The fourth Sunday of July is Oyako Day

Oyako Day Essay Contest 2012 Winners

Olympus Prizes
・Olympus μ_Tough Digital Camera
・Olympus TripLight Binocular
・Oticon headphone & healing music CD
・Morinaga Milk Product Set
・first KIDS
・Skin Care Set
Mainichi Newspaper Prize
・Mainichi "Mottainai" goods
・Epson Compact Printer
・DVD set
OLYMPUS PrizeOlympus Digital Camera μ_Tough
I have been fighting illness for almost a year now. Up till then, I’d been completely devoted to my job and never had time for my family. I have an eight year-old son. When he was of an age when children want to do things with their parents, I did absolutely nothing. For years, I only saw him when he slept. I was almost always at the office, except for a few hours each day, just sleep and leave.

Then, in the end, my heart and body cried out and I got sick. I was filled with regret and spent my days wondering just what I’d been doing with my life up till then. On top of sacrificing my family, I’d lost all hope. It’s pitiful, but no matter how much I regretted everything, I couldn’t cry. I spent months wondering if I was one of the walking dead.

As worthless as I was, my wife and son came to visit me with the same smiling faces. It was winter. With my very heart gone cold in my chest, it was the coldest winter I have ever known. I was chilled to the bone and couldn't stop trembling. No matter how many layers I piled on, I was just cold, cold and cold. One day I heard my son say, “I’m going to give you a muffler as a present.”

A long time after that, my condition started to improve. On Father’s Day, my son showed up with a large bag in his arms. “Papa, here’s the mufflers I promised you.” He took a handful of mufflers out of the bag. “Choose whichever ones you like,” he said spreading several beautiful mufflers out in front of me.

From the time he had made his promise, my son had diligently worked alone to weave all these mufflers. When I asked him, he told me how he’d made a knitting machine from chopsticks and milk cartons. He’d used his own savings and gone to the store himself to buy the wool. All I could do was to keep repeating “Thank you.” “I thought this one would be nice on you. Oh, and then there’s this one,” he continued, till I’d seen them all. I finally chose two from my son’s favorites.

Mufflers in June. But mufflers my son had made from scratch on is own. Had he been knitting ever since he’d made that promise. Even my wife hadn’t known what he was up to. That promise he’d given me, he’d given with all his heart. He’d kept at it, knitting away, and come through on his promise. Then I remembered a promise my son and I had made when he was still small. “Never give up. Even if we fail or things don’t turn out as we wanted, we’ll never give up.”

My son hadn’t forgotten our promise. That’s what is was. And I shouldn’t forget either.
So I have no choice now but to get better.

That father’s day in June, I wore my son’s muffler, the irreplaceable gift he had given me. Your father too will never give up. Never give in. And never forget to fight on.

(translation © Victor Woronov 2012)

OLYMPUS PrizeOlympus TripLight Binocular
In kindergarten, when all his friends were reading picture books, our little troublemaker could just about handle his name. Without skipping a beat, he would bring his tricycle into the house on rainy days and run roughshod through corridors, on the tatami and over his picture books. Sure enough, our already worn tatami began to go bald. My wife muttered warily, “Is this going to go on forever?” “He’s going to become a star bicyclist,” I chimed in with a smile so thin my worry must have shown through.

About a year after that, our son got his hands on a picture book about cars and suddenly took an interest. That’s when he finally took an interest in lettering. Which led him to doing graffiti with a felt tip pen. The visual effect was apparent throughout the house, on the refrigerator and sliding doors. He was adding a circle to every 「十」to make「す」. No matter how much we instructed him, all the bad habits of his graffiti nonsense flooded back into his penmanship and we couldn’t get them out.

Around that time, I got a totally unexpected gift for my birthday. The impish face with which my son handed it to me will stay traced in my heart forever. Written in two lines across the face of a homemade envelope in fairly legible characters, I read: HAPPY BIRTHDAY DADDY. Inside were 9 tickets redeemable for a shoulder massage. He said we could use one after each of his penmanship lessons.

I didn’t have stiff shoulders at the time.
But from that time on, when the two of us got out of the tub, my son, his buttocks still in the wind, would pester me about having a massage by asking “Got any tickets left, Dad.”

(translation © Victor Woronov 2012)

OTICON PrizeOticon headphone & healing music CD
One day when my mother's 90th birthday was coming up, I said to her, “So Mom, your about to be ninety. We should do something big to celebrate, shouldn't we...”. Her answer was, “Let's drop it. We'll go full guns when I'm 100. This is just a checkpoint along the way, and I'd like to keep it that way.” She really makes me laugh. “We may have to cross that one off. Just think, by the time you hit 100, they'll be a lot fewer people around to invite. And then you'd have a major responsibility: staying bright and healthy in order to be the star of the party!” I remember back when she was saying, “Right now, I'm having fun watching my great grand-children grow up. The first thing on my list is buying them each a school bag for elementary school.” But the children grew up fast and the next thing she was saying was, “I want to be around when these kids go to high school.” Just a few days ago, I heard, “I've changed my aim in life. Would it be to much to ask that I live to see them all get married? Because I really would like that, to see them all married.” I answered, “Updating your aims in life is a wonderful incentive to go on. If you live till then, you'll be Japan's grand Dame of longevity, maybe even the world's! That'd be worth it. You've really got to try!” My mother divorced and is living with her younger brother. It's my responsibility to look after them, but my mother is up at 6:30 in the morning to take care of the cooking, washing and whatever needs doing around their house. Since we live in separate houses, I visit 2 or 3 times a month. When I go, lunch is already laid out when I arrive. I used to prepare a lunchbox for us all, but carrying it home uneaten put me in a bad mood. I was born in 1944. When the air raid sirens went off, people had to move to the shelters. I've been told that my mother, in her desire to protect me from whatever might come from above, practically squashed me. Even now, and I am 67 years old, my mother worries over my health, “How is your health? Do you feel all right? I worry so much about you.” I'm no match for her. But I want her to live as long as she can. Every added day, all the more precious. This tie between parent and children runs beyond words to the very heart of thankfulness.

