The fourth Sunday of July is Oyako Day

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MY FATHERby Kango Oe
My father is a painter. Which said, always leaves a trail of ambiguity behind it. He paints canvases, not houses, and that's how he earns his living.

For as long as I can remember, I wanted my father to have a more ordinary job. While all my friend's fathers were up and out of the house early every day, mine would leave the house just a few times a week to teach some painting classes. When his paintings didn't sell, we'd run out of money, so money was tight at the house. On top of that his style was abstract, so I had trouble knowing if his paintings were any good or not.

I like to listen to music. With music, there are the words and then the melody, both of which give you some idea of what the author had in mind when he made the song. These songs can give you energy or make you feel things. There are also songs that are purely commercial. They were just made to be sold and all you get is the packaging.

Paintings are the same. When you see paintings that were created just to be sold, they come cross as being well done and nothing more. But in the case of the artist who honestly tries to express something, even if the paintings don't sell well, people who see them feel there is something more, something coming out from the artist.

Just recently, and I know its late, I finally figured out that this is the kind of painting my father does. My father's paintings may not be open to everybody. but through color and brush strokes, they reach out from my fathers imagination. From before I was even born and right up to this day, this has been how my father paints. He has gone on honestly trying to express himself. Thinking of this, I started to admire his integrity for the first time.

These days, calling my father a painter has a fresh coat of pride on it.

(translation © victor woronov 2009)

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A FATHER’S TEARSby Takaya Sakaki
Last summer, my 12 year old twin sons were out playing soccer with their friends at a nearby park. Mostly, there was this bunch of over energized kids in short sleeves running in circles and half out of their heads. After a while, my younger son asked me to be referee and I lumbered to my feet from my bench in the shade. Just then, out of nowhere, I remembered something from 40 years ago. From a summer in Tosa.

I was twelve then too and I'd gone out bike riding. But this time I'd headed downtown rather than to the local park. I picked up two friends along the way and there were more waiting when we got where we were going. And my father was there too. He had asked my mother where I had gone, hopped on a train and gotten there before me. When I arrived with my friends he said “Hey everyone, what are you guys up to today? How about coming along with me to the game center? How about getting a cold drink?”

Before anyone could answer, I just told my father to go home and leave us alone. But my father insisted and our dispute dragged on. I kept telling him to go home while my friends hung there without a clue. Finally, my father left. Today, I have no memory of what I did with my friends afterwards.

That evening when I went home, my father wasn't there. My mother asked me what had happened. “When your father came home he was crying. I've never seen him so sad in my whole life”. And my mother went on calmly speaking of my father. Maybe that dispute was the beginning of my adolescent rebellion. Maybe my friends and I just didn't want to have an adult in our child's world. Maybe there is no sensible explanation for what I did that day.

Last summer I was exactly the same age as my father was that day forty years ago.
Standing in front of those kids playing soccer, I suddenly remembered my mother's voice saying “Your father was crying” and in that instant I was overcome with sadness. I so regretted what had happened. Then just as quickly, walking towards those kids screaming for me to referee, it all slipped back into unconsciousness. But when I finally looked up at them, my vision was blurred.

(translation © victor woronov 2009)

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MOTHER AT 93by Hitoshi Kawamura
The plot was only about 7.5 meters square, but we planted komatsuna and spinach, tomatoes and eggplants, shiso and honeywort. Our little garden was flourishing.

One sunny day in May when my wife and I were out in the garden pulling weeds, chasing bugs and thinning out the rows, my mother suddenly cried down from the balcony “Don't worry about weeds”. At the time she was 93 and getting just a bit light headed, but in response to such a succinct order from on high, I could only blurt out “Yes Mam”. Looking down at my technique and the state of the garden, she added, “Well, you're not a farmer yet”. And then some advice, “Don't plant the same vegetables in the same place”. Answering, “OK Mom”, I was glad for her sudden show of strength.

Five years ago when her health had suddenly deteriorated, we'd gotten her through it by buying her a cat. Besides just living on, my mother needed to reach out and actively take care of another. She comes from a long line of farmers in Shinshu. One of her favorite sayings is “Home is just over the mountains”. These days, she's mostly looking at Todakai park's rambling tree groves when she says this.

