The fourth Sunday of July is Oyako Day

Oyako Day Essay Contest 2013 Winners

Stylus Tough TG-830 and TG-630
Olympus 8 x 21 RCII WP Binocular
Sennheiser HD 65 TV Headphone
Morinaga Special Product set
Milton Special Product set
Skin Care set
Oyako Day 2013 Original Present
Ultraman Taro Complete DVD - Box
Epson Compact Printer
OLYMPUS PrizesStylus Tough TG-830 and TG-630
ONE DAY ISHIKAWA Ai (Tokyo, age: 31)

One Day,
My father fell ill and didn't recognize me any more.
This father I love reminds me of all that he taught me.

The joy of being loved.
The wonder of giving love.
The strength of protection.
The generosity of forgiveness.

One day,
The man she loved fell ill and my mother's life was forever changed.
This Mother I love reminds me of all that she taught me.

How to love someone without reserve.
How to be strong for someone.
How to make every day bright.
How to bring joy into a home.

From this day forward, what can I do?
I can be close to my father.
I can help my mother laugh.
I can build my own happiness.
I can love others as if they were part of my family.

Father, Mother. I'm so lucky to be your daughter.
Father, Mother. You're so lucky to be my parents. (laughing)

OLYMPUS PrizesOlympus 8 x 21 RCII WP Binocular
Bento PowerTAKEDA Mai (Aichi Prefecture, age: 20)

It's already three years since I started college, and I'm still bringing my mother's lunchboxes to school. Since she was already making lunches for my brother in High School, I suggested she make one for me at the same time. So what I got was the BOY'S bento. Open the lid on one of these and it's full-out double-decker: lots of delicious & filling items over a plentiful bed of rice. They're a little filling but I'm happy.

Then one day, my mother's wearing this coy smile all morning and something went down in the production line. She was acting a bit odd, but since I had an early class, I just packed that day's lunchbox away and took off on my bike for school. Class went overtime and by the time I got to my lunchbox, I was gloomy about the rice probably being soggy. But hunger's a strong incentive, so I opened my lunchbox in high spirits.

What I saw was not soggy rice but three rabbits, each one in a different color: a pink rabbit with a slightly crooked wink drawn in seaweed, a green rabbit with a stupid grin drawn in swathes of black sesame seeds and a yellow rabbit whose face had gotten a little squished on my bike ride over. "What was this!? A nursery school lunchbox?" I laughed. But my mother was always so busy in the morning. Where'd she find the time to turn out something on this scale on the sly. I smiled.

My friends saw me laughing and gathered round to have a peek inside. "Wow...that is just too cute!" they all chortled. I was a little embarrassed though, like I felt I'd been had, but that made me laugh even more. All my friends, gnawing on their store-bought cakes, were wide-eyed with nostalgia remembering how they'd all gotten this kind of lunchbox for field trips way back when. And we went on to talk about lunchboxes we remembered from those school days, long ago.

Once evening classes were over and I got home, I found my mother wearing the same coy smile she'd had all morning. "So, did you see?" she said. "Yea, 3 rabbits!" And then I told her about all my friend's compliments till our kitchen seemed to glow with my mother's happiness.

According to my mother, she could never give a really cute lunchbox to my brother. For boys, it wasn't about looks but about meat! And she'd finally poured all that pent up desire into my lunchbox. Between my mother's beaming face and that oddly exquisite lunchbox I felt as happy as way back when I was in kindergarten.

OLYMPUS PrizesOlympus 8 x 21 RCII WP Binocular
Package DayKAWAMURA Masae (Kanagawa Prefecture, age: 32)

"Once the children are out of the nest, vegetable plots thrive" – My father was just turning sixty when my parents became empty nesters. That's when they started a vegetable garden. At first my father was stoic. "Vegetables aren't easy," he said. Then for two years, he didn't talk about it. Except for some phone calls salted with jokes about how I wasn't seeing any vegetable packages arriving. In the third year, however, the deliveries started: turnips, onions, mini-tomatoes, even spinach and string beans. "It's really great," I said. "Even the coldest garden will warm if you sit on it for 3 years," he joked. S on all the organic garbage, vegetables and fruit, went into the ground, along with fallen leaves from a nearby mountainside and the wash off of rice. The wonders of compost became the subject of our telephone calls.

"The age when children must look after their parents" – I could get an idea of how my parents were doing from listening to what my father had to say and how he phrased it. The sound of his voice, cogency of story and content, with special attention paid to any useless repetition. Then advice: don't forget to wear a hat when you garden, take breaks, drink lots of water... And I'd repeat my advice again if he let me off with some random "Yea, sure..." or something.

"Pleasure in gifts: the sign of your parents health" – My heart dances whenever another box packed full of vegetables arrives. Of course, I hear all about the vegetables in our frequent telephone conversations, but often there is a little something more in the boxes. Once, when my favorite fruit from when I was a little girl was included, it brought tears to my eyes. And I thought at that moment, "No matter how much I look out for them, the child is always the child."

"Vegetable day is Oyako Day" – I can always tell whether it was my father or mother who made up the box up just by looking at it. When it's wrapped tight and strong, I feel I can hear my father saying, "Wrap it up tight!" My father often jokes that every day is Oyako Day, but for me it's any day another package arrives.

