The fourth Sunday of July is Oyako Day

Oyako Day Essay Contest 2010 Winners

Olympus Prizes
Olympus Digital Camera μ_Tough
olio photo coupon
Trinityline Prize
The Mainichi Newspapers Prize
Tsuburuya Pro Prize
The Last Song Prize
Olympus PrizesOlympus Digital Camera μ_Tough
Present or Absent, Forever Togetherby OKABE Tatsumi
This spring my brother left for school in Kyushu. His seat at the table was suddenly empty. It was as if a corner had been lopped off of our neat little dining table. The house seemed larger. There was a big load off my turns at washing duty. I could feel my brother's absence all around me.

On the other hand, my mother got even busier than before. As much as she's always hated going out for errands, getting packages for my brother together seems to fill her with joy. At home, every third day became package day.

“Vegetables are just so expensive. How is he going to buy them? And fruit, boys never think to buy that kind of thing”, she would go on, as if she had to make excuses to me while all the while deftly sealing up one package after another. And by our side, Father, calmly turning the pages of his newspaper. “Papa, how about giving us a hand here!”: completely deaf to our call.

Family. Just one of them goes away and everything has to be this different? Family. All we did was yell and scream at each other but now that my rival is gone, I just feel strange. ”Aren't you coming home soon. Just come back to visit, even if we only argue. When you're not here, I don't feel good. Please come home soon” is what my heart says. Everyday I worry about Mama and Papa because I'm sure I'm not the only one who misses you.

Then, the other day, the telephone rang. “Oh, Tatsumi, is that you? Study hard, Tatsumi. If you just fool around, you'll cry when you get to college. And please take care of Mom and Dad. Do it for me, Tatsumi!”.

With that said, he just hung up. But I began to like my brother more than before. Whether they're close or far away, they're still family. Whether were all right here or spread all over, we're still together. That's what I realized just at that moment.

(translation © victor woronov 2011)

Olympus PrizesOlympus Trip Light Binocular
Homecoming Eventby KURIHARA Chiaki
From the time I was little, I was Mommy's little baby. By the time I had a mind of my own, I was talking over everything with my mother: school problems, boyfriend problems, future problems; and the truth is that's the way it still is. Things didn't go down that way with my father. My father is totally reticent, a totally shy kind of person when he's around. Even when I think back to elementary school, I can't remember him speaking, either to condemn me or to praise me. Back then I thought my father's standoffishness was just the way it was and then, when I hit puberty, I really started wondering. I finally asked my mother why in the world she'd married him. All she had to say was “When we married, he used to speak more” , and then turned an ambiguous smile on me that just barely shielded a definite air of resignation.

I think my father just doesn't like me, and that's it!

In the spring of 2007 I got into my University of choice and went off to Tokyo to study. The first year of college went by like an arrow. Everything was new, everything was fresh: seems like we'd just started and it was already summer vacation. I decided to go home for a few days.

When I got home and opened the front door I was in for a big surprise: my father with the broadest smile of his life welcoming me home with a loud “Hey, it's great to have you back”, a veritable event. At least for me, it was a major event. I got pins and needles and I think my mouth was hanging open. My father wandered away, and my mother came by smirking to tell me to go take a look in my father's study. I took a peak and saw my University's magazine and my department's information pamphlet on his desk. Just seeing that pulled at my heart strings. My father did care about me. He just didn't know how to deal with me. I'd always just looked at my silent father with distance, now I thought I'd like to take a step towards the guy who welcomed his daughter with such a fat smile. Forget the18 years of silence, let's try something new.

(translation © victor woronov 2011)

Olympus PrizesOlympus Trip Light Binocular
The original designer lunchby KOSAKA Ranmaru
They serve lunch in elementary school, but throughout middle and high school my mother always fixed a box lunch for me. A plain, king-size aluminum lunch box stuffed full of rice, some red wieners, salty scrambled eggs, a few grilled peppers: fairly standard issue except for one small detail.

When it was lunchtime and I'd open my lunchbox, there'd be a face drawn on the rice. Eyebrows, eyes and a nose of dried seaweed, the mouth and cheeks done with cherry-colored seasoning powder. Depending on how my mother felt, the expression would change from day to day. An angry face, a sad face or, once in a while, a bright and shining smile. If we'd argued the day before, I was sure to find an angry face. Recently designer lunch boxes have gotten to be the rage. They even have everyone's favorite animation characters stamped or modeled into the rice, and there are blogs dedicated to box lunch design. I wonder if my mother didn't come out with the first designer lunch box thirty years ago.

Back then, especially in middle school, I really didn't listen to anything my mother had to say. Or, if I happened to listen, I would just shout back and complain. When I hit puberty and revolted, all kinds of things went on till one day I shouted out “Why did you ever have me? Asshole!”. The day after that slipped out of my mouth, of course I found a sad face in my lunch box.

I would come and go without a hello or good-bye, grab my lunchbox and leave for school. What was she trying to tell a wayward son with those lunch boxes? Certainly, it was something about forgiving me. Sometimes I remember the faces in my mother's first & original designer lunches. Throughout it all, she never gave up on me, she never let me down. I can only bow my head and say how sorry I am for the way I acted.

Sometimes I feel like eating eggs like I used to get in my lunch boxes. When I go home to visit my mother, she always asks what I'd like to eat. “Just make eggs like you used to put in my lunch boxes”, I answer. “Is that really all you want ...after coming all the way over here?”. Yes it is. Because it reminds me of home and my mother's care. What could be more delicious?