(translation © Victor Woronov 2012)

OTICON PrizeOticon headphone & healing music CD
When I was little, I used to like holding my mother's hand when we went out walking. On the way back from kindergarten and elementary school, I'd be rattling on excitedly about the day's events while my mother kept a tight grip on my hand and listened intently. I especially remember how it felt in the the hard winter's cold, when she seemed to hold my hand even more firmly, which at my young age, I drank in almost subconsciously as an immense dose of motherly love. And I also remember clearly how all this seemed to amuse my father, who, since he had a little distance from it, could laugh over it.

However much I was surrounded by love, I too became an adolescent and grew up. It came to me one day that I had totally ceased to hold my mother's hand. I hadn't even noticed. How had it all just faded away. Not just that, ...even if I wanted to find my way back to those feelings, I'd completely forgotten the path.

Soon enough, I was an adult. I went to a typical college and got a typical job as a salaryman. Then I was lucky to meet a not at all typical girl who's irreplaceable to me. She gave me a new life. The one's who were the most surprised to see this all happen were my mother and father.

One winter's day when the wind was blowing cold, I took the day off. That evening, I went with my wife to pick up our son at the kindergarten. I know it's pretty sorry, but it was the first time I'd ever gone to pick up my son. I saw my son take his mother's hand and watched him happily recounting his day at school.

My wife listened intently while making sounds of encouragement, and the scene flooded me with nostalgia. My wife's hand and my mother's got confused in my thoughts and for a moment I thought I might cry. Then, I too joined hands with my wife, and just for a second I thought I felt that same warmth I had known as a child. As awkward as it might be, I even felt a little bit envious of my son.

The next hands to join will be me and my mother's. It is my turn to surround her with love. From now on, through the years, your body may listen less and less to you. Take my hand then, and let all the warmth you've given me come back to you. From this day on, always.

(translation © Victor Woronov 2012)

OTICON PrizeOticon headphone & healing music CD
When I was in second grade, I read a comic about a child who gave a bouquet of carnations to his mother on Mother’s Day and began to think that my own mother would be happy if I could surprise her in the same way. At the time, we lived in a neighborhood where there were no stores and did all our shopping by car. So, on Mother’s day, I announced to my mother that I wanted to go to the flower store. “Why?” “Please, just take me!”

I couldn’t give my reasons since the carnations were a secret. I stuck to my guns and my mother finally gave in. On the ride over, I fondled the wallet in my pocket and secretly recounted the two hundred-yen coins inside. I imagined my mother crying out in surprise on receiving the carnations, with me, triumphant at her side.

It’s being Mother’s Day, the store was overflowing with red carnations. I dove into the lot to find what I was looking for. However, the cheapest carnation on sale was at 300 yen the branch. I only had 200 yen. A bouquet was out of the question. I couldn’t even afford a single branch. I just stood frozen in front of one of the 300 yen price labels.

I went on dillydallying until my mother asked, “Was there something you wanted to buy?” “I’m short”, I answered with my head drooping. “How much did you bring?” “200 yen.”

With the 100 yen she gave me and the 200 I had, I was able to buy a single stalk of carnations. Having pushed my mother to bring me, I finally needed her financial aid, all the surprise was gone, and, between embarrassment and heartache, I passed the newly purchased carnation to my mother without further ceremony.

Years have rolled by and now I have a 5 year-old son of my own. For father’s day, he drew a portrait of me with a happy face that really thrilled me. So I understand now. My mother certainly understood everything I couldn’t say when I handed her that carnation. There’s no replacement for a gift your child has taken pains to give you. That’s what I gave to my mother.

My mother is still in excellent health. Every mother’s day, rather than flowers that will soon wilt and die, I try to give her something to help her out in her life. But how about trying a carnation next time... A large and beautiful bouquet of carnations bought with my own money.

(translation © Victor Woronov 2012)

OTICON PrizeOticon headphone & healing music CD
Flp, flp, flp , flp flp...Katsuhiro TANAKA
Flp, flp, flp , flp flp...
When my son was in elementary school, he wasn’t like me at all: he was a good runner.
He was intrigued by the neighborhood kids who belonged to the sports club and said he wanted to join. As a member, he participated in their athletic meets out on their beautifully appointed track, a small body running like his life depended on it. His small frame didn’t look like much out there, but for this father watching from the far-off stands, it shined.

I decided to try running myself. I joined the club and ran in the same marathons as my son. The attention I once paid to my son’s finishing place or his time, everything I’d thought was so important, didn’t seem at all crucial anymore. Once I started to run, it changed the way I saw the world.

One day when we were training together for an upcoming marathon, we listened to our feet hitting the pavement.
Flp, flp, flp , flp flp...
“It’s strange. We’ve got the same pacing,” said my son.

We were running side by side, but when you listened, it was as if it were one person. Our stature and the length of our legs are not at all the same. Nevertheless, you only heard the sound of a single runner.

Flp, flp, flp , flp flp...
I’d finally caught up with that small, far-off figure I’d watched from across the sport’s club track.

(translation © Victor Woronov 2012)

OTICON PrizeOticon headphone & healing music CD
After the ultrasound, our doctor said, “This baby’s head is unusually large. He may have hydrocephalus. Please prepare yourselves for that possibility”. It was a devastating revelation.

Fortunately, our child didn’t have hydrocephalus, but he definitely had a big head. When he started kindergarten, we had to make a special order to get a hat his size. At athletic meets, you could even spot him at a distance by the size of the head.

I’d bought a video camera especially for the day of his first footrace. Unfortunately, when we got home and played the thing back, it was a mess. During the race, my hands got unsteady and the focus went haywire. But, you hear the starting gun and see the six kids take off. Then the child in the lead falls down. The children in second and third run on, but the one in fourth, our son, stops to give the fallen child a hand, and they both end up last across the finish line. When I saw my son through the finder stop to help his comrade, I trembled. When he came across the finish line, I dropped the camera at my feet to applaud along with the other parents.