OTICON PrizeSennheiser HD 65 TV Headphone
EggKIMURA Kotoku (Shiga Prefecture, age: 41)

Over the last two years, my daughter, now in her second year of elementary school, and my son, now in his fourth, have had classes in sentimental education. As a result, our family was extended to include one non-human creature each of those years. It started two years ago when my daughter wanted to keep a tree frog she'd caught in the garden. Last year my son insisted on bringing home the crab he'd caught on vacation. Both of these creatures are now living with us as members of the family.

As anyone who's been through it will say, wild animals are not all that easy to feed.
Our tree frog, who only eats living food, was a particular problem for us.
My wife was disgusted. "I can't believe this," she said when we started cultivating fruit flies because frogs only eat live bait. And since holding on to a frog is difficult for young children, actually feeding the frog fell to me... or let's say it got to be a kind of hobby. Because crabs aren't really hands on, my son was able to take care of him.

Then, on the first Saturday of last month, my son brought home an even more critical problem. My son had been with a group of his friends to visit a farm, and he brought home a bantam chicken egg. It was carefully bundled in a working glove he held in his hands.
"We need to keep it warm so it'll hatch," he announced.
"It won't hatch unless it's fertilized..."
"I think it's fertilized. That's what the woman at the farm said. What's fertilized?" he asked giving me a troubled look.

Actually, when I was about his age, I'd tried to take care of some chicken eggs and get them to hatch. But in my case, they'd been unfertilized eggs from a chicken farm. They weren't about to hatch. But there was a good chance my son's egg was fertilized, and with a little luck, we could get it to hatch.
"OK, let's see what we can do," I said as I began to imagine how we could take care of it. After all, I too am a pet-lover. Once my wife got wind of what we were up to, she too became concerned, "Just how are you going to do that?"
"For starters, let's look up how to hatch eggs. Maybe it's not so easy for a novice." I typed in the words "chicken, egg and incubate" and hit the search button. Thank God for the internet...

As we'd suspected, artificial incubation was not a simple affair. We'd need to keep the egg at around 38˚ for 21 days. And during all that time, we had to rotate it 90 degrees regularly to prevent adhesion. The mother hen's body heat is 40˚ and she rotates her eggs naturally as part of her nesting habits. I explained all this to my son, emphasizing the difficulties of artificial incubation. He held his ground. "We have to make it hatch. Please help me Daddy!"

Well, if he was going to put it that way, I felt this pet-loving Dad should do his best. If we used the heater from the Frog's fly hatchery, I thought we could take care of heat management. That left egg rotation. By distributing our turns throughout the family according to the time when people were at home: Mama just before leaving for work, the kids when they came home, me before bed; we could cover the day, but someone was going to have to wake up in the middle of the night to turn that egg.
"Listen son, if you can get up and do that every night, we'll all help you with the rest."
I thought he should take responsibility since it was his idea from the beginning. He vigorously nodded his assent.

That's how all four of us in the family started our vigil over this egg. The next day I attended a local meeting where I learned that all the kids who had been out to the farm had brought home eggs. When I spoke with the other parents about it, I discovered that all the other parents had eaten the eggs that same night. That was quite a shock. With my own head full of incubation planning, I just didn't know what to think. On the other hand, the other parents thought I was crazy to be trying to hatch that egg. I have to admit that eating eggs is a lot more common than hatching them. But just hearing of the fate of the other eggs was enough to double my conviction. I swore we would get this egg to hatch.

From that time on, our whole family organized itself around it's new endeavor. My son got up every night and rotated that egg while rubbing his sleepy eyes. Just after the 21st day, due to our determination?, the egg my son brought home miraculously hatched. The shell cracked and out stepped a chirping little chicken. The whole family gathered round to watch it. Even though I've known a lot of pets, I was more profoundly touched than I thought I'd be. But more than anything else, my children had learned something precious. I was overjoyed.

As I sit here and write these words, my family is off visiting the grandparents in Tokyo and they've left the young chick they named Goma in my care.
I think now I'm ready for anything, anything my kids might want to do that'd broaden their horizons some more.
Soon enough they'll be back smelling of the city. And when they get back, Goma will have sprouted a little cockscomb and gotten so big they'll be surprised.

OTICON PrizeSennheiser HD 65 TV Headphone
AIBO meets DadASAI Masaaki (Kanazawa Prefecture, age: 29)

My father really loves Sony's AIBO.
In fact, when he's home it's about the only one he talks to. Every night, he has an evening drink with AIBO or they watch baseball on the television together.
The family doesn't hear a word about his gripes with his job, he explains it all to his AIBO.
When he goes out, he always takes the AIBO. They're always together. When he goes to buy something in the neighborhood, AIBO goes too. Even when we went camping, he brought it along.
But that time something happened.
My father was playing with it as usual when it stopped working. The battery was dead, and my father got the shakes because his pal had ceased to function.
The family got so worried that we rushed to change the batteries, but the AIBO doesn't work on regular batteries. We thought we'd recharge it, but we were in the middle of the Nanibun Mountains without electricity and there was just no way to do it.
With his AIBO down for the count, my father was totally morose.
I began to wonder how long it'd been that our family had gotten so dysfunctional. Just when had my father moved so far away from us?