(translation © victor woronov 2011)

Trinityline Prize
Fu's Smileby Fu
“Fu, did you have a good day?”
That's what my mother writes me (Fu) every day.
“Yes, I'm fine”,

I answer simply, but there's a big story behind that. After I graduated from high school, I went to a junior college that was far away from home. It was the first time I'd ever lived alone. Because everything was so new and I felt uneasy about it, exchanging daily emails with my parents got to be precious for me. Just when I was getting used to things and started having fun, I got hit with a real show-stopper. One day in the middle of class, the right side of my face suddenly froze up. It was paralyzed and I couldn't move it anymore. I went to the hospital and my father, who had recently retired from his job, rushed to join me there. The diagnosis was “Bell's Palsy”. According to the doctor, it was probably due to stress and it could last a month to half a year. That day, I got some medications and went home. I was so so scared. Who wouldn't be? I couldn't close my eye, I couldn't use my mouth right, I couldn't laugh. Everything I could do till then, I couldn't do anymore.

I think it broke my parents hearts to see me that way. I felt so sorry for them. There weren't going to be any more “Yes, I'm fine” mails till God knows when. “Forgive me”, I thought. Dear parents working just to pay medical bills, forgive me. My heart tumbled down into a deep dark hole. But my family never let me down. When I went home to visit, they would make special meals for me since I had trouble chewing. And they would massage my frozen face. I prayed every day that I could smile for them again, a big broad smile full of my thanks.

Everyday I drank my medicine. Everyday I massaged my face. Then, finally, after about a month, I could answer my mother's bright “Good Morning” with my own smile, both corners of my mouth neatly turned up, ...Good Morning!! It was bliss, and my family was so happy that it made me even happier. All I could say was “Thank you, thank you and thank you”. I really think it would have been nicer to skip being sick, but after all the trauma, I got to really thank my parents for everything. I was so frightened with my face like that and I hated it, but it helped me grow up.

These days I can once again send back “Yes, I'm fine” messages without a thought. These days I laugh and smile like never before.

(translation © victor woronov 2011)

Trinityline Prize
A letter for Akikoby KOSEDA Keiko
Akiko. After you had your accident, when you were only 2 years old, we were taken up in a storm of hospital visits and consultations. And then, in your second year of middle school, the kids began to tease you and you stopped going to school. From that time till now, 38 years old, we've been together without a moment's separation. First they spoke of a speech impediment then finally it was intellectual disability.

Because I had to think about it so long and so hard, I found my own way as a mother to an understanding of what a disability might be. If someone can't hear or can't see, it makes their life terribly difficult but not necessarily unhappy. It's not such an extreme condition that people would go out of their way to punish you for it. Born from blindness of the heart, the only true disability is something that can't be seen. In this sense, I'm so much more disabled then you, Akiko, my dear daughter. I am so sure of this that, knowing it when I look at you, all your disability falls away from you. It's only before scorn and people who don't want to be around you that you are disabled, that's what I've come to think.

These days when I listen to the news, my chest feels pinned down as if the oxygen was getting thin. Isn't this all because it is competition that makes the world go round? Competition between people, competition between countries, spinning out of control and leaving winners and losers in its path without a thought for any quality of life. If only it were a world of cooperation. The weight would go away and we would all find ourselves living more simply. Your mother dreams of that day.

Through all these years, the people around us have been so much help. When I think how wonderful people can be I am full of thanks. More than anyone, I thank you Akiko. I so love your smile that every one of my days has become precious. Thank you for being by my side. You can believe me: Thank you.

(translation © victor woronov 2011)

Trinityline Prize
Parental Slipby SEKINE Machiko
Just when things were calming down from the aftermath of our marriage, I suddenly got a telephone call from my father.
“Could you tell me what your address is?”, which was unexpected since he certainly had my address. “Well, that's it. There's no mistake.” I could hear him relaying to my mother. “We sent you a letter the other day but it came back. The address is right, so I don't understand why they returned it. We'll send it again.”, he said and cut off.
It was nice to get a call from my father, even if he'd just run off his affair and hung up. A few days later, I found a big manilla envelope stuffed in the small mailbox at our new apartment. Well, this time it got here without any problems, I thought as I opened the envelop and a second one fell out. “Return to sender: no such person at this address” was stamped vividly in scarlet across the white envelop.

There was a post-it attached: “Please find out what went wrong the first time”.
I didn't have the least idea what could have gone wrong. Even after dully inspecting the envelop for a while, it took me a while to get it. When I finally realized that my parents had addressed it to my maiden name, I burst out laughing so hard that tears came to my eyes.

I'd never thought of that. I mean I'd just been going along getting new mail to my new name at the new address and it had taken my parents letter to make me think. “My old name, I'd always liked it but for a loving parent like my father...and then he was always so precise about things” I thought with the letter still in my hand.

The letter inside recounted events after my marriage: the state of my father's illness and a lot of details about the farm and the current crop.

He had been against my marriage at the start but for my greater happiness he had finally celebrated our wedding.

They had just naturally written their daughter's name as they best knew it. I stood their thinking of what my parents feelings must be and I suddenly saw them so far away from me as if they'd been cut off. “Papa...Mama...”, I whimpered. I was reminded of when I was young, when I was selfish and only thought of myself.

