This is a two-part story; please go here for Part 2
This is a very inspiring and heartwarming true story called A Bowl of Noodle Soup and was the best-selling children’s book in Japan in 1989. It tells how many life-transforming events began in a small noodle restaurant called Beihai Pavilion on Sapporo Street, Japan, on New Year’s Eve nights of December 31 over several years.
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Eating buckwheat noodles on New Year’s Eve is a traditional Japanese custom. On this day, the business of noodle restaurants is perfect, and the noodle shop called Beihai Pavilion is no exception.
On that day, the restaurant is packed all day long, but come 10 o’clock at night, almost no customers are left. Everyone is rushing home early for the New Year, so the street becomes quiet.
This inspiring story begins and unfolds with the late arrival of three customers
The proprietor of the Beihai Pavilion is a simple and honest man. His wife is very traditional and kind-hearted.
On that particular New Year’s Eve night, the last customer walked out of the noodle shop. The door was gently pulled open when the proprietor’s wife was about to close up the shop. A woman walked in with two young boys, about 6 and 10 years old. The boys wore brand-new identical tracksuits, but the woman wore an outdated plaid coat.
The proprietor greeted them: “Please take your seat!” The woman timidly asked: “Can we have a bowl of noodle soup?” Her two children standing behind her looked at each other quite nervously. The proprietor said: “Of course, please sit here!”
The proprietor’s wife led them to table No. 2 at the far end and then shouted to the kitchen counter: “A bowl of noodle soup!”
One person’s intermediate portion of noodles is one ball of noodles, but the proprietor secretly adds a second ball of noodles to prepare a large bowl of noodle soup. Neither the proprietor’s wife nor the guests knew about this.
The mother and her two boys ate with great relish and enjoyment. While eating the soup, the older boy softly said: “It’s delicious!” The younger boy said: “Mom, why are you looking and not eating?” He then held a chopstick of noodles to his mother’s mouth.
Mother and her sons were eating and talking, and the proprietor and his wife heard their conversations. “It’s so fragrant, so nice, and so delicious. It’s excellent to eat the noodles of Beihai Pavilion this year! If only we could eat again next year!”
After eating and paying, the mother and sons walked out of the Beihai Pavilion.
The proprietor and his wife said: “Thank you, and Happy New Year to all of you!” Then, after the mother and sons left, the proprietor and his wife chatted for a long time.
The 2nd Year: The family return to the noodle restaurant on New Year’s Eve, late in the evening
During the oncoming year, the restaurant was busy every day, and before the proprietors knew it, another year had passed by very quickly. But welcoming the New Year, Beihai Pavilion’s business was still prosperous.
After 10 o’clock, the proprietress went to the front of the store, and when she was about to pull the shutter down, the door was gently opened. A middle-aged lady walked in. She had two children with her. When the proprietress saw the outdated plaid coat, she immediately remembered the last guest on New Year’s Eve a year ago.
“Can you cook us a bowl of noodle soup?” She nervously asked. The proprietor’s wife replied: “Of course, please sit here!”
She then took them to the No. 2 table where they sat last year and shouted: “A bowl of noodle soup!” The proprietor responded and lit the fire that had just been extinguished: “Yes, a bowl of noodle soup!”
The wife whispered in her husband’s ear: “Hey, put extra noodles into the bowl”. The husband smiled at his wife and said: “Yes, you have a good heart!” The husband quietly filled the bowl full of fragrant noodles and handed it to his wife.
Delighted and very thankful customers
The mother and sons sat around the bowls of noodles, talking while eating, and those conversations reached the ears of the boss and his wife.
“It’s so fragrant, so nice, and so delicious. It’s perfect for eating the noodles of Beihai Pavilion this year! If only we could eat again next year!”
After eating and paying, the mother and sons again walked out of Beihai Pavilion.
The proprietor and his wife said: “Thank you, and Happy New Year to all of you!”
Looking at the mother and son leaving, the proprietor and his wife talked and repeatedly chatted for a long time about the encounter.
The 3rd Year: Celebrations – an enormous debt was finally paid off
On New Year’s Eve of the third year, Beihai Pavilion’s business was still doing excellent. The proprietor and his wife were so busy that they could not talk. After half past nine, both of them began feeling uneasy. At 10 o’clock, the workers went home after receiving their red packets.
The proprietor hurriedly flipped through the price list on the wall one by one and changed the seasonal prices to 150 yen, down from 200 yen, which had gone up during the summer.
