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Daily Life

Building a Happy Home

A Conversation With Kaneko Ikeda

Photo by Yvonne Ng.

This month marks the 70th anniversary of the founding of the women’s division. To commemorate this milestone, we carry passages from Kaneko’s Story, a book that highlights the beautiful life of SGI Honorary Women’s Leader Kaneko Ikeda. In these passages, Mrs. Ikeda shares about family life and how she and Ikeda Sensei raised their three sons.

Ikeda Sensei and Mrs. Ikeda enjoy the sunset together, Guam, January 1975. Photo by Seikyo Press.

Kaneko was married at twenty. She gave birth to her first son, Hiromasa, at twenty-one; her second son, Shirohisa, at twenty-two; and her third son, Takahiro, at twenty-six. She became the mother of three boys, and two years later, when her husband became president of the Soka Gakkai, she became the wife of the president at the young age of twenty-eight. …

Because her husband’s schedule was always packed and he tended to be away often, it fell to her to raise three sons while giving them a strong sense of their father’s presence.

One day, a schoolteacher paid a routine visit to the Ikeda home. He asked the boys what they wanted to be when they grew up. All three sons immediately declared, “I want to be like my father.” Mrs. Ikeda was thirty-two and Mr. Ikeda thirty-six at the time. Mrs. Ikeda says, “It all comes down to what example the parents choose to set for their children.”

The Ikeda household observed four rules, which will be introduced in this chapter, the impact of which extends far beyond the family’s personal happiness. Each one has been and still is an integral, continuous part of the Ikeda family’s way of life from the early days of their marriage. (see pp. 61–62)

Just as when I was a child, our household treats our morning and evening prayers seriously. When my husband is home, we chant as a family. When he is away, I take the lead. From watching my husband chanting, I learned a lot and know the value of morning and evening prayers.

At the same time, if I had been overly strict about it, the children might have grown to dislike the practice. My husband says it all depends on the mother’s faith. We customarily gathered at 7 a.m. to chant. If one child was absent, I’d ring the bell and call out, “It’s time for morning prayers.” As a rule, this brought everyone together. It did happen, though, that one child or another might oversleep and have to leave home without doing his morning prayers. I felt that admonishing them as they were leaving for school would be counterproductive. It is better for a child to be sent off with a smile and a cheerful word first thing in the morning.

[Josei] Toda urged me to send off and greet my husband with a smile each day, and I believe that his advice also applies to the children. Boys are especially difficult because they tend to have a prickly sense of pride. Mr. Toda advised, “However badly you may feel, wear a smile.”

If, for some reason, it was not possible for one of the children to chant in the morning, I would say: “Don’t worry. I will chant for you.” It seems to have worked.

Once, when Takahiro was in high school, he planned to go to Ogasawara with his astronomy club to observe the stars. The date overlapped with a meeting of the Soka Gakkai’s future division, the group for children up to high-school age, and I told him he should attend the meeting. Takahiro insisted that he couldn’t back out of the trip with his friends since it had been planned for a long time. I consulted my husband, who advised: “Faith is for a lifetime and, taking the long view, wouldn’t it be better to let him go to Ogasawara this time? What is most important, after all, is that he continues practicing.” I felt such a sense of relief when he said that. (pp. 71–72)

• • •

I handled sibling fights by telling the boys, “As an older brother, you must take good care of your younger brother.” And to the younger one, “A younger brother should respect his older brother.”

There is a saying that the character a child has at age three will last a hundred years. The saying can be taken in both positive and negative ways. Buddhism teaches that we should not center our lives on our personal benefit alone but should aspire to the service of others, too. The “human revolution” spoken of in the Soka Gakkai is one manifestation of this way of thinking. Children, too, should be urged in that direction from early on; there are many golden opportunities to encourage them.

It would be best if not only mothers but fathers also would take advantage of these opportunities, but usually mothers have the most contact with their children. If, for example, a squabble starts between two siblings, a mother can skillfully reason with the children so they will gradually understand how to relate to each other.

I have come to believe that the mother herself must also grow and develop. If she does not, then the children will not develop in the true sense of the word, either. (pp. 73–74)

• • •

Did the Ikeda family have house rules?

We did not have house rules as such, but we always stressed the following points:

1. Live for the welfare of others and of society.
2. Relate honestly with all people.
3. Maintain your faith and conviction throughout life.
4. More important than winning is to not be defeated. That way, you will ultimately win in everything.

It is often said that children grow up watching their parents and imitating their behavior. It all comes down to what example the parents choose to set for their children.

The most important aspect of a father’s role is to not disillusion the child but always to give him or her dreams and hope. This is easy to say but actually very hard to do.

My husband was certainly always busy, but his fondness for the children was always apparent. When I talked about the children, the stern expression on his face would soften, and he would break into a happy smile. When he would return home so exhausted that he could barely respond to me, suddenly he would ask about the children.

I would wonder if he had really been listening to what I just told him. However, I would let it pass.