Our son may look like he has a big head, but he’s not been brought up to be big-headed.
I quit my job as a salaryman when my son was in elementary school. I now run a consultancy for small to mid-sized businesses. My son didn’t do so well in school, but the other day he tied down a job with foreign consulting company. Management consultants tend to be armchair theorists. I hope my son will not just be full of dry arguments. I would like him to be able to see the need of the client.

A frog’s child doesn’t get to be a frog just out of the blue. First he’s got to be a tadpole. With time, he grows into a frog. Let my son be a prince of a frog.

(translation © Victor Woronov 2012)

MORINAGA PrizeMorinaga Milk Product Set
My father’s teeth were a a bit special: they stuck out more than his nose. People used to call him “Yamazakura”, wild cherry blossoms. He was on the smallish side, brawny, and a real character. He was a model for the manual laborer. He was a rough and unabashed person who paid heed to no one. He wore the same faded work clothes all year long, even to social events.

I remember back then, he went on a tour with the neighborhood association. I happened to see the group photo from the trip. He had a wooden expression and was straining to close his mouth over his protruding teethe. He looked liked someone else, a total stranger!!

On my first trip home after my marriage, we were all gathered around my mother in the living room. When she brought that photo out we almost died laughing and were still wiping the tears away when we left. I’d always thought my father was indifferent to his surroundings, but that picture made it clear he was sensitive to public attention. I was shocked to see that even he had an inferiority complex.

My father died sixteen years ago. Maybe it was just by happenstance, but we ended up using that same photograph at the funeral and even today it is enshrined on the Buddhist alter we have at the house. Every time you turn to burn some incense, there is father’s face in your line of sight. “Is the picture over?” you seem to be muttering, with your reluctant, Sunday-best face on, the one where we even see your lips. “Papa, such an effort,” I quip back in my heart.

Really, he was cheeky and would laugh from the bottom of his heart and the whole family knows it.

(translation © Victor Woronov 2012)

MORINAGA PrizeMorinaga Milk Product Set
When I go back home and go by that spot by the railway station, looking out from the train window, I can make out the place. It’s a little, distant spot where the shoreline juts out called Koiso. And it’s a place I will always remember.

I married in the spring thirty-five years ago. We fixed the date for the ceremony about 6 months ahead. From that day on, preparations kept me extremely busy, even at work but mostly on holidays.

My father was born in 1925. He’s single-mindedly devoted to his job and is a diligent worker. The extremely affable front he puts on at the bank drops to an impassive and silent zero when he’s at home. He never greatly concerned himself with his three children. I’m the oldest child. At the bottom of my heart I always wondered if he wasn’t a stranger. He was so cold and always scowling. I wanted him to be nicer to us, but he was so distant and formal.

When the wedding ceremony was imminent, my father said, shyly, “Mayumi, do you mind if I go fishing next Sunday?” It was such a shock. It was the first time my father ever asked my permission for anything. Since I’d never been fishing in my life, my father’s hobby had always bothered me. “Why can’t I ever go!” Immediate answer, “No....” But this time my mother stepped in and got him to invite me. “Go out for a date,” she chuckled.

That Sunday the weather was wonderful. We parked the car near the railway station and trudged 30 minutes up a steep mountain path. “I’ll take your bag,” ventured my father, who ended up carrying everything. “Are you all right? Be careful not to slip,” he said with a solicitude I was unaccustomed to hearing.

We finally made it to the seashore. Once there, though I’d thought he’d come to fish, my father stayed by my side attending to all my needs. He baited my hooks and even though I caught nothing but minnows, he roundly praised me with each landing. It’s the first time I’d ever seen him enjoying himself. There was no one else around. I got to spend the whole day with my father.

My father’s so old school that he held firm and didn’t drop a tear at my wedding ceremony. But that day out on the beach fishing, I felt his warmth and love with such certainty. A precious memory tying a father and daughter just before her marriage.

(translation © Victor Woronov 2012)

MORINAGA PrizeMorinaga Milk Product Set
Dear Mother,
I know no one
As difficult as you.

That long terrible feud from puberty on, it was finally over and your younger daughter was beaming with joy on her wedding day. Why couldn’t you just stand up and give me your benediction like anyone else, rather than publish it in the local newspaper’s reader’s column and indicate its existence to the gathered guests. Sure, they all had tears in their eyes, but couldn’t you just have read it to them. The whole family didn’t know where to look.

Dear Mother,
I know no one
As cute as you.

Your grandchild’s “I want to be a veterinarian” speech at the coming of age ceremony touched you so deeply that you published that in the local paper too. Oddly enough, the day the paper came out, we picked up her new puppy and spent the day overwhelmed by his wailing after being separated from its mother. In the article, you wrote so triumphantly about how good your granddaughter was with dogs that I thought it better if she never saw the I desperately hid it from her.

Dear Mother,
I know no one
As wonderful as you.

We all know you were both beautiful and famous when you were young. I got so sick of hearing “Your Mother’s really attractive, isn’t she” it still turns my stomach. I’ve heard that you were passionate about your work and that there are still people who miss you at the work place. I work in the same business now, but I’m nowhere near outdoing you. Your husband was stuck on you all his life. He was supposed to take care of you in your old age but pouf! and he was gone. I’m sure leaving you alone was his biggest regret. The day of his funeral, there was a terrible storm. And on the 7th, 27th and 37th day when we gathered to mourn his passing, the weather was always bad. Still, I think Dad was watching down with a wide, pleased smile on his face, contented with the grieving and stricken figure of his wife. Let’s say that’s why the rain forecast for the 47th day ceremony dispersed into fine weather. But really, Mom, I know you do everything over the top, but let’s keep a leash on this grieving. You’re stressing so much that Papa will never pass into Buddhahood.

