Oyako Day Essay Contest 2023 Winners

Period: May 1 – August 31, 2023

Parent and Child Day 20th Anniversary Special Award

  • Caohagan Quilt Rug & Photobook “Taisetsu na Mono”

My Mother left me a gift I didn’t see coming.

The year my mother turned 88, I celebrated my 60th birthday,

At the time, you could see her dementia was getting worse and that she was getting weaker.

“This will be my last year making sekihan” she said putting the fresh plate of Red Rice with Azuki beans in front of me.

The steam coming up from it had a sweet and familiar smell.

My mother had prepared this dish on each of my birthdays for the last 60 years without ever missing a single one. Truth be told, I’ve never had any other birthday present than this, even when I was a little kid. And as an adult, well, if Mom wants to cook on my birthday, I just let her make whatever she feels like.

“How’s the rice?”

Hot sekihan, fresh out of the pot.

The sweetness of the beans spreading through my mouth.

Was this really going to be the last time I’d taste it?


After my mother passed away, I was left to face my birthdays alone.

There was no more sekihan, just the memories of it that came back to me from all those prior years.

I remember how my mother would watch over the rice as it cooked.

I remember her in the fields, setting out her rice seedlings and sowing her azuki beans.

I keep getting flashes of when she was young, and other memories from different times as she got older.


She made that sekihan 60 times. The number itself is another gifted memory she’s made for me. In fact, when I think of it, the number alone tells me how deeply I was loved. It reminds me of how my mother watched over me as I grew up, how she protected the life she’d given birth to, and how, each year, her sekihan was a prayer that all might continue as before. I guess I still have some years to live, and each year these memories will come back to visit me. So each year I will thank her again.

Dear mother, thank you for all those years. Thank you for the life you’ve given me.


  • Gold Edition

My son stopped going to school around the age of 13. He became a typical “shut-in” who spent his days playing video games. Emotions were high and we had a lot of terrible arguments. Then one day he suddenly announced he was gong to get some part-time work.  He went out and got himself a job at the fish market. He had a 30 minute bike ride to work, so he needed to get out of the house early. At work, he was handling freshly caught fish, piling them into fish boxes and hauling the boxes around the market. It was hard work, but soon enough his voice seemed to get deeper, his skin tanned, and he got stronger. One day that summer, he came home with a big, fat bonito sticking its head out of his ruck sack.

“Mom, look at this! It’s a gift !” he announced, twirling round to show me the fish halfway out of his backpack.


I laughed so hard that I cried.  It was such a big fish, I wasn’t sure how to cut it up.  But my son was so happy and excited that I just went ahead and cut out three filets for sashimi and boiled the head to make soup. My son kept repeating how delicious everything was. All the days of bickering and back biting seemed to fade far into the background. From that day on through the years, it’s not so much fish that my son brings home to me everyday as bright smiles and physical well-being, and I thank him for that, thank him from the bottom of my heart.


  • The CHOYA Gift Edition

Whenever I asked my mother if things at our home were ‘normal’ just like anybody else’s family, she’d look sad. As it was, I had never laid eyes on my father, but I don’t remember ever feeling sad about it. I just wrote it off as “the way things are”. On the other hand, all my friends had fathers, so I sometimes suspected our home wasn’t “the usual”. Sometimes I’d put the question to my mother, “Is this what a regular home is like?” My mother brought me up all alone. She ran a tight ship, making every effort to limit expenses. Even though I knew that’s what she wanted, I would whine at the Game Center when she wouldn’t let me play as much as I wanted. I never had all the toys and games that other children did. So as a child, I was troubled by the differences between me and the other kids in the neighborhood.


I don’t remember ever thinking about how things would be if I had a father.  I just took everything out on my Mother. Sometime towards the end of elementary school, my mother took me to an amusement park. There was a roller coaster there that I’d heard about from my friend’s and on television.  At first I was anxious to try it, but the actual velocity we took off with shocked me so much that it ended up being a traumatic experience for me. Still, I was fascinated by the novelty of the whole experience.

