The baby’s only crime was the misfortune of being born the wrong sex in the wrong country in the wrong era. She was sentenced to death at conception. The imposed penalty, deferred by nine months in the womb, was at hand. She lay naked, exposed and unwanted on the dirt hearth in the Japanese peasant hut. Her single comfort was the warmth of the fire before it shriveled to cold ashes. The earth floor, her cradle, waited patiently to claim her remains.
Yokkako couldn’t endure watching her die, yet another sister to fall victim to mabiki – the act of thinning rice plants or the comparable culling of unwanted lives. The rest of the family, seemingly oblivious to the infant female, came and went – going about the relentless daily tasks of feeding livestock, carrying water, and gathering wood. Yokkako was not immune to the baby’s plight unlike her over-burdened parents and older brothers. Her empathy stemmed from a sensitive heart and a kinship with her sisters abandoned to death. She too had lain on the hearth at birth but had survived till the fourth day by some supernatural intervention. She had then been perceived as blessed by the kami, Shinto spirits, and worthy to share the family’s limited resources.
Feigning indifference towards the baby kept the family unaware of Yokkako’s compassion and intentions to rob the earth of its snack. Her rescue plan had formed as she listened to wondrous stories told by a Jesuit trained, Japanese priest who visited her village after converting Takayama Ukon, the local daimyo or feudal lord, to Christianity. The priest spoke of the One True God who created all men and women -- a caring, compassionate God who had intimate knowledge of His children even before they formed in the womb. Yokkako’s heart opened to this loving God who saw her and offered hope.
The priest also shared the story of baby Moses’ deliverance from death in a bulrush basket. It was then that Yokkako knew what she must do. Her preparations for the possibility of this day had begun in the early months of her mother’s pregnancy, and now it was time to act.
The family departed to work the rice paddy while Yokkako was left behind to do the household chores and gardening. Yokkako quickly ran to the shelter that housed the fodder for the goats. Hidden deep beneath the hay was a large, woven, bamboo basket with a lid. Etched on the top of the lid was a delicate dove. Yokkako picked away the clinging pieces of straw, gathered up the basket and hurried back to the hut.
Crooning sounds of comfort, Yokkako gently lifted her baby sister from the cold hearth and laid her in the basket lined with sweet, dried grass. The unexpected and foreign sensory of being touched startled the infant, but she settled quickly as if somehow perceiving the urgency of the moment.
Years of hard labor had strengthened Yokkako’s ten year old arms and lower back. Carrying the basket loaded with her sister’s slight form proved to be no burden as she made her way to daimyo Takayama Ukon’s holdings. She spent the journey hanging on tightly to the basket, to her determination, and to her courage.
The extraordinary sight of a young peasant girl carrying a bamboo basket and seeking an audience with Daimyo Ukon bought her admittance to the Great Hall. Yokkako knew God was going ahead of her and making straight her path. To see the daimyo resting by the fire did not surprise her. What did cause amazement was her ability to walk up to him and speak loud and clear while fear quaked her knees.
“Daimyo Ukon, I bring you a gift from the One True God.”
As Yokkako set the basket at his feet , Daimyo Ukon smiled at her knowledge of the Lord Almighty. He noted the dove alighting on the lid of the basket.
Lifting the cover off the basket, Yokkako revealed her sister within and said, “This is a child of God, whom He loves and with whom He is also well pleased.”
Moved by Yokkako’s cleverness and courage, Daimyo Ukon replied, “What a valuable treasure from a generous God and Redeemer! I accept her into the care of my household. Your faith has served her well.”
Yokkako means “child of the fourth day" in Japanese.
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