(translation © victor woronov 2011)

Trinityline Prize
The Ring my Son Gave Meby INOUE Yoko
For this single mother, every day was busy. “When I start working, I'm going to give you money, Mom. Then you can go out and buy whatever you want.”, my son told me when he was early on in elementary school. I was touched he would say such a thing.

One summer vacation, we pedaled our bikes out to a Science museum in the suburbs. My son had forgotten his hat. We'd decided to get a new one at a big department store along the way but I suddenly changed my mind, “No. Let's just go!” “But Mom, you always buy stuff for me right away...”, he grumbled.

A little further down the road, there was a jewelry shop. I was idly looking at the showcase, when my son burst out, “Mamaaa, don't you want something! Can we buy something?” I was grinning,...and then, this reminded me of what he had said before. “Ryo's mother's got one. Tetsu's mom has one too. They all wear rings. Don't you want to get one!?”, he came out with as he continued to pile it on.

I was running my eyes over the price tags and smiling while my son turned round the showcase. “C'mon Mom, buy something. Isn't that one pretty. Isn't it. C'mon let's get one.” My son's sweaty hands were leaving prints all over the glass storefront, sticky prints marking a trail of excitement.

“We'll make a special price for you” chimed in the store owner with a forced smile. I could have bought ten hats for the price but I'd been won over by my son's excitement.

Even after we bought one, he couldn't stop. “Show me the ring! You didn't lose it, did you!? Don't you want to put it on?” he chattered on and on once we'd gotten to the museum. He couldn't hold still and was skipping around. “What are you so happy about?” That brought him up short for a moment but soon enough, he was back at it, checking the bag holding the ring.

Now it's my son's wife who has that ring. If she's the kind of girl who can understand how my son and I came to buy it together, I think they can be very happy together and I'll be the happiest mother of all.

(translation © victor woronov 2011)

Trinityline Prize
Mom's Disappearing Actby KASANOHI
My mother cries at the drop of a hat. She just gets pulled under. On top of that, as soon as things go wrong, she splits. Not that she roams, because she knows just where she's going: to our aunt's house. She takes off with cakes in hand, goes by one of her favorite clothing shops and buys something she's had her eye on for a while, then treats our aunt to whatever food she feels like eating. After a day or so she comes back home. There are all kinds of reasons why she takes off: trouble with the mother in law, suspicions of father's infidelity,...but basically it's just that for some reason she doesn't want to be there anymore. This always comes on suddenly. For example, she'll stuff some clothes in a garbage bag, go out like she's taking out the trash and just not come back. Inside the bag: a perfectly appointed and well matched outfit. Until my brother and I hit puberty, we were always with my mother. Once she picked us up at school with a garbage bag in hand. We immediately understood she was “out of the house”. She had a photo that my Aunt had taken with my mother in a trim new outfit. That's the way Mom is. When I was little and went out with her, I always used to worry about whether we'd be coming home or not. Despite my worries, Mom would always take us by the hand and lead us home. Grandmother passed away, my brother and I grew up and left home, and mother is still very much part of the household.

My mother is a housewife. I don't think she has ever had a job. Since she doesn't have a driver's license, her only proof of identity is her membership card with a hula dance club. She loves to talk, but never about politics or the economy. She has no taste for delicacies or alcohol. She puts on weight like most women her age. When I started working and was thinking of changing jobs once, my mother was dead-set against my giving up a solid job. I thought then that what my mother really wanted was for me to hunker down, find a man and get married as quickly as possible. I told her that after living on my own for several years, I'd finally begun to understand things and that I wasn't going to become someone who lived for themselves and ran out of the house anytime something they didn't like came up. My mother just fell silent after that and I changed my job.

Last year I fell gravely ill. For someone who had always taken their good health for granted, it was a real bolt out of the blue. When I was getting myself diagnosed, I visited my Uncle who is a doctor to do some further tests. I asked him not to speak about my illness with my parents no matter what the test results were. I could just see how my mother was going to burst into tears. My test results were the worst imaginable. Given the gravity of my illness, my Uncle broke his promise and spoke with my parents. That day my mobile phone was overflowing with messages. Once I finished work, I called back my mother and of course she cried. Between her tears, she said, “We'll fight this together”. From that day on, my mother has tended to me. At the hospital, she brought me anything that would help cure me and everything that would please me. When, to my embarrassment, I treated her like a maid, she answered, “Yes, Mam”. After the tests, after the operation, Mother cried so much. When I was able to leave the hospital for a while and went back to the apartment where I lived alone, I found out she ran away from home once without telling me about it. The next day she was there as usual as if nothing had happened and said to me, “You are my life”. Next month, my treatments will finally end.

Honestly, I never thought that I would ask anything critical from my mother. I saw her as someone who chose to cry or flee rather than deal with the problems before her. But then, has my mother ever not come back? And what if all the tears over my illness were a kind of declaration of war.

What I've finally understood is that when my mother left the house, she wasn't fleeing at all. Since there's nowhere to run, she was just getting ready for the next round: fortifying herself, outfitting herself, catching her breath and getting ready to fight. Since there's nowhere to run, no matter how ugly things get, she'll take it all in and get home on her own two feet. When she's out, she builds up generosity like fat on the flanks. That's the mother who took me by the hand and always watched over me.