Then, when I was in high school, I began to do part-time jobs.


My first salary.

I got my first salary just before Mother’s Day and decided to get a gift for my Mother. Since I had no idea what my Mother liked, I bought a cream puff for her at the convenience store.  When I gave it to her, she looked satisfied even before she’d tasted it. After that, I got into the habit of giving her presents on Father’s Day too, thinking that up till then, that particular day hadn’t been of much use to us. My mother wasn’t very comfortable with the idea, but after all, she’d been both Father and Mother to me since when and it seemed like that was good enough for double presents. I just looked at her and asked again “Is all this really normal?” And for the first time, that question got a smile.


  • CHOYA Plum Juice (30 bottles)

Recently, our family has started holding a special family-only field day at our house.

We have many of the same races you can find at a school Field Day, but we’ve also added some special ones of our own making.

The best example is the Piggyback Race.

That’s where contestants divide into a Piggyback pairs who all compete for the best time in a race around the house. 

My little sister came up with the idea, and it makes a great race.

The first time we tried it, my sister teamed up with Mom and I went with Dad. On my mother’s team, it was my mother who did the carrying, and on our team, after a lot of arguing, we decided I’d carry my father,

I thought this was a losing proposition from the get go, but I gave up arguing. I wasn’t given much choice, and got my father on my back for a trial run.

He was a lot lighter than I thought he would be. Or maybe I was getting stronger, but it turned out to be something else.


In fact, anyone who took a good look at my Father would probably say he looked light. On top of that, he’d been complaining recently about lower back pain as well as worrying about his hair falling out. He’d even gone so far as to order miracle medicines from abroad.

“So my Dad the joker is back and up to his old tricks,” I said with a laugh. But as I carried him off round the house, it came to me that my Father was just getting older.

Then my Dad said, “Your Father’s job is protecting this family, but my my company’s  transferring me and I’ll have to go away. You’re the next strongest around here, and it’s up to you to take care of everyone while I’m gone.” But, I thought, if my Father gets much older, I’d end up the strongest whether he was home or away.

My Father and I won the Piggyback race. “You’re the strongest,” my Father called out.  That surprised everyone.

Then he added, “From now on, you should carry me every Field Day.” This was a kind of baton pass from my Father. Up till now he’d carried the weight of the whole family, but from now on, I would be taking on some of that weight.


  • Blu-ray “Ultraman Decker Final Chapter: Beyond the Departure”

My nephew’s a third grader. I asked him what is favorite food was.

He screwed up his face and started to groan,

“Hmm…  Umm… “, then abruptly lifted his eyes and said “Ramen !! Ramen’s what I like the most !”

My sister-in-law seemed to slump down in her seat, “What! But there are so many other things I’ve made for you!?”

Everyone started to giggle.

My Nephew went on the defensive, “Yea, but we just ate ramen coming home from the movies ! and it was really good !!

The ring of smiling faces around me reminded of something.

It was a quarrel I’d had with my brother something like 20 years ago about what was the best thing to eat.

When I said Grandma’s Chawan Mushi, my brother came back at me with Ramen too.

“Ramen ! That’s just some food you can get anywhere.”  I answered, then went on trying to steamroll my opponent by emphasizing Chawan Mushi’s unimpeachable glory. My brother wouldn’t budge an inch.

“The ramen we just ate on the way home was the best thing ever, all of us together !” he answered.

Even today I can’t get those words out of my head.  At the time they startled me

because I realized that it wasn’t about the ramen, it was about our all being together.

When you look at it that way, even my habitually loathsome brother began to look a bit cute, so I had nothing more to say.


  • Mottainai Campaign Goods

Even at this age, soon to be eighty, there’s a postcard my mother once sent me that I’ll never forget.  You could say it was just one postcard out of the many that I got from her if it weren’t  for what she’d written on it. I can still see those words clearly etched in my mind:  “You graduated from College ! Thank you !!”