My father died twenty-five years ago. After that my mother became nostalgic about the place where she grew up. My father had a saying that is still with us: Keep close to your roots and look for gold. Shimazaki Toson who is well known for the novel Before the Dawn wrote when he was fifty, “There are two times in our lives when we are drawn to trees: when we are young and when we grow old”. When I think of homes and of trees as places that give rest to the spirit, I understand my mother's longing.

So now the family rallying call has become “If she feels like it and has the strength, let's take Mom back home”. Oyako Day was made for this. Mother's day, birthdays, in fact, any day we can call special and we’re ready to go!

(translation © victor woronov 2009)

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Mr. POPCORNby Saori Kojima
The kids from the neighborhood called my father “Popcorn”. When he was on his way to work, he would clown around with the school kids. He had so much success that they would fall down laughing on sight. Every time my classmates would say to me, “Your father is really out there”, I was ashamed. I could never get used to it, but my father always found more neighborhood kids to entertain.

One day when I was turning the corner, I saw my father falling over while letting out an anguished moan. Our eyes met. He had a look in his eyes, like he was at his wits end. Just as I was about to panic, I got a glimpse of a child in front of him holding a toy gun. I understood at a glance what was happening and took back the hand I'd put out to steady my father. He was acting out the villain’s part. The lost look in my father's eyes came from being caught between my presence and his own will to act out the climactic end where the enemy falls dead. Even after I had grown up to adulthood, my father continued to make merry with the neighborhood kids. I resigned myself and got over wanting him to stop.

Then my father found out he had cancer. The prognosis was excellent and the operation fairly simple, with just a short period of chemotherapy, but my father refused to be operated. The whole family pressed for the operation, and my father actually cried when he finally accepted. For the first time in my life, I saw my father gloomy and tearful.
On the day of the operation, I was there when he came out. He was still groggy from the anesthesia and his eyes were half shut. He was covered up to his chin with the kind of blue sheets you see in TV hospital dramas. The surgeon was there reporting on the success of the operation and letting us know what was to follow when I looked down at my father. There he was, supposedly knocked out from the anesthesia, but he had snuck a hand from out under the covers and was making me a peace sign. After all these years, I finally couldn't help but laugh. Anytime, anywhere, even half conscious, my father was always ready for fun, his way a letting us know he was fine. The depth of his solicitude brought tears to my laughing eyes.

Even today he goes out and plays Mr. Popcorn to the kids. But I no longer feel I have to resign myself to that because I have seen to the heart of his clowning.

(translation © victor woronov 2009)

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A FATHER’S LETTERby Taka Hashimoto
My mother died seven years ago and then my brother four years after. Up to then I had lived as a free spirit, with no intention of marrying and generally having a good time. After my brother’s death, it was only natural to think of my father, who lived on alone in the country and was also ill. It'd been twenty years, but I decided to return home.

When my mother was still healthy there was constant trouble between my parents and my brother. He drank too much. Then my mother had a seizure and died of SAH after two and half months in the hospital. As much as everyone hoped that my father and brother would grow closer, things just got more complicated. My brother felt guilty over our mother's death, and the only place he could find to hide from it was in drink. For my father, the vision of this drunk and resentful son was a source of profound sadness. When my brother's lifestyle finally killed him, my father told me, “It's terrible, but it's a relief”.

After I had been home for a time, things seemed to fall back to the way they were before my mother's death. We began to put things in order. One day, we found this bundle of letters. One of them was from my father to my mother and I read it when my father wasn't around.

It was written just after my birth. My father was working away from home at the time. It said things like “We get to meet so seldom. I couldn't believe the kids burst out crying when they saw me” or “I think only of being together with you all”, maybe not so eloquent but overflowing with love for his family. It made me cry. I wished that I could have shown this letter to my brother when he was still alive. I hid the letter by the family alter, in a place where Dad wouldn't see it. I was thinking of my brother and whispered “Look, this is how much you were loved”.

My father died last year, and now I am truly alone. Here, as I write this, I have a photo with me of the three of them. And here and now, I still feel their love.

