The fourth Sunday of July is Oyako Day

Oyako Day Essay Contest 2007 Winners

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Blue Diaryby Mako Tanaka
At the end of last year, I gave a new diary to my mother who was in the hospital. I'd hoped she'd have the time to fill up all it's pages, but that was not how things turned out. The last entry in my mother's diary is on February twenty sixth. She passed away six days afterwards.

My mother brought me up alone from the time I was quite young. She went into the hospital for the fifth and last time the year before last, in June.
"Mako starts a new job tomorrow. I wish her good health and no colds!"
"Thank you, my dear Mako, for yet another day filled with happy memories".
She never once wrote of wanting to leave the hospital, or of the trial and the pain. Every page is full of thanks, full of care, for me. She didn't worry over her own body. No, she hoped for my health, that I would not catch any colds, and should the case be, get well quickly. The pages she wrote run over with thanks to me, who couldn't take the pain away, who couldn't cure the illness, who could do no more than come everyday to visit.

How is it that parents can love to this point? Their children do nothing but make them worry or say selfish mean things that disturb them. And with all that, they go on, loving you more than anybody.
It's now been four months since my mother died.
I'm sorry I couldn't take away your pain. I thank you for giving birth to me, I thank you for rearing me, I thank you for loving me. Now, I can only carry these regrets and these thanks with me through the days and the years. For the woman who gave me this body, for the woman who gave me this life...
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"It's been a while since I've asked..."by Renzo Kubota
Just one more baby boomer, I was born just after the war, the first in a line of four boys. We all lived together with our parents, six in a one story house.

My father was a carpenter who liked his drink, my mother liked her way, and life was a string of unending arguments. You'd have to say that, for better or for worse, my brothers and I grew up in the midst of it all. Consequently, whatever a Father is, I have no particular memories of warmth or affection. But I do remember one thing that comes back to me every year in the Typhoon season. Something that happened during summer vacation my first year of primary school.

Typhoon #7 was a major tropical cyclone that hit the Kanto area. Even as far away as Yamanashi where we lived, we were still in the middle of it. I guess our parents thought the house might be blown away because the four of us along with our mother underwent emergency evacuation to a neighbor's house where we clung wide-eyed through the night. Back at our house throughout the height of the storm, alone and a stranger to our angst, my father, with nails, boards and a hammer, held the fort in a life and death struggle with Typhoon #7.

At dawn, the typhoon was gone. The walls of nearby Kaizenko-ji temple, the pride of all of Kanto, were left listing heavily to the West. All that remained of the temple's main gates was a pile of rubble. Our own home was just to the side of those gates, and like the main hall of the temple, it now pitched to the West. It's mud walls had been peeled away, it's tatami floor flooded and you could see the sky right through the roof. The miracle was that it was still standing. Starting that same day, my father single-handedly set the house straight and repaired the walls and roof. But at the time, I didn't give any thought to my father's strength and the depth of his will.

