Oyako Day Essay Contest Grand Prize
EPOS GTW 270 Hybrid Sealed wireless earphones (with dongle)
“Mam? You think you’re going to call me Mam? Let’s try Mom for starters.” I’d been at my new post in East Africa for barely three months when the lady next door threw down this challenge. At the time, I was just 26 and still a bachelor. After three months of calling for Mam this and Mam that, I threw in the towel.
The truth was that I’d been eating dinner with her family since the day of my arrival. I still remember when she first stopped by to greet me, her new neighbor. She walked right by me and took over the house. “Coming from such a far-off land as Japan, do you really think I’m going to let you eat alone?!” she said.
In the village, she was known more for her guts than for motherly love. “Sure, I can call you Mom, but you do know that I already have a mother in Japan!”
“And so? Isn’t it wonderful? Now you’ve got a Mom for each country, two all together, one for Japan and one for Africa. What more could you hope for?” Of course, the woman already had five kids at home and a swarm of nieces and nephews. A BIG family. I didn’t think she needed a straggler from Japan to round out her dinner table. “You can see how I dote on my own family. There’s plenty more left to include you.”
So I went for it, called her Mom, and in a few weeks didn’t even find it strange anymore. It was Mom this and Mom that, a string of daily favors I came to live by. When I got malaria, she abandoned her family just to visit me at the hospital, daily. “You’re going to starve to death on this Hospital food,” she said and brought in dishes of eggs, meat and fish. She even did my laundry. She was no blood relation, but I was happy to have a mother in Africa.
- EPOS H3 Closed Acoustic Gaming Headset (White or Black)
The much-awaited Olympics, now one year late, are set to start this summer, and I’ll be becoming a father. We just passed the one-month to birth marker. My daughter is warm and happy in her mother’s belly. I’m caught in the gap between expectations: “I can’t wait to meet her!” and hesitations: “Will I make a good Dad?”
Whenever I think about being a parent, the first reference is, of course, my own parents. My father was timid and kind-hearted; my mother lively and cheerful. The two of them raised me along with my younger brother and sister. Now that I am about to have my first child, I’ve realized what makes our parent’s love seem so powerful to us.
Though he worked full time, my father never failed to take us to visit the seaside or mountains whenever he had a long weekend. Out of concern over my little brother’s asthma, my mother dusted and cleaned on her hands and knees, daily and relentlessly, without once failing to thrill us with her wonderful cooking. I was a big fan of superhero Ultraman. I don’t know how many places my parents took me to so I could see or meet him. At one of these meets, Ultraman gave me a light. It lit the core of my heart and soul for years. These are all such strong memories.
Once the three of us grew up, my parents divorced. At the time I didn’t give much thought to “our parent’s problems,” just about them not being together. The Mother who had always been there was gone, leaving an overwhelming absence behind. It’s a bitter memory, but it’s not just because my mother had left that the tie between us was broken. Our parents weren’t together anymore, but they each gave us their love as a parent.
My Father in his clumsy fashion.
My mother whose presence drove out loneliness.
Just like when Ultraman Zero is given the Space Boomerang by Ultraseven and is reminded of how much his father’s love means to him, I too have felt my parent’s love profoundly.
Now it’s my turn. I don’t know how much I will be able to do for my daughter. I hope I can help her get what she wants and support her in all that she tries. I’d like to pass on to her all the love I received from my own parents. And then, maybe someday we could all meet Ultraman. The whole family, laughing together.
I got married last year.
My wife likes sunflowers. She grew them every year, and from the time we met, she would send me a photo of each year’s crop in full bloom. When we began living together, we lived in an apartment. One day, it came to me that she wasn’t going to be able to raise any sunflowers there. “I’m sorry,” I told my wife, “You can’t grow sunflowers here.” “Well then, next time we go visit my home, we can have a formal ceremony for passing on the spade,” she answered.
Later, when we did go to her parents home, she handed her sack of sunflower seeds to my father-in-law saying, “I’m entrusting you with our sunflower seeds. Make them bloom large and round.” My father-in-law didn’t seem much like the gardening type. I muttered something like “Is it OK to push your Father like that..,” to my wife.
Some months later, her father arrived with a broad smile, “Our sunflowers are two meters high and look marvelous.” My wife and I went out to take a look, and it was just like he said. The garden overflowed with sunflowers. Smiling as broadly as her Father, my wife laughed saying “They’re so pretty!”