(translation © victor woronov 2009)

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I look like her but then I don't! I'm not like her but I am so much like her: daughter and Mom! I am not at all like my mother, my belly doesn't stick out that way and when I tell her that, I pinch her stomach. She answers, “You used to be nice, now you're a pain”.
But my mother's own memory of the days of nice seem to have floated far off in space, past the no recall marker. Speaking of nice, my mother's figure has spun off far from its nice marker too. This said, compared to other mothers her age, she comes off a bit younger...? prettier...? Maybe stylish...? When I dug in her drawers and tried on some of her clothes from yesteryear, I found out her waist was slimmer than mine and that she even had a good sense of style. I've checked her photo albums on the sly. There's a young woman in there who's energy bursts out of the pages. Our faces look so much alike that any stranger who saw the photos would think it was me. That's why I hate the part of me that looks like her. I just can't stand the idea of my double knocking around our house 25 years ago. I'm never going to get fat like her because we’re not alike in the least. That said, if you take a good look, we have just the same short, fat fingers, the same eyebrows, even the same eyes. The way we talk, the way we laugh, the way we walk, and recently our sloppy manner: it's all the same but that does that mean I have to like it. Does that mean I have to fight it? I'm so happy talking with this mother. Im so happy when were out shopping together. It’s like we’re two friends. This “can't live with you, can't live without you”, dumpably undumpable person. She's the one who will always be by my side even though I might rather just keep her in my pocketbook for quick reference: I'll be counting on you!!!

(translation © victor woronov 2009)

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ROUGH TRADEby Tomoyo Yoshida
It seems I was accident prone when I was young. I don't remember anything but I’m told I ran into things like rock walls and bicycle wheels, sometimes with a smile on my face. Since I was small, I was always with my brother and sister. Since my sister was the eldest, my mother would get mad at her every time I hurt myself. When we all talk about those times, we always get around to talking about the videos we made back then.

These are videos of us all happily playing that my mother joyfully took. The video of the child that fell from the jungle gym while her mother went on happily filming. The video of the child that fell off the slide while her mother went on happily filming.. The video of the child who hated papa's scraping beard, desperately fighting off her father's hug and bursting into tears when she couldn't, while her mother went on happily filming.. No matter how much I wailed, no one ran over to me and you can hear my mother laughing along with the screams. When I ask my mother, “When a kid falls from the jungle gym and bursts out crying, don't most mothers run over and hug them”, she replies, “I didn't run over because I wanted you to learn to help yourself. Once more, watching you do it was a joy for me”.

Maybe it's because she's my mother, but I've come to understand what she means. I can even laugh along with her and I now feel that my upbringing has made me strong. These days those videos are so covered with dust that I'm not sure we can still show them, but sometimes I feel like I'd like to take a look. To remember how she taught me without words to understand things for myself. Watching and talking about these videos reassures me about who my parents are. I guess it's pretty commonplace, but I wholeheartedly believe that I couldn't have had better parents. The family that laughed its way through it all. Thank you Dad and thank you Mom!

(translation © victor woronov 2009)

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I can get by “Just leave me alone, you old bag”. Maybe not the last word on his true feelings, but at this stage of rebellion, all the exhaust vents are pointed in my direction. Though my son is usually calm by character, when things aren't as he would have them, he flares. When I got back from work, there was a postcard scribbled in pencil. It was from my son. It was the answer to a note I'd sent him when he was to go on a school trip, telling him I wouldn't be coming along. I could feel a wistful smile at my lips. There were a lot of spelling mistakes.

Yet, there was a fine line of thanks woven into the fabric. At first I'd laughed, but I felt the back of my eyes grow warm and my nose tingled. He'd written out his plan for the future and made it clear that that's what was driving him. He wrote, that to fulfill his dreams, “I want you to be my launching pad. And I want you to always be my mother”.

Did he really think that? Then why was he always forgetting it? The words were childish and full of impertinence, but I still wanted them to be true. Of course, there’s no way I could give up being his mother. I was, after all, the one who had given birth to him. More to the point, please always be my son!

(translation © victor woronov 2009)

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When she was little, my daughter's favorite thing was my earlobe. She reached out for it when she was looking for attention, when she was sleepy and when she was anxious. When she touched it with her small, warm fingers, it tickled. Sometimes that touch filled me with such well-being that I was the first to fall off to sleep.