That was all 49 years ago. Today my father is old and lays bedridden. All trace of that younger self is gone. Last spring, one step ahead of him, my mother left this world. With her, all of his strength, of spirit and of body, left him, and he has visibly aged. Despite my daily visits to the hospital and all my encouragement, he barely nods in answer. I've keep hearing this voice that runs through my heart and mutters, "Please, please, please, stay with me as long as you can!"
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Older and youngerby Kunihiko Iwao
My wife had sprained her left foot while traveling. The next day I requested time off from my job and took up duty pushing my wife's wheelchair on her visits to the hospital. We'd kept this quiet, leaving our daughter in Setagaya uninformed, until she called to invite us out to dinner for Mother's day and it all came out.
The very next day my daughter showed up along with her baby kitten. When the door rang, I took her for some neighbor. My daughter had lived abroad for almost twenty years, and had come back to Japan quite recently. Since she'd been back, we'd often run over things on the phone together, but it'd been a while since I'd seen her.
"So how have you been?" I ventured. "Oh me? I'm fine. The real question is how Mom is", she said, charging into the house.
My daughter looked like my Aunt when she was young. Her plump white cheeks gave her a lot of charm back then, and we often spent hours talking together. I suddenly got the feeling I was talking to my Aunt.
"Papa, bring me a wet towel, and then, since it's almost lunchtime, could you pick up something to eat".
Now, suddenly, I was a servant. I thought I was going to get mad when I remembered that "Age attends youth" and swallowed my pride. My daughter was just brimming over with practicality.
After a simple lunch, we watched television, but I soon noticed my daughter looking at me.
"Papaaa, your hair's getting white. Look on the sides, over the ears, you're all white!"
Oh c'mon, not that...I looked over at my daughter. What I saw was an older woman.
"....about tonight, you're coming out to eat, aren't you"
My daughter, who sat cuddling her kitten, looked back at me radiantly. I raised my hand in childlike acceptance.
"Well then, please, let's change those paints"
My wife was brushing her hair. Standing just behind her was that older woman again.
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Happy Birthdayby Wataru Ishida
My dear mother, congratulations on your 95th birthday. The other day, I visited your great grandson , Kousuke who is in fourth grade, at his school to attend the Culture Day activities. Kousuke made a speech whose subject was "The day my great-grandmother is 100, I want to give her a big cake". With the utmost seriousness, he explained that "My great grandmother doesn't hear very well but she is a very important person for me. I like her so much. If it weren't for her neither my father nor I would have been born. To show my gratitude, I want to save up my allowance and buy her a cake with a hundred candles for her hundredth birthday.", which was met with thundering applause from the audience.
When you think about it, what he said is absolutely true. You bore five children including me. We gave you 13 grandchildren, and they 27 great grandchildren. So for all these people you are a rather important person. After all, without you, they wouldn't even exist. With today's nuclear family, the ties between relatives have weakened. I felt that this Culture Day at the school had given a younger generation the chance to rediscover the importance of these ties as well as the gratitude they can inspire.
When your hundredth birthday comes around in five years, Kousuke will be in middle school. Please take care of yourself mother, so you can fulfill the precious wish that Kousuke has made for you.
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Backsidesby Myalan
Today my daughter set off with a ringing "Pool day starts at school today", so overjoyed that she seemed to dance down the street with the heavy school bag on her back flying behind her like a kite. But when she came home, it was such a very little voice that said "I'm home".
When I asked what was wrong, she told me that her friends had made fun of the two dimple-like pits she has just at the center of each cheek of her buttocks. Genes will leave their mark in the strangest places. To tell the truth, I've got just the same dimples in just those same places.

I'd never given much thought to those little pits, but my daughter was in a state of tears. I tried to coax her out of it with "Those dimples are as bright as a smile and just as cute as can be", along with some "just like Mama", and it seemed to be taking till she shut me down with: "Everything can be just like mama but not my butt, that's the absolute worst". I left it at that and very shortly forgot about the whole thing.

That summer we went to visit the grandparents at our family home. Grandfather is a stern old patriarch but when he sees his granddaughter his face explodes in a burst of wrinkly joy. "Grandpa and I are taking a bath" chimes my daughter running off to the bath. Soon after, the bathroom is ringing with laughter. When I peek in, the two of them are comparing backsides. " Mama, grandpa's got them too, the same thing!!"