Please Mother, split the grieving with us. Your genes are pulsing within us and if you’re not there to show us the way, the whole ship could go off course.

(translation © Victor Woronov 2012)

MILTON Prizefirst KIDS
“Are you OK? Does it hurt?” This spring my younger son broke one of the bones at the base of his eye. It happened at Judo practice. This was the useless stuff I was saying to my son at the emergency room where his judo teacher had brought him and where my son could not stop vomiting.

“Hang on! We’ll be at the hospital in a second.” I remembered I broke my arm when I was three. I was playing with my elder sister when I fell on my right side and something snapped. Though I was beyond the age for it, my mother slung me on her back and put on her maternity kimono to take me to the hospital. My arm really hurt, but I felt so good to be close once again to my mother’s warm back and smell her familiar odor. The season was winter, a night dark with the icy rains of Hokuriku, a low sweeping wind carrying sleet. Pretty much left to myself between an older and a younger sibling, this is my one clear memory of motherly love. A memory mixed with warmth and pain.

“Doctor, will he be all right? Is he going to lose his sight?” Questions ran off my lips. The idea of a broken bone at the back of the eye filled me with anguish. “We have to wait and see. I can’t say anything now,” answered the ophthalmologist. I was swept away to the waiting bench with a “Please wait outside”. “Mother, please help me,” I prayed deep in my heart. Last year in end October, my mother had suddenly died. Had she been living, I knew she would be there at the ER with me, with her “How is he?” My chest seemed to cloud over.

She would always say, “No matter the age, kids are kids.” She was living alone then. She would make a tremendous pile of food and then call to say “Come and get it.” She was always thoughtful and generous. I was more aware of it in her death than life. Forty-five years ago, what had been her feeling when she slung me crying and in pain on her back and jogged down the graveled road to the hospital. Out there on the waiting room bench, I thought I knew how she felt.

(translation © Victor Woronov 2012)

MILTON Prizefirst KIDS
Our son, who’s now a year and two months, put us through the mill when he was born.
My water broke three weeks ahead of schedule, and once I’d made my way to the hospital, I was thinking happily that I’d soon be able to meet my baby. But there was a flurry of excitement around me, and then the doctor telling me, “This can be dangerous for the baby. We need to get him out immediately”.

My mind went blank. “I see” I said with my head doddering in acceptance. I started frantically taking deep breathes like I’d been trained to do and twisting my body from one position to another while thinking, “How can this can this happen.”

They extracted the baby, but there was no sound of his cries. I heard the doctor call for resuscitation. Soon enough, I heard his first cries. “Good job, Mom!” the staff chimed in as I burst into tears. I remember thinking, “So now I’m a mother.” It had been such a fight that I loved the baby even more.

And I thought of my mother who had gone through similar trials to give birth to me. I was full of thanks. That night I mailed my mother, “Thank you for your courage in giving me life. I hope I can look after this child as well as you did me.” She wrote back, “Children and parents grow up together. Please flourish as a family.”

We’re just out of the gates as a family, but let’s grow and flourish together.

(translation © Victor Woronov 2012)

MILTON Prizefirst KIDS
Dear little Yuta’s mother.
Congratulations on your first Mother’s Day.
For almost a year now, you’ve really done a wonderful job. Nights waking up to a crying baby, trying not to hold him all the time, colds and stuffed up noses, daily medicines. I even watched you go through a month of diarrhea, patiently changing clothe diapers without a grumble or complaint.
Just think of all you’ve done.
You used to say, “A mother just does what she must.” Well, not at all: that’s not how it happens.
There’s so many ways to cut corners, but I saw you go through each day, one at a time, carefully tending your child.
Have you noticed that Yuta’s expression and even his way of crying is completely different when you’re there than when we are taking care of him. That little Yuta knows just what he is doing.
The happy days he is living now flow from you, your energy and health. For Yuta, you’re the sun that rises.
Well,I suppose solid food will be your next battle ground. You’re going to get even busier. Remember to keep your health. You’re still on your learning wheels, but fighting the good fight. Keep it up. Today once again, make that lovely vegetable soup that Yuta likes so much.
I’m looking forward to seeing you soon.
On Yuta’s behalf then, Happy Mother’s Day.
And, thank you too!
Your mother who keeps getting older.

(translation © Victor Woronov 2012)

TRINITYLINE PrizeSkin Care Set
My grandmother lives far away in Miyazaki Prefecture. When I was little, I would go there with my parents when there were long holidays. I love the country and always come home with a shining face. It sounds like a cliche, but each time I left my grandmother’s to go back home I would say to her, “Stay well now”. My mother on the other hand would cry bucket of tears and then say “Stay well now”. I was so young that I thought there was something exaggerated in her attitude. After all, we would be back soon enough.

Twenty years later, I myself have been blessed with two children. For someone who was never any good with children, it’s hard to believe how much I love them. What is this love that asks nothing in return. I think I know something about it, not that its all happiness. And sometimes kids can really shake up your emotions. When I’m really at a loss, the one person I can count on is my mother. She’s the first one I think of. What would she do in this case? What would she say? And finally, when I’m totally cornered, I call her without even thinking. Just the sound of her “What’s wrong?” calms my nerves. My mother’s affection spreads through every nook and cranny of me. My proud, motivated, adorable mother.

Now my mother is old and lives nearby my grandmother. Just as my mother did, I gather up the children and go for visits every year. I remember the past so clearly, but only now can I understand what my mother felt back then. It almost hurts to think of it.

My dear mother whose shoulders seem to slump a bit more with each homecoming, I am still hopelessly rebellious, but I need your support, be well....

I cry at the airport terminal when I leave her. “Stay well now”. My children look with wonder at my tears. And my mother, watching through the glass partitions, laughs through her own.