My father's a hard-working trade company employee who was constantly sent out on business trips. On most of those, he went out alone and was far away from his family. He'd bought the AIBO to fight the loneliness of these periods away from home, and at the time it'd been really been a wonderful purchase. He could take it with him where his family couldn't go. Even where pets were forbidden, the AIBO could pass. No one in the family felt let down because my father might miss his AIBO more than anyone. But I began to think that my father, even though it was his job, had begun to feel betrayed by his family because we let him go off alone. After all, when he was finally able to spend more time at home, both my elder brother and I had already left home, and so the distance went on to widen between us. Finally, my brother, who'd been the first to set up his own household, announced in the middle of the campsite that we needed to get back together again as a family and bridge the distance that had come between us. My father, who'd had the habit of going off to fish by himself, started passing his days with us and my brother's family and this slowly brought back a smile on his lips. Whatever we are, we were still a family. By the end of our camp vacation, he was having his evening drink with my brother and I.
These days, no one turns on the AIBO. It served its purpose well and has been packed away.

OTICON PrizeSennheiser HD 65 TV Headphone
My TurnISHIMARU Senri (Okayama Prefecture, age: 43)

I got my driver's license during the summer of my last year in college, but for about six months I was nothing but a paper driver since I didn't have a car. Once I graduated, I knew I'd have to drive to my new job, and the truth is I was nervous about it. That new job was half way up a mountainside on an endless road barely wide enough for a single car. It was daunting, and struck me as being beyond the skills of a green driver like myself. I'd always imagined myself rolling down the road listening to music in a secondhand compact. That was the big dream. The reality turned out to be me clutching the wheel with my eyes fixed on the road in a state of crisis, hoping beyond hope there'd be no oncoming traffic. When I think about it now, it was a hopeless and dangerous way to drive.

One night at dinner my mother leaned over and asked, "So how's the driving? Did you notice that your father's been following you in his car every morning?"
"What!?" My father was following me... I had no idea. Why? He was that worried? 20 years later, I still can feel this moment when I saw so clearly just how much he cared for me.

So, now I've been driving for 20 years. And now, it's my father who's in the passenger seat. He has poor sight in both eyes due to illness. Recently we went out for a drive together. He kept repeating, "Drive carefully now, ... drive carefully..." until I thought I'd go deaf with it. In fact, every time we get in the car, it's the same. But still, "Thank you." Thank you for still caring so much.

Now it's my turn to follow up behind my father when he's out for a walk. His sight is so poor he could fall in a ditch or get hit by a car and it worries me. So, now it's my turn.

MORINAGA Prize Morinaga Special Product set
A Father's ShouldersYONAMINE Hiroki (Tokyo, age: 20)

However you look at it, my father's got broad shoulders.
He often tells me I'm a copy of my mother. Maybe it’s because both of us are a little rough on him?
Wherever he goes, my father's just an ordinary salaryman. Basically, that means he doesn't stand out and may even be dull. It also means he drinks too much and my mother gets mad at him. For me, he was the model of everything I didn't want to become.

When I left home for college, I got my first taste of living alone. Suddenly, I had to do everything for myself. This meant I had to deal directly with the outside world. My part-time job gave me a chance to get yelled at by a manager and discover just what it cost to earn money. My father was going to be sixty, which struck me as an age when you'd want to take it easy. He just went on working without complaint, flogging the horse no matter what his age to bring in money for the family.

I remember when I was a child, my father used to take me out to different. I even got the idea that making every holiday a family occasion was just natural for parents. So, if I saw my father idling around the house on a holiday, I thought he was a loser. But now, I realize how precious a day off can be.

Between school and my job, I'm out all day, morning to night. On weekends, there's school clubs, with no time off. In fact, I'm always thinking how nice it'd be to have one day with nothing to do. And that must have been what my father was feeling back then. Work: morning to evening, then spend more time out meeting up with clients. Then the weekend: family service. Finally, back to work on Monday. Over and over again. When he finally could manage a day with a little time for himself, there'd always be a call from the company, and off he would go. Yet in all my life, I've never heard my father say he was unhappy with his job.

When I think about it now, I think I've been unfair with my father. I've finally understood just how strong he has been. In two years, I too will join the workforce and I hope to be as good as he is, but until I'm there, I really can't say if I can make that grade. Looking out from my window in Tokyo, southwest towards the skies of Okinawa, I cry out with all my heart, "Thank you, Dad, for the past and for the future."

MORINAGA Prize Morinaga Special Product set
Spoiled ChildMURAMATSU Yusuke (Kanagawa Prefecture, age: 27)

A sudden decision to marry. My own family wouldn't get high marks for stability. I'd just turned 22 and had always been a pampered child. I'd do anything my brother did, including going along with our father and making jokes about my mother. She'd get mad. I think I probably gave her a really hard time. And I think I'll still be a source of worry for some time.

So that's who suddenly decided to get married. The time for splitting off from the family I've lived with for 22 years has come. If I said I wasn't worried, it'd be a lie, but I'm filled with hope. I hope to build a even brighter and happier house than the one I knew.