I usually slept to the right of my daughter, but every so often on the left. On one such night, I was woken up by my daughter's movement and saw her turn towards her father on the right. She reached out for his earlobe. At first touch her eyes popped open, her hand stopped and then her eyes opened wide. Her head turned right, then left and then again until she lunged in my direction and reached out to fondle my earlobe. My daughter may have mixed up her mother and father, but she knew the feel of the right ear. I burst out laughing while watching my newly reassured daughter fall back to sleep.

When I would give my earlobe to my daughter, it somehow seemed to fill me with the same well-being as breast-feeding. The deep warmth of skinship. The pleasure of her desire, the happiness of a mother, a kind of pure gentleness that filled the heart. Whatever, my daughter grew out her affection for earlobes. First she seemed to hesitate and then one night when I put my earlobe in easy grabbing distance, she abruptly turned away. That was the end of it. Did she think it was bothering me? Just like when she stopped breast feeding, was she responding to some biological clock? I still don't know.

Now my eight year old daughter laughs at me when she says, “No! I don't remember anything about earlobes”. Even so, I don't think I will ever forget that warmth round my earlobe, that moment of bliss.

Hey girl, thanks for the memory!

(translation © victor woronov 2009)

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AN AWKWARD PAIRby Takuya Hayashi
“Would you wash my back?”, my father asked. In this case, this was my wife's father.
At first, I was taken aback. “Ah, well, sure...”
I'd never touched his back before. It seemed kind of round and large. And then, maybe rough.
I would have liked to do a good job, but it just didn't happen. The washcloth somehow got twisted up, and then again, and then...what the Hell?!
Next, it seems, it was my turn. I dutifully turned my back towards my father.
How should I put it? My father is not a man of moderation? Such force. He laid into my back as if he wanted to scrub the skin off my bones. I'm afraid I cringed. “Sorry”, he said, “I didn’t realize how difficult it is to wash a son’s back”.

Ever since I can remember, I was raised by a single mom.
We never missed having a father at the house, and I think this is because my mother did such a good job. I felt so loved that there was no room for unhappiness. This doesn't mean I never thought about having a father. There were times when I wondered who or what that could be. When I did, it was all pretty vague. Quiet man, stubborn man; strict, honest. To tell the truth, it was too much for me. When I finally did have a father, I married into him.

My wife's parents are now part of the family, but I have to admit that I find having a father around a bit odd. I don' know...he's clumsy. Clumsy but direct, troubled by compliments, forever helping out. Whatever I thought a father was, my thinking has changed.

I remember my wife saying, “My father's happy about gaining a son. Up till now he's had only women. I'm sure there's all kinds of things he wants to do with a son”. Among all those many things, backwashing must have been one of them. I'm more than happy to have obliged.

(translation © victor woronov 2009)

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Our home's most treasured belonging is a single photograph. My family brought me home when I was five days old and took this photo of us all in the bath. My father is holding me, together with my 3 year-old brother, 7 year-old sister and 9 year-old brother, who are all looking at the camera and laughing. My mother snapped this shot after my brothers and sisters hopped into the tub to join my father and me. The day that picture was taken was the beginning of my life with this family of seven, including the Grandmother.

Our whole family thinks eating meals together is important. Both my father and mother work. They're busy everyday but since they love good cooking, you'll find them both in the kitchen on holidays. Whether it was late night food for my brother and sister coming home from school activities or early morning breakfast before school tests, everybody always did their best to be there together. Everybody had so much to say and the table was in such a bustle that we had a rule about raising your hand to speak and anyone who spoke out of turn got called a “word robber”. And we were eating all kinds of good things all the while. For kitchen cleanup, the last in the bath were the first in service. On days that didn't go well, family dinners were the reset button.

Now my brothers and sister have left home for work or college and as of this April I've been the only one of the four of us still at home. My father, my mother and even my grandmother keep saying how quiet it is, how they've made too much food and how few dishes there are to wash. After all, it's a little lonely. It's like something is missing. This May, there was a long weekend, and all seven of us were able to be together again, but only for three days. It was like old times. We just kept talking even when the meals were finished.

Being together and eating together must be the bond that holds a family together and I’m so appreciative of all the things we’ve shared as a family. Maybe that is what gives all of us the power to move forward in life?

(translation © victor woronov 2009)

An evening in early summer. Next door they're firing up for a barbecue and I can hear the voices of the children.