According to the story, my mother-in-law told, my wife had put a note with extensive instructions into the bag with the seeds, giving points on planting, different kinds of sunflowers, and such. Her father, knowing how important these sunflowers were to his daughter, had thrown himself into his chore, making up for his ignorance of gardening by showing his daughter’s memo to the people at the neighborhood garden supply shop and seeking advice on things like fertilizers while spending more and more time in the garden weeding and watering. “There gonna be big,” he kept saying. “When those two come back to see them, they will really be surprised.”
She added that in the beginning, her husband hadn’t seemed very happy about going out to the garden, but once the sunflowers had begun to sprout he was inspired, rushing out every day to check and take care of them. Then, when she finally went out to see them in bloom, she was both shocked and enchanted at how big they were. The two of them broke out the sake and spent the better part of the afternoon enjoying the flowers, their smiles as bright as their sunflowers in full bloom.
I was going through a dresser at the house when I discovered a small, old box in the back of one of the drawers. “What in the world,” I thought as I opened it to take a look-see. Inside the box was a present and a letter I’d prepared for Santa Clause when I was little. The present was a Santa Clause mascot I’d made from felt. The seams on Santa’s coat were coming apart and looked about ready to pop. There was a hand-woven muffler, clearly a few sizes too small since it barely made it around Santa’s neck. I seemed to remember breaking into tears for fear of not getting things done in time. And then a letter, filled with pain and gripes about school that for some odd reason I’d decided to address to Santa Clause along with my thanks. And of course, my parents had read all this. Just thinking of that made my face burn.
But then I recalled that I myself had a carefully preserved letter from Santa Clause. “Thank you. You’re my favorite,” it said in English, written a number of times on the same page. At the time, I’d been happy about the letter, even bragged about it to my friends. I’d used a dictionary to work out what it said, and I still remember reading it over and over again.
My Mother had probably poured over the same dictionary I’d used when she was trying to figure out what to write. The idea of my mother desperately struggling with a dictionary to write a letter from Santa in English still makes me laugh. Yet even today I sometimes find myself taking that letter out to reread it. It gives me courage. I haven’t mentioned the letter to my mother. She’s easily embarrassed.
Mom and Dad are getting older. They spend their days working in the fields, living a quiet life. I’m busy with child rearing and work and only see them rarely. How is it that one day I was suddenly on my way out of our home, confident I could deal with things on my own. Certainly, it’s what they wanted. In fact, it’s the very reason why they’d brought me up with such care, I thought, while gazing at the little Santa Clause I’d once made.
“All said, my parents may have been awkward, but there was a world of love and thanks in this little box, ” I told myself, as I carefully closed it’s lid.
- MOTTAINAI Campaign Goods
There’s nothing discreet about my Father.
Even when people say nice things about me, he just seems to sop up all the compliments.
Let’s say a relative we haven’t seen for a while stops by and says “Your daughter just keeps getting more beautiful every time I see her,” Well then, my Father would just give a hearty laugh and answer, “Well, of course, she does. In fact, I’m worried about her getting too good-looking!”
When I was little, I didn’t even know words like discreet and modest even existed. I was proud of a father who was generous with his praise for me. But I do recall clumsy and embarrassing moments from when I grew older and began to understand more about things.
After finishing college, I signed up to work for a company but quit almost immediately. I heard what an acquaintance of ours said to my father, with a large twist of sarcasm in her voice. “So they say your daughter dropped her job just three months into the contract she’d signed with the company!” Apparently, my Father came right back with, “After working so hard to get the job, I think stopping so soon must have been really rough on her.”
When I heard this story, I was taken up short wondering when my father had begun to see things from my standpoint: it was a shock. My Father surrounded me with his love and refused me nothing. I thank him deeply for that. More so now that I am a Mother with two children. Now when people say, “Such a clever child,” about either of my children, I answer, “Thank you, they really do their best,” just like my Father would, even if I do feel a bit embarrassed.
A dry whack ! ! and that bright, white ball flew off into the morning mist.
“Nice shot!” I heard from behind me where my Father stood watching.
“Look at you! Just get your hand on a club and it all comes back. Just look at that. I don’t think I can match it,” he said, looking a bit worse for wear. And yet, happy. In fact, the last time I’d seen him so happy was ten years ago.
“I’ve been practicing all this time.”
“Really. Well it looks like I’ve got a new rival then…” he said, laughing.
But we could only be teeing off at Heaven’s Country Club then, because my Father died in 1993.
My Father, who liked golf more than anything, was killed on the Tōhoku Expressway on his way to his favorite course when, in the midst of dense traffic, he was hit from behind by a six-wheeler. He was 67 years old at the time.