There's another reason why I didn't want my Uncle to speak to my parents about my illness. Before all the ministrations of my cure started, I wanted to hear my mother's voice just once more they way I'd known it, unclouded by the knowledge of what lay before me. Because I know my mother would lay down her life for my own, because I know there's someone who values my life even more than their own, because there is someone who cries for me, for all these reasons, I wanted to hear my mother's voice the way it always had been. Hers is a love that asks nothing in return. What more could anyone ask for?

My mother is bad with mobile phones. She has a menopausal disorder that hurts. She heads to the City Center once a week for her Hula class. She likes wearing a muumuu. Her refrigerator is a catastrophe zone. Chicken stew and pickled mackerel are always in stock for the family cats if for no one else. And then, sometimes, she runs off. I hope some day I can be as good a person as she is.

(translation © victor woronov 2011)

Mainichi Newspaper Prize
Team Colorsby Myaran
This year for the World Cup, my father bought a special headband to support the Japanese players. He was there for every one of their games, camped in front of the television, sake in hand, the headband on his head. “This kind of thing is all about Team Spirit. The big stake in the game is feelings. That's why I'm here to cheer for them.” Blind to the rest of the family, my father loudly chased after the ball with the players. Nor did he hesitate for his grand daughter's Athletic Meet where he came out with his headband on, proudly showing his colors to the greater amusement of everyone around. At which point, even my daughter began to find her grandfather a bit over the top and didn't know where to put herself. Results too were less than hoped for: despite the glowing show of support, she came in next to last in the running race.

Just at the same time, my grandmother's, this is my father's mother, dementia took a turn for the worse and we had to put her in a hospice. At almost 90 years, she couldn't recognize her family's faces and seemed to have only a dim memory of who her son might be. I went with my father the day of her hospitalization. My grandmother looked straight at my father and received him like any official, with all due respect and no familiarity. My father didn't know what to say or do. We just stood around her in silence and let the time pass. Then my father reached into the pocket of his worn trousers and pulled out his headband. He leaned over and gently wound it around the pale forehead of his mother. “Mother” he said, “The big stake in this game is feelings. That's why I'm here. Your family will always be here to cheer for you”.

My father's eyes were full of tears. And I, just behind him, fought not to cry. My grandmother's hands went up to the headband. Touching it tenderly, she gently smiled.

(translation © victor woronov 2011)

The Mainichi Newspapers Prize
News from Abroadby ISHIHARA Mayumi
The other day I picked my father's photo off the dresser top. It'd been a while. “Sorry you're so full of dust”, I thought. When I wiped away the thin layer of dust with my hand, my father seemed to be laughing at me.

When I was young I didn't get along with my father. Sometimes I even hated him. The way I remember it, he was always making a terrible face when I was at home. But now, when I think of him, I always see him smiling.

“You didn't do anything for me!..”, I thought, and with that thought, my father's face dropped out of sight. I brushed a tear away with the same hand I'd used on the dust.

I never told my mother or brothers but I have some letters from Papa. His work led him out of the country for six months and he wrote to me then. Suddenly, I felt like reading those letters again or maybe I just felt like seeing his handwriting again. They were inside an album that I took from my dresser. I found them inside a folder from a photography shop, six letters inside of an airmail envelope. When I took one at random to read it, my eyes filled with tears and I couldn't see the writing anymore.

The letters were written in such a scratchy, nervous hand and whichever one I took, they had the same unfulfilling contents: my mother, the grandchildren, my brother, my brother's family, and finally “hope everyone is well”.

I should have thrown these letters from a father I never liked away a long time ago, but I never have been able to. I'm glad I didn't.

I finally realized that it's not about love or hate or that kind of thing. It's not so clear who my father was. I only know he was important to me, or at least, it's what I've realized since he passed.

(translation © victor woronov 2011)

The Mainichi Newspapers Prize
Spiritual Bondsby TAKINO Minoru
Four years ago, I was living a typically selfish bachelor's life when I met a girl whom I liked a lot.
She had a three year old son.
I've always liked children so the three of us often went out together.
Every time we spent time together, these two people got more and more important for me.
But I could never get to asking her for a date. When you date, it can lead to marriage. So I didn't think it was something that could be said lightly.

Finally, there was an incident that blew all my vagaries away.
Coming back from the Zoo one day, we stopped for a rest at a coffee shop. The boy, who was sitting across from me, looked up and called me “Daddy”.
The girl screwed her face up and started lecturing her son, but I was, in that one instant, perfectly happy.
That's when I realized that I had been hoping for this all along. That that was what I wanted to be.
In one word, everything I had felt up till now and never been able to express had finally come out.
One month later we were married.
When I am with this boy, I have a strange feeling, as if we've known each other from way back beyond even blood ties, held together by some spiritual bond.
WhenI met him, I became myself.
I can't express it very well, but we are inseparable.
Now that boy is in elementary school. Surrounded by a new brother and sister, I think he couldn't be happier.

(translation © victor woronov 2011)

There Must be a Catch, Somewhere... by SASAI Ryota
“I don't want to hear about it”
When I told my father that I was engaged and that she wasn't Japanese, he reacted just as predicted. I got riled and told him it was fine if he didn't want to celebrate my wedding.

My father loves baseball. He manages a local little league team and plays himself. In fact, he's a star on his own amateur team. To be different, I never liked big physical efforts and specialized in reading. I think it was when I left the baseball glove he bought me out in the rain that he decided to concentrate on making my brother into a sports star. Since he gave all his attention to my brother, things were never easy between us and then, finally, I went off to college to live alone. Occasionally, I felt there was a tremendous chasm between my father and I and it made me sad to think he misunderstood me.

