You’re going to school everyday now. And you’ve been helping out a lot around the house. Your mother’s been so happy. From Genki-san”
When my daughter came home, she found the letter and seemed to be crying while she read it. Though it may seem strange, she said she herself didn’t understand why she was crying. I believe it’s because I had finally accepted my daughter’s distress, and it made up a little for all my blindness. After that my daughter gradually adjusted to school and was able to go there by herself. Now she’s a sixth grader, and until this day checking the mailbox is part of her daily routine.
“Girls, your omelette is served!” That’s what I said to my 2 girls 12 years ago.
That year my wife passed away due to illness. And that’s when I really began to take care of my daughters. For a while I was knocking back and forth between work and home problems, talking about home at work & rethinking work at home. It was difficult reconciling the two, and that would irritate me. I got short-tempered and would yell at my girls for any reason, especially when my older daughter was in fifth grade. She’d avoid me and ended up spending a lot of time shut up in her room.
Time went on this way till one day when I was cleaning my room, I happened to find several pages of recipes in my wife’s dresser drawer. Most likely, she intended to make these dishes for the girls when she got back from the hospital.
Looking at the recipes, the only one that seemed to be within my grasp was a rice & cheese omelette. I made it on my next day off. Neither it’s shape nor it’s taste could rival my wife’s cooking, but so be it. “Girls, your omelette is served!” I said, placing my somewhat burnt offering before my two daughters.
My elder girl could barely keep a straight face. It looked like she was laughing.
“How is it? It’s good, isn’t it,” I asked my younger daughter.
“So our father can cook too.” she answered, as if it were a joke. That’s when things started to get better. It was slow going, but spending more time doing simple things together became important to all of us. Now my daughters are both off living on their own.
“What’ll we eat?” It’s my elder daughter’s day off from the local elementary school where she prepares lunches.
“Since we have eggs, how about an omelette?”
The same brusque replies as always. But sitting and eating with my two daughters is now my treasure.
From the day my parents divorced, my mother’s job was to be a father.
My job was to be a little mother.
Our child was my 5 year-old brother.
We lived desperately.
I don’t think I ever had the time to be rebellious.
I made meals for everyone, clutching a recipe book in my other hand.
If you put bean sprouts in water, they’re good for another meal: I practiced home economics.
Since I couldn’t earn any money while I was a student, I studied like my life depended on it.
The year I was first in my class, I secretly cried.
My brother loved soccer and made his mark there. The house filled up with trophies.
When there were Athletic Meets and Culture Day’s at school, my mother had to work. At lunchtime everyone went to sit with their mothers, but it was just the two of us.
“Why?” I always wondered. We were only three people. Why was it so hard to get together as a family?
Sometimes it made me cry.
Look at my brother. When his friends were playing catch and other games with their fathers, he’d be by himself throwing the ball against the wall.
But I couldn’t tell my mother how lonely we were.
My mother never looked unhappy. She’d always be smiling when she came home. And without fail, she would give us both a hearty greeting.
The time the three of us did spend together as a family was such a joy.
Well, we all wanted it to be a joy, but we were really struggling with our situation.
The truth is I wanted my Mom to be there when I was running in the relay and to have her show up at the classroom on Parent’s Day.
My brother was always muttering about how he didn’t have a father and wanted to know why.
I was lonely and wished someone was there when I came home.
Now, it’s 15 years later. And the day finally came when my mother could stop being the father.
That was the day that I stopped being the little mother.
My mother remarried and is so happy now.
My new father is quite old but seems much nicer than my real father.
Since my brother thinks so too, maybe he’s a good person.
So I’ll wait and see, and go back to being a kid again.
Bye-bye “Little Mother”
TSUBURAYA PRO Prize
Blu-ray ULTRAMAN Series Special Set
The little girls’ batteries begin to run down after eight at night. You can measure the younger one’s fatigue by how much she cries. As for her full of energy older sister, she survived today’s kindergarten, but now she’s run out of juice and is sleeping on the sofa. Mom’s the one who’s supposed to get them both upstairs to bed. After a 10 kilo and then a 17 kilo freight transfer to the second floor, Mom’s ready to give it up, but when she comes back to the living room, there’s another child who’s hurriedly taken over the couch and is now lying on it with his eyes shut. “Go to bed !” No surprise there: another 24 kilo load would put quite a strain on Mom’s chassis.
Mama knows how hard you’ve been trying to be a good older brother to your two little sisters.
She knows how hot it was today from the sweat marks when you took off your backpack.
She knows how you let go of my hand and turned away when your younger sister started to cry. And that you were trying to be patient but unintentionally hit your sister when you swung your arm in frustration.
Your mother knows that her right and left arms were commandeered as pillows for your sisters and that’s why you’re sleeping alone with your back turned towards her. And she suspects you’ve got your eyes narrowed to slits to keep track of what Mama is doing.