Well, it was the first time in my life that I was looking at my father's backside, but there, primly placed, were those two dimples. "Mama, it's the sign that grandpa, you and I are all together", shouted my ebullient daughter while patting grandpa's dimpled butt. We all laughed over my daughter's discovery, but as I turned away, I couldn't help but think that, after all, I was indeed this old patriarch's daughter and felt some wonderful thrill deep down inside me.
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A helping Yuji Miyamoto
"Well well now, lookie here", says the youngish doctor, "looks like you've got a hole in your lung"
What?! Now wait a minute. Maybe it's off the cuff to you, but on my end just a touch of solemnity seems more to order.
While biting the bullet on a whole new dimension of pain, I went right on wanting to believe their wasn't any hole in my lung, if only my hands and feet would just stop shaking... "I'm going to call your folks back home..."
I was definitely in a new space.
Just two months out of home and into University, and already the sirens and lights were flashing.
Just hours later I had my parents on the phone.
I burst into tears. My first operation. They would be slicing and dicing a whole series of vessels and that vision was doing its own slice and dice on my brain.
"If you're sick, you're sick: there's nothing you can do about it. You need the operation, and then you'll be fine. You'll get through it fine" my parents repeated again and again, as if the power of suggestion could make it all go away.

The operation was over. Since both my parents worked, I had gone to a hospital near home. As long as I was there, my parents encouraged me repeatedly with a flat "So what? "
"You're fine now. Time to get back to school" were their final words.
But I was still shaking inside. I kept muddling from the heart, "Someone, anyone, oh God please help me."

I made it out of the hospital, and now I was headed back to my one room apartment.
It seemed like years since I had been there and it was as still as a grave.
I'd about made it to the middle of the room when ,"What!?", the size of my television looked different from before.

There was a memo stuck on it. "Congratulations on getting out of the hospital. We got you a bigger television so your eyes wouldn't go bad. I'm taking the old one home with me if you don't mind. Mom."
For a moment my heart was so full, it felt like a new hole might break open there. It wasn't the doctors that had gotten me through all this. It was my parents.
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My mother's backby Emi Hoshino
"I never want to be like my mother."
From the time I was small, this was so clear to me.
My ever reticent, no taste for style, clumsy mother. Whatever she was, I had trouble getting her straight. Maybe because, unlike my father who was running his business out of our home, she had to go out to work everyday. Though we lived under the same roof, I had little to do with her, as if she were a stranger.

Once I left home to go to college, I hardly ever went back. Or if I did, I would either sleep all day or just watch television. My mother was forever getting home late. Whenever we got a chance to talk, there was never much to say. "I get so tired", "Recently I get headaches", she would murmur. Her grumbling complaints were the stuff of our conversations. "Why don't you go see a doctor" I would carelessly toss off. Given our level of communication, there wasn't much chance of deepening our relation. We were like two parallel lines that never meet.

Having hit the age of 21, I shuddered to think that I still knew nothing of who my mother was or what she had been through. And then it was time to look for a job, and I began to think about my own future. Every time I sized up a company, my thoughts would go unconsciously to the question of what they offered for postnatal mothers. I couldn't help but think that, after all, the acorn had fallen not far from the tree.

Since forever, I had been so preoccupied by the vision of my mother's back, leaving the house for work, that I had never gotten beyond it to the reasons for why it was so. Now that I am trying to arrange a future that can include work and child rearing, the enormity of it all has suddenly dawned on me.

Recently, the whole family went together to the public bath. It'd been years since we'd been and that I found myself in the bath together with my mother. Both of us are skinny in the arms and legs with just our bellies that pop out. "It's heredity", we laughed, so long since we'd laughed together.

It does look as though my life will be much like my mother's. Having gotten to this point, I have finally understood what strength my mother has had. "I hope I can be like my mother" is now what is so clear to me.
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A visit to the Kazuo Kubota
My daughter left home at the age of nineteen after we had a terrible argument. She went to stay at a friend's house in Kanagawa, got a job and has lived a straight life till now that she is 26. Since that argument years ago, I don't think we've spoken more than three times. Now, my only daughter, Yuko, is going to be married this autumn.

"Ehh, is that Yuko?" - the other day, I spotted her in the house's garden. I watched her from the second floor window while wondering when she'd come home. It looked like she was putting cakes in a small bag and flowers in front of a small, 10 centimeter stone in the corner of the garden, just like some little grave in a cemetery...