During my college years, I wandered all over the world. My mother was the one who most worried over me at the time. I would always leave without telling my father anything but it seems my mother kept him informed.

Later, when I started working for a trading company, my father joined me at my favorite bar and grill one evening. He spent the evening talking haltingly about baseball but seemed happy when the other clients suggested what a pleasure it must be to go out and drink with one's son. Nonetheless, whatever fragile tie we had been able to build up, it was broken again when I decided to marry the Cambodian girl I had met in my college days.

My mother and brother thought I should make another effort to get closer to my father if only for my fiance's sake. So, I came home for a visit and invited my father out to play catch. I had to use all my strength to get the ball to my father. My father's balls were arriving in a straight line, right at me, stinging the palm of my hand.
My father was the first one to speak.
“You should do what you want. We're all oder than you and will be dead before you, so you should just seek understanding from the people you live with. Just one thing though, don't die before we do.”
Before I could answer my brother showed up. “You guys seem to be getting on!”.
Throwing the ball back, I ventured, “Because we're a team”.

(translation © victor woronov 2011)

Tsuburuya Pro Prize
Rising Phoenixby OSAKO Kazuyuki
My mother came home after two months of absence.
It's your father's 61st birthday. Are you coming to Kumamoto for the party?
My father job had been transferred and mother had gone with him to Kumamoto. Once in a while, she'd come home to Kobe for a visit. The day she went back to Kumamoto, I told her that I couldn't get off work to go there. She looked sad when she heard it. Once my mother had left and I was alone again, I felt regretted the short answer I'd given my mother. It wasn't really nice at all. To shake an oncoming bout of depression, I put on the television. An anchorman and his guest were happily chatting away. Watching them talk back and forth, it was like they were telegraphing each other.

Right,.. a telegram!
I picked out the red card with the flying phoenix on it and added my message to it. The day after my father's birthday, I got a call from my mother. She seemed particularly bright on the phone.
“We got your telegram! It was wonderful. Your father's always so stern but this time I got to see him smile.”
“Papa was happy?”
“0f course he was. First he read the message and then just stood there looking at the phoenix for a long time”
My mother went on for a while, the way she does, then finally hung up. In the silence, I saw my father's figure. I saw him sitting cross-egged in a salon, drinking beer with a delighted look on his face. Lying by his side, there was the telegram with its red phoenix.

(translation © victor woronov 2011)

The Last Song Prize
The Picture of Absenceby Kaori
Even now that I'm married and live abroad, there are a handful of photos I keep looking at every day. Pictures of my mother and I when I was a little girl. Where I'm wearing a blue kimono with white flower patterns. My hair is bobbed and I'm smiling brightly at my mother's side. Where there are fields of yellow flowers all around. My face is surrounded with them. My mother is watching over me, brushing a hair back off my face.

Where you can see our backs, walking hand in hand down a long road. Here too, as in all my childhood memories, my mother is always by my side. Knowing that she was always there caring for me made me feel warm inside. But there is something that has been troubling me since I had my own first child. The person who gave me all these wonderful memories is never in the pictures: my father.

It's so strange that I never noticed this till now.

After my child was born, I got into the habit of carrying a camera with me. Then, when I sat down one day to try to make my photos into an album, what did I see? My husband hugging the baby. My husband giving the baby a bath. My husband putting the baby to bed. There's wasn't a single shot of me with the baby. So what does that mean? “If my daughter checks out the album some day, she'll want to charge me with child abandonment”, I thought, with a bitter smile across my lips.
The fractured memory of photos. The un-pictured existence. The absent one.
Like my father, I finally realized. But for me, late as it was, I'd caught it in time.
And for you, my thanks, Father. The absent one, so reserved and sincere, so generous: thank you.

(translation © victor woronov 2011)

Oyako Day Prize
You and Your Lookalike Meby A cherished son
I look just like my mother, but our resemblance goes beyond just faces all the way to our voices and even the way we speak. Back in Elementary School on Visiting Day, one of the boy's in my class noticed it and made fun of me. I hated him so much for it. And the moment he said something, my mother was poison to me.

Now I remember that my mother gave up coming to Visiting Day. I'd forgotten all this and actually just remembered it the other day. Time has passed. Now I'm a parent too, to a cute young boy. He looks just like me, even his feet, even his tongue, are shaped just like mine. When he started talking, his voice and the way he spoke too: just like me.

“Oh, he looks just like you”. Every time I heard that, it thrilled me to the bone. As if we can't hear enough about that cute part that resembles ourselves, the bit we've passed on.

This year my son started Kindergarten. I'm was so looking forward to Visiting Day, but I've been hit with my mother's curse.
“Today they made fun of me because I look like you. You can't come on Visiting Day”.

I'm sure I must have said something like that to my own mother. Then, in Fifth grade, she just stopped showing up for Visiting Day. How my mother must have felt. She had so wanted to see me in class, speaking out and answering the teacher's questions, and when I got home she praised me wholeheartedly for my performance. But I was troubled, and just to get rid of my own discomfort, I rejected and hurt my mother.
My son is so like me. I wouldn't be surprised if his character be like mine too.
So, I'm sure he's going to have more to say to me, terrible things like I said to my mother.
But I'm not going to lose this fight. I'm going to go to Visiting Day. Deep down, he must be feeling the same things I did. Just for his future, I'm not going to stop going to Visiting Day. And when that first Visiting Day is over, I'm going to go tell my mother I'm sorry.