(translation © Victor Woronov 2012)

TRINITYLINE PrizeSkin Care Set
When I was little I loved the rain but now I find it depressing. Nonetheless, it calms me to watch it from my window. When it started to rain, my mother would stop her working in the fields and come into the house. She liked to sit on the floor and sew. She would collect scraps and sew them together into doll robes. When I asked her to sew something together, she’d ask me to tie the knots. “But this is so easy...” I would mutter, deep in the pleasure of doing something Mama couldn’t do and helping Mother out.

She was deft at darning the holes in the heels of my socks. She mended my frayed trousers so that I could go on wearing them. Nothing was new, but her skilled hands could fix anything. I wanted new things, but we couldn’t buy them. When I wanted picture books, she couldn’t just say “Let’s buy some.” On rainy days, she’d read me articles in magazines.

One was about some school children who were riding in the back of a truck. The truck went over a cliff and they were all killed. When I asked why such things had to happen, she spoke to me gently and read on haltingly, saying “It’s really terrible, isn’t it”.

My mother was good at neither praise nor rebukes. She never spoke a lot. But, she was there with me at home and she made me feel safe, calm and happy. As of today, I’m older than my mother was then. When I look at my sons, I wonder if I am doing as well.

(translation © Victor Woronov 2012)

TRINITYLINE PrizeSkin Care Set
I hadn’t been back home for a while.
“What would you like to for dinner. Your favorite?” She’d forwarded the question by mail a few days ago, but it seemed like she was jumping the gun, even for this eternal question. “How should I know what I want to eat a week from now?” I thought as I sent back the usual answer: “Sure, looking forward to it.”

As usual, we’d set the date for the weekend. On Friday, without any ado, I went directly from my job to the train station and hopped on a train. Two and half hours later I would be home in Shizuoka. Alone on the Ota night express, I always thought about my mother back home alone, waiting for my arrival. It made me sad.

My friends always knew when I would be back and would invite me out drinking. When I accepted, I would always make the date for late. I’d say I was getting in late or whatever white lie so that I could spend time eating dinner with my mother.

When I opened the old and battered door to our house, my mother greeted me with a mixture happiness and embarrassment. For all I know, I looked just as uncomfortable.

While watching my mother’s frail figure the kitchen, I would lean on the refrigerator and speak of this and that. Mother would make sounds of acknowledgement while pulling out some meat smothered in carrots and onions. “This has been sitting, so its really delicious now,” she would say. It all brought me back to my childhood and made me feel strange.

The wonderful smell of garlic and butter. She’d made steak. “Steak’s a little much for our table, huh?” followed by “...but you always liked it, didn’t you?” leaving me nothing to say. We only had steak on special days when I was little or that’s what we always said.

Wanting to say "Mother, we’re going to live together again, so please hang on". But we were both at a loss for words. So tonight, once again, it’ll be “Bon appetit!” and a plate of fine food: my mother’s once over easy and a little bit burnt “steak platter,” more filled with love than culinary wizardry. It’s what I love more than anything.

(translation © Victor Woronov 2012)

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Calls in the middle of the might are rarely good news.
That time was no different, when I picked up the phone and heard this voice screaming something so large it left me blank. “The bus the children were in ran off a road in the mountains. They are a lot of serious injuries!” Over a cliff? Mortalities? There were no answers to all the questions that were flying in my head. I cut off and tried to call my daughter’s mobile. I couldn’t get through.

Our family lived abroad. My daughter was brought up outside the country, went to international school and was now at college in America. In tenth grade she’d represented her school at a world summit of high school students in Canada. She was elated and we’d had a big send off. I’d expected to see her back in the same high spirits.

Just a day before she was to come back, this was the daybreak call I got. The phone call came from the mother of another student who was participating in the summit. I finally got hold of the phone number for the emergency room my daughter’d been taken to. She was alive. That’s all I knew. Until I saw her face again, it was going to be rough.

Despite fractures all over her body, my daughter got on a plane and came home. When I saw her at the airport, one of her hands was dangling and her body was covered with glass cuts. After, they found splinter fractures in her spine. With all that, my daughter insisted that she wouldn’t be shut up in the house. She didn’t want us to stop her from living her life. After falling from a 10 meter cliff and surviving, she said she had a charmed life and no one was going to stop her from living it to the full. All I could do was hug her with all my might.

Maybe all we parents can do is to watch over our children as they take off from the nest under their own power. Sometimes, we can give them a little advise about which direction might be right. So they don’t take a wrong turn. We whisper deep in our hearts for them to shun the night and fly towards the light.

My daughter’s back in America where, to live her own life to the fullest, she’s doing all she can to take advantage of this second life she’s been given. And through this too, I will watch over her.

(translation © Victor Woronov 2012)

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Entrance exams are over and I will be headed for Tokyo. I can’t help feeling like I’m moving on. I’m finally leaving home.

At home I always helped with the chores so I know the score. I’ll be able to stay in the tub as long as I want and no one’ll get mad about my coming home late. No more mails about are you eating dinner at home and what time will you be here. Living alone makes me feel free of all that.

At last it’s the night before my departure. Since there’s so much to buy to set me up, my mother’s going with me to Tokyo. She’ll be staying with me in my new apartment for 3 days.

The first day we start by greeting the landlord. Then it’s off to a nearby department store to buy a bed and a bicycle. Finally, we go by my new school to have a look.

The second day starts with the electronics store. I dawdle over the washing machines trying to choose one. I see my mother talking to a young couple, lovers my own age it looked like. “The tub inside shouldn’t have holes in it or it attracts mold.” They thanked my mother for her advice and set off to find a machine with hole-less tub. You could call my mother a busybody or meddlesome or whatever, but basically she couldn’t resist helping out when people looked like they needed it. When I saw her at it again I just smiled and thought “Here we go again”.

On the last day, we went by the home center and the supermarket for furniture and groceries. Mom made piles of mackerel poached in miso and lots of burdock root. Then she helped me assemble my furniture right up till she had to run to catch the last bullet train home.