Not “ Congratulations for graduating” but “Thank you for graduating”. And her writing was blurred in one spot. I knew it was from my Mother’s tears.


When I was in my first year of Middle School, there’d been lot’s of talk about building a new port down by the seaside and of well-known companies moving in to take advantage of the opportunities that would be created, when one day construction suddenly started. They were excavating the estuary where two rivers met before running into the sea. Sand and soil from the work went to extend farmland, making it into a vast plain where enterprises could install their infrastructure.  Children of farmer’s who’d sold their land to the developers were promised priority selection if they applied for work from the new companies. My parents decided to sign on to this deal.


Two years after graduating from junior high school, I spoke with my parents about going to high school. My mother gave her approval but was hesitant. She worried over how long my priority work placement held me to that job as well as my enrolling in the local high school two years late. Finally, I made my own decision and arranged to go to a high school in Tokyo.


Once I started school in Tokyo, I had my hands full making up to the two years I’d missed. The day I was accepted by a college, my mother was really happy. While at college, I started to take sides with the weak against social injustices.


I still remember going back to my apartment after the college graduation ceremony and finding that single postcard in my mailbox. After a few words on taking care of my health, there was that single sentence marked by her tears, “Thank you for graduating.”  Reading that sentence, I finally saw what a tremendous weight had been taken off my mother’s mind. It took my breath away. I could just see my Mother’s wizened smile. At the same time, I was a little nervous.

“Thank you for graduating.”

 I’d never been portrayed as such a winner !

I’ve treasured this postcard all of my life.

Writing my Mother’s name. I write it on chopsticks, I write it on bowls, I write it on her toothbrushes, her clothes and any and every other thing she owns. I write it carefully and clearly. I make sure there are no mistakes or omissions, that it’s all easy to read. My Mother is 89. Her dementia had worsened to the point where she had to go to a Mental Hospital, but since she showed no signs of improvement, they discharged her, and we had to take her to a specialized facility. Having lost her dear husband, my father, she spends her days alone in a private room in the facility.

We hear a lot about living to 100 these days. Is this what it’s all about?

We’ve made tremendous advances in medicine as well as medical technologies and social infrastructure, and it has served to extend life expectancies.  Our generation has lived to see things our ancestors would not have dreamed possible, like being able to see your grandchildren and great-grandchildren grow up. There have been advances in science we would never have imagined. Truly, it’s a wonder. But, dealing with my mother’s problems has made me realize that behind the scenes, all these advancements have left us with a long line of unthinkable suffering and family troubles.

It wasn’t so long ago when I started elementary school, and my  mother wrote my name on each piece of my clothing. On my slippers and shoe bag. One by one, on each of my math tables, my learning tools and my watch. On each of my pencils, just in the small space shaved clean when you sharpen the point. One after the other, each letter invested with all her hope and desire for my future.

I wonder if I’ve lived up to all those hopes.

And that is what I think of, when I, this Mother’s son, write in turn her name.

I write it murmuring  “Thank you. Thank you. There’s no need to worry.”

One day out of the blue, my wife was injured and had to be hospitalized.

Nothing like this had ever happened before. Our daughter was born with a disability, and now, even as an adult, she was unable to speak. My wife, who had been her biggest caretaker, would be away for a while and I worried that my daughter’s life would be totally upset by her absence. Would she even want to eat without her mother being there?  My daughter graduated from a Special School and now spent her days at a Special Facility. We had a Communication Log with the facility that allowed us to follow our daughter’s daily progress.  As time went on, there seemed to be no change in my daughter’s behavior. At home too, everything went on as it had. My daughter showed no signs of being distraught. She even ate everything I prepared for her. Maybe I was just being a worrywart.

Eventually, there were some incidents.

My daughter would sometimes start crying out of the blue.

Not screaming or sobbing, just silent tears.

And then they would stop just as abruptly as they had started. I supposed that she missed her Mother. How could it be otherwise when someone who’s always been at your side suddenly vanishes. My daughter must worry that she’ll never come back. Still, in so far as she continued to participate in her daily activities without change, hadn’t my daughter, in her own way, understood the situation?

