In Japanese, the word for filial piety is oya koko. Everyone in Japan is familiar with the word. In fact, many of IB’s coworkers and Japanese friends were impressed that IB as a gaijin drove the four hours to pick us up in Fukuoka and four hours to bring us back to Satsumasendai when we arrived in Japan. To be honest, I had always regarded the idea of filial piety restrictive and restricting, suppressive and oppressive as I read about it in Confucian literature many years ago. But perhaps those feelings were more based on the complicated relationship I had with my own parents, especially my mother, than it had to do with anything Confucian. When IB told his Japanese friends he was making the four hour journey to pick us up, they all nodded their heads and said with earnestness, “Ah, oya koko.”
In Japan, IB included us in every facet of his life with genuine joy and caring. He took us to his favorite restaurants, he shared his personal temple and shrine discoveries, we met his co-workers and Japanese friends, including his “J” mom who appointed herself as his mother in Japan. We spent the entire two weeks together. He helped us negotiate bullet trains and traffic, nature hikes and urban journeys, souvenir shopping and spiritual experience.
When we needed to slow down for JB, and IB became a bit frustrated at the pace, or when he needed to remind us more than once of our cultural faux pas (chopsticks sticking in the rice, handing shopkeepers bills), we gently teased him, playfully waving our finger in the air, warning, “Filial piety.”
Raising children is a tricky and mysterious business. Even with the best of intentions we sometimes stumble and crash as parents. There are no consistent rules. What works one day may not work the next. There is no rhyme or reason. There were times when I thought we had lost our grip and our way. Yet here we were in Japan reaping filial piety, given with genuine and sincere love and compassion. Somehow we have sloppily found our way to a place where IB has found some generous understanding around all of our shortcomings, an understanding abundant with compassion, with ample room for falling flat on our faces.
Confucius called filial piety the highest of virtues. He felt that good family relationships were the key to reforming society. In his Analects, Confucius said that one should “concern himself with the root; and if the root is firmly planted, the Way grows. Filial piety and fraternal duty–surely they are the roots of humaneness” (1:2 Analects).
I continue to work out the forgiveness I need to embrace around issues with my own mother. It hasn’t come easily. But with IB it seems to flow with great capacity. The fruits of parenting lie somewhere in the selfless narrative of experience. I’m not sure how we got here, but here is zen. Here is expansive and inspired blessing. The Way grows.