She’d run off in a jumble, like a comedy routine, and that’s how she went home. I’d always liked being home alone, but in this new place I felt odd. When I thought of my mother who had been there only a moment ago and the fact that she wouldn’t be there tomorrow, tears welled up in my eyes. I ate some cold burdock with the tears streaming down my face. It tasted just like home, which was a relief.

Someday I’d like to say the words that I can never seem to put in even my letters and emails. “Thank you Mother,
I love you so much.”

(translation © Victor Woronov 2012)

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Mother, thank you for putting up with my selfishness and helping me to do the things I wanted to do. Thank you for making me sangry so often. Thank you for letting me chase after my dreams.
Father, Thank you for always making me laugh. Thank you for scolding me when I did wrong. Thank you for thinking I was so important.

Six months ago, I became a mother. A twenty year old mother living on her own. I’d never thought of all this till my child was born. How much you believed in me. I guess I was a child who didn’t listen to anyone. I was back late and out early, a child who was never at home. In the spring of my nineteenth year, it was Mom who noticed I wasn’t well. “You’re pregnant, aren’t you?” she said. I begged your forgiveness through my tears. I was still a college student who could barely get a grip on the dimension of what I’d done. Feeling sorry was about all I could do. You were so gentle with me. “Do you want this child? What shall we do?” I still remember your words.

Mother, thank you for letting me choose. Father, once mother had told you, thank you for never troubling me about it. Parents, your broad-mindedness helped me so much.

Now I’m a mother living alone with her child. My daughter and I, a whole family. I suppose a lot of hard things lay ahead, but I’ll be fine. I will never forget to be open and generous to others, the way you were to me. I will care for this small, beautiful, irreplaceable life just as you looked after me.

I am so happy these days. Mother, Father, my dear daughter, Thank You.

(translation © Victor Woronov 2012)

Mainichi Newspaper PrizeMainichi "Mottainai" goods
Compared to my mother, my father doesn’t talk much, like he lived in another world. Compared to Mother’s Day, Father’s Day goes by unnoticed. It seems like he’s always at work and I haven’t spent that much time with him. Nevertheless, I remember to this day, some twenty years later, when I was little and we would spend days together. And I still remember the single time he prepared my lunch box for me.

That day, there was a school trip planned. I was in elementary school, and it was the yearly mountain climbing excursion. This year, my younger brother was in the hospital and my father and I were home alone. On the day of the outing, my lunch box was already ready when I woke up. That was a shock. I mean I’d never seen my father cook anything. My usual lunch box, covered with comic characters, had been cast aside, and my father had used one of his big, heavy-duty lunch boxes. My mother’s lunches were full of cute colors. His had a big omelette laid out in the middle. It was hard core, but the idea that my father had gotten up early to make it pleased me.

I set out for the mountains and after we’d climbed, it was time for lunch. All my friends were opening their lunch boxes, undoubtedly full of the cute and colorful artwork usually practiced by mothers, whereas, I was a little timid about opening mine.

“My father made my lunch box today” I announced. All my friends drew near to see.
I was surprised to hear, “Gee, your father is good at cooking, isn’t he!” But when they said, “You’re lucky to have a father who can cook,” I actually started to feel proud.

This was a long time before expressions like “home husband” and “lunch box master” came into being. For me, it was a lunch box from a father who never showed up in the kitchen. I was just happy, however original the circumstances might seem.

Now I’m an adult and don’t live with my father. He speaks even less, but even so and however far away, I feel we are together and that he is by my side. I think that is what a family does. Someday, I too want to be a mother. Someone who is always there when you need her, with even and eternal care.

(translation © Victor Woronov 2012)

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There was a 73 year-old in the seat next to mine on my return flight. When the plane was taking off, he began telling me his life story to me, a total stranger. Ten years ago, he’d divorced with his wife, and all at once, he had been separated from his children and started a life alone. This was his flight home, but even so, once he got there he’d be eating alone, a re-heated meal in the electro-wave, he told me with a sad eye.

My own parents divorced ten years ago, and my father went on his way leaving me, at eight years-old, and my sister, at ten. From that time on, we had no way of reaching our father. Then, sometime after I’d graduated from High School, I crossed my father on a social network. Though I was full of fear that he might just ignore me, I sent an awkwardly formal mail.

I’d barely got the mail out, and he’d answered. How was school, how was life since he left, getting accepted by a college; we exchanged dozens of mails. I figured out that my father was actually living in Viet Nam. Having just graduated from High School, I told my father that I really felt like seeing some foreign country.
“Come visit me in Viet Nam. We’ll go for a trip up the Mekong.”
Those words made me happier than anything.

When I arrived at the airport, there was my father as he’d always been, with the same smiling face. Two and a half weeks later, so much had happened. His favorite massage parlor, a restaurant specializing in Ostrich steak, the local blue plate restaurant, and of course, the Mekong river. I hadn’t seen him for ten years, but things seemed to take off right where we’d left them: we were father and son.

On the ship up the Mekong, papa talked to me about the divorce. He said that not being able to explain what happened to me and my sister was the greatest regret in his life. But to be able to meet me like this, and know that my sister and I were fine made him really happy. When he said this, he was so elated that he laughed. On our way back from the Mekong, we took some pictures in a photo booth. We even had time for a penny arcade.

“Your daughter’d be really happy if you called,” that’s what I said to the old guy in the seat next to me when we were getting off the plane. He turned up his wrinkled face in a glowing smile.