The day I left the house, I just said to my mother, "See you later!" as if I was just doing an errand in the neighborhood. But deep down, I felt so sad and lonely. Once my bags were done, they'd felt so heavy. When I turned the corner on the road away from my house, I remembered something from middle school. I was in full rebellion. My mother would stand in the doorway waving to me till I turned the same corner I was turning now, but I was so embarrassed that I told her to stop. Now, having remembered all this, I turned back once again, and there was my mother just as before, waving farewell. There are no words for what I felt. All I could do was cry.

My older brother always helped me to see my way forward. My father worked hard for the family and never gave up on someone in need. And my mother was forever cheerful and generous, both in our life and in the food she made for us. Whatever I may become, I'll always remain your pampered child.

MORINAGA Prize Morinaga Special Product set
My mother's gift to her grandchildMORITA Sachiko (Aichi Prefecture, age: 37)

The other day my mother bought a set of traditional Japanese summer clothes called "jinbei" for our one and a half year old son. When I was a kid, she used to buy me western clothes. But as I grew older, I began to feel uncomfortable with her choices and stopped wearing the clothes she gave me, even though I always pretended to be happy to get them.

When I was 29, I found out I was an adopted child. "I'm so sorry, you're mother couldn't have children..." my mother told me in tears. My father, who was sitting with us, also broke down in tears. At the time, I wasn't yet married, but I could still understand the distress of a woman who couldn't bear children. But even more than that, seeing my father cry for the first time in my life left me without words.

I felt like yelling and blaming them with things like, "Why didn't you tell me sooner?", "Has my whole life been a lie?", but I couldn't bring myself to do it. I took all the weight of this sudden revelation on myself and have been living with it ever since.

It's a terrible thing to say, but as of that day, I think the unquestioning and total trust I had in them was broken. On the other hand, now that I too have become a parent and I remember all that my own parents did for me, my heart is heavy with gratitude. I've carried this whole tumble of emotions for 8 years now without ever being able to resolve it.

Maybe these feelings will never leave me. But I've also come to think that though they may not leave me, they are also constantly evolving. Perhaps we are not parents and child by blood. Nonetheless, there is no one else I would ever call my parents, and both my father and mother did all they ever could for me: these facts remain.

On the evening of our summer festival, while I was putting our son's new "jinbei" on him, I remembered how happy my mother was when she was picking it out for him. I hugged my son who, innocent of all, seemed happy wearing "jinbei" for the first time, and I wiped the tears from my cheeks.

Dad's routineTABATA Ayumi (Kyoto, age: 40)

"I could never stand not visiting her grave everyday" were the words my father chose to tell us he wasn't moving in to live with my family. The grave was my mother's. For over forty years, my father has been going out for a 5 kilometer run every morning. Since my mother passed away, he added a stop at the graveyard to take care of my mother's plot, and from what he says, he goes there every day without fail.

My mother died from esophageal cancer last year. At the end, when my father was faced with her death, he'd held my mother's hand and fallen to his knees, crying silently. In the waiting room at the crematorium, he sat in a chair with a low back, and somehow his shoulders seemed shrunken to me. For once, I was at a loss for words. At the end of their long fight against my mother's disease, my father had been left disconsolate.

My wife and I had tried any of number of times to explain to him how living old and alone was full of troubles, but he wouldn't have it. Stubborn from day one, my father's answer to all our entreaties was "That's all a lot of rot. Stop treating me like an invalid." At which point we'd started to feel awkward.

For me, the very aggressiveness of his response hid another truth. Something about an old man living alone in the quiet countryside feeling a touch of loneliness. I'd come out to visit him with my sons and when it came once again to taking our leave, you could see the regret of living far from his grandchildren written on his face. Not only did I feel it, but my sons did as well.

My father's daily, morning runs, his worn judo sweats and running shoes, his unsteady figure trundling up the road were famous throughout the area. "Great for his age" or "It's wonderful to see him out there" were the kind of comments that were coming back from the people who knew him. Somehow, their lukewarm attempts at compliments put me ill at ease.

My father was the kind of school teacher who applied the same strictness at home as in the classroom. He was totally devoted to discipline. (For me it was oppressive) I could only ever see the strictness in my father's style of no holds barred style of education and used school as an excuse to get away from home as early as I could. Once I'd started working, I almost never went home to visit. But my marriage was a turning point. When our two sons were born, I found out I wasn't much good at being a father myself and finally started to think just what that might be all about. And I began to appreciate my own father as I encountered new situations and problems, one after the other, in trying to bring up my kids.

Maybe I should be like my father. For example, even though my sons neglect me, I could go show the strength of my unfailing convictions out on the road every morning. I wonder if that's really how it's done, but I still don't have my own answer. All I can do as a father and as a man after all is trundle unevenly up the road.

It's just daily work, but daily work's all there is.
I've made up my mind that as long as I have the health and energy I will follow my father's example. As part of the same family, I'm proud that our mother's grave is so well taken care of and can only respect my father for what he does.

Even today, I'm sure my father put on his dojo sweats and trundled down that lonely road at his own pace. The image of my father's silhouette disappearing in the distance under the open skies brings me closer to him than I ever have been. I can only give in to the feeling of of warmth it inspires in me.

Too Much To Deal WithOGATA Haruka (Tokyo, age: 23)

A lot of frozen mikan had suddenly appeared in the refrigerator. Each one had been carefully peeled and wrapped in saran wrap for easy eating. Just next to them, a tall stack of soy milk drinks, but why so many? Next, a swarm of over three dozen energy drinks. I also had the impression that the stocks of toilet paper and shampoo refills had swollen.