He left me carrying a load of regrets.
I wish I’d played more golf with him when I could have because it made him so happy. Instead, all I had left to do was to get my game up to par for the next time we would meet.
“OK! Let’s surprise the old man by getting really good. I’ll be ready for our next 18 holes !”
The problem was that I didn’t know anything about golf, but now, now I was ready to take it seriously. I went 260 times a year. But either I wasn’t much of an athlete or I just started too late, because I never got better at the game fast enough. There were bad habits that I couldn’t get rid of. I kept sticking my left elbow out when I tried to swing. I was sure my Father would laugh at this. I tried so hard and again and again, but my elbow would never listen.
Then one day I found an old, yellowed photograph in the back of a drawer. It was a stop motion capture of my Father’s golf swing broken into ten images. It was the first time I’d ever really looked at my Father’s swing. In the tenth shot, his elbow was clearly sticking out.
Even though we were in the middle of Corona lockdowns, the driving ranges were open for business.
“I’m really going to show that Father of mine!”
That’s what I say on the way to the driving range.
And I’ll be back saying it tomorrow.
Just looking at us, you can see that our character and taste are direct opposites. My mother’s petite with a kind of wide-eyed cuteness whereas I’m tall with sharp, slanted eyes.
My mother’s bright and friendly, good with people, and I’m retiring and shy of strangers.
Mom is liberal arts; I’m science. She likes sweets; I tend to liquor.
On the other hand, I’m dexterous while she is clumsy.
I’m so little like her that I got worried about it when I was in middle school. I finally grilled her, “I’m really your child, right? You gave birth to me, didn’t you? We carry the same blood?”
I was profoundly troubled but my mother just laughed, “What are you saying? The answer is obvious. There is no doubt that you’re my daughter.” So saying, she dove into her drawers and came back with whatever papers would prove her point. Her Maternity Notebook and an old album.
In the album was a photo of my Mother when she was pregnant, and then a photo of my mother hugging me lovingly when I’d just been born. There were some memos by the photo. “May you be born without mishap.” “She looked at me and laughed. So cute!” They made me so happy I could hardly hold still.
It doesn’t really matter what I might have said about our differences, I never really thought she wasn’t my mother. I know what good care she takes of me. It’s just that even being the one being raised and pampered, seeing the proof of all that love and care and even being able to hold it in your hand is such a pleasure.
“But really, Mom, you and I, we’re just not alike.”
“Really? Wait, just hold on! We both have two eyes then, don’t we?”
Say what? …my mother just has an answer for everything.
Just a glance at my mother’s coy look and I found myself laughing, and finally laughing so hard my eyes teared.
We’re the sun and the moon, the white and the black, the sky and the sea.
Absolute opposites, but it’s fine because whatever I’m missing, my mother’s got, and whatever she’s missing, I’ve got it on board. Whatever the problem is, we’re there for each other. That’s the one big thing we’ve got in common.
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After eight years of teaching, I left to take over the family business.
Last year, my eldest son started elementary school.
When I saw my son’s exercise book, it reminded me of my teaching days. The same reading and writing exercises I’d handed out every day. “Have your parents check your homework.” “Who listened to you repeat your lessons yesterday?” These were the instructions I repeated morning and night at our homeroom meetings. Reading and writing are the base for all studies, so I insisted on them more than anything. I had all my students read together with boys and girls taking turns choosing and reading their favorite paragraphs. I invented all kinds of schemes and surprises to make the work stay happy.
I took my son’s exercise book and we sat down to go over his reading. I thought it would bring back old times, but my son had trouble reading smoothly. I realized his reading skills were poor. When I was a teacher, I studied desperately so I would have practical advice on upbringing and tutoring to give at roundtable discussions and parent-teacher meetings. When my child started elementary school, I wanted to put into practice all that I’d learned. But, things weren’t so simple. Motivation, determination, the joy of learning: everything I’d told all those parents to reach for were like dreams. All the difficulties of home learning came down on me. I finally came to feel what all those parents must have been feeling.
I decided to make a fixed time for reading every day.
My son and I, our index fingers tracing the words on the page, trying to read each word carefully, slowly, and in chorus.
It’s been a year now since we started our sessions. Working on his homework has become a moment for us to get together every day. And I have moved from being a teacher to being a parent. Now instead of checking students’ notebooks, we get ours checked every day. And every day, it’s full of stars. When I see those stars, they are like a prize for parenting lined up with the words my son and I are reading.
Going forward, I hope to hold on to this precious time spent my son over his studies.