(translation © victor woronov 2011)

Oyako Day Prize
Pathfindersby TAKAKI Asao
Born in '47, I was in sixth grade. It's the story of that New Year, when my father and I went all the way to Okazaki to hawk New Year's flowers in the streets. The year of '59 was Typhoon Vera, and by winter we could feel the full extent of the damage that had been visited on Aichi prefecture. We were farmers. Our crop was destroyed, we didn't have a dime and, by year's end, even making do was running out. That's when my father made up his mind to sell New Year's flowers. You're coming to, he said.

We filled up the trailer cart with flowers, and set out on a ten kilometer trek across mountain trails. Any early morning in December, the mountains are a block of ice. My father trudged on in silence puffing clouds of white breath. By sixth grade, you begin to think and start calling Daddy “Dad”. We made it to Okazaki and my father started bellowing, “Flowers, Get your flowers”. For someone who barely ever said a word, this was quite a change. I was shocked. But then we sold all the flowers and I had to think again. We finally left town in the deepening night. I was so exhausted that I fell asleep in the trailer car and my father trudged on in silence, pulling the cart across the mountain paths and all the way to home.

It's thirty years later now and I have my own son. We live in Kobe, a city with a very developed transportation system where you never have to walk very far. When my son was in fifth grade, he said he wanted to visit Goshikizuga where he had once been on a school excursion. We planned to go by bus, but I insisted we go home by foot. That was a ten kilometer walk. I had some doubts about whether my city bred son could make such a distance, but he seemed anxious to try.

It was summer and it was awfully hot. Side by side we trudged East, dripping with sweat and keeping a dour eye on the trains passing periodically by our side. With a few halts along the way, we made it home. When we got there, my son was ecstatic and slapped me a high five while chirping “We did it!”. I think that it was just at that moment that I finally understood my father's feelings from thirty years before. And my own walk with my son happened twenty years ago.
(translation © victor woronov 2011)

Oyako Day Prize
Thanks to My Sonsby KIMURA Chizuko
I have three sons. The oldest: 40, the youngest: 32, with a 38 year-old in the middle. Through my past of parenting and even now, I've heard a lot of “Only boys, that must be tough”. Well, I believe in the power of the three charms my sons gave me and always keep them close. Whatever there may have been that was tough, they made it all positive and kept me healthy and sound.

One charm is a composition my son wrote for school when he was in third grade. The subject was “What do you want to be when you grow up?” His answer was “I want to be a mother”. Even his teacher was a little surprised by this answer. When he asked him about it, he got this answer, “There's so much to do at home and there are so many people coming by. I thought that if there were two moms at home, it would help out”.

The second charm came from my second son when he was in 8th grade and went to summer camp as a Boy Scout. “This water is so cold and sooo delicious. Try some” he said, passing me a canteen he'd brought home filled from a mountain spring. The water'd turned tepid, but the thrill had made it home.

And the last from my third son, one spring when he was in elementary school. With a cold and running a high fever, I was hiding in bed. When my son came home, he came to my bedside and said, “Mom, just get up for a second and look out the window”. Getting to the window and looking out from the second floor, I saw the world alive with cherry blossom petals. “Look at the flowers, look at the flowers” he cried. And I saw that he had carried home a bag brimming with pink petals he'd gathered at the park on the way home

Rather than a lot of problems, “only boys” has been sweet, the greatest source of all my heart's strength. And it is my sons who taught me the power in such tenderness.
Thank you children. I think of you, now that you're dealing with your own children!

(translation © victor woronov 2011)

Oyako Day Prize
That's Great!by TAMATAMAKO
“That's great!”
I couldn't believe my ears. Everyone knew my father-in-law's cancer had come back so what was my ten-year-old son talking about.
Before I could stop him with a “Are you crazy...” ,
“It's great they found it early!!”
I went from mad to stunned when I suddenly realized my son had found something positive. I was actually thankful.

And it was true. They'd caught it early and the tumor was only a centimeter. They could treat it with radiotherapy rather than an operation. Compared to the six centimeter tumor they had taken out before, there would be less time in the hospital and less shock to the body. My daughter was optimistic but my son had always been very negative. Such forward-looking thinking...was my son growing up?
Children are a treasure house of surprises.

(translation © victor woronov 2011)

Oyako Day Prize
The World's Most Precious Bondby YAMAMOTO Kuniko
When I was in third grade, I began thinking I wasn't really my mother's child. It was autumn, around the time we begin shutting the window when we go to sleep. My mother would shut herself up in her room every Sunday night from nine to ten. “Leave me alone and don't open the door”, she would say.

I thought she must be the Crane from “The Grateful Crane”. She must have hidden herself away to weave wondrous clothes...or was she the Yuki Onna and if I opened the door, I would see her shrouded in a white wind, at that very moment disappearing from sight. Was I a spirit-child? What if I was Momotaro, then what would happen? Would she come out with some millet dumplings and tell me to go kill the ogre? I was so deeply afraid, so scared that I wanted to cry. That old chicken drawn in the grain of our mortared wall cried out to me, “the donkey, the cat and the dog are here, let's flee while the time is right”. But I was bound to the floor cushions like Gulliver and couldn't budge an inch. I know! if I open the the casket, maybe some good thing will come out. The Dragon King's daughter had said never, never to open it, but what if I did, would I find my mother again? Or would a wizened and grey old hag be waiting for me in the next room. What to do, where should I go from here?...