Recently, I've been getting home late everyday and haven't been able to go shopping. I've ended up skipping dinners. If this goes on, the people I work with will start saying I'm looking gaunt. In fact, I'd decided to say something to my boss about my situation, but just the next day, I came home to my apartment and found all this food. A quick look around my apartment turned up other stuff besides edibles.

Only my mother could have done this. She'd brought this stuff over while I was away. She was both a thoughtful and meddlesome person. The kind who found it easier to take care of others than herself. But the absolute giveaway was the quantities, her trademark.

When I was still living at home I just thought my mother tended to overdo things. I felt it was better to leave well enough alone and not say anything. But I still would have liked saying, "Why do you always have to buy so much!" or even, "If you feel there's something missing, then please leave me out of it and just buy stuff for yourself!"

But since I've been living alone, my thinking's changed. Whenever I go back home, I'm amazed at the quantity of food a family of 4 can put down. 3 dozen energy drinks laid out on my younger sister's desk when she's headed into an exam period. As for my father, at least 10 yellow highlighters in his penholder (he uses only yellow). Our house is running over with surplus.

This August will be my mother's first birthday since I started living alone. When I asked her if there was something she wanted, I got the standard "I don't need anything." She's not interested in anything for herself. That's the kind of person she is.

I finally decided to make her favorite sushi for her. And of course, just like my mother, I went ahead and made enough for an army. And I tried to work in all the thanks I had trouble coming out and saying to her.

Goodnight OyakoOZAKI Miyuki (Hokkaido Prefecture, age: 39)

We've got three young boys: age 7, 4 & 1.
Every night they fight about who's going to sleep next to Mama.
My husband is out of the race.
Our bedroom's barely 3 meters by four with three sets of bedding.

But the way it works out, we're 4 under Mama's blanket. The bed gets narrow and the sleeping difficult. A double-decker bed might be nice. But even with a double-decker, the kids would be climbing down to get to Mama. So, best to just go on sleeping in a pile.

The youngest is the first to sleep. After I nurse him, I take him under my arm. Then, while I read books with the two others, my husband takes care of getting our eldest son to sleep.

Why my husband?
He used to read with the kids but we discovered that the second he opened a book, he himself went out like a light.
He works hard and he's tired.
Our second born gives us the most trouble. It's a fight to the death to get him to sleep.
His appetite for picture books is without bottom. Then, if I happen to fall asleep, he can't stand it and does anything to wake me up. And if I hold him and coax him to sleep, it's his appetite for hugs that is without bottom.
Once the second son is out, I can finally sleep. But things are never that simple, because the next thing that happens is that they all start jockeying for space.

What is this incredible attraction for adults? Their heads jutting into me like horns, even coming up under my arms. If I'm not careful, I end up with my eldest coming in from the right, my youngest planted on my left and to top it off, the second born on my stomach. This family is not a flotilla but a beaver damn. And that's when I noticed that my husband's staked out his own territory along the wall, spread-eagled across his bedding. Tomorrow, I think I'll kill him. But I have a better idea and quietly bed the two older children on his right and left sides. That gives me the freedom to get through the late night nursing of our baby.

I even drop off to sleep for a moment, only to hear my second born scream. He woke up and noticed he wasn't next to me. In tears, he charges back towards me while twisting and rolling around. He drops on my stomach when he gets to me and abruptly falls asleep. Like some robot toy.
Now it's my elder son who's woken up with a tearful cry: we're back to the beaver damn formation.
Is this some kind of torture?
God, it's hot. God, they're heavy.
But it's fun too. Maybe later I can try to get work as their blotter. * Is this what she wrote in Japanese?

MILTON PrizeMilton Special Product set
Someplace NiceTSUZUKI Nao (Kyoto, age: 26)

"I'm going to take you someplace nice," my father said to me when I was in my first year at elementary school. I sat down in the passenger seat. When I asked where we were going, my father just laughed. We didn't head for mountains or the sea, the stuff of scenic drives, but back into the city. I was struck by my father's dashing profile as it reflected the red and green neon lights we went by, and I didn't give much thought to our destination.

That day, my father took me to see my very first movie. Entering the hushed theater space, with my feet sunk into the thick red carpet, I noticed a slight odor of mold. The seats were the same flush red with the same odor of mildew, and once I was seated, I was already struck dumb. I stared at the screen until I felt my father patting my hair. "How'd you like it?" All I could do was nod. I was so overwhelmed by those first feeling and emotions. My father smiled and seemed so happy. All he did was nod along with me.

Twenty years later for my father's birthday, I wrote "I'm going to take you someplace nice" on a card and sent it to him with tickets to a movie. From afar, I thought of him just like twenty years ago, when we drove away from the mountains and sea till my his profile was bathed in downtown neon.

"It was a great movie, especially the credits. I sat through them all but somehow missed your name..." he wrote in his next mail, for which he had mustered some animated lettering as if something more than plain was in order. He was 61, and he was the one who had first brought me to the movies that become my future career.

Someday, I hope my name will bit written large enough in the film credits for even his failing eyes to see, and that day I'd like to be by his side. It's been my dream, ever since I was little.