TSUBURAYA PRO Prize
- Ultraman Zero blu-ray Box Set
It’s 6:30 in the morning.
It’s broad daylight outside. My son is sleeping next to me. His hair feels a little damp.
He’s gotten so big, I thought, looking at how his legs were sticking out from the bottom of his pajamas.
I wrote that on the 10th of July, eight years ago.
It was sunny too, the day he uttered his first cry. He still looks the same when he sleeps, with the same even breathing.
My eight-year-old son pointed to his Ultraman underwear and said “Tomorrow, I will stop wearing them.”
I think he was around 3 when I caught him riveted before the television where he’d just gotten an eyeful of Ultraman, and it surprised me how earnest he looked. I still remember the look on his face.
Shy, always trailing bashfully behind me, my son now appeared before me clenching his Ultraman figure in one hand and the other lighting up the transformer device, proudly making common cause with his heroes from the screen.
He wore his hero’s picture book to shreds going over it and over it. He also remembered all the katakana.
On a freezing winter day, his cherished hero appeared before him in the flesh.
And for the first time, my son let go of my hand and moved forward on his own, answering to his own emotions.
When his hero knelt before him and held out his arms, my son’s face filled with emotions of wonder and hesitation until he was swept into his arms.
Even today, the memory is vivid. It was the moment my son, my child, took his first real step.
You were born on “Ultraman Day” and made it this far with all the Ultra Heroes.
“Really. I see,” he answered while reaching back in his memory.
That’s when you took your first real step forward.
And it set you off down the road to a future that still remains before you.
I hope I’ll be there at the end of that road, and that it will be full of smiles like the wonderful one you showed me in your heroes arms that day.
But for the moment you’re in a place where I can still reach you.
Because you’re the one who is still hiding his favorite hero mascot in his handbag.
- Gold Edition: 1 person
Umeshu (Plum Wine) * Must be 20 yr. or older to win prize
- The CHOYA Gift Edition (The CHOYA 1 year & 3 year set): 1 person
Umeshu (Plum Wine aged 1 yr. & 3 yr. set) * Must be 20 yr. or older to win prize
Umeshibori / Plum juice 125 ml (30 ea.): 1 person
“I want you to marry someone who likes to drink.” This was one of my Father’s stock phrases. Since he himself liked to drink, he drank every night. From beer to shochu, wine to highballs, my Father loves all kinds of alcohol and repeated his stock phrase to me enough times for me to end up thinking I really should marry someone who drinks. But, the thing is, the person I was actually planning on marrying didn’t drink alcohol at all.
When he came to our house to ask my Father for my hand, my Father offered him a drink despite the fact that I had warned him not to in advance. I guess my fiancé didn’t feel he could refuse because he took a sip and was out cold five minutes later. Between the future son-in-law who didn’t drink, the obvious fact that he couldn’t drink, and the family up in arms about serving alcohol to a non-drinker after they had warned him not to, my Father looked miserable.
After we married, we’d sometimes go back to my parent’s house for a visit. Though my husband usually doesn’t drink at all, there were times when he was visiting when he felt like trying a drink. He’d finally gotten to the point where after drinking a little, he’d just say “Headed for bed” and leave the room without further ado.
My Father always seemed to regret the whole situation, but I liked the time after my husband went off to bed. I got to spend time drinking with my Father. From the time I was little, watching my Father drink, liquor had some magic about it. So maybe my Father was unhappy about his son-in-law going off to bed, but for me the time we spent drinking together just the two of us was dear to me.
I’m too shy to tell my Father as much, even if I think he sometimes looks receptive.
And then, isn’t it a family visit? Since I brought the sake, I’d like to be able to say “Let’s have a drink together.” And while we’re at it, and a little drunk, I’d like to tell him how happy I am to be there.
I’ve always found it odd. Why did my Mother marry my Father?
Compared to my Mother who is as charming as she is caring, my Father is a man of few words who doesn’t pay attention to even his wife’s small demands.
Let’s say she’s a woman of standing; why would she marry an ordinary office worker? You’d think he’d probably have to have an outstanding character or be exceptionally caring. Without some overriding reason, there would be no reason for the marriage.
It’s not that my Father has a bad character. There just appears to be no reason for my parent’s getting married. So why did it happen?
When we were younger, my elder sister and I used to talk about it. “Our Mother married the wrong guy,” we used to say. And our Mother? She’d just repeat the same thing, “I’m telling you, you’re Father is just too cute!” So, she was so taken with him that she couldn’t see straight anymore. But this kind of thinking only served to displace our criticism from my Father to my Mother.