“My Father is making food for me since my mother is away. I too need to be strong…” I supposed that she must be thinking something like that while fighting desperately against her own anguish. Even today, just thinking about our plight at the time can make me cry.


I was shocked when I first found out my daughter had a disability. It was even troubling for me to just look at her. Yet life goes on, and we grow as we go. The day I saw that my daughter had grown to care for me and my wife, it was a revelation. Your child’s attention is probably the single greatest joy in parenting. There’s just no way to turn your back to it. Those two months my wife was away at the hospital turned out to be an irreplaceable experience for my daughter. Since then my daughter is always smiling because she knows she has a family who watches out for her. If we can all hold on to our gratitude for everything we have, my daughter will find her way to her own happiness.


  • Oyako Day Original Goods

This son of mine, I went through miscarriages and infertility treatments to finally give birth to him in my 6th year of marriage.  At some point, I got to thinking that I had to bring him up to be strong since he was an only child. I enrolled him in martial arts training and told myself that my son was growing up.


Around the age of 10, he began saying that he didn’t want to fight. I thought I’d been pushing him too hard because I didn’t immediately see how much he took after his father: sensitive. And that’s when he started saying I had a mental age of 2 because I was somebody who believed that whatever they thought was right. When my son needed someone to talk to, he went to his grandmother. All my Mother ever said to me was,“You don’t really need to do that,” which didn’t help me understand anything.


On the other hand, my son went on repeating, “You’re never going to understand who I am.”

Recently though, there’ve been some changes. He’s started to say that he envies my character and has begun to talk more about his own feelings. As a young adult, he is out in society. It’s broadening his experience and getting him to grow up.


So, I’m kind of missing the days when things were simpler, and I could just want him to be strong. And I wonder if he’ll change his mind about my mental age of 2?

Then again, if calling me 2 makes him feel better and more optimistic, well then, I’ll just take it as a compliment !

My Father never had any parents.

I realized this in the middle of fourth grade when I was talking to a friend about  relatives. It suddenly came to me that I’d never ever met my Father’s parents.

It troubled me, so as soon as I got home I talked to my Father about it.

I was excited and just blurted out, “Dad, where are your parents?”  His answer was unexpected. “By the time I knew what was happening, they were gone.” Then he added, “Of course, you know, back then I lived in a youth home that was full of children like me.” “Whaaat!?” I replied…I was shocked and just couldn’t get my head around it. Time’s gone by since this all happened, and my Father has started speaking a little more freely about his past.


Whenever my brother and I get to quibbling over some stupid little thing or parading our own special brand of selfishness around the house, our Father comes back at us with his past, like, “Both of you guys go to cram school, you can buy what you want and go to the school you want, but I never had any of those things. To this day, I live each and every day with thanks for each and every thing we have now.” There’ve been stories like this since forever in Japan, about appreciating what you have, but I really do have to thank my Father. After listening to his stories over the years, I’ve come to see that the things we take for granted are things we should be grateful for.


My Father is actually much more sensitive than he lets on. He may seem rough, but he always carries my Mother’s things for her and always steps in to handle difficult stuff that everyone else in the family is shying away from. We had a pet bird that seemed lonely and my Father did a wonderful job taking care of him. Even when he has only one day off of work each week, if there’s somewhere I want to see, he’ll take me without making a big thing of it. Maybe my Father grew up in an institution and never had a Father as a role model, but I can’t think of a better Dad, and I really admire him.

When my father hit retirement age in 1953, he was 55 years old. He told my brother who was working hard to get into college, that he had to give up any idea of going on to higher education. My brother was devastated. He fought back, telling our Father over and over again, “All my school friends are going, why should I be the only one to stay home?” My Father just listened silently without ever giving an answer.