MILTON PrizeMilton Special Product set
Mission ImpossibleTAKEZAKI Airi (Nagasaki Prefecture, age: 21)

I still remember my father calling, "Eri, could you buy me some cigarettes?" He'd run out of cigarettes, and this was his joke. After all, I was in the lower grades of elementary school, had no experience with money and didn't even know how much cigarettes might cost. All I did know was that cigarettes were on sale at vending machines in the street. I emptied my life savings, made up of change that'd been thrown away by my elders, into a shoulder bag my mother had bought for me, slipped on my shoes in the entranceway and left as quietly as possible. I even greeted a neighbor I met outside with a whisper.

We lived in the country, so the nearest vending machine was maybe one and a half kilometers away, down an unpaved road. But I felt that if I could just succeed in this mission of buying cigarettes, something big would happen, like I'd change into a swan that everyone would adore. I was so convinced of this, that I walked single-mindedly down the road.

Finally, I arrived at the vending machine. I was so small that I had to put my head back to look up at the machine. I think I was afraid. And I was worried about slipping while I was handling the machine and messing everything up. I took my courage in my two hands and spilled all my money into the machine. Then I realized I didn't have any idea which brand to buy. And on top of that, there were so many to choose from. But there was nothing for it. I was too small to be choosy. I went for something on the lower shelf and pushed the button.

I'd thought that was all I had to do to get my hands on the cigarettes, but something seemed to have gone wrong. Nothing had come out. Just then I heard a noise behind me and saw a car I knew well. It was my mother.
"What'ya up to, Eri?"
"I'm buying cigarettes."
"Buying cigarettes? With what for money?"
"I already paid, so there!!"
".....21 yen? You can't buy them with that..."
My mother looked down at my determined brow with such amazement. That was about all she could say. Then she put me in the car and effected a forced repatriation.

My first mission was over all too soon. Actually, the fact that I was unable to complete my mission due to my forced repatriation is the one and only regret I have now, at the age of 21. Later, I heard from my parents that when they noticed I was gone, they wondered if I hadn't acted on my father's request, which was a masterpiece of intuition. And then there was the neighbor outside who said he'd seen me go off walking down the road.

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So Cute(Yamanashi Prefecture, age: 33)

My son will soon be five. The other day he looked troubled and said he had something to ask me. I'd been waiting for this. I was all ears and ready to jump, "What's that, darling?"
"" " Well, you say my sisters are cute all the time, but you don't say I am. Why not, ...I'm not cute?"
I smiled. It was an unexpected question.
"They're girls. So we say cute. You're a guy, so we say good looking" I answered. But he still looked troubled.
" "Girls are cute, but I can't be cute?"
So that was it. I felt a pinch in my heart. I hugged him with all my strength.
" "But you are cute. You're cute just like your sisters and I love you so much."
"" "Mama's cute too. I love Mama!"
This was so nice to hear. Who would have thought a word could be such a pleasure. From now on I'll be freer with my words for all of my family.

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The Smell of Old AgeIKEDA Yumiko (SHIZUOKA Prefecture, age: 47)

"Mama, what's this smell... It's like an old folks home!"
Our daughter was in her fourth year of elementary school, and was holding her father's pillow when she confided this to me.
Two things surprised me:
My daughter was very young to be saying such a thing,
And then, the realization that my husband had come to an age where this would happen.
Since I'm the same age, as much as proof of age and decay were evident, my own feelings were much more complicated.
My husband's work had sent him to a foreign post. He came home only rarely, and on those rare occasions his daughter finally got a chance to get close to him.
But the rarity of his appearances itself, had created the very opportunity for my daughter's discovery.
"Stop it Daddy. You smell!"
This new reaction from his daughter made my husband pause.
She was on the verge of adolescence.
Everyone passes through there... and there was no doubt our daughter would live through it.
We clung to that conviction.
Yet, till this day, our daughter had flown into his arms without hesitation whenever he came home.
When they were in the bath together, he would always tease her, "We'll always bathe like this together, won't we?" and our daughter would answer, "Always." But now she was saying, "I guess so."
And that day too, Papa was somehow strange.
He's always thundered through the house. No matter how much his daughter teased him, he'd sleep on. She was his favorite partner.
When they went off to the store, she'd always come back with whatever she wanted.
When he played pony, she rode where she wanted.
Their pillow fights with Papa's smelly pillow went on for hours.
Sweat was running off my husband's brow, even though it was winter.
"OK, hold it!"
"Papa stinks! He's full of sweat!" my daughter said to me breathlessly.
I gave my husband some credit, saying, "He gives it everything he's got."
"But why?"
"Yea, why?"
Papa went back to his job away from home.
My daughter, totally exhausted, finally got some sleep.
The next day, I was going to wash the pillow case.
My daughter slipped in and got hold of it.
"What are you doing!?"
My daughter's eyes were brimming with tears.
"Don't wash it."
"It's the smell of all his efforts!"
My daughter was mumbling, holding the pillowcase.
"We don't even know when he'll be home again."
The smell of age is not the smell of decay, it's the perfume given off by years of all out efforts for the family. The more it smells, the greater the efforts been.
Thank you, Papa.