On table No. 2, the proprietor’s wife put a “reservation table” card as if waiting for guests to come in. At half past 10, the mother and her two sons finally appeared. The older boy wore the national junior high school uniform, while the younger boy wore a slightly larger jacket than his brother wore last year. Both the boys have grown up a lot, and the mother was still wearing the faded plaid coat.
The proprietor’s wife greeted them warmly: “Come in!” Then, looking at the smiling face of the proprietor’s wife, the mother trembled and said: “Please, can we trouble you to cook a bowl of noodle soup for us?”
The proprietor’s wife invited them to sit at table No. 2 and quickly took away the “reservation table” card. She then shouted to the kitchen counter: “A bowl of noodle soup!”
The proprietor responded: “Yes, a bowl of noodle soup! It will be ready soon!” This time, he threw in three balls of noodles!
This time mother and sons ate the noodles and talked simultaneously, looking very happy. The proprietor and his wife were standing behind the kitchen, and their hearts were also filled with joy.
The mother said to her sons: “I want to thank both of you today!” “Thank us, why?” “It’s like this, the car accident caused by your deceased father that injured eight people, the part the insurance company did not cover, we had to pay 50,000 yen every month for the past few years.” “Oh, we know about that!” the elder brother said.
The proprietor’s wife listened quietly without moving. Finally, the mother said: “I was supposed to keep paying until March next year, but I managed to pay it all off today! This is because the elder brother works hard to deliver newspapers daily, and the younger brother, Xiaochun, helps with cooking so that mom can work with peace of mind. Mom’s company rewarded mom with a special allowance, which is how I could pay off all the rest today.”
The elder brother said: “I also want to continue with the newspaper delivery, and Xiaochun can continue to work hard!” “Mom wants to thank both of you; thank you!”
The children reveal a big secret to their mother
The elder brother said: “Mom, brother, and I have a secret that we have not told you yet. It was on a Sunday in November. Xiaochun’s school notified parents to attend a school function. Xiaochun’s teacher wrote a letter saying that one of Xiaochun’s essays was selected to represent Hokkaido in the national essay contest.”
The elder brother continued: “I only found out from Xiaochun’s classmates, so I attended the school function on mom’s behalf on that day.” Finally, the mother asked: “Really, how was it?”
“The topic of the essay the teacher gave was: My Wish. Xiaochun wrote the essay about a bowl of noodle soup as the story, and he had to read the essay in front of everyone at the school function.
The essay is written as such: Dad was involved in a car accident and left many debts behind. To pay the debts, mom worked hard from morning to night. Xiaochun even wrote about me working hard delivering newspapers every morning and evening.
Xiaochun also wrote in his essay: On the evening of December 31, three of us enjoyed a bowl of noodle soup together which was very delicious. Mother ordered a noodle soup for us, and the uncle and aunt thanked us and wished us a Happy New Year!
The warm tone in their voices wishing us Happy New Year uplifted us and encouraged us to be strong and brave and quickly pay off the debts left by our father!”
The shame of being ashamed
“Therefore, Xiaochun decided to open a noodle restaurant when he grew up and be the No. 1 restaurant owner in Japan. He will also say to every customer: ‘I wish you happiness! Thank you!'”
The proprietor and his wife were listening to their conversation and suddenly disappeared. They had squatted down to grab a towel and struggled to wipe the tears.
The elder brother continued to say: “I did not know what to say at first, so I just said: ‘Thank you, everyone, for your love for Xiaochun.’ My brother has to cook dinner every day. He often rushes home after school group activities which must have caused a lot of trouble for everyone. When my brother read his essay about a bowl of noodle soup, I felt ashamed.
But, when I saw my brother bravely read his essay about a bowl of noodle soup aloud, I felt ashamed of being ashamed. So over the years, with my mother’s courage to order a bowl of noodle soup, my brother and I will never forget; we brothers will work hard and take good care of my mother, and I still ask you all to take care of my brother in the future.”
The success theme is ‘I wish you happiness! Thank you!’
The mother and sons quietly patted each other’s shoulders, eating the New Year’s noodle soup more happily than in previous years. Then, they paid and said thank you! Then, they bowed and walked out of the noodle shop.
Looking kindly at the mother and sons, the proprietor and his wife cheerfully exclaimed: “Thank you, and Happy New Year!
Translated by Chua BC