'The sea is so wide and so big," we learned to sing in the first grade. I loved that song. I still do. Every time I went to the Pacific Ocean with my family as a child in Japan, the sea was indeed wide and big.
When I lay down on the beach and looked out at the wide and big sea in front of me, and up at the sky above me, I felt completely wrapped up in the sea and the sky.
When I stood on the cliff and looked down at the sea, it was still wide and big. But then I felt like a part of the sky - bigger than the sea because the sea was far below me.
"Letting the ship float in the sea, I want to go and see other countries," the childhood song concluded.
My hometown was closer to America than any other port in Japan is, my mother told me, and I believed her. I felt close to America.
We lived about 20 minutes from the beach. In summer, I often stood on the cliff with my mother and brother very early in the morning, before the city woke up. We leaned on the concrete footings of a steel tower perched on the cliff. The tower held weather instruments and was part of a nearby weather station. As we ate still-warm rice balls that Mother had made for us, I could see far, far, far to the horizon.
I wanted to spot a speck of another country from the cliff. Maybe America? After all, we were closer to America than anywhere else in Japan was. I really tried hard! Everybody told me I had big eyes, and I hoped I had not just big eyes but also special eyes that could see a faraway country. Every once in a while I thought I saw something - a dot on the horizon. But it wasn't another country. My mother told me that there was no country near enough for me to see. I never gave up, though. Every time we went to the beach, my hope was renewed and I tried....
On the way home, where the ocean ended and the river began, sometimes we would meet a neighbor, a retiree who had gone fishing before dawn. He would be coming home in a tiny boat no longer than he was tall. He would give us some of his catch. The rising sun wrapped the whole scene in dazzling gold.
As we crossed the bridge, we would see people just beginning to get up. Shopkeepers were just opening their shops. (The first thing you did, in those days, was to open your shop.) People smiled at us, greeted us.
These morning visits to the ocean were the nicest way to start a summer day. As far as I knew, my mother was the only one who took her children for a morning walk by the sea. I am grateful to Mother for these visits.
The ocean made me think of travel.
Flying in the sky might be a lot faster, but traveling by sea must be a shorter distance. We go up high in the sky if we fly. That's a detour, isn't it? Of course, ships must detour, too. They can't go from one country to another along the straight line we can draw on the map, the shortest distance.
The sea and the sky are both wide and big, though the sky is unthinkably wider and bigger. While we cannot touch the sky, the wide and deep sea is very touchable. We can wade in and swim in the sea, become a part of the beautiful sea. We don't need any special equipment.
I didn't come to the United States by sea, though. I couldn't see America with my big eyes from a cliff in Japan, but now I see America before my eyes. And I see that America is also so wide and so big! I know now why the American people are big. People in a big land must feel safe, secure, confident, and big.
When I think about all the living things in the sea - from huge animals, like whales, to tiny plankton - the immensity of the sea increases in my mind. The sea is not only wide and big but also deep and weighty.
The sea is like a mother to those living in it. The sea is a treasure house of living and nonliving things.