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Magic WordsKOGA Atsuko (Fukuoka Prefecture, age: 55)

"You'll be fine!" were the words from you that reassured me the most.
More than 20 years ago, I went to a television station to record a quiz program I participated in. It was my first time in front of lights and cameras and I was shaking like a leaf. I totally lost my self-composure and went through the whole rehearsal without answering a single question. In my confusion, I ran to the public phone at the studio and called my mother and that was the simple, generous thing she said to me. Somehow those words took all my worries away. I went back thinking, "let's just see what we can do" and then shot off one answer after another during the show. I won the quiz and even got to go abroad.

Ever since, in my work, in bringing up my family, those words come back to me whenever I get in a jam, and they always help me get beyond the situation.

My memories of childhood are so bright, filled with the sound of my mother's laughter and the steady flow of her home cooked dishes spread endlessly across our small, round dining table. I can still see her in her apron, delivering her own special sushi in the neighborhood. In an age without air conditioning, my mother would bring ice-cold towels, fresh out of the freezer, to my father's atelier. My father was a diligent, silent worker like in a picture straight out of the Showa Age. She always treated him tenderly and put him before her, keeping herself back in the steamy kitchen for the sake of the family. The image of all those wonderfully ordinary days are now locked preciously in my heart.

She didn't leave any possessions to her daughter or grandchildren, but I would like to pass on the warm feeling of all those home-cooked meals and how strong her encouragements made me feel.

So mother, you're gone now, but thank you for those magic words.

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The Pygmalion EffectOKUMURA Miwako (Osaka Predecture, age: 46)

When people talk about the Pygmalion Effect, I think of my mother. The Pygmalion Effect is a psychological phenomenon describing people's tendency to perform in accordance with the expectations of those around them. My mother's expectations for me were so monumental, I'm not sure that I've really fulfilled them. In any case, I am who I am now because of her.

When I was young I was slow and didn't understand quickly. My teachers were always telling my mother that I wasn't up to speed compared with the other children. And every time she would reply, with her eyes cast down, "There are quick learners, and there are those that take their time. All that counts is being able to get along once you're an adult. Please do the best you can for my daughter." Bullied by brutish boys and shut out by snotty girls, I'm sure my future caused my mother hours of worry.

But my mother was strong. She never thought I was impossible. She was always behind me saying "Go on", "If you try, you can" and "Don't give up", her three favorite phrases. She went out and found me a cram school, then helped me find my way through a whole line of new and different subjects. Finally, with all my bad grades and my lackadaisical attitude, I too began to think I might have to change. Once that switch had been thrown, mother branched out, beyond just study. to exercise, music, art, even domestic science. I tried hard, got the hang of some and thoroughly learned others.

Probably, if it weren't for my mother's expectations, I would be totally unreliable today, have no desire for anything and be living some other life without all the happiness I have.
On top of that, my own history affects the way I deal with people. I'm not the type of person to wonder if someone is really ok, but one who naturally supports my fellows with encouragement, "I'm sure you can do this." And the truth is that thanks to this same Pygmalion effect, I'm well regarded by those around me.

Everything'll be FineHAYASHI Toshio (Nara Prefecture, age: 63)

My mother passed away peacefully at the age of 84.
As long as I can remember, her favorite expression was "Everything's fine!"
I grew up in a coast city in Yamaguchi Prefecture, brought up by a quiet father and a high-spirited, solid woman.
Just when I started middle school, my father's business was hit with a terrible recession.
Soon, my father had passed away.
My mother took on my father's debts, and went to work as one of the early insurance agents.
Maybe because the work suited her, she was soon her own high-spirited self again.

When I graduated from a local college and was hired by a company in Osaka, my mother said, "I've got work in Osaka too. In fact, I've had enough of Yamaguchi. Everything'll be fine!"

Years later, I got a call from my mother.
I'm beginning to forget everything and soon enough I'll lose all my confidence. Yesterday, I left the gas on in the kitchen. I've decided to move into a retirement home near where you live. Everything'll be fine."
Once she had moved to the home, my mother got much weaker.
After some trouble swallowing, she got pneumonia and went to the hospital. Once there, they discovered she had cancer of the bile duct and decided to keep her in observation for a while.
She stayed in the hospital for about one month, and then one evening passed away.
I found a small memo pad near her pillow.
There was a note on the last page, written in large, hard letters.
" Keep fighting! You're your mother's child so don't give up. Everything'll be fine!!"
I recalled the image of my mother back when she was so lively and high-spirited.
"No Mother, I won't give up. Everything'll be fine!"

Happy LieMIYAMOTO Yoko (Ibaragi Prefecture, age: 60)

After a long fight with illness, my father died at the age of 73.

During his life, he used to say to my mother who was 8 years his younger, that he would make her tremble at his grave and be there to welcome her. And mother would always laugh to cut through his graveside humor. Though she knew it was just a made up story, maybe my mother believed it just a teeny weeny bit.
At any rate, she visited his grave often by the hill at the back of our house.
Since I could never forget his words, I once asked her about it.
"I never tremble when I go out there, so it was all just a made-up story." she answered with a laugh. But, when she herself passed away, I remember thinking that wherever they were now, they must be arguing about what he'd said even now.