"Good evening Mr. Kubota"
Turning around, I found my daughter's fianc?????, Toshifumi, standing before me. He had come together with my daughter.
"Yuko has been taking care of that grave. She told me that when she was four or five years old, she buried some pet there. She was so small she doesn't even remember whether it was a hamster or a gold fish. But, whatever animal it was, it's buried there and she comes back every year to tend the grave. I really admire her for that."

" for all these years, she's been slipping in to care for this grave...", somehow hearing this from Toshifumi made me feel warm inside. Which is when my wife happened in and said, "Oh that, that's no pet. She buried her underwear there after wetting her pants. I know because I was watching."

The three of us laughed so hard we were in tears. All the while, without knowing we were watching, my daughter was out at the grave making the sign of the cross.
Just one thing though, I'm not really sure I should tell this story at the wedding reception.
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Milk of tearsby Toshiaki Shimizu
We were green. Parents so fresh that holding the baby left our muscles in pain, every cry sent us into a spin and every turd to elation.
About one week after the birth of my eldest son, it was time to take him home. At the hospital, they had given us pointers on feeding, bathing and the basics, but, deep down inside, I didn't have much confidence in being able to sustain what looked to me like one extremely fragile bit of existence and I definitely felt the clouds of storm gathering.

Once back at the house, we were soon faced with the first meal. After my wife had breast fed him, my job was to follow up with the nursing bottle. My son chomped down on it and energetically sucked away. The sight of this small bit of life drinking in the milk with all its strength was making me flush. I wondered at the joy it must have been for my wife to have breastfed him.
My son had stopped drinking with only half the bottle empty. Tapping the nozzle on his upper lip brought no reaction. But at the hospital he had finished his bottle without batting an eye! I called out to my son. I shook his body. No reaction! My own body broke out in a cold sweat.
My wife got nervous and came to see. She took our son in her arms and called to him. Both of us stood there and called over and over to the point of tears.
As stunned as I was, I kept running it over and over in my head: I'd done just what they'd done at the hospital. There was no doubt. I lent over and put an ear to my son's nose. Breathing quiet and steady.
My son seemed to have quietly sunken into a deep sleep. He'd just filled his stomach and dropped into Neverland.
It's a story from way back in the beginning, when we were still a green, young, papa and mama.
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Awesome loveby Kinichi Yoshimura
My dear mother, when I went up to Tokyo to take my college entrance exams, you made me this monster lunch pack, about 30 centimeters square and four deep. For a lunch box, it was about as discreet as carrying along a full set of encyclopedias, A to Z.

Once on the train, where this enormous lunch box was attracting quite a bit of attention, I opened the lid at one corner and ate one or two mouthfuls before tossing it on the luggage rack. I was so embarrassed that, once I got to Tokyo station, I threw the whole thing away along with its immaculate carrying case. It's only now, years later, that I can feel the immeasurable love that was bundled in that lunch box.

I was unmoved by the trials of my father whose retail business struggled to find its way. Overflowing with the rebellious conceit of adolescence, I never helped you bring the wooden crates from the fish shop or split them up with an axe to heat the bath water. I can only imagine what you felt each time you had to say "Please wait a little longer" in answer to my ever-present zeal in getting late school fees paid up.

We were so poor that I never knew if I could renew my thousand yen transportation pass or not. And in the midst of all this struggle, I up and announced that I had a scholarship and was going away to college. What did you think sending me off at the station, of this son whose finances were so far beyond you there was no help you could give?

I remember that when I was in Tokyo, you would send me boxes with clothes and cakes, and would put a five thousand yen bill in the box. With every other box, there was a letter, where you seemed to feel you had to give me advice on how to live.

I can't even tell how much I have betrayed this mother's love. But even now, to this day, I know this love stands unchanged. So great that it almost frightens me.

