My niece’s daughter turned one this year in Japan. The family held a traditional mochi fumi celebration for her. She wore waraji (straw sandals) and stepped on a big mochi (pounded rice cake). This ritual is supposed to bring the baby good luck for a healthy life. My niece’s mochi fumi reminded me of a little girl I used to look after when I first came to Canada. As a nanny, I felt a big responsibility, but the job gave me landed immigrant status. More importantly, I had fun watching a child grow every day under my loving care.
In 1983, I was working at an advertising agency in Tokyo. I was tired of the busy pace and competition. My sister was living in Toronto then. She kept on asking me to come to visit her, so one day I decided to quit my job and come to Canada.
I didn’t plan on staying here at first, but I felt at home in Toronto from early on. My sister was disappointed that I never had culture shock or felt homesick.
I decided to stay longer, but I needed to find a job. In a Japanese Canadian newspaper, I found an advertisement for a job as a nanny.
Things moved very smoothly. My prospective employer drove me to Buffalo to get a visa. I was given a Domestic Working Permit right then and there. The officer told me that I could begin working from that afternoon. And I was guaranteed to get landed immigrant status after two years as a nanny.
I worked from Monday to Friday, from 8 a.m. until 6 p.m., sometimes in the evening as well when my employers went out. I had only one child to look after, which made my job much easier than the situation of some other nannies I knew. The little girl was only nine months old when I started. She was almost four when I left. I spoke to her in Japanese every day. She was very good at learning the language even though her parents spoke to her only in English.
I witnessed her first step just before she started walking at eleven months old, her first stitches on her forehead as the result of an accident at her preschool. She kept calling my name at the hospital even though her mother was with her, so the doctor showed up, carrying her to find me in the waiting room.
Her first subway ride, first tricycle ride, first high fever—I was there with her all these times. I fed her breakfast, lunch and dinner. I gave her a bath every day. She and I bonded, and people often thought that she was my daughter. She used to call me “cha-cha,” as she couldn’t pronounce my name properly. When she started calling my name, her preschool teacher thought that my name was ‘celery.’
For the first birthday of my niece’s daughter this year, in Nagasaki, they had a traditional ceremony called mochi-fumi, which means “pounding rice cake by feet.” The child wears waraji (straw sandals) and then keeps stepping on a big rice cake. My mother was there to hold her great granddaughter’s foot while the little one pounded the rice cake. This ceremony is meant to wish a child a healthy, long life. I have to admit that I didn’t know it existed until recently.
I notice myself becoming more curious about Japanese culture and appreciating it more than ever. The mochi-fumi brought back a memory of the nanny period of my life. I haven’t kept in touch with my employers or their child, Richelle. But I remember her first birthday. Her mother ordered a big cake of Burt and Ernie from Sesame Street. Her birthday was celebrated by all her adult family.
It may be because I am ageing. It might be that I would not feel so grateful for my culture if I were living in Japan. But, one thing is for sure, after 30 years of living in Canada, I am finally feeling homesick.
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.