At the end of September I visited my hometown for the first time in quite a while. I found the scenery of my native village, which is situated in the southwest of Oita Prefecture, very nostalgic, and the hurricane lily flowers were splendid. Surrounded by hills, the fields were beginning to turn golden as the day of harvesting approached.
As usual, the local people were very affable. A lot of them have passed away now, though. How time flies! I have reached the age of 71 years too. It can't be helped, but the gentle landscape evoked a tinge of sadness as well.
I was the fourth son among nine siblings, and my eldest sister used to treat me very fondly. At the age of 82, she still does. My eldest sister has always been popular and liked by many people. She is still full of vitality and does lots of things for others.
One of my beliefs is that people who devote themselves to helping others and live long lives are receiving the blessings of Providence. You are not going to live long if you just make others unhappy. My eldest sister and her husband are a good example. When I visited their home, I was most impressed by an essay that my eldest sister had written for an old people's association. And I was moved again by the fact that despite all the hardships, she had always been so cheerful and kind. An amazing woman! When I read her essay, it felt like I was reading a page from the modern history of Japan.
"The Bonds of My Life" by Michiko Yamasaki
"I was brought up in the Nakano district of Fuseno in Kiyokawa-machi. My birth mother died when I was three, my second mother died when I was eight, and so a third mother came to our house. I was one of nine children. As I was the eldest daughter, I had the hard task of taking care of my siblings.
"During the war my father was sent away on military service twice, and I had to look after the home with the mother of my stepmother living with us and without my father. My stepmother did not possess any of the ill-natured qualities that stepmothers sometime have. She did not discriminate against the children and devoted herself to housekeeping.
"While taking care of my brothers and sisters, I was also busy every day working in the fields and doing the housework. Due to these circumstances, I was only able to go to school occasionally. I will never forget having to frequently go to our neighbors to ask for some kindling so as to start our fire for cooking, because we were so poor we couldn't afford to buy any matches. There's nothing worse than having to go to another family's house to ask for something. They didn't look kindly on the repeated kindling beggar. It is a bitter memory that I will never forget, although nowadays I look back on those times with a touch of nostalgia too.
"From about the age of 17, during slack times in the fields, I went to my aunt's house (my mother's elder sister) to take care of my uncle and aunt. It was hard work doing the chores at home and then going to another house to help, but I attended the two of them right to the end. My aunt and uncle did not have any children of their own, so my husband was adopted into the Yamasaki family and inherited the family estate. We got married in 1957.
"Being adopted kin, we hadn't been told anything about the Yamasaki family. After my aunt died, we were shocked to find out that they had a large debt and that both the house and land were being used as collateral. Subsequently my husband and I were blessed with two daughters and one son. While bringing up our children, we tightened the purse strings and managed to repay all of the debt in five years. It was my husband's strength of mind that kept us going. I feel sure that the happiness we enjoy now is the result of our immense efforts together back then."