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A father's international flair

As Japan opened up after World War I, he seized opportunities to travel and found love.

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We had just finished breakfast, and my father, who usually left early for his Saturday game of golf, was in a rare talkative mood. "So," he said, motioning me to sit down, "you're nearly14. Let me tell you what I was doing when I was your age.

"Every morning," he began, "I would get up at 4:30 and go off to the paddy fields to catch – mudfish. They are small fish, as you know – not worth much. But people like to put them in a fish stew, and when I had a bucketful, I would take them to the market. I'd bring the money home, usually not even 1 yen [then worth about 50 cents], and give them to my mother. I know your mother gives you chores each morning – mop the floors and brush my shoes. Just don't forget what I was doing at your age."

Continuing his story, he recalled that he had been born in Tomioka, 200 miles north of Tokyo – a city I had never visited. His father was a Zen Buddhist priest without many parishioners. "So my mother had to scrimp and save to bring up her seven children, of whom I was the last. When I was 7, my parents sent me off to be an apprentice in a temple in the next town.

"But I was miserable, and soon came running home. The next day, my mother sent me back. Again, I ran home. After the third time, my mother said I could stay, but only if I helped out even a bit with the family income. That's what took me to the paddy fields to catch mudfish, even on cold winter mornings."

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