We stopped having barbecues at our house over twenty five years ago. Up till then it'd been a favorite pastime. I remember when we picked up our barbeque set at the hardware store, along with charcoal, wooden chairs and lights. My son was just starting elementary school and was the guest of honor. Come evening, we put the lights in place and fanned the fire. My son played around the fire and when the coals were right, my wife put the meat and vegetables on. With a can of beer in my left hand, I presided as chef with my right. My wife sat holding our daughter, waiting for the food while sipping cold tea. But this was just the beginning.

When my daughter grew older and started elementary school, she would invite one of her friends from the neighborhood over for our barbecues. We did a lot of them then. My daughter had become the main guest as my son was often stuck in front of the television. When the food was ready, he would pop up, gobble and head back to the set or even take his food back and eat in front of it. Soon enough, my daughter was drawn into it too and more and more time was spent in front of the television. And we spent more and more time outside watching the food get cold. Then one night when I was stoking the coals over a cold beer, my wife came out and said, “You know everyone’s inside, right”? “”Guess it's a one man barbeque”, I answered with an ironic smile.

These days, the kids are gone and live on their own. Barbecuing went from Dad's world to abandonment in the blink of an eye, just part of the process of growing up.

The neighbor’s voices were getting louder and more excited when my wife came out from the kitchen and said, “Looks like a one man barbecue”. “Right, alone again!”, I answered laughing, but there was really no fun in it.

(translation © victor woronov 2009)

Mom, do you remember back when I was always crying? It was three years ago, when I had gotten into the school I wanted to go to so badly only to be bullied by the older kids. It got so hard for me to go to school that I ended up taking a lot of days off. And of course, you and Dad would always tell me that I should think of the good things at school and be on my way.

There were a lot of nice things that did happen. My friends all tried to help me. The teachers too, they tried to explain things to the older children. But it didn't work. I would come home so exhausted I thought I was going to die and of course, you would always say “You're a brave girl. You've done the right thing”.

To be honest, I didn’t feel it was right. School shouldn’t be the kind of place you needed to put so much effort into attending.

At the end of my first year, Dad asked me if I wanted to change schools. I couldn't stop crying. Still, at the time you said “Is it OK to run away from something just because you don't like it”? That made me feel so alone. I thought you just didn't understand.
I took the entrance exams and changed to an all girls school. My second month there I got a letter from you:

“Remember when the older kids were making you feel bad and you said you wanted to stop going to school? And I said to please try to stand it? I just wanted you to understand something. That there will always be things around you that you don't like or that you can't control. When these things come up, you must try to go beyond them. And if you can't get beyond them, then you should think of something else. I wanted you to have that strength. When it happened to you, you dealt with it and you were brave. Now you are a stronger person. Now you have true friends and you’re doing wonderfully. You're the best!”

So, my mother did understand and ,with my parent's love and support, I became a stronger person.

(translation © victor woronov 2009)

My daughter was staring at the little green turtles I had bought her recently and muttering about how cute they were when I happened to look over at her and remember something that happened ten years ago.

My wife was pregnant. Her health had been running down and she'd been rushed to the hospital. They'd called to tell me she was in labor. When I got there, I found her alone in her room. She told me the child had been born and I was thankful. With a wistful look, she added that the child was in another room. I was able to see my daughter through a glass wall. She was a small thing sleeping behind more glass walls in an incubator. Born a month and a half early, her body was covered with tubes and absolutely still. I started talking to her, and when I did, I don't know what she was thinking but she moved her foot. She moved it just as if she were trying to make me some kind of sign. At that moment, I made a promise to my daughter.

“My dear daughter still without name, we've gotten you off to a bit of a painful start, but your father promises to do everything in his power to turn your head start into happiness”. A one-sided promise made through two panes of glass.

Today my daughter is in fifth grade. She leaves for school happy everyday, dreams of becoming a star and has made me her confidant. But she doesn't know anything about my promise and I'm too shy to tell her. When she lavishes me with her smiles, I feel that that first promise was not one-sided at all. She has given me a world where each happiness opens the door to another. “Thanks for being born”, I thought, as I proceeded to consider my daughter’s rosy future while looking through our turtle’s transparent tank.

(translation © victor woronov 2009)