“Enlightening” is not a word that should be tossed around lightly, but this essay by eighth-grader Ayumi Takada really is just that.

Takada’s work, titled The Remains of Dreams, won first place in the junior high division of the 65th National Elementary and Junior High School Essay Contest. It was awarded the highest scores among 22,131 other works in the same level. The following is a translation of that essay.

The Remains of Dreams

My father was arrested.

The police came into my home. The entrance to my home, which every day used to bid me farewell and welcome me back, was full of reporters that night.

It happened on the evening of 26 May, 2015.

Six police officers stood in our cramped doorway as if they were eggs in a carton. My mother called some relatives to make arrangements. First I would meet with my grandmother in front of a business hotel and then my aunt would pick us up.

It was like something you might see on TV, but it was happening inside my home. Everything felt distorted, like I was standing outside of this reality watching it all play out inside a giant soap bubble. Their “person of interest,” who stood in the eye of this storm that hit our home, now seemed like a person from another dimension that was just a little off from ours.

My father was suspected of violating the Public Office Election Law. Earlier, a mayoral election was held and my aunt on my father’s side was encouraged by him to run. However, before her candidacy was officially announced, some “pre-election campaigning” was done. Also, volunteers were hired and paid to assist the campaign in what they called “influence peddling.”

During the consecutive holidays in May and after my aunt lost the election, a member of the city council who supported her campaign was called in for questioning by the police. He was arrested that same day. The media got into a frenzy exposing the crime.

My father had hired a professional campaign planner who worked with the utmost care saying “don’t get caught breaking the rules, even if it means losing the election.” I used to think that meant a campaign planner worked to ensure a fair election.

Eventually my father developed insomnia, day by day he grew more unstable and a prisoner in his own mind. Then his real arrest happened.

At the hotel I met with my grandparents. I tried my best to act like nothing out of the ordinary was happening, but inside I was so scared I felt like throwing up.

I’m not the type of person who worries about the people around me. However, that next day, setting foot in the same school like I had done hundreds of times before, I needed courage. My mother had put her hand on my shoulder and said “It will be all right. We should go on with our lives as usual.”

The first classmate I encountered smiled like she always had and greeted me with “Oh, good morning, Takada-san.” So did the next person and the person after that. None of my friends seemed to know anything about what happened. My worry that someone among them would come to me and say “I know what happened” never came to be. Bit by bit I could relax.

My father posted bail on the same day that he was charged. He spent that night in a hotel and then came home. He put his arms around my mother and I and apologized saying “You were very strong. I’m sorry for putting you through so much.” He said more but I was so choked up, I can’t remember much of it. It’s rare to see one of your parents apologizing to your face like that, I didn’t know how to react and just felt awkward.

An election campaign is like a wild party that builds to a climax and then vanishes. Afterwards you wake up from your buzz like a bucket of ice water was poured over your head and you realize that great sums of money had been devoured by the a monster called the “campaign.”

Still, I think this was a learning experience for me, and I grew as a person.

We don’t get to choose the family that we are born into, but I am thankful I was born here. You don’t often see the trust and love that exists in a family, but when a large wave comes surging and we work to protect each other, then these bonds become all too clear.

When you consider those around you, if they are you family and relatives, you will always be okay. Whatever obstacle appears can be overcome with these people.

If you don’t stop moving forward you will always see the next path to take. This I believe.

On 25 September my father was given a five-year suspended sentence on an 18-month prison sentence.

A few details regarding the election process in Japan might be strange to readers in other countries. The crime that Mr. Takada was found guilty of is called rieki yūdō, which can be compared to the act of “influence peddling” in other countries. As the English name suggests, it is when political influence is used as a commodity that can be traded or sold.

According to Ayumi’s essay, her father had paid volunteers—an act which can be interpreted as buying votes—but the arrest of a council member implied that there was more going on as well.

He was also guilty of “pre-election campaigning” which involves promoting a candidate before the official campaigning period has begun. Although these actions are merely frowned upon in some places, in Japan they are strictly enforced and can lead to harsh penalties.

Also, even if a violation of electoral law is found, the police will not make any arrests until after the election is finished.

We often read about political scandals as they come and go, but after the story ends we don’t usually think about the aftermath for those people and their families. Takada’s essay brings that reality to us all in a such a poetic yet succinct way, that it’s no wonder she won the award.

She also showed a remarkable degree of maturity and self-awareness that many adults might not have been capable of in her shoes. Congratulations to her for showing that the remains of one person’s dream may be the future of another’s.

Source: Yomiuri Kyoiku Network via Netlab (Japanese)
Top Image: Screenshot Yomiuri Kyoiku Network