Heartwarming stories are suspect. They seem hardly true to life. What comes to mind, for example, at the mention of marriage? First, its waning as an institution and an aspiration as single life gains traction. Second, the soaring divorce rate. One marriage in three in Japan ends in divorce. Third, perhaps, domestic violence, or if not that, various forms and degrees of chronic unhappiness, the violence latent and suppressed.
But the reader is forewarned: this is a heartwarming story, though it opens with a death scene. On Nov 21, Yoshitaka Kanazaki, 97, and his wife Teru, 93, were found dead in their futons, in pajamas, “looking just as if they were sleeping,” says Josei Seven (Dec 15). The first thought of police called to the scene was, naturally, foul play, but an autopsy showed none. They had died as they had lived – quietly, peacefully and together.
Statistically, the chance of a married couple dying on the same day is less than one in 1 billion. That such an extraordinary end should befall such an ordinary couple as the Kanazakis stirred national and Internet coverage that would have astonished them, had they lived to see it. Their story, as pieced together by Josei Seven, goes something like this:
When Yoshitaka Kanazaki was born in Itabashi, Tokyo, in 1919, Korea was rioting against Japanese rule, Mahatma Gandhi was honing non-violence as a weapon against British rule in India, and the average salary of a young Japanese worker was 40 yen. Yoshitaka’s family was poor, but no poorer than many others in a time when poverty was widespread. When he and Teru married, the 1930s were running their disastrous course. She worked as a bank clerk; he got a job with a company and became “an ordinary salaryman.” The young couple moved in with his parents – a lifetime arrangement, as it turned out. They stayed on after the parents died. It was the house they died in.
There was a neighborhood cafe Teru frequented – always alone, never with Yoshitaka. Its name is the Cafe Yuki, and proprietor Teruyuki Nakajima, 64, remembers her fondly. “She liked her coffee sweet – six, seven spoonfuls of sugar,” he tells the magazine.
“The couple never was blessed with children,” he continues, “but she didn’t seem to mind. She would joke about how it made life that much easier.” Yoshitaka was ahead of his time: “She’d talk about how he helped with the cleaning and the washing at home, and how happy it made her. Every day she’d say how grateful she was to him.”
In 1967, she was baptized a Christian, and became active in church affairs. She was a swimmer too, a qualified instructor. She introduced Yoshitaka to swimming. “But they always swam at different pools,” laughs Nakajima. They were a lifetime couple, “but they certainly weren’t together 24 hours a day.”
And so the years passed – quietly, uneventfully, in happiness and health until, apparently, the very end, when a neighbor noticed them both growing visibly feeble. This was in mid-November. A week or so later it dawned on people in the neighborhood that days had passed without anyone seeing the Kanazakis. They called the police, who found them, and confirmed that the death they died was, maybe, of all deaths, the most desirable.© Japan Today