My Mother attended my brother’s graduation ceremony. Though she always dressed very simply, I saw her putting on an obi and sharply tightening round her waist in a gesture of determination.  Maybe it was some kind of atonement. Coming out our front door, she was dressed in formal attire and had even added a thin layer of makeup, something I’d never seen on her before. Perhaps she was trying to to print the figure of her son who couldn’t go to University on her eyelids. When the two of them came home, they seemed more forlorn than filled with the joy of graduation. The only thing blooming at our house was the plum trees in the garden.


Now that I am way beyond the age my parent’s had at the time, I can clearly see the signs of their regret, even agonizing, at not being able to send my brother to college. It was undoubtedly tougher on them than on my brother. Born in the Meiji Era, neither of them saw any need for explanations. They had struggled to put aside money all through the hard times, but with the currency reforms and steep inflation after the war, their savings weren’t even worth the paper they were printed on. I heard all this from my sister some years after our parents passed away.


We all went down to the station to see my brother off when he left town to search for work. My Father told him to watch out for his health. My Mother handed him a large package wrapped in a furoshiki. “Food for the train ride,” she said.  It was a two tier lunch box that she’d spent the whole night preparing. My brother said, “Thank you. I’ll be fine and do my best!” You could see a single tear running down his cheek.

We stood there and watched until he disappeared from sight.

He never looked back.

My relation with my Father was mostly built on photographs.

Even today, there’s a photograph he took hanging just above my bookshelves.

It’s a picture of an old man wearing a turban in a place that looks like the Middle East.

Next to him is a child who must be his grandson. 

They’re both laughing, looking at the camera.

It’s a photo panel I put together on the anniversary of my Father’s death.


My Father worked as a photojournalist, always had a Nikon dangling from his neck, and spent his life photographing oppressed populations all over the world. He was rarely at home, and often, when he did come home, he’d head straight to a dark room he’d set up at home for developing and printing his work. I don’t really remember playing with him or going on any family outings, but I do remember when I once opened that darkroom door. My mother had told me that opening the door could ruin the film, and I was constantly being reminded not to touch it.  But so much forbidding just peaked my curiosity, till I just had to open it. One day, I finally got that door open without making a sound.


There was a red bulb attached to the wall shining down on my Father’s back where he was busy at work. He actually looked more like he was in some kind of trance, like a kind of magician working stealthily on a magic potion. My heart was pounding as I spied on my Father from where I’d opened the door just a crack. He was so busy with what he was doing that he didn’t seem to notice me. Then, when our eyes finally met, he burst out laughing. I clearly remember the cigarette he held clasped in the corner of his mouth turning upward, deep wrinkles pooling at the corner of his eyes, and my Father beckoning me into the darkroom. Once in his world of red lamps, I continued watching my Father’s back moving under the light.


Sometimes I find myself staring at the picture over my bookshelf, and I think of my Father. And what I always go back to is that red, red room. That’s how I remember him. A magician invoking magic potions in an oddly colorful space. But my Father isn’t here anymore. And the darkroom is inside my head. I still see him under the red lamp, bursting into laughter.

I throw up my hand and my son, beaming with his broadest smile, slaps my palm.

That’s how we begin each day.

Maybe this may not sound like much but from where I stand, it makes this mother very, very happy.


My son is now eight months old. He can’t speak yet, but maybe he gets the gist of what his Mother is saying. He does respond to his name, and anything that catches his eye will hold his attention. He laughs when he’s happy and cries when he’s not. I kind of envy the simplicity of his life style. I learned pretty quickly after his arrival that a baby’s hands are often sticky. As they get older, they become aware of their hands and spend time looking at them or sometimes licking them. When they get good at moving each finger, they’ll start grabbing the nearest toy or latch onto the crib handrails to try to pull themselves up.


You can see your child’s progress just in how he uses his hands. My son, who didn’t even know he had hands, can now clasp them together in response to what I’m saying to him. His precious hands fill me with love and joy. I don’t remember when we started with the Good Morning High Five, but I think I’ll keep it up as a moment of physical bonding. I want to cherish these moments. that bring our hands together and me closer to his daily progress.

Good Morning High Five !! The beginning of another day.

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