Time went on and I grew to be an adult. I was finally able to see my Father as just another adult, not always my Father …and, my Father is a darling. Every evening when he finishes work, he always calls to say he’s headed home. And he does this even if he is alone and his three women are off on vacation somewhere. He is always sending us the image of a stamp we got him for Father’s day that looks just like our pet dog. He doesn’t need to say thank you for the gift. He just sends the stamp. He does the same with clothing. On family outings, he always wears the T-shirt I gave him for his birthday. Once I said, “You’re wearing my shirt!” “Oh, so I am!” he replied while smirking provocatively.
Papa is cute.
Now I’m an adult, on an equal footing with my parents, and I can understand what my mother sees in our Father. I feel like I finally see why she chose him.
When I was still a teacher, some people would ask who I found more endearing, my own children or the children I taught. Needless to say, the most natural answer was “my own children, of course!” but was that really true? I have a feeling that may not have always been the way things were.
Once, coming back from a three-day camping trip, I was turning my wards over to their eagerly waiting mothers. I was dog-tired, and this was the last thing I had to do. Once over, I was off and hurrying home, not a care in the world. Little did I know what was coming.
“I saw one of your daughters trudging down the road loaded with camping equipment, but when I offered her a ride, she said “no,” turned her back on me and continued on her way.”
!! – I’d totally forgotten. My own child’s camp outing was over that same day.
If anyone ever said that I would forget such a thing, I would have answered, “I’d die first.” I’d seen the Mother’s lined up to receive their children, the children latching on to their mothers. But for all I’d seen, I’d forgotten my own child.
“I’m going to be a full-time homemaker.”
“Me too, I don’t want to be like you Mom, always off at work.”
That’s what both of my daughters had to say to me when they got married. There was nothing I could say. I just had to bow my head and take it. But ten years later, their attitudes changed. I started teaching when I was 35 years old. Oddly enough, on reaching the same age, one daughter went back to school and became a nurse; the other went back to college and became an interpreter.
“We never wanted to be anything like you, but that’s just exactly what we are now,” they giggled at me. They can repeat it a thousand times. It will never erase the terrible sadness I felt that day I forgot them. It beats in my heart like a wound, and I’ve never spoken to them about it.
MATSURI ENGINE Prize
- Iimori Shrine’s stamp book / Shinsen / Kamidana (miniature shrine) from Sesebo, Nagasaki
- Gifts from Iimori Shrine and seafood from Sesebo, Nagasaki
Recently, my mother’s been calling a lot.
Is she worried about her far-away daughter? —Not really.
She just wants to get her granddaughters on the phone. And then comes getting tips on how to send photos and do video calls.
At this point, how many times have we explained how to send a photo?
More than twenty, at the least.
Video calls? …you push this button, and then this one…
I’ve patiently explained the steps over and over again.
It makes you wonder, like, “…maybe school teachers do have it rough?”
My mother’s real pleasure is watching her granddaughters grow up.
Including her younger brother’s children whom she also regards as her grandchildren (for me they’re nieces and nephews), that makes eight grandchildren all together.
They were all babies until recently when all of a sudden they were putting on their own pajamas and had teeth coming in.
Kids grow up so fast.
If I had a wish, it’d be that my Mother’s ability to handle her gadgets could develop as fast.
Still, her pictures are the best.
I love the one of her holding the bouquet I sent her for Mother’s Day.
And the picture of her harvesting tomatoes in her garden. She was so proud of them.
Because of the Coronavirus, I haven’t been able to meet with my mother for 2 years now, and every time I see my Mother’s smiling face on my phone, I’m so deeply relieved …which is why I’m willing to go on teaching her the same thing over and over. But please don’t tell I said so.
Our Family Account on LINE looks like an ongoing festival full of notes and photos capturing daily events. If you look at the big smiles and laughing faces of all the grandchildren along with my own Mother’s, there does seem to be a family resemblance. The whole family gets crescent-shaped eyes when they laugh. The slightly crooked eyes of the nephews and nieces look just like my Mother’s. There’s no fighting it: we’re a family.
All I need to do is open my smartphone.
The Family photo is there, their faces shining like sunflowers.
Handmade Noren, 3 hand towels, lacquered purse
No matter who you pick, they all have parents.
And being the ones who gave birth to you, they’re important to their kids as well.
And then, these kids are also be having children and becoming parents.
I have two children. They’re both important people for me.
Until the arrival of the Corona Virus, I think we had a peaceful life.
Of course, we had our little problems just like everyone else. Just, compared to what was to come, we had a peaceful life.