My father even told me he’d change into something else and come visit me. When I visited his grave, I'd always look around for something, a frog or an ant, a dragonfly or a locust, something that'd be my father. I liked the idea that he'd change into some small living thing and come to see me.

Recently, in August, at the time of the Obon festival, I've visited his grave after years of neglect. The trip is 3 or 4 hours long by Shinkansen and bus, and with age my visits had fallen off. But, for some time, a lone locust would beat on the screen of our kitchen every August. It would hold on to the screening with its legs and cry, then fly off. I kept thinking how foolish I was being, but I leant over and said, "Please come by and visit me in Ibaragi." When I finally meet my father again, I'll have to ask him about this locust.
For my father it'd all been an exaggeration or game, but for his family, it kept him close to us.

For Oyako DayFUKUI Atsuo (Kyoto Prefecture, age: 48)

 There's something I noticed once I passed forty. That is, that as much as it maddens me, I resemble my father.

Ever since kindergarten, I've lived thinking that I was like my mother. The shape of my hands and feet, the look in my eyes, my flat nose: they all came from my mother. As for what came from my father, at most, that'd be my voice. That's fine, I always thought. No, actually, I thought that was fine because it was just my voice.

Then one day, I smelled something familiar in my body odor. "What the !!..." I couldn't believe it, but now that I checked, even my pillow smelt of it: my father's smell. My pillow was oily and stunk. It was the same smell that I used to hate back in our house. But now it was my own odor, my father's smell when he was older.
But there's more.

It's my image in the mirror. I see that I've got rounded shoulders. Then, if I happen to look back, my body moves just as my father's did. So much so that it's disturbing.
Since when have I looked so much like my father?
When he got to middle age, his hair thinned out and his plump cheeks went flat. Do I look like that? I never thought I did, but somehow things have been changing.
How I hate it. I've come to look like the same tired old fart my father is.
But there's more.

My mother's blood type is AB, my father's O and mine is B. My mother is unpretentious and natural, which I always thought to be my style too. But recently, I have to admit that I've been getting a little obsequious. And that's without any doubt, the same servile character my father has and that I screamed about for years. NO!
Did I eat Adam and Eve's forbidden fruit? Or is it a wicked trick of DNA?
At any rate, after all these years of satisfaction over getting my mother's traits, middle age has thrown light on the apparently solid inheritance coming in from the paternal side.
For better or for worse, outside or inside, all throughout my body: it all comes from my parents.
And there's no mistaking who my parents were.
Let's have a drink on Oyako Day. How 'bout it, you old fart.

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Monkey MountainFUKAWA Yuriko (Kanagawa Prefecture, age: 46)

We hadn't been to the zoo for a long time.
My son was fascinated by the Monkey Mountain.
There was a low railing just in front of him with a deep ditch on just the other side.
The Monkey Mountain was a rocky hill cluttered with ropes, tires and other recreational equipment.
His interest for everything on the other side of the rail seemed eternal.

And then I remembered how I had been the same way, way back when, fascinated by Monkey Mountain. On the other hand, looking at it now, with their roles assigned through group dynamics from the Boss at the head on down, these monkeys' society was a little too close for comfort.

"Why's that little monkey climbing on the other monkey's back?"
"How come that monkey's the only one that's eating."
Really, whether it was then or now, the parent's hand was dealt. Always a hoard of questions with each viewing, and then, since the child seemed to lose interest with every answer, it was such an effort to answer carefully.
Next time I'll have to bring my stay-at-home parents down here. I'm sure they remember their own busy times at Monkey Mountain. And then, it'd be fun to check our own roles just once, and see how they've changed.

Pinky promiseIWAMURA Kei (Tokyo, age: 59)

It's more than a half century ago now.
I think I was in my third or fourth year of elementary school. I'd come home crying several days in a row, when one evening my father told me to sit up in my chair and thoroughly admonished me. His final words were, "All right you're a big boy now, so no more crying." Then he put out his pinky finger and we linked fingers. "That's a promise, right?" he said. As he spoke, he wagged our fingers up and down, but my words just stuck in my throat. Finally I squeezed the word out, "Promise..."

Boo, my eyes filled with tears and my voice was lost.
"Wait a second, you just promised not to cry!"
My father gave me a puzzled look and withdrew his pinky.
From that night on, whenever I would cry, my father would pat my head and say, "Did you forget? We promised..." But actually, I had an objection.

First of all, my pinky hadn't been fully engaged. And I hadn't said the words, "Cross my heart and hope to die." And to be really serious, I hadn't cut off my finger either, so there was no promise about not crying in it at all. Even my mother was there as a witness.

It occurs to me that if that had been a real promise instead of a half-baked one, then I'd have been a liar back then and would have had to die. And, since the idea of dying wouldn't have pleased me, I might have ceased being a crybaby. But what I would have really liked was to redo the promise. Unfortunately, that hope was dashed since my father died long, long ago.
I remember myself at the funeral ceremony.
I felt so sad and so alone. I cried in front of everyone. I broke my father's one-sided promise right in the public eye. I stared into the stern face of my father framed in his photograph, and put out my pinky, but once again my voice was swallowed by tears and I couldn't promise... While I was sobbing, my father's portrait seemed to look back with a bitter smile.
I'm going to be sixty this year. I've learned much in the art of hiding tears, but I'm still the same crybaby.