The Unspoken Words


An old Japanese saying aptly characterizes the Japanese way of communication: “Ichi o kiite, Ju o shiru,” meaning, “If you hear ‘one,’ you must know ‘ten’” or “I do not say all that I feel.” For example, in Japan one rarely, if ever, hears what one hears often and is encouraged to say in other parts of the world: “I love you.” This is true even between husband and wife or parents and children.

I have been a member of the Church all my life, and my parents have been excellent members and examples for me in the gospel. Yet I cannot recall ever hearing my father or mother say to each other or to me, “I love you.” Neither have I ever told either of them that I love them. But there is not a single doubt in my mind that they love me and know that I love them.

Here are two examples of my parents saying “one” and my understanding “ten.” Just before I left on my mission, my whole family came to the United States and we visited Church historical sites and temples. After the tour across the United States, I said good-bye to them in Los Angeles to leave for the mission home in Salt Lake City. Much to our surprise, I had been called to go to Brazil, a distant and unknown country, rather than to Japan, my native land. The departure would have been less emotional had I received a call to Japan. As I said good-bye to my mother, my brothers, and my sisters, I saw that each of them was crying. When finally my father extended his hand and said, “Masakazu, gambatte” (“Son, try hard”), I noticed tears in his eyes, too. As if trying to hide them, he turned around, and I drove away, for I knew that, according to the customs of my country, I should not see my father’s tears or show mine to him.

I could not stop crying, so I asked my brother to drive. As he drove, I reflected on my father’s words and the tears in his eyes. I had never seen my father cry in public. But even with the cultural restraints, he felt he could not stop his tears because of the love and concern he had for me. I knew he meant more than he had said. I knew that in every one of his long prayers he would, as he had throughout my two older brothers’ missions, plead for me and my success as a missionary. He would write me often and encourage me to be the best missionary there. And he would have complete confidence that I would do my very best for the Lord.

The second example comes from one of my mother’s letters, which I received on a winter day shortly after returning to Brigham Young University. At the beginning of her letter was a short greeting: “The hands that put eggplant in the pickle bucket are getting frozen these days, but how are you?” I imagine most people would find this humorous, but it brought tears to my eyes. Eggplants should not make one cry, but tucked in this sentence were the many folds of my mother’s love for me. Pickled eggplant is my favorite food, and, knowing this, my mother always had some for me at the breakfast table. She makes very delicious pickled eggplant, but to do so takes extra work. One has to stir the special pickling brine and add the eggplant at about three o’clock in the morning. If this is done earlier or later in the day, the pickles are not so tasty. My mother is the only one who loves me enough to get up and prepare eggplant at three o’clock in the morning. It is not too bad in the summer time, but in the winter there is often a layer of ice on the brine, and to stir it and put the eggplants in with your hands is, to say the least, quite a chore.

I knew that as my mother woke up again at three o’clock and began to prepare the eggplant for my younger brother and sisters, she still thought of the one who used to eat so much of it every morning. She obviously wondered how I was getting along in a strange and faraway country without her care. All this and more was intimated in the first sentence of her letter.

Though I have never once heard my father or mother say, “I love you,” and probably never will, I have no doubt that they love me. Nor do I have to tell them, for I know they know that I love them. Still, for the first time in my life I want to say to them: “Dad and Mom, you are the greatest, and I love you.” If they see this one sentence, they will know that it means not only ten times but hundreds of times over what the words themselves signify. I only hope that I can always prove to them that what I say is true—the way they have shown their love for me: not through vain repetitions but with the life I live.

[illustration] Illustrated by Parry Merkley

Masakazu Watabe, assistant professor of Japanese at Brigham Young University, is bishop of the BYU 58th Ward.