He enjoyed playing with the children, and even after he was appointed president, whenever he had time, he would play games with them like sumo or scooping goldfish out of the water with a net. …

My husband never became angry with the children. He would let them be as free as possible. He said he wanted them to grow up healthy, as straight and upright as bamboo, so they could make their own unique and valuable contributions to society. This does not mean focusing merely on achieving success or prominence. He wanted the children to become people who would be of service to society.

When my husband traveled abroad or to other prefectures, sometimes he would be home only for a few months out of the year. In the course of his travels, we would occasionally receive a phone call from him. The boys would take turns chatting with their father about what kind of souvenirs they wanted him to bring back and other small talk. They seemed to be used to their father being away all the time, but they were, after all, lonely for him.

He would send each of them letters and postcards from abroad, usually covered with lots of stamps. Still, I was extremely concerned about how the boys perceived their father. One day, when one of their schoolteachers was visiting, he asked the children what they wanted to be when they grew up. All the boys said without missing a beat, “I want to be like my father.” Tears welled up in my eyes.

Since my children became adults, I have asked them to live with integrity and sincerity. All I have wanted is for them to live fully and to remain unshaken by the shallow, superficial things of this world; to lead lives based on profound principles. I wanted them to set their hearts on taking an honest path and to live full and meaningful lives. I am thankful that these hopes have been fulfilled. (pp. 75–77)

• • •

Were both you and your husband passionate about your children’s formal education and school entrance examinations?

I was not one of those education-obsessed mothers. I never nagged my children to study. Instead, I raised my children so that each could follow his own interests and forge his own path in life.

Hiromasa was the kind of child who didn’t have to be reminded to study. Shirohisa was able to get by, even though he didn’t study very much. Takahiro was totally absorbed in astronomy rather than his schoolwork. He wholeheartedly pursued his hobby—he would rather research the Milky Way than do his schoolwork. I was not overly concerned about the children’s homework, and that is probably because I am an optimist at heart. …

When Shirohisa was small, he caught a terrible cold. At that time, Daisaku asked me how I was praying. I told him that I was praying that my son’s cold not become too serious, but my husband said, “You should pray for him to never catch a cold.” In this way, he taught me how to approach prayer. His chanting of Nam-myoho-renge-kyo was focused and to the point; nothing was wasted. Once, when I said, “I intend to win,” he told me, “Don’t say ‘intend’; say that you will win.” When it came to matters of faith, he was strict.

Therefore, when I prayed for my children’s safety, I prayed that they would never have an accident. Aware of our responsibility in the Soka Gakkai, the children themselves, I believe, took special care to avoid accidents.

Hiromasa was the last one among his college friends to get his driver’s license. He obtained his license when he was a senior in college. Until then, he commuted to the university by bicycle. I told him that it was more dangerous to go by bicycle, but he insisted: “If I have an accident on my bicycle, then I am the only one who will get hurt. But if I have an accident while driving, then the other party will be injured. That’s why I don’t want to drive.”

I finally persuaded him to get his license by saying: “But if you get hurt, many Soka Gakkai members will be worried about you and it will be a problem for everyone. If you just drive carefully, everything should be all right.” Hiromasa was the firstborn son, so perhaps it was inevitable, a matter of destiny, that he felt a particularly heavy sense of responsibility. My third son got his license as soon as he graduated from high school. We left the decision up to him. (pp. 82–85)

• • •

Your husband says that you have always supported him.

I am neither strong nor wise, but my husband and I pray together and firmly believe in the power of faith and good fortune, something that I am continually learning from him. If one prays earnestly and wholeheartedly, doors will always open.

What I can do first and foremost is pray. I pray for my husband’s safety and for the great success of his work. This I will do all my life. This will never change. I, personally, am just an ordinary housewife who would rather not be center stage.

Although Daisaku is in the public eye, I have always wanted to be of service in the background where I can create a family life in which he can relax comfortably and where I can do my best to look after his health. His sphere of activities, however, has expanded to include the entire world, so I accompany him on his overseas trips. Although my preference is to support from behind the scenes, I no longer have the option of remaining in the shadows. My husband isn’t young anymore. Since I want him to continue to work with increasing vigor on behalf of everyone, I see my role as guardian and protector becoming even more essential.

Whether in Japan or overseas, I have done my best to create opportunities to meet and talk with members of the women’s and young women’s divisions who are working so hard and so heroically. Even for people with strong faith, such things as illness, financial troubles or lack of understanding from those around them can become obstacles and cause them to worry and become disheartened. I feel that it is my role to listen with a sympathetic ear during those times.

The members of the Soka Gakkai women’s division are so very busy. They manage their households, care for young children and, in addition to their work, participate in Soka Gakkai activities. It is normal for them to assume three or four roles. Switching back and forth among those roles is challenging. I understand completely, because I have had the same experience. I have listened to many of their stories, and I know how hard they are all working. They have my wholehearted respect. (pp. 113–15)

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