From a young age, Hana Yasutake had been preparing to take over her mother’s role around the house. Then, aged five, she started doing it for real. And her day begins with a 6:00 a.m. wake-up call so that Hana can make soup; the reason why she gets up so early to do, so, though, is heartbreaking.
Back in 2015, Hana was just a 12-year-old girl living in Fukuoka, Japan. Fast-forward to the present day, however, and the story of her life has become well known; there’s even been a film made about her. And Hana’s tale is a poignant one of family, love and tragedy, starting from her birth in 2003.
Having said that, though, Hana’s parents, Shingo and Chie, were not sure that they would ever have a baby at all after her mother had battled breast cancer in 2001. Naturally, then, Chie was delighted to find out that she had managed to conceive. And, in February 2003 Shingo and Chie officially became a family of three after the birth of baby Hana.
Hana’s arrival was something of a miracle for Shingo and Chie, in fact. But, in a horrible twist of fate, the young family would go on to receive some bad news that may have tempered their happiness. And life wouldn’t ever be the same again for the three of them from then on.
That’s because, when Hana was only nine months old, doctors told Chie something devastating. Specifically, the mom was informed that the cancer had returned; as a result, there was a tumor in Chie’s lungs that measured in at more than half an inch long. And the relapse likely devastated Chie and her family, especially as Hana was so young.
Unfortunately, Chie’s battle with the disease was still ongoing in 2006. It was around that time, moreover, that she decided that she needed a creative outlet. So, Chie started a blog, which served as a place to document her thoughts about life.
And Chie used the blog as a way to express her joy at being given the gift of a family, for instance. Indeed, one heartwarming entry about little Hana reads, “Meeting my daughter is indeed a miracle in my life. I treasure her with all my life, more than I love myself.”
All the while, though, Chie was aware that she may never beat her illness – a sad possibility she was nevertheless willing to address in the blog. “Whether I have cancer or not, I’m supposed to die first. It can’t be the other way around. This is why I have to die without any regrets,” she wrote.
Then, worried about the future, Chie came up with an inspired plan. In particular, she wanted to ensure that Hana would be able to cope well without her mother, should the worst happen. In fact, as Chie explained in her blog, she wanted her daughter to “be able to do as much as she can by herself.”
The devoted mom added, “I just want to help [Hana] so that one day, when she becomes independent, she can take care of herself.” All the while, though, Chie was losing her fight against the cancer. And tragically, she passed away in July 2008, aged just 33.
Ever since Chie’s death, however, Hana has been walking in her late mother’s footsteps. In fact, thanks to Chie’s insistence on teaching her daughter important skills to survive once she was gone, Hana learned how to do everything around the house at a very young age.
That’s right: while Chie was still able, she taught Hana how to take on household responsibilities. And as a result, Hana was able to carry out tasks such as cleaning the house, doing the laundry and cooking even before she had started to attend school.
Knowing how to prepare a meal was paramount, in fact, as Hana’s mother would explain in her blog. There, she wrote, “Hana-chan, knowing how to cook is important in your life. I will teach you how to handle knives and do household chores. Your education is not complete without knowing these survival skills. As long as you’re healthy and independent, you can survive anywhere.”
Indeed, it was so important to Chie that Hana knew how to cook that she gave her four-year-old daughter an apron for her birthday. Chie then taught her daughter how to handle knives and prepare food properly. And, as it happens, out of all the dishes that she learned at her mother’s side, there’s one in particular that Hana seems to hold dearest.
That meal requires Hana to get up at 6:00 a.m. every day, in fact, and so she does so diligently. What’s more, she learned how to make this particular dish when she was only five years old, despite having to shave dried bonito – a rather strenuous job for such a young child.
Those bonito flakes then go into a soup stock, which, along with other ingredients, forms the basis for miso soup. But it’s not just any old recipe that Hana follows: it’s her mom’s, and it makes Hana feel close to Chie when she makes it. “When I am cooking miso soup, I feel happy as if my mother was standing beside me,” she has said.
When the miso soup is done, then, Hana sprinkles leek on top – just like her mom used to do. And when her dad tells her the meal is delicious, it understandably makes her very pleased indeed. But, apparently, the soup doesn’t just taste good; it also does Hana good, too.
Indeed, according to Hana, she never suffers from colds or any other ailments, and she believes it’s because she eats the special soup every day. Furthermore, Hana has even written an essay about her miso-making routine; this is entitled “Promise to My Mother,” and it’s since been made into a textbook for elementary school-age children.
And in the essay, Hana wrote, “Thank you, Mama, for giving birth to me. To protect my life by myself – this is the promise between my mother and me.” There’s no doubt, then, that Hana’s tale is an ultimately touching one. It’s even one that inspired a film based on her life, which was released in 2016.
That movie is called Hanachan no misoshiru – or “Hana’s Miso Soup” – and makes for a fitting tribute to a beautiful story. Chie’s blog entries have even been made into a popular book, entitled Hanachan no misoshiru: 8 Life Lessons from Yasutake Family. That way, the mom’s words have been kept alive, just as her teachings live on in her daughter.