Then, the schools and kindergartens closed. I was forced into a prolonged leave of absence. On top of it all, we were terrified not knowing what kind of virus we had to contend with. I was afraid to go out. There was no way to know if a simple walk in the park was okay or not. Once you reach that point, the only place the children have left to play outside is in your own garden. Once we figured that out, I spent time every day in our narrow, little garden with my kids. We collected pill-bugs and tried to raise them. Up until then, we’d never had so much time together.
Even in a small garden, there are all kinds of living things, plants and insects. It was the first time we’d ever really taken them into consideration. There were so many discoveries there to be had, more than enough to keep the kids happy every day. As time went on, our activities got richer and more complex.
We got something I could never did get from my own parents: real family time. It was so precious that I still think back on it with wonder. Maybe when they grow up, they’ll remember our time in our garden as a marvelous moment of their youth. Nothing would make me happier. Happiness is never far. It’s just health and being together. My days in our garden with my kids taught me that this is all it takes.
OZORA PUBLISHING Prize
- Picture Book
I suppose I’ll be getting a package this summer with cucumbers and pumpkins from my Mother. An apple carton filled to the brim with goodies. There are apples and grapes in the fall and more apples in winter along with radish and leeks for vegetables. Spring vegetables include fresh onions and potatoes.
I came to Tokyo ten years ago and have been receiving these seasonal packages from my mother ever since. Rice, miso, and soy sauce are always in the starting lineup. Besides seasonal vegetables, my Mother often includes some of the things she makes herself: shiso juice, cucumber pickles, and even chive rice crackers.
In some ways, I think my Mother is being over-protective. Still, these are things I love so much, they”re practically out of the box and into the pan: all gone by the coming day. But what should I think about her asking me to send back the Tupperware and bottles her preparations come in?
Just think about it. It’s actually cheaper to buy new ones than to pack them up in the empty apple carton and send them back. Or, maybe I could just take them all along with me next time I visit home. That way we save on the postage. But once I was home, my mother would just fill up my carryall with more Tupperware (full this time) for me to take back to Tokyo, and then I’d just be back where I started. At age 29, getting all this food from home was making me feel like I was still living a college student’s life. That’s the way I was beginning to see things.
And then, I have a boyfriend. Just like me, he came from the country to try to make his way in Tokyo. When I first went to his house, there was a pile of odd-looking containers. They were full of meat. When I asked him what it was, he replied that it was a duck his Mother had sent. This was the answer from a 35-year-old male. So, male or female, we all had the same Mothering problem. What are parents really thinking about their kids? I still can’t figure it out. Maybe later, if I have my own children, I’ll come up with an answer. That’s why, while I’m still on the child’s side of parenting, I want to say these things :
Thank you for always sending rice just when I am about to run out.
But how did you know how much I like your chive senbei?
You can send me more if you like.
And thanks for the strawberry jam.
But I know you only make 2 jars a year. You don’t have to send me the big one.
Please share it with your friends.
Thank you for all those apples, each and every one, each and every year.
The kiwis too, but don’t leave the price tags on them.
And they were expensive! …even though you’re usually more frugal.
You always watch over me, think of me, understand me: thank you for all your care.
I’ll be bringing your Tupperware back this year, just like last.
And I’ll be bringing those Tokyo cakes you’re always saying you want to try.
I can’t wait to see you.
OYAKO DAY Prize
- Oyako Day original gifts
Our Family holiday was taking off as usual.
The sun isn’t even out yet and our second son, 1 year old, is in a rage. Shortly, the four year-old, our elder son, will be up and at his merriment.
My wife was in a fluster trying to get the two kids to go back to sleep. I was by her side. Hoping desperately for just one more hour of sleep, I pulled our quilt up over my head. Just about the time you could sense our room sinking back into the early morning calm, I heard a my wife’s heavy breathing. My wife, a full-time homemaker, had spent most of last night putting the boys to bed and keeping them there. I doubt she got a lot of sleep. Just when our second son was born, I started catching a lot of overtime work, and I began to see my wife’s look of utter exhaustion with worrisome regularity. Yet she was up at the same time every morning making breakfast, emptying the dishwasher, taking out the trash and getting on with her routine chores.
