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A Mother's Love

(From an essay first published in the January 1967 issue of Shufu to seikatsu (Homemaker's Life), a Japanese women's magazine1)

My mother, whose name is Ichi, was born in the twenty-eighth year of the Meiji era (1895) and hence is now close to eighty. She lives a quiet life in the suburbs of Tokyo.

She raised eight children of her own and adopted and raised two other children from outside. Now that her sons have families of their own and her only daughter has also married, she can boast a total of thirteen grandchildren.

She is a very simple woman without any education, but she succeeded in raising all of her children in good health. It always pleases me to think that, in its own way, her Iife represents a victorious one.

Her Iife has by no means been entirely happy, at least in her early years. My father Nenokichi, who died in 1956, was so hardheaded and obstinate that he was known among his relatives and neighbors as "Mr. Stubborn." I am certain it must have required enormous patience on my mother's part to have stuck with him until the end of his life.

When I was a child our home was at Omori on the edge of the bay in the southern part of Tokyo. My mother did her share of the work growing and gathering nori--laboring in a way that it would be difficult for an ordinary city housewife of today to imagine. Even now I can picture her, a little woman, in the dead of winter getting up before the dawn and working away until late in the evening, not even stopping to rest when she had caught a cold.

As far as the education of her children was concerned, she didn't seem to have any special ambitions. I never remember her saying a single word that would incite us to dream of success in the future or make us feel that the acquiring of degrees and formal education was an important or desirable thing.

For all her lack of pretension, I do recall her cautioning us again and again never to tell lies or do anything to cause trouble to other people. I am grateful to her that she did, for once I got out into the world I realized that these after all were the most important things for us to have learned.

A woman who never put on airs of any kind, her whole happiness lay in seeing her children grow up in good health, and she was willing to do any amount of work to achieve that goal. That's the kind of mother she was; I can't imagine any other kind that I would rather have.

During those years of nightmare and tragedy during the Pacific War, our family suffered the same as everyone else. My four elder brothers, who had just grown to maturity and reached the age where they could relieve my mother of some of the work, were one after another called up for military service, summoned, it was said, for the sake of the Emperor and the sake of the nation. My mother, true to the spirit demanded of the mothers of a nation at war, never shed a single tear. She sent each of her sons off to foreign lands with a smile on her face. I wonder, though, what was in her heart at that time.

One thing in particular I admired about my mother was the fact that in spite of the large number of children she had to cope with, she was always completely fair in her treatment of them. In everything, from the dividing up of food to the settling of quarrels, she showed fairness and impartiality. Intervening in the numerous fights that arose among us children, she would always take care to determine just who was in the right and who wasn't, and would settle the matter in a way that left everyone satisfied. She was in fact a highly skilled judge and arbitrator. Since I was the weakest and most sickly among all the boys, I naturally caused her the most care and worry. After the war, when I was going to school at night, she would always wait up for me no matter how late I came home. Then she would heat up a bowl of noodles for me saying, "I'll bet you had a hard day!" In that one sentence which she would repeat over and over, I could sense the boundless tenderness of a mother's love.

No matter how old I get, she still treats me like a child.