And today, now that I am a 49 year-old father with three children, who is sitting here writing this letter to his mother, with tears in his eyes and a runny nose, I ask your forgiveness for just some little part of all my unending waywardness.
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The Mermaid Princessby Yumi
Once there was a man who lost his young wife, the one he adored, and fell into hopelessness. Intolerable loss and sleepless nights. He couldn't even eat.
But as good fortune would have it, this man had a little girl who pestered him with her picture book, saying "Read me a story, read me a story".
She loved the story of the Mermaid Princess and would bring him the book, over and over again, day after day.
The days and months went by till, years later, he was an old man, hanging on to life and out of memory, who could hardly get either his daughter's name or his own out of his mouth. Daddy,
I don't have the book anymore but do you still remember the story of the Mermaid Princess? Then you could tell it to me again like you used to. Or Daddy, if you don't remember the story, then it'll be my turn to read. Please then, father, listen to me read again and again.
And then, please, as long as I read you must live. Because, if you break that promise, I will carry my picture book to wherever you go and call you out.
Unless you're really so tired, in which case we can just meet again somewhere sometime. You'll recognize me because I'll be carrying a copy of the Mermaid Princess.
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Bondsby Sugae Shinjo
It was just at the time when the newspapers were pushing the story of a family of spot-billed ducks that had made there home on an artificial pond in the middle of Tokyo that we were in the midst of raising our family. My eldest daughter was in her last year at nursery school. At the tender age of five, there already ranged behind her her four, three and one year old sisters, not to mention the newly born brother who brought up the rear. There were five in all.

Five children with a mother who couldn't drive. Naturally, getting my eldest daughter to the nursery school entailed taking the whole troop. So it was that every morning I would hoist my son on my back and drop the two younger daughters into baby carriages trusted to their two elder sisters who pretty well had to hang on to their handle bars just to keep on their own legs. And so we would set out on our way to the nursery school.

The nursery school was 10 minutes away for a pair of adult legs. On a good day, we would make it in twenty to thirty minutes. I would take the lead. The kids would toddle or trudge in my wake, just like the Tokyo ducks we followed on television. With our population dropping here in Japan, there is no way this kind of procession could get crosstown unnoticed. Fellow pedestrians would often accost us. Some of the most frequent quips were:
"Gee, are all those kids yours?"
"Whoa, that's quite a handful!"
"You get the motherhood award"
Or in another register, these cries of encouragement:
"It's hard now but your future will be blessed"
"Now you all be good little children and help your mother!"
"Children are a treasure: take good care of them"
The truth is that there were times when taking care of these children from dawn to dusk everyday, I didn't have a moment for myself, times when I found myself wishing for the day I would be free of them. However, now, years later when my children no longer need that kind of care and I look back on the time when they did, I am somehow strangely nostalgic. As if to think that all those days spent literally besieged by my children was somehow a gift of priceless happiness. The blessing that is perceived only in hindsight, seeing only now just how precious it was.

And now for the final campaign! Where I will see them flutter off to their futures and it will be my turn to watch them from the back. Still, I hope in my heart that the bonds we made back then will hold, that they will never break, and that they will keep our family together.
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A twelve year-old father?by Yuki Okuda
This happened when I was in 6th grade and went to the park to play with my father.
The parkland was wild, with few paths and a big pond on it, and the local school had forbidden children from playing there alone. The local PTA sometimes patrolled the park for violators.
My father and I were there playing badminton when we heard some woman's voice screaming from down the hill, "This park is off limits for unaccompanied children!"
"How many times do we have to warn you kids? How old are you? Who is your teacher?" rattled a bunch of three or four middle aged women as they swooped towards us. And then, when they had finally gotten close enough to get a good look at us, "Oh, this isn't a child. It's the father!!"
Overcoming his embarrassment at having been taken for an elementary schooler, my 42 year-old father stood there lamely. I was convulsed with laughter. But really Dad, I was so happy. I had such a young and good-looking father and now here was more proof.
Now that I am 17 please come out with me once more. And let's walk arm in arm. I'm sure they'll all take you for my 17-year-old lover. Please Daddy, say you'll come.
(translation © victor woronov 2007)