I’m not trying to extoll my wife as a one person operation handling house chores and child care on my behalf. I’m just trying to say that I’m well aware of what she has taken on and think she is as brave as she is capable. Somehow, sitting at the table watching my wife work for our family was like watching somebody else’s business, and watching is what I did while sipping coffee every morning. All I could think is that she was really pushing it. I couldn’t help but wonder how long she could keep it up. With a look of reproach, my wife breeched her usual complaint. “It should be a pleasure to watch your children grow up. I don’t want to hear anything about how tired I look!” With a tone of disgust, I let go with my habitual reply, “No matter how aware I am of our children’s growing up, we’ve become a couple who hardly meet, living in a toxic atmosphere.”
And BOOM !
And a strident sob from the younger brother in the back room.
The little one must have had a bad landing.
In a flash, my wife’s irritation focused on the older brother.
The two of them were laying on the floor arms and legs spread wide.
“Listen, ah…, I was helping my brother do some stand & walk exercises! …he even walked some on his own!!”
My eldest son’s confidence had taken a dent, but he went on, “He’s growing so fast, he must be exhausted!”
My wife’s eyes cycled to beads, and I let a snide giggle slip out.
“You’re right, it must be that he’s exhausted!” my wife chimed in. “And from now on you’re taking out the garbage and doing cleanup because I’m exhausted too. So please help me just like your brother, right Papa?”
My own eyes cycled to points, but this time, it was my wife who sneered.
It should have just been an ordinary day on a typical holiday.
As for strident sobs from the kids, they’re louder today than ever.
It’s 2:00 in the morning, a time when everyone and everything is sleeping.
But one small body is rolling out, fighting pain and heading for the kitchen.
“Good Morning Mister Pickles!”
A wrinkled hand in the folds, slowly and carefully pulling out strands of Chinese cabbage.
Dad’s favorite pickles: “Mom’s nuka-zuke.” She took an offering of it to her Buddhist alter, clasped her hands and closed her eyes for the longest of times. Then she whispered, “I thank you for today as I thank you for every day. And as I thank you for keeping me healthy.”
Mom was born in 1939 and grew up during the war.
She was born in downtown Tokyo and witnessed its bombing firsthand.
When the fires of war burned high, she lost her family to civilian re-locations back to the homelands.
Many in Tokyo were tormented. The people in the countryside were up in arms.
“You’re just robbing all our food! Go home, go home !!”
Even small, little girls had stones thrown at them.
Fleeing, fleeing, and falling. On a bank by the river they came to, she ate stems plucked from the grass pushing up steamy and hot from the soil as if in a dream, the sweet taste of Spring.
She came back to Tokyo from the re-location camps only to fall on more food shortages that seemed to go on forever. My feeling is that my mother suffered a great deal living through long periods of hardship. Yet I’ve never heard a single word of complaint from her nor any stories of her difficult times. I think the word “hardship” was left out of my Mother’s dictionary. I always had my Mother’s back and learned all I could from her.
There were the fires in Tokyo, and then once the war had stopped, there was severe famine. There was sukipon and takipon, but often just eating grass from the fields.
The one who could make delicious dishes without the real ingredients was the Lil’ Head Chef. Just 6 years old !
She made meals for her eldest sister and a family of seven.
Wondering how to make her suiton hot pot more delicious, she found her own ways.
Drying out radishes brought out their sweetness, so let’s mix in radish skins.
The seed coat from nuts found in the woods could be dried and used for spices.
“Mr. Radish, give me your taste. Mr. Suiton, let’s get delicious !”
The little girl begged her ingredients to be genial.
Food needs to be beautifully served, to better stimulate her family’s appetite.
She put all her wits into making them healthy.
From that point on, as young as she was, she mastered how to cut and how to serve.
★ Her family always smiled when their little chef served them food.
“Kumiko is a real artist, isn’t she !” the whole family would chime in together to show their satisfaction. Her “Little Chef Specials” were always welcome.
The whole family was always ready for more.
My Father’s favorite Persian Silk Trees were in bloom when he became concerned about a cold he couldn’t seem to shake and went to the hospital to see about it.
The doctor called me in alone to tell me the name of my Father’s illness and what his prognosis was. My Father finally checked into the hospital without ever really hearing what he had. It was when my son and daughter were in elementary school. They loved their Granddad so much, that we never had the courage to explain. Only my mother, brother, and husband knew that Granddad would not see the silk trees next year. In two and a half short months, he was gone.
Once he was gone, I suffered over my choosing not to tell him what he suffered from and the decision to allow life-sustaining treatments. Had I been right? Was this bad for him?
And now, through the years, whenever I see a silk tree in bloom, I think of all this.