Wrapped in her whole, terrible secret, how could I think anything other than that my Mother detested me because I wasn't her daughter. Bordering on tears, I reached out and opened the door. I found my mother on the floor doing push-ups.

“Hey, didn't I tell you not to come in here?” My mother was a teacher and was doing extra workouts to win in the upcoming Athletics Day?
“I can't concentrate when you're around, so I wanted to get this over with alone. But hell, that's enough. I've had it”.

We went to the dining table to drink some tea. Sitting together, we ate crackers soggy with soy sauce, gooey and sticking to all five fingers, without once licking a finger. Our secretly shared habit, a joy of bad manners.

“We just keep doing this, don't we? Eating like slobs, but it sure is good isn't it?”, said my mother, throwing me a smile like the Cheshire Cat. Cupping my hand, I managed the feat of scooping 5 crackers into my mouth in one swoop. My mother cooed with admiration. There was no doubt that she was my mother! Only family could praise such foolishness. Then I knew I was happy, when a wayward tear told me the tale of its saltiness.

(translation © victor woronov 2011)

Oyako Day Prize
My Father’s Last Showby Nekoze
It seems my Dad's got cancer of the pancreas. It's been a half year now. So what in the world is that? Hearing it at first, I didn't feel much of anything. I don't like my mother, but I really do like my father. When I said that I wanted to go to Art School to become a photographer, my mother said it was a waste of time but my father said I should do what I want to do and agreed. My father was understanding.

As my father grew emaciated before my eyes, and it began to dawn on me that he was going to die, I decided to capture some of the joy I saw in my father in a photographic series. The Gallery where I worked part-time told me they would give me two weeks of exhibition space. I would try to fill it with pictures of the father I loved. There are probably a lot of people who think that taking pictures someone at the point of death is indiscreet. But my father said it sounded like fun.

I photographed my father in his hospital room when he was on a medical ventilator. People he'd known all his life who came regularly to his noodle shop came by one after the other to visit. It was difficult for him to talk but I photographed the warm regard he met them all with. Then my father died and it was time for the exhibition. My father's regular customers and apprentices came to the gallery. They cried, and passing from one picture to another remembered my father to each other. For me the pictures were a collaborative work, between me and my father.

Things with my mother have gotten better little by little. I'm happy to have been the son of this father.

(translation © victor woronov 2011)

Oyako Day Prize
Mother's Day Chocolateby Wicked witch housemaster
That's it. I've had with him.
Warning notice: 100 C boiling point & increasing, immanent meltdown! Our second grader Ryota just doesn't listen to anything. Our days are a chain of unending quibbles. There's only basketball, food & sleep, with a priority on sleep, while any hopes for academic prowess wilt before our eyes,
Constantly growing, constantly eating, trips to the store for milk and more milk are not enough: we're always running out. My husband's salary covers the house loan, what comes from my part-time job went to school fees.
Rushing into the house with the little energy left me from my job, the first thing I fall on are sneakers and my daughters gym shoes, spurned and cluttering up the entranceway. So, ONE, clear the entrance. Next, TWO, at the entrance to the living room, a tossed book bag along with extra auxiliary bag (geez it's heavy) and a healthy topping of dirty school clothes hurriedly stripped and dumped on top. Entering into the inner sanctum, and this is what makes me madder than anything else, my kids so entranced in their games and manga that they don't even hear my voice.
I'm worn out. So tired I can feel my heart wilt.
And here are more bad test results. I feel dizzy. Ryota's defense: “So what?” “It doesn't matter”, I feel like all the strength run out of me and am filled with deep vexation.
You know what your Mother thinks, studies... basketball... just keep going on like this and you'll amount to nothing, and that's exactly where you're headed, so vexed it all comes spilling out again. One more barren quarrel and up!, Ryota is gone to the second floor.
This was this year's worst skirmish. I'm miserable and it's the night before Mother's day.
The next day on the way home, ever foolish, I remember a clumsily fashioned carnation he'd made for me long ago and think how stupid it is to go on feeling so vexed. By the time I get back to the house, I'd gotten over my gloominess but just can't let go of my edge. Still plunged in turmoil, I head for bed without a word or look at Ryota. There's a red block of chocolate and a note with “I'm sorry, thank you Mama” scrawled on it.
“Oh well”
“Oh well, so this is it”
One block of chocolate, ...despite the amount of allowance he's taking in, I raged, realizing that the fight was still going on inside me.
The chocolate was sweet, bitter sweet and delicious.
I'm so, so deeply vexed.