(translation © Victor Woronov 2012)

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On the occasion of my 77th birthday, I got a delivery slip from my children informing me of an impending arrival. It was marked: 77th Birthday Present: computer, full set. A few days later, without warning, the guy from the local electronics store arrived at my doorstep with a big box. I barely had the time to think “What’s this, what’s in the box?” and the electric man had it out of the box, set up and was explaining things over and over again that I thought I could never understand...and then he was gone like a storm. Lots of cables, provider contract, mail address: it was all included with the purchase and fell on me all at once. After I retired from work, I’d paid no attention to the appliance field from mobile phones on. The arrival of a computer was like a gift from the Gods delivered from another planet. After spending a few days handling it like a bomb that’s about to go off, I finally just left it in the corner. But, ...but, my old wife impressed upon me, that was to ignore all the good intentions of my well-meaning children who had gone to the trouble and expense of sending it. And so began my struggle, at first timidly, in a daily clacking of keys. When I read the instruction book, I couldn’t understand what they were talking about. When I asked someone, it went in one ear and out the other. Sometimes I got so angry I pulled the plug on it just to see the screen go dead. Luckily, I was in import-export when I was active, so I’m familiar with English typing and the keyboard wasn’t a problem. After a month of struggle, I finally was able to mail my children. When a greeting from my grandchild came back, I suddenly felt young and alive again. Now I hear from all my grandchildren every day. Thanks to which I no longer have enough time off to totally lose my mind. So, I finally figured out that my children’s gift is a dementia repellent.

(translation © Victor Woronov 2012)

When I was in elementary school, my parents quarreled a lot. When that happened my mother would systematically go back to her parents house. Without her, the house felt empty and unhinged as if a big piece were missing.

There was an alley cat hanging around the house those days. That’s because I was so taken up with loneliness that I’d give her our leftovers. When evening would come on, I was tormented by anxious feelings and the quiet that reigned in the house. It was a relief to have something living around.

That cat had babies. And I shared the mother’s happiness in bringing up the young kittens. But one day, the mother cat lambasted one of them with a searing right sweep when the kitten came close to her. You could see the mark curving across its back. The fur running against the grain was the mark of her fury. I was deeply shocked by this turn of events, but for the kitten who’d been hit, it really must have been like a bolt out of the blue. Her eyes went perfectly round and her mouth seemed to be hanging open.

I figured it must be time for the kitten to be on its own, but that little cat, who couldn’t figure out what was happening, just kept trying to get back close to Mama. Each approach triggered another trouncing. It seemed like it’d go on forever.

Then, one day, the kitten just turned its back on its mother and trotted away. The mother cat sat licking one of her rear paws. Just as the kitten’s silhouette disappeared, she lifted an eye and looked intently in the direction the kitten had taken. I abruptly broke down and cried.

Maybe my mother would never come home. Maybe it was time for me to turn my back on my own parents. Torn between impatience, anxiety and loneliness, I cried on and on. Even the cat rubbing up against me didn’t diminish my loneliness.
“I’m home! Miyuki!? What’s wrong?”
I lifted my head up at the sound of her voice. She put down the packages she was carrying and looked down at me vacantly. I fought back the impulse to fly into her arms. My mother squatted beside me and took my face in her hands.
“I’m sorry”
I stuck out my tongue if to say, “You did it again.” You came home again.
My mother’s hands held my head tightly like a wool hat. I smelt the sweet smell of her make-up’s perfume.

(translation © Victor Woronov 2012)

“I’d feel like throwing him to the lions” is what my son’s homeroom teacher wrote when he finally ran out of patience. I knew I’d already thrown my son to the school kids when he had to start a new school in mid-term, but he’d made things worse by first being standoffish and then going through a string of fights. “Throw him to the lions,” that comment in our teacher/parent notebook is stained with my tears.

Someone said that even a new kid in school could get used to things in a month, but after 2 months my son was still dragging behind me up to the school gate and wailing on the other side.

“Just take a day off and watch me from the shadows.”
That was the day of his stage premier in Three Little Pigs. He played the big, bad wolf. Now, fully cast in his role of bad boy, there seemed to be no end to it. Even the teachers had started calling him “the wild one.”

When I mustered my haggard face to ask him why he hit his friends and teachers his answer was “C’mon Mom, because they’re all bullying me.” Tears were welling in his eyes when he said it. It was as if his young heart were about to burst under the strain of all that loneliness. I hugged him as tightly as I could and we both cried together.

Time went by and my son began to settle in. The principal said, “He’s a tender child who cares for others. He was wonderful with the the crayfish and even took the lead in cleaning the rabbit hutch. When a classmate hurt his knee, he spoke to him kindly and helped him walk it off.”

I was encouraged when I saw him participate fully in school recitals, Japanese drumming and athletic meets. By the time he graduated from pre-school, he was leader of the Sunflower team and had become popular with both students and teachers. The child who had dragged behind and wailed at the gates was gone.

The day he told me “Mom, don’t worry because I’ll always protect you,” I realized the wild one had become my own little knight.

(translation © Victor Woronov 2012)

Twenty years ago, when I was 43, I decided to disown my son.
I still remember that day. I went to the hospital to get the results from some tests they’d run a week before. My only worry was how I could get the doctors to tell me the truth if they said that things weren’t so bad. Desperate knowledge this mother who lived alone with her 14 year old son needed above all else. If I was going to die, there was so much that needed to be put in order.

“The news isn’t good. As soon as there’s a bed available, you need to be hospitalized.” It’s harder to act than to scheme. My doctor’s flat revelation of my cancer was enough to throw me into despair. I went to the library directly from the hospital to read, with bated breath, the estimates on my survival. Five years at most. So be it, what now?

My health insurance would cover my son’s expenses until he was old enough to work. On the other hand, I’d cut him off from his father, his friends and his relatives. My own, selfish egotism had quarantined him to loneliness. Things couldn’t continue like that. I was more terrified by the idea of my son battling on alone than of the fires of hell.

Finally, at the end of a long halting conversation punctuated with tears, I asked him if he wouldn’t go live with his father. I pleaded with him to live on as if I were dead as of this day.

“Mom, even if I became a robber, I would still be alive. So, I am going to stay with you till the end.”
This was the immediate and final decision of my son. When I looked at him I still saw the young child, a boy whose voice had not even changed but who at the very moment he said that, stepped out from my care and spoke to me as an equal. And it was in that moment that I gave up my own willful self-reliance. Whatever may come, let things take their course.