It’s only when I get busy that it’s difficult to give you the attention you want. With only two arms, Mom can’t hug three kids at the same time. The son on the couch knows this full well.
Of course if he’s “sleeping”, then he has to get carried upstairs, and there’s no way not to hug him in the process… and maybe that’s what he needs.
She’s picked him up. “You’re always trying hard to do your best, aren’t you…”
“No,” he whispers in a small voice.
So, he is awake after all.
Quietly by his ear, “And what face are you making now? I think I know !!”
Halfway up the stairs the 24 kilo boy’s body suddenly goes limp and gets even heavier.
Original book of your photos & essays
There was a band that debuted in 1988 called the Ulfuls. Dad was a fan. The net result of my childhood up to the age of five spent listening to the Ulfuls in my father’s car was the ability to sing their song, “Guts da ze”.
As father and daughter living through a young girl’s puberty, we avoided the kind of “Don’t wash your underwear with the rest of the laundry” rebellion common to most families, largely by lying, and came through unscathed. However, my second year of high school created so much stress for me that I had trouble keeping the act up. Did my father sense what was going on? He never asked about my problems. If I think back about it now, I can see that by treating me as though everything was OK, he was showing his affection. But at the time, I thought he never asked because he didn’t care, and I openly showed my disgust. As for the Ulful, as much as I’d liked them, I stopped listening to their music.
Years later, after I’d left home, I discovered on the internet that the Ulful were giving a concert. They’d become an unpleasant memory for me, but I invited my father to the concert. My father was happy to go. The day of the show I came early and watched out for him, finally seeing him arrive dressed in a suit. For the first time I realized that coming to a concert with me, despite a day of hard work, was part of my father’s kindness of heart, just like not questioning me during high school.
On the train home, we spoke and laughed more than in the past. I’m not someone who easily thanks people, but words aren’t the only way. If you’re clumsy with words, but cherish another’s kindness, you naturally watch over the other’s feelings. One day when I get married, we’ll fill the hall with the sound of the Ulful. That’s my way of showing my thanks.
OYAKO DAY Prize
Oyako Day 2017 Original Present
I suddenly became the mother of a 10 year-old, American boy.
Not a blood relation, but a foster parent.
He was cute for the first month, but from there on, he plunged into rebellion.
He was difficult and emotionally unstable.
How many times did I think I should to stop being a foster parent?
When I thought of giving over my role to a social worker, the words stuck in my throat and I couldn’t go through with it.
Our mud-slinging went on for a half a year, till that fateful day: Mother’s Day.
He’d never called me mother.
As if that was reserved for the woman who had left him; because they shared the same blood and there was a special love or bond between them.
Who did he think I was, this person who didn’t even look like him?
The hired help who washed his dirty baseball uniforms? A teacher’s aide who tutored him late into the night? Or maybe just some complaining meddler.
The following morning, there were candles by the side of the bed spelling the word “family” that danced before my eyes. My foster son had gathered the candles beforehand and stealthily placed them by my bed while I slept at night.
Knowing nothing of weeping for joy, maybe he sought to escape any confusion.
Days later at his therapy session, he made a drawing. It was a picture of him, my husband and myself walking together. Looking at the letters through eyes blurred by tears I could see that “1, 2, 3: Family” was written on the drawing.
Eight months later, a distant relative took charge of him.
The fourteen months I spent with him were filled with intense up and downs.
What I most remember is finally overcoming his mistrust and the young boy I loved in the hope of restoring his childhood. The therapist told me that I was the only foster mother who had not abandoned him.
And then it was time for us to part. When I couldn’t find any words, he broke the silence by saying, “You’re my favorite.” After continuously refusing my hugs and signs of affection, he clung to me now with tears in his eyes.
We were parent and child.
Trials of emotion and perseverance had led him to look on me as a parent, a bond beyond blood and names.
My father left our home when I was 15.
I wonder if he remembers what happened at the merry-go-round at Takarazuka Familyland, the place we liked to go to so much !?
We joined the long line and just when it was my turn to get in, my father ran in front to grab a big horse for me. Mother yelled to us from outside, “Be careful don’t run!” My father put his arms around me and lifted me onto the tallest horse. Then he sat on a much smaller one beside me. “Hey, looks like these horses are oyako, doesn’t it. Hahahaha….”
My father’s eyes were smiling warmly. The merry-go-round started round, and the music began to play. After going around once or twice, I felt like a hero. While the merry-go-round circled, my mother waited at the exterior waving her hand each time I went by. This was oddly pleasing and maybe a little embarrassing. At the time, I was innocent and docile.
I was a toddler, then a young boy, and now an adult.
My father knows nothing of my life as an adult.
The fact that he has no interest or concern for our family, well, to tell the truth, I find it heartbreaking.
My father liked to drink.
In TV melodramas, whenever there’s a scene where a father and son go out drinking together, it makes me feel so envious. I’d like to go out with that father of mine and enjoy a night drinking together. I’d like to talk to him not just as a father and son. I want to spend time together as 2 adults.
