Frogs Start to Cry
When I was a little girl, I never saw my father during the week because he left for work before the children woke up and came home after we went to sleep. When he was home on the weekends, he was always very tired. If my sisters and I begged him to play, he would often suggest, “sure, let’s pretend to nap,” at which point we immediately refused and ran off. When we returned, we found our father snoring on the tatami mat with my baby sister on his side. She was a constant victim to his scheme because she quickly fell asleep “pretending” next to my father.
I think many Japanese salaryman fathers in the 1970s were just like mine, overworked and exhausted, because, it seemed, they were on a mission to contribute to Japan’s rapid growth and industrialization. My father couldn’t play with us often and, ironically, that’s the reason I vividly remember the times when he did. We played badminton in the car park and the Reversi board game that was popular in Japan at the time. These times were fun, but out of all the things I did with my father, I enjoyed singing with him the most.
My father had tuberculosis when he was in high school that almost took his life, and he lost a part of his lung through an operation. A big scar remains across his back that always surprised people when we went to the swimming pool together. When we were very young, my father told us that the scar was made by a big cat that clawed at him in a dark alley. So we never went into dark alleys.
After spending two years in the hospital, the doctor suggested to my father to take up singing as therapy to improve his lung capacity and breathing. My father obediently joined a choir for several years and because of this, he loved to sing and taught us many songs.
The Frogs’ Song (kaeruno uta) was one of the first songs that everyone, including my little sister, could sing because it was simple and short. Like the song “row, row, row your boat”, the song is sung in a round and as a child I thought that we really sounded like a group of frogs when we sang the “gwa gwa” part together. Until recently, I was convinced that this song was Japanese in origin but discovered to my surprise that the melody is from a German folk song from the 19th century called Froschgesang.
For my father’s work, our young family moved to the suburban areas of Kanagawa, Fukuoka, and Chiba in a span of a few years. In Chiba, there were many rice paddies close to our apartment. In the early summer when these fields were filled with water, a massive chorus of frogs could be heard. These frogs laid eggs that looked like delicate strings of beads covered in jelly.
Once, my friend and I went to look for tadpoles in the rice paddies after daycare. We loudly sang the Frogs’ Song in an endless loop as we walked in our rain boots because this never-ending song was perfect for our childish persistence, and we were happy that no adult was telling us to stop. When we arrived at the rice paddies, we saw many tadpoles swimming in the shallow warm water.
Some tadpoles had already started to grow legs. We gently scooped a few in our hands and flipped them to look at the spirals in their bellies. We were completely absorbed in our play until my friend tried to take a step and lost her boot in the mud. We pulled and pulled to retrieve it, but the suction of the mud was too strong. Soon the boot disappeared completely into the mud, and we had to give up because the five o’clock song played from the loudspeakers and this was the time that we had to go home.
My friend used my shoulder to hop on her single booted foot, so we trudged very slowly. As darkness began to fall, we started sobbing quietly as we walked. I felt responsible for her boot and hoped that her mother won’t scold her for losing it. I was also worried that my mother would be angry when I got home covered in mud.
I can’t remember my friend’s name now, or what happened after we got home that evening. Shortly after the incident, my friend moved away because her father had to work in Kansai. My father also stopped singing because the opportunities simply disappeared from our lives as we grew up. Now when I hear frogs cry, I think about singing the Frog’s Song with my father, and the little orange rain boot stuck in the rice paddy field.