When my parents were young, in Japan, it was normal to have an arranged marriage. They had never met before. I wonder if it was my mother’s destiny to be married to my father? I cannot imagine going through what she did for so many years. I wish my father were a generous and kind person to my mother. I wish he were less selfish and more supportive of her. Even after all these years, they are still not happy together. To me, my mother was not a wife nor a daughter-in-law. She was a slave.
When I think of my parents, the first thing that comes to my mind is that they are very hard workers. I have no memory of spending time with them as a child except when we took a family trip to the sea once a year. They grew up and lived their whole lives in the same place in the countryside. They almost never left Japan except when they came to Canada once about 15 years ago. My father was in China during World War II.
They had never met before their arranged meeting, and their feelings were not considered in making the decision to marry. Their parents decided. This was unfortunate for my mother but lucky for my father. I say that because as my father was the first son in his family, my mother had to marry into the whole family, including my father’s youngest brother and sister, and his grandmother. In my opinion, my mother was not a wife nor daughter-in-law. She was a slave.
Her day started around 5 a.m. She went to the field to work, as my grandparents were farmers and had much to do. She then made breakfast for as many as eleven people, made lunch boxes, even cleaned the house before going to work in the construction business from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Then she came home and went to the field before cooking dinner for everyone and cleaning up after dinner. There was no dishwasher those days, of course, so she did everything by hand. Then the worst part came: she had to do laundry for the same eleven people, at night in the river, by hand every night because there was no washing machine. How hard that must have been in the wintertime! By the time she could lie down to rest her worn-out body it was 10:30 p.m. or later at night.
It gives me deep sorrow when I think about my mother’s married life. It must have been so tough physically. It was also difficult emotionally and financially. My father also worked in the construction business and the field in the morning and the evening. However, he didn’t have to do any of the housework. He was never even a help or support.
My mother worked most of her life for other people. I ask myself what gave her joy and a smile? Was I a good daughter to her? My father is very good to other people, but for some reason, he is very stubborn, selfish and stingy to the family. If only he could have been more understanding and generous to my mother. That is what I wished for and still do.
My mother left my father a few times. At first, she took her children with her but later on, she left by herself. She only had one place to go, back to where her mother lived. However, each time she left, she was brought back to my father and his family by our neighbour.
I remember that my mother used to talk to herself a lot, having no-one to talk to in the family. I mean to have a good conversation about anything, to discuss bad days and good days if there were any. I liked it when she used to sing to herself while she was doing housework, it made me think that she was all right.
My parents have been married for over 60 years now. Even to this day, my mother’s life is not so easy as my father’s. He is getting more stubborn and doesn’t listen to anyone; he thinks he is the best. I can see now that she has had enough. They are both much older now, and my father is showing signs of dementia, yet they are not friends.
I visit my parents in Japan every other year, and seeing them so unhappy is hard to accept. I ask my mother if she can forgive him, but she cannot forget what she went through. I ask my father if he could show some appreciation for my mother in his own words. He actually did once while I was visiting this past spring, but that was not enough for her.
I came to Canada in 1983 to visit and study English. But, as I stayed longer, I saw the lifestyle here, the difference in how people live and that people actually enjoy life. Canadians live with freedom and choice; male and female are equal (compared to Japan). I found my life in Canada.
I am grateful that I enjoy what I do for a living. I wonder what my mother would have done if she had a choice. Whenever I have a difficult time with work or life in general, I think of my mother and realize my problem is nothing compared to hers. She is my hero.
SAYURI TAKATSUKI is from Japan and has been living in Canada since 1983. She has been working as a registered massage therapist in Toronto for 25 years.