When my daughter was in middle school, she said to me, “Mama, if you ever got cancer, I would do everything I could to take care of you. And then, if your life was shortened, would you hate me for it? I don’t think so. I think you’d say, ‘I’m sorry for all the trouble I’m causing. I know it’s rough for you. I’m sorry.’ Granddad was just the same. Why do you keep telling us that you should have told Granddad that he was dying and that you’re sure of that now? You just never wanted to make him sad …and we feel the same way. But if anything like this happens again, please don’t hold back for fear of hurting us.”
Her clear and simple words put an end to all my suffering.
Maybe, after all, my Father knew what was ailing him.
Seeing his child’s relentless efforts to put on a happy face, he just pretended not to know what was happening to himself. While my Father was in the hospital, I had no place to cry. I would get into the bath and put my mouth in the hot water to quell my sobs. My husband pretended not to notice.
At the time, the hearts of my Father, my husband, even the children, overflowed with encouragement. It’s actually because we are family that there are things we can’t talk about. And everything, right along with the things left unsaid, it all falls on the family.
Parents and children.
Having children makes us parents.
Our parents help us to see straight.
The silk trees are blooming again this year …and Dad died 21 years ago.
Our son started first grade this spring. Every day, when he comes home from school, the very first thing he does is get a hug from his Father. My son was not at the same school from kindergarten through to first grade, so he’s been a bit lonely since his new school started. On top of that, with the Coronavirus, he’s had to keep a social distance and wear a mask at school where even the lunch periods don’t leave him much time for talking.
Contact with his schoolmates is restricted during school activities, so the children have very little actual contact with their classmates. With all this going on as it is, I think his Father has come to play a major role for him in our family. He opted for ‘Working From Home’ so he could stay home and lend a hand. His presence has been so reassuring for both my son and myself.
There’s also the fact that seven years ago when I gave birth, I damaged my hips and haven’t been able to carry heavy things since, so this limited my opportunities for close contact with my son. From the time he was a newborn to this day, my husband has stood in and taken up the slack. That’s why he heads straight to get a hug from Dad when he gets home, something I’ve seen close up for seven years.
It’s often said that mothers need to sing their own praises since, without going and coming to work, they become invisible. But I think it’s the same for Fathers since we really don’t see what they’re doing out in the world. Once at home, aren’t we all on the same footing and dealing with our kids? For my son and me, the answer is obvious: more than any super salaryman, company president, or superhero, my husband should be getting a medal.
Thank you for making yourself an enduring source of warmth deep in our son’s heart, and please keep it up! Our son feels the same way. He wrote “For doing your best” on the medal we made for you out of origami the other day, the one you proudly put on the wall by your workstation where it shines brightly.
I was raised by a loving, caring, nurturing and supportive mother and father. These words alone are proof of good fortune. I had a wonderful childhood, with my mother and father playing opposing roles in their personalities and upbringing style. My mother was active and engaging and loved rock and roll and pop music. My father was more quiet and solitary and listened to opera and classical music. My relationship with my father changed over time, improving constantly until his death at age 70 in 2017. Lindsay was my father and I loved him very, very much. This story is about David who became my stepfather.
When I was about 19 years old, my parents divorced, and David became an additional father to me, even if I wasn’t completely ready to accept it at the time. So what makes a father? Is it simply enough to transfer your genetic information to another person and create a child? I don’t think so. What I have received from David, consistently and unfalteringly since I’ve known him, has been love, support, encouragement, generosity, advice and lots of fun.
David has a remarkable ability to see and act with a heart full of compassion, fairness and equality. During the years when Lindsay was disabled, David invited Lindsay to stay with him and my mother and even helped him to eat. David played a complex role in supporting my mother and father, which he mastered through his lack of jealousy and his overwhelming sense of support to our family.
He was a father to us all at that time, teaching us how to be better people and how to really care for others in a silent, honorable way. No father is without faults, as no human is without faults. Lindsay had many, as I’m sure I do. Whenever David makes a mistake, he is quick to apologize and even quicker to begin the process of fixing whatever feelings have been hurt.
David loves to share from his immense knowledge and will explain things patiently to anyone. He has always been an exceptional communicator with my wife, regardless of her level of English and his lack of Japanese! He is caring in what he says, able to distill complex ideas into simple and easily digestible conversation.
Support. Love. Care. Patience. Generosity. Inclusivity. Sharing. These are things that begin to make a father. My family and I are the lucky ones, because David possesses them all and uses them freely and frequently. Our lives have been made richer and happier because of his presence, and I hope that other people can find these qualities in their own fathers, whether they be fathers by birth or fathers by circumstance. The only thing that matters in life, is how we treat each other.
Thank you David for being my Father.