Now my son is married and they put up with my unsightly presence. He pokes me in the ribs and says, “Seems like this is the only oversized garbage we’ll need to take out this week”. This is where his decision has led us. To stick with me till the end. I am profoundly thankful. And so, I must accept and curse my fate.

(translation © Victor Woronov 2012)

As far back as I can remember, my father was picking arguments with my mother. She was always saying, “Grow up to be a woman who can say she’s sorry,” so much so that I always somehow felt sorry for her. She herself was incapable of ever saying she’d been wrong, so I suppose she was afraid I’d turn out to be the same. I remember when I was 15 and prayed to the gods that I’d never marry a man as arrogant as my father.

15 years later I married a man who is benevolent, easy going and not at all arrogant. So it seemed, but tonight, and not for the first time, my husband got so mad he stalked out of the house. The causes of our arguments are so stupidly trivial that I’m too embarrassed to write about it.

Tonight for example, my husband gets back, rejects dinner and sets himself up in front of the television. When I ask him if he wants some tea. No answer. Ask again, with some edge. To which he snaps, “Can’t you see I’m watching something. I don’t care about tea!” And then we were off. In the volley of rough and tumble comments that followed, my husband up and left.

I recalled my parent’s constant arguing and felt like calling my mother. My father answered the phone. I asked how he was. “Have another argument?” he answered. I started sobbing. “Don’t worry about it. Stop crying. It’ll be fine. C’mon, it’ll be fine,” he said. “Listen, men can’t admit it even when they know they’re wrong. I know it’s pathetic, but you’ve just got to say that you’re sorry. Do it for the cause. Just say “I’m sorry.” I’m no better but I’m telling you men are fools, no better than children.”

I’d never heard my father apologize before in all my life. The idea that he was calling himself a foolish child made me break into laughter. And at the same time, it made my husband adorable again.

After all, I’ve ended up being another wife, and now mother, who constantly argues. Since I fell for a guy who acts like my father, there’s no way out of it. So Dad, be there for me next time with some more tips on argument management.

(translation © Victor Woronov 2012)

Up until just a year before his death, my father and I had broken off all relations with each other. My father quit his job and started his own business just when I graduated from high school. The business went badly and our family split up because of it. I was still in college when my mother got fed up with the situation and left. I attacked my first year as a medical resident without the backup of a family to go home to or the advice of a father. And finally, I gave up on a father who, covered in debt, showed up periodically to ask me for money. I finally began to think about getting back together only after I’d married and begun to think that it would be ideal to be surrounded by a happy family. Also I was on the point of starting my own business, so it seemed essential to straighten out my father’s affairs.

“Nothing special is going on,” I reassured my father when I invited him to lunch. Somewhere in our awkward telephone conversation I heard him say “No matter how far away a child goes, parents are always thinking of them,” a statement that swept most of my resentment away in a single swoop.

A half a year after that lunch, they discovered my father had terminal oesophageal cancer. He was operated on at the hospital where he worked and arranged to be looked after at his own house.

When I saw how my mother and uncle handled his illness, I realized just how alone he had been when he fought to close down his business. I wrote him an email saying I was sorry that we’d left him alone and how hard it must have been. “You’re the only one who has understood what I went through. When I had to go to the hospital, I broke down and cried,” he replied.

I took over his debts as well as the handling of his affairs. My younger sister and I split the price of home care. After years of being my own father, my father’s illness allowed to become, once again, a daughter. I started dreaming of some last thing we could do to show our appreciation of him as a father. So it was that six months into my father’s illness, my younger sister and I re-staged our marriages in a double ceremony for close relatives. My father, up to the gills in morphine, made two trips down the aisle. In the anteroom before the ceremony, my father said, “I’m glad to have seen you in all your finery before I die. But really, your mother in her bridal gown was the most beautiful”. “I guess it’s unrequited love for the rest of us then,” I replied, touched to the core.

Two months after the wedding ceremony, my father breathed his last. I was watching over him and heard like a deep, deep sigh, and he was gone.

A half a year later I realized my dream of setting myself up in business and a year after that my daughter was born. I’m living a happiness I could never even of imagined back in the time when I had broken off all relations with my father and our family fell apart.

I don’t know if I did enough for my father or not. But I do know that all the happiness I have now came from the day I forgave him for everything.

(translation © Victor Woronov 2012)

For some time now, a once a day “Good Morning” is all my mother and I have had to say to each other. There’s a simple reason for this: my mother and I aren’t getting along. But it wasn’t always like this. We used to talk on and on and even go out shopping together.

Things went sour during my last year of high school when I wanted to work rather than going on to higher education like my mother wanted. “If you qualify as a nurse, you’ll have a bright future,” she said when she pressed me to apply to nursing school. I failed the entrance exams. “Go work in a hospital and take the entrance exams again next year.” I noticed that my mother was running my life. Maybe it’s because it makes no sense to fight for something you don’t want, but I failed the exams a second time. “Why don’t you study?” she squealed. “If you think nursing is so hot, why don’t you become one?” I screamed back. And finally, “You’re not the one who’s going to decide my future”.

I’d been working at the hospital for a while when we finally said a few words to each other. I said I only needed a couple of rice balls for lunch. “You mean you’re so busy you don’t even have time to eat” she said, worrying over my health. She saw me off at the station every morning and even picked me up there at night. Now I commute with my own car. When I think of it, it’s around the time I got a car that we stopped communicating.

I suppose if I’d just become a nurse, we’d still be getting along now. She may be my mother, but I’ve said some horrible things to her. I deeply regret them, but it’s too late to take them back now. Maybe my mother hates me now, but even so, I could never hate her. Things are terrible and we don’t even talk, but when I get up breakfast is on the table and there is a lunch box ready for work. The drinks she puts in my thermos change according to the season and when I come home, dinner is waiting. And then, I know she cried when I failed my entrance exams because I heard her. There is no way I could ever hate this woman who’s given up so much for her family. So, I’ll keep on saying “Good Morning” till we get a chance to find our way back to each other.

(translation © Victor Woronov 2012)