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Passing of Mama San, Mrs Hisako Shimamoto

By David Kolb

On behalf of Bayside Budokai and my family I would like to express our sincere condolences and grief for the passing of Mrs Hisako Shimamoto, known to everyone as Mama san, who died on Saturday 6 July 2019.

As part of our family trip to Japan in the first week of July (2019) we had planned to visit Shosenji Dojo, to catch up with Shimamoto Sensei and Mama san as well as me joining the aikido class. Prior to heading down to Osaka we were shocked to learn via social media that Mama San was in hospital in a critical condition. We immediately contacted her son, Tamayuki who confirmed the bad news and said that her Doctor had advised that the family should get together to say their farewells.

After arriving in Osaka, I was fortunate to be able to go to the hospital and see the family in person. Mama san was no longer conscious and the strain on Sensei, Tamayuki and his sister, Junko was obvious. A couple of days later I got the news that Mama san had passed away.

Funeral customs in Japan are fairly complicated affairs, even more so with the Shimamoto family’s status with the Shosenji Temple and within the aikido world and local community. The traditional wake was scheduled for the evening of the day we were to fly out, with the funeral to take place on the following day.

Not wanting to be any inconvenience, we decided that we would discreetly drop off a condolence card to Shosenji and continue on to the airport. In the end, it didn’t work out that way as we were invited inside. Mama san had been brought home and we were privileged to be able to pay our final respects to her. We are so grateful for the way the family put us at ease and took valuable time out to show us the preparations for the funeral and even farewell us from the front gate.

The funeral preparations themselves were something for the books, with the Funeral Director busily installing sound and AV equipment in the temple as well as the dojo and grounds so that the overflow of guests could follow the proceedings. One thing was for sure, Mama san was going out in style.

Mama San - Lunch

Mama san had been in relatively poor health for a few years. It turns out the last time I was to see her was during our Dojo visit in November 2018 when in spite of needing to have oxygen on hand when we went out, she seemed to be pretty much her normal self. Perhaps she was putting on a brave face for our benefit, as the family confided that she had been suffering from a debilitating chest infection and unbearable pain over the past few months. Thankfully that is over now.

Over the past 25 years or so, we’ve had Shimamoto Sensei and Mama san visit us in Australia many times and I’ve stayed at Shosenji on innumerable occasions on trips to Japan, sometimes together with Naoko and also with Emiko as a toddler.

I’ve got so many special memories of Mama san.

I remember during their first trip to Australia that we had coerced Naoko, who was studying out here at the time, into acting as our translator. We were all a bit on edge, being our first time hosting such an important guest. We had a meeting with Sensei and Mrs Shimamoto about the schedule and other things, and then afterwards got together. Naoko told us: “You know Shimamoto Sensei’s wife calls him Papa san”. So there you go, from then on we had Papa san and Mama san.

Mama San with Dave

There was the special way she took care of me and anyone else that visited Shosenji. I got sick a couple of times and she fixed me up with some of her favourite genki medicine. When I couldn’t eat anything, she made me chawanmushi, which by the way was just as good as toast and vegemite. Though I have to concede that it took me longer to come to terms with salad for breakfast.

Taking Sensei and Mama san to visit my parents on one of their early trips to Australia was interesting. They hit it off and Dad, (a Doctor by the way), ended up piercing her ears.

Mama San - Reef

Travelling with them around the place, Noosa and Fraser Island, a trip to Tasmania, up to Cairns and out on the reef. We also went to Warwick in the early days. Although it was obviously their first experience of rural Australia, they took it in their stride. I do have to concede that when Mama san asked me about Warwick’s meibutsu (something it is famous for) she seemed a bit taken aback when I told her it had none.

Mama san loved music and was a great singer. She was really big on jazz standards and would often be singing around the house when no one else was around. Later on, she had her own private karaoke studio built under the temple.

She had her own sense of style, reflected in the décor at Shosenji. She would always be fossicking around antique and gift shops picking up nick nacks. She especially liked those kitchen time saving gadgets.

It sounds strange but something else that I will especially miss is hearing Mama san answer the phone or the intercom for the front door. It was always an event, and done at the top of her voice like she was trying to talk on one of those old wind up phones.

Every morning at 8am things would come to a complete stop for Mama san to watch the morning serial drama on NHK. She was so proud when several years ago, the story at the time included a sub plot involving an aikido dojo. Shihan acted as a technical advisor and several members of the Dojo got parts as extras. They even used Shosenji as a model for the set, down to using plastic trays in the change rooms. How cool was that?

Anyone that visits Shosenji won’t fail to notice that photos of training camps and Sensei’s overseas travels in which Mama san is always front and centre. I’ve never seen Mama San wear a dogi or do an aikido technique; but she was the life partner of an aikido shihan and I understand that her father had at one time trained under the Founder. It is fair to say that aikido was a major part of her life.

Whenever Sensei was teaching, she would always accompany him and be watching on. Thinking this must be hard going, I tried on a few occasions to organise someone to take her shopping or sightseeing. She’d accept but seemingly no time later she’d be back in the dojo at the side of the mat. It took me a while to work out that Sensei and Mama san were a package deal. She was an integral part of the training, and her role was to support Sensei and the whole group. This probably didn’t really hit home for me until the last time Sensei visited us and he had to come alone, due to Mama san’s poor health.

She seemed to be always taking photos. The secret is that this was partly to maintain a file she kept on all the foreign visitors and people she met overseas. She would sometimes pull out her folders and ask me about this person or that and she would make little notes. Keeping track of us all was an ongoing job for her and just another way to express her love for all of these foreigners that kept appearing in their lives.

It is fair to say that every family has its ups and downs. But there is no doubt that nothing happened at Shosenji, from cleaning the toilets to organising major events that didn’t involve Mama San calling the shots. Making sure that everything was perfect down to the last detail, and that everyone felt special.

We are all heartbroken that Mamma San has gone. Like a favourite character in the serial drama, she can’t be replaced, but we have to go on the best we can. I’m sure she’d want us to keep practising, follow Sensei, support Shosenji, and take care of each other.

Just as at the end of the episode each morning on NHK:

Tsuzuku (To be continued).