(translation © victor woronov 2011)

Oyako Day Prize
Forgetfulby MIYANAGA Tomie
“I'm not supposed to put vinegar in the sesame pickles, am I?” was the key phrase that clinched mother's dementia for us.
I'd heard from both my older and younger sisters that mother'd been getting light-headed, but being far away, hadn't paid it much attention.
Sardines pickled in sesame are KujuKuri's local delicacy. We use Seguro sardines whole, small ones the size of a pinky. We head and gut them with a flick of the index, then leave them one night in salt water, then one night in diluted vinegar. We line them up carefully in groups and add ginger cut in fine strips, sesame seeds, thin rings of chili pepper, carefully to each group, one then the next, in a kind of numbing progression. Then we put them all aside again. When its ready, the bones have melted away and the result can be eaten by anyone, even the very old and the very young.
Mother's recipe was far superior to any of the famous shops in the vicinity, as she herself was well aware.
So, whenever I announced that I was coming home, she would make some for me.
When was it that I first thought the taste had changed? It's hard to say but along the way we all ended up accepting the fact that Mother had changed. Something that had been second nature to my mother for 50 years was gone.
Crying when you can't get the 500 yen coin into the cigarette machine, setting fire to thousand yen bills,
Dad died seven years ago. You've been living alone and must be lonely. I'm sorry.
Are you still in there?
Do you see our smiling faces?
Do you think of us?
All you do is wonder around saying, “Thank you...thank you”. Oh but it's fine. Your wrinkled smiling face will always be welcome here. And I'm the one who should be saying thank you.

(translation © victor woronov 2011)

Oyako Day Prize
Paternal Portrait Meetby Okapi
When I was in kindergarten, we all made portraits of our fathers for Father's Day. I'm sure I had no idea what kind of picture to make.
As it was, the portrait, addressed to “Papa”, arrived in the mail to our house. At first my family seemed perplexed. “What?!”, they said.
My father's hair was thinning out. He was embarrassed about it and always wore a bandana or a hat when he went out. Mentioning it was a family taboo, at least until I made that portrait.
When my father looked at the portrait, he recognized himself immediately. It made him laugh. He liked it so much that he framed it and gave it a choice place on the wall. And after that, he stopped with the bandanas and hats. It seems my father said that no matter how bad things ever got, all he had to do was to look at that portrait, and he would laugh and feel better. I didn't know, but when he was in the hospital, he brought the picture with him.
Now we keep that portrait together with my father's pictures. Whenever we look at them together, we can't help but laugh.
“It really does look just like him!”

(translation © victor woronov 2011)

Oyako Day Prize
Son in a Flower Shopby KAMIYA Yoshito
We opened a flower shop a year ago just next to our house. Just a small shop run by my wife and I. You may have seen our five year old son making straight for the flower shop everyday when kindergarten's over. We've tried to explain that the clients don't need a five year-old bursting into the store, but that isn't something he is about to understand at his age.

Then, one day, he was unusually persistent about not getting out from under our feet. At any rate, there was a kind of constant rustling at ground level. I finally blew my top and thought I was going to hit him.
I lifted my hand. He winced his eyes shut. Had we been through this before?

Just as I let out with a strident “ Will you behave yourself”, I noticed that my son was clutching something in his hand. Lifting an eyelid to peek out at the world, he chirped “A gift for Mama and Papa!” and thrust out a hand holding two flowers, each clumsily wrapped in gift wrap cellophane and even tied with a ribbon. Clumsy or not, the basic flower shop presentation formula was there.
We'd never taught him anything like this.
And on closer inspection, I noticed that the ends of the ribbons had been beautifully curled. In the short time when I was screaming after him to no avail, he'd been able to get this piece of work out. Had he made such wonderful progress in sensitivity and concentration at the Kindergarten? And then when had he had the time to pick this up? I was flabbergasted by what he had learned without even seeming to. All the anger went out of me and the hand I'd raised just seemed to hang uselessly in the air. Slowly, I laid it on my son's head, smooth as a a chestnut.
It thrilled me that he had thought so far as to make up two flowers, it showed real consideration.
That night, the second flower, once unwrapped, found its place in the kitchen.

(translation © victor woronov 2011)

Oyako Day Prize
What's a Father?by INAKA Kawasu
You can't even open your mouth without making fun of me. That's the kind of childish things I would say in the endless quarrels we had. Sorry and absurd father. When there was homework I didn't understand and I asked you, at first you were encouraging and answered carefully but soon enough you would break off by scolding me for not listening in class.
On days off work, my father would spend some time playing with me outdoors. I remember one famous soccer kick that still makes me laugh. It still makes me laugh to think of that day in elementary school when I suddenly managed to get a little more power into the ball. You lanced after it, putting your foot forward in a graceful move to stop the ball but all that happened is that you sent it directly to your crotch. I remember you had to crouch down and hold still for a moment before we could play again.
We fought a lot when I was in middle and high school. When I was an adolescent the one thing I never wanted to be was you. A low level salaryman in a small company who built up stress all day, took it out on his family at night and then spent his weekends lolling in front of the television set. Mom was always muttering and complaining about him to me. Not that I hated my Father. I didn't, I loved him, but I never wanted to be like him.
When I started University, my father began to suffer from chronic depression. One of the main reasons was his work managing the company. Anyway, that didn't stop me from moving out of the house and into my own apartment in the neighborhood. Sometimes I would stop by the house and find my Father there on a weekday, not at work & lolling in front of the television set. As soon as he'd see me he would start in with his quips, but I saw the exhaustion written on his face. A deep fatigue with life. Once I myself began working, I came to understand the kinds of sacrifices my father was making. I couldn't stand the stress, so I stopped after a year and a half to prepare for the Public Service exams. My father is still struggling with his illness, but according to my mother, life is still somehow easier for them than before. One day at a time, he fights with himself to go on. To provide for my brother and Mother. Maybe, my father is showing me what a father really is.
I never wanted to be like my father. But I doubt I can ever be as good as he is.

(translation © victor woronov 2011)