The Story of a Bowl of Kakesoba

In today’s life, do not forget that there is still compassion. This is a true story and we called it “A bowl of kakesoba” story. It happened fifty years ago, on the 31st of December in a soba restaurant “Hokkaitei” in Hokkaido, Japan.

On the New Year’s Eve, eating soba is the custom of the Japanese to welcome the New Year, so this is the most prosperous day of the restaurant. On normal days, the streets are very crowded till night, but today everyone comes home earlier to welcome the New Year.

Therefore, the streets quickly become quiet. The Owner of Hokkaitei is an honest person while his wife is an enthusiastic hostess who treats guests as relatives. On the New Year’s Eve, when she was about to close the door, it was slowly opened and a middle-aged woman with two little boys entered.

The smaller boy was about six years old and the older was about ten years old. The two boys were wearing matching sweat suits while the woman was wearing an out-fashioned coat.

– Hello. May I help you?

Hearing the welcome of the hostess, the woman hesitantly said.

– Uhm… could we have… a bowl of kake-soba, please?

At her back, two children were anxiously looking up at their mother.

“Oh, well, okay. Come this way please.”

She led them to the table number 2 and said to her husband in the kitchen out loudly.

“One kake!”

Three people at the table were putting their head together, and chatting over the bowl of soba.

“Mm, delicious,” said the older boy.

“Have some, Mom,” said the little one, and held one piece of noodle to his mother’s mouth.

After finishing it, they paid 150 yen for a bowl of soba. The mother and sons all said, “Thank you very much. We enjoyed it,” bowed and left.

The owner and his wife said unanimously “Thank you very much! Have a Happy New Year!”

They were busy as usual every day in the following year, and soon the day of December 31st came around again. The business of Hokkaitei was still prosperous. It was a busier day than the one in the previous year. When the clock struck ten, and just when the owner’s wife was going to close the door, it slightly opened again. A woman with two boys came in. The owner’s wife remembered the last customer of the previous year when she glanced at her checkered coat

“Uh, …could we have… a … bowl of kake-soba…please?”

“Oh, well, okay. Come this way, please.”

She led them to the same table they had sat the previous year and said to her husband in the kitchen loudly.

“One kake!”

“Okay, one kake!” the husband replied and relit the stove he had just put out.

“Hey, how about making three servings for them as a discount?” – she whispered into the husband’s ear.

“No. If I do like that, they will be concerned about it.” he said, boiling a lot of raw soba in the pan. He smiled at the wife and said, “You are a good person, even if you look sullen.”

He served a big bowl of soba and handed it to the wife. The two, standing the kitchen, overheard what the mother and her sons were saying over a bowl of soba at the table.

“Mm, tastes good,” said one.

“Mom. We are lucky to be able to eat soba at Hokkaitei again,” said the other.

“I hope we can have it next year,” said the woman.

After finishing it, they paid 150 yen, and left.

“Thank you very much! Have a Happy New Year!”

Looking at the three person, the owner and his wife discussed for a long time. Their business had been going well on the third 31st of December, too. The owner and his wife were so busy that they did not have time to talk to each other.

It was over half past nine in the evening, Hokkaitei’s owner and his wife were both nervous and could not settle down. When it was 10 o’clock, the owner let his workers go home with the lucky money, and flipped over the price cards on the wall one by one which were raised in price just this year: ‘200 yen for kake-soba’ and quickly changed into 150 yen. The ‘Reserved’ seat card had already been put on the second table by the wife.

It was 10:30 when the three-the mother and two boys-entered as if they had been waiting for the stream of customers to end. The older boy was in a junior high school’s uniform, while the little one was in his brother’s hand-me-down jumper, though it was a little larger for him. The two boys had grown up a lot.

‘Hello. Come in please. Come in please.” the owner’s wife enthusiastically welcomed them.

Seeing the smiling face of the owner’s wife, the mother hesitantly said

“Uh, …could we have…kake-soba…two bowls of kake-soba…please?”

“Ah, well, okay. Come this way, please.”

