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Selection - One Who Unites Heaven and Earth

Childhood, Part I
Page: 1/2

I was born in Tokyo, in the district of Asakusa, some time between five and six o’clock on the evening of November 22, 1916.
My father was descended from a samurai family which, during the feudal age, served the Nagaoka clan of Echigo Province. At the entrance to our home there was always a nameplate, specially placed by my father, reading: “Manjiro Goi of samurai descent.”
Full of hopes and dreams, my father had left his hometown at the age of fifteen or sixteen and moved to Tokyo to seek his fortune. Yet, being prone to illness and having many children, he spent his entire life at an occupation that never gladdened his heart and that aged him prematurely. His sole source of pride seemed to be the nameplate that attested to his samurai heritage.
My mother, Kiku, the daughter of a merchant, was born in Tokyo. Her qualities of toughness and dynamism enabled her to support her ailing husband and give birth to nine children, eventually raising eight of us, two girls and six boys, to adulthood.
Although I was only little at the time, I remember well that she used to run a tiny candy shop at home, and sometimes did hairdressing there too. “Never borrow money from anyone. No matter how tough things get, you must get through it on your own.” This was the constant litany that we heard from our mother. And in keeping with her words, my mother’s greatest source of pride lay in the fact that no matter how difficult our life became, we never had to borrow a cent. For this reason, only my eldest brother attended school with my parents’ financial assistance. The rest of us had to work our way through school. However, none of us resented this, because we had grown up seeing how hard our mother worked from morning till night, hardly even sparing time for sleep.
Like my father, I had poor health when I was little. As I grew into boyhood, doctors frequently doubted whether I would survive to adulthood. When physical check-ups were held at school, I remember the doctors and teachers craning their necks to look at my body as they pointed to it and described it as a typical example of an infirm constititution. In hushed tones they commented that it would be a wonder of medical science if I grew up without succumbing to tuberculosis.
I listened silently to such whispered exchanges, overcome by an indscribable feeling of something between fear and pain. Perhaps because of this, I felt extremely reluctant to undress in front of others, and I absolutely loathed going to the public baths. At the same time, I started to give up hope on ever having good health, for I felt that I was sure to die of tuberculosis or some sort of stomach or intestinal disorder by the time I reached adulthood, if not sooner.
Before I knew it, I found myself becoming seriously interested in the subject of death. I think this must have been the first step in the awakening of my philosophical and religious turn of mind.
Despite my misgivings about my health, hidden deep in my heart there was an element of cheerfulness and optimism that did not accord with the frail state of my body. I often performed comical dances for the amusement of my mother and my brothers and sisters. It didn’t matter to me if they considered me silly and foolish. Just seeing their enjoyment made me happy.

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