Yes, I’d really like to meet my father.
At the time of the Tanabata Festival, our daughter who’s a third grader brought home some of the strips of paper used to add wishes to the festival’s bamboo decorations. We could read “To be together” written carefully on each one.
Five years ago I was diagnosed with breast cancer. I had an operation and chemotherapy, and it was long and hard trial, both physically and spiritually. Luckily, the medicine worked, and thanks to the support I got from my family, I was able to fully recover. The illness has not recurred and I’m living a healthy life.
But then last September at my regular checkup, the doctors had some results that suggested it was back. They did a much more detailed examination. The complete results took a month to return, and I think that month was the worst of everything.
Honestly, I didn’t think I could stand going through therapy again.
I felt that all my emotional resources were spent, and that basically from the start, excluding being a mother, I’ve always been just one more weak person. I was so thankful when the results came back negative. From the very bottom of my heart, I drew a long breath of life. Nonetheless, no one can promise there will be no more tests, nor how they would turn out. I count my days, try to be strong, and have decided to live my life with my feet flat on the ground.
Just at the time of these last tests, my daughter announced that she wanted to be a doctor and help the ill. I felt both love and pride. Yet, her choice certainly came from the experiences of her mother’s illness, and in this I felt sorry for my daughter.
And then at Tanabata, a classmate misread the writing on my daughter’s slip of paper as stonecutter instead of doctor. She was indignant. I laughed and laughed when I heard about it, until my daughter got mad about that too.
Of course, at this point my daughter’s future is a total unknown.
Whatever path she chooses, I want to be there to cheer her on.
Doctor, stonecutter or whatever….
Last spring, I moved far from my hometown to live with my new husband in Miyazaki. After much agonizing, I gave up my teaching job of the last 20 years: a big decision.
“I’ve packed this full of your favorite things,” my father said on my day of departure as he handed me a package of Shizoka mikan. I said good-bye to my parents at the airport. Eating my beloved mikan on the airplane, they were more bitter than sweet.
Fortunately, I found a new teaching job in Miyazaki. But I was unable to adapt to all the tremendous changes, and my heart hurt so much I had to visit the Department of Psychosomatic Medicine at the hospital.
One night, I got an email from my father.
Unlike my mother who never bothers to type in a subject line, my father’s were always there and always precise. Despite being a lazybones, at seventy he led a daily battle against aging eyesight and continued to send me email. I read tonight’s subject and it just said, “Yukari”. It seemed ominous and I already had tears in my eyes when I started reading the letter.
“Today your father took his bicycle for a ride and road for 20 kilometers. As always, I’m feeling fine. How’s my little Yukari doing? I’ll send you some more mikan…”
Wait a minute! This letter has nothing to do with the subject Yukari ! I cried all the harder for that. But having parents far away who think and care so much about me, called me back to myself: “C’mon, Yukari, make more of an effort!”
I replied to my father’s mail asking, “Papa, why did you name me Yukari?”
When I got his return mail he wrote, “Because you’re as beautiful as the actress Hoshino Yukari” …so my father wanted an actress not a teacher for a daughter? This was such a joke it made me laugh.
Some days later, one of my co-workers asked what my favorite thing to eat was.
“I like the little mikans they have in Shizuoka. They’re sweet and small and easy to eat.” The next day when I got to work I was in for a shock.
“What is this!? Looks like a giant mikan!”
Center stage on top of my desk stood a magnificent mikan that was larger than my head. The co-worker I’d spoken with the day before started laughing and explained,
“That’s our local specialty from here in Miyazaki. The world’s biggest mikans. Your mikans from Shizuoka are small, sweet and delicious, but this Miyazaki mikan is big enough to feed everyone. We can all split it up, eat it together and have a good time. We hope you’ll learn to like things Miyazaki style!” My co-worker was so bright and inviting, I could only smile through my tears. Just like breaking bread with my co-workers, we split up the giant mikan and ate it, and I finally felt I was part of my new teaching team. Eating that giant mikan had woken me up, so I’m sending one to my father. The fruit that shows I’ve put down roots here.
Our sons love grilled fish. When there’s grilled fish lined up on the table, the boys are bright and happy. Getting the small bones out so they won’t get caught in anybody’s throat is inevitably mother’s work; though digging around in fish meat isn’t my favorite sport. This said, when I’m clumsy about flaking fish off the bone, I always remember my grandfather.
When I was a child, he was the one who prepared my fish. Unlike me, he was proficient and deft. He’d put the fish he’d prepared in a plate and pass it to me. It was so easy to eat that way. And of course at the time I found all this natural. Now that I have my own children and I’m fixing their fish, I know deep inside me how much my grandfather must have loved me.
When you move from served to server, you finally begin to notice a lot of things you didn’t think about before. I’m who I am because of the generous love of my grandparents and parents. On days with grilled fish, I’m reminded of all I have to be thankful for.