Monday, March 31, 2008

HAPA Fake Birthday, Yuriko!

Omedetto gozaimasu, Yuriko-san!

Today is my mom's fake birthday--the one we've always celebrated in our family. I know, I know. You're probably confused since I just wrote last week about her being born on the same day as Shaka/Buddha/Siddhartha, which is April 8.

Here's what happened. When my mother was approaching school age, her father decided he'd like her to start a year early. I think he discovered that his third child (and second daughter) was pretty bright for her age, and he didn't want her wasting a year hanging around the house when she could be learning. At that time in Japan, the cut-off ended with those kids whose birthdays fell on April 1 and beyond. They would have to wait until the following year to enroll. Since my mom was born on April 8, her father decided to fake some documents indicating that her birthday was March 31.

Well, it worked. For awhile. Eventually, authorities discovered the fraud and fined him. But that extra year of schooling she got helped later on when an unfortunate set of circumstances caused her to have to work at age 13. Because Japanese schools are so advanced (remember, kids would to go to school on Saturdays and only had one month of summer vacation), my mother's education compared to an American counterpart's was probably at a high school level.

When my mother was five, the great Tokyo earthquake leveled her parents' business. Her father (a barber) and her mother (a hair stylist) owned a salon which employed several workers. But the earthquake caused a devastating fire that burned down the city of mostly paper houses along with my grandparents' beauty shop.

Almost a year later, just as he completed rebuilding the family business, my grandfather became very ill. Instead of seeing a doctor, he nursed himself at home. One week later, he was dead from appendicitis. With five children suddenly fatherless, my grandmother had no time to grieve. The kids (2, 4, 6, 8, and 10 years old) pretty much looked after each other while she travelled the city styling the hair of wealthy geisha.

My mother remembers not wanting to go home after school to an empty and cold house. Instead, she would sit for hours on a hill overlooking her home waiting for the signal (lights on in the house) that her mother was home.

Eventually, my grandmother couldn't juggle all the children and work, too. There was no welfare system then, and no relatives to help out so my mother's mother told her two oldest daughters that they'd have to get jobs. Imagine being 13 years old and sent to another city to not only live with strangers, but to be their servant, too. My mother recalls crying a lot because as she hoisted her employer's baby onto her back, she imagined being in school adjusting a backpack filled with books. Instead, here she was being someone's nanny with her entire pay going home to take care of her siblings.

Around the time she turned 20, my mother was finally able to escape her circumstances. Back home again, she returned to school and even found an office job. But as Fate would have it, World War II soon began and my mother, along with many others, would often be forced to run to bomb shelters. Once again, Tokyo was leveled--this time by the bombing campaign of the U.S. and its allies.

One of the fortunate ones, my mother suffered no visible physical injuries, but her hearing has never been good and I wonder if bombs were the culprit.

Still, in spite of her horror stories of war and poverty, my mom always seems to be happy. Besides telling terrible jokes (they're rarely funny), she loves to laugh (especially at her own terrible jokes).

Here's a photo of her in Germany in the early 1950's. A class-A seamstress, she probably made that outfit she's wearing.

btw, the kanji for Yuriko, my mother's name, means lily.

HAPA birthday, Lily.

Your Hip Hapa,

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