She led them to the same second table, while subtly removing the ‘Reserved’ card. She said to her husband loudly.

“Two kake!”

“Okay, two kake!” and put three balls of raw soba into the pan. From the three people’s cheerful laughing, they must have had a lively conversation over two servings of soba. The wife and her husband smiled when they heard their lively conversation.

“Sons, I’d like to say thank you to both of you,” the mother said.

“…Thank us? …What for?”

“To tell the truth, eight people were injured by the accident your late father had caused…The car insurance only covered a part, so I’ve paid them 50,000 yen every month that wasn’t covered by the car insurance.”

“I’ve known about it,” said the older son.

The owner and his wife couldn’t move but just listened to them.

“The due date for the last payment is next March. But I paid all the debts today.”

“Wow! You really did it, Mom?”

“Yes, I did. Your brother has delivered newspapers, and you have shopped and made meals every day. Thanks to both of you, I’ve been able to work without worrying about anything. The company gave me a special allowance for my hard work. That’s why I could finish paying all of our debts.”

“Mom! Brother! I’m very happy to hear that. But I’ll keep making supper from now on.”

“I’ll keep delivering newspapers, too. Jun, let’s do our best!”

“Thank you, thank you very much, my sons!”

“Now I think it’s time to uncover our secret. Jun and I have kept a secret from you. There was a parents’ visiting day on a Sunday in November…Jun’s teacher sent letter inviting the parent to a class. Jun’s teacher also sent a special letter informing that Jun’s essay was chosen among the ones in Hokkaido, and it will be sent to the National Essay Competition. Jun’s friend told me about that, so I went to his class that day instead of you.”

“Oh…I see…and then?”

“The teacher said that he’d told all of her students to write an essay titled ‘What do you want to be in the future?’ and that Jun wrote ‘A bowl of kake-soba’ as his essay. Then the teacher had him read his essay. In the essay he wrote about our Dad who died in a traffic accident, and that it caused a large debt. Mom worked from morning till night; and I delivered newspapers…he wrote about all these things. And then “at night on December 31st, three of us ate one bowl of kake-soba. How delicious it was! One bowl of kake-soba for three people, but the owner and his wife said to us with a loud voice, ‘Thank you very much. Have a happy New Year!’ It helped us to have encouragement to carry on and relieve the debts from father.’ Then Jun wrote that that when he grew up, he would become the owner of the biggest soba restaurant in Japan who could say to his customers with a loud voice, ‘Fighting! Have a happy life! Thank you!”

The owner and his wife, who had been overhearing their conversation behind the counter, burst into tears.

“After Jun finished reading his essay, his teacher said, instead of Jun’s mother, his brother is here. Let’s ask him to give us some words.'”

“Well then, what did you do?”

“It was an unexpected request, so I couldn’t speak a word at first, but then I said ‘Teachers, thank you for your care and attention to my brother Jun. He makes meals every day, so I’m afraid he gives you a lot of trouble because he has to return home in the middle of club activities. Just after he started reading his essay ‘A bowl of kake-soba’, I felt embarrassed, but it was a true embarrassment. I have to remember our mother’s courage to have ordered a bowl of kake-soba that day. Jun and I will promise to try harder and cooperate to help our mother more. Finally, please continue caring and paying attention to my brother.”

They were eating their New-Year’s Eve soba merrily, quietly holding their hands with each other, laughing and patting each other’s shoulders. After finishing the soba, they paid 300 yen and bowed deeply, said thank you and left. The owner and his wife said to the last guests of the year with loud voice “Thank you very much. Have a Happy New Year!”

Another year had passed. At Hokkaitei, they had prepared the second table with a ‘Reserved’ card since 9 o’clock. But the mother and two boys did not show up. The next year, and the year after that, they also kept the second table for the three but they did not show up then, either. The business of Hokkaitei was busy as usual. The owner of Hokkaitei had it remodeled, and got new tables and chairs. But the old second table and chairs were left there.

“Why are the old table and chairs here?” some customers puzzled. The owner and his wife told them about the story of ‘a bowl of kake-soba’. They had been keeping the old table in the middle of the restaurant with the hope that someday when the three customers came again, they wanted to have them sit at the table.

The old second table had become the “happy table”, everyone wanted to sit at that table. Many New Year’s Eves had passed. On New Year’s Eves, the owners of adjacent restaurants took their family to Hokkaitei to have kake-soba after finishing their work. They ate soba while waiting for the watch-night bell. Then, they went to the shrine together. It had become the annual event for around six years.

After 9:30, the fish store owner and his wife entered at first with a big plate of sashimi, then over thirty regulars, some with sake while others with side dishes, came over, and the atmosphere was livened up. They all knew about the second table’s story.

No one spoke out, but they were all expecting the moment of the New Year’s Eve. Some were eating, drinking, some were busy preparing the food, etc. They were eating and chatting about everything from the new baby boy of the neighbor to the sea, and so on. Everything could make a happy story. They had been considering others as their family members.

At half past ten, the front door slightly opened. All the people stopped talking and stared at the front door. Two young men in jackets with coats in their hands entered the soba restaurant. They all sighed and the lively atmosphere came back again.

Just when the owner’s wife apologetically tried to tell the new customers that all the seats had been occupied, a woman in fashionable outfits came in and stood between the two young men. All the people had their breath taking away and pricked up their ears.

“Uh…could we have…… kake-soba ……three bowls of kake-soba, please?”

The owner’s wife changed color when she heard her voice. The memory that she had never forgotten ― some ten years ago, the mother and her two sons showing up ― came back in her mind. They were standing in front of her. In the kitchen, the owner had his eyes wide open in a stare and asked confusingly “Well…you… you are…?”

One of the young men said to him:

“Yes. We are the three people who came here on the last day of the year 14 years ago, and ordered a bowl of kake-soba for three of us ― my mother, brother and I. We were encouraged with the bowl of kake-soba. Thanks to it, the three of us could cooperate to survive. After that, we moved to Shiga Prefecture where my mother’s parents had lived. I had passed the National Examination for Medical Practitioners this year and have worked at the Kyoto University’s affiliated hospital as a resident pediatrician, and next April, I will work at the Sapporo General Hospital. I came to Sapporo this time to meet people who I will work with in the hospital for the first time, and visit my father’s grave to tell him. I talked with my brother, who actually did not become a soba restaurant owner, but works at a bank in Kyoto, about our long-time plan to visit Hokkaitei with our mother on the night of the New Year’s Eve to meet you and eat kake-soba.

Tears welled up in the owner and his wife’s eyes while they were nodding and listening to the young man. Listening to him, a grocery store owner, who was eating soba at the table near the front door with a mouthful of soba quickly put the noodles down and stood up.

“Hey, you! Why are you hesitating? You’ve been waiting for the New Year’s Eve ten-o’clock-reserved-seat customers for ten years. This is the moment. Lead them to the table!”

The owner’s wife who had been patting the grocery store owner on his shoulder, collected herself, smiled and shouted,

“Hello! Welcome! Come this way, please. Hey, three kake to the second table!”

“Okay, three kake,” answered the owner quickly wiped the sullen face which had been covered with tears.

Actually, what the owner and his wife gave was not much, just some more noodles, some words of encouragement, cheers, and congratulations. In today’s dynamic society, people seem to be a bit cold-hearted.

However, from this story, I come to the conclusion that we should not be influenced by the surrounding circumstances. As long as you have some concern for the others, you can bring happiness to them. We should not be mean and selfish because I believe that in each of us there is a warm heart. Open this treasure and light it up even with a little weak light, but in the cold winter it can bring warmth to others.

This story has touched the heart of many Japanese readers. Someone commented that “Reading this story, nobody does not shed tears.” This is just a bit exaggerated comment, but it is not unrealistic. Indeed, many people shed tears after reading this story. The kindness and the care in the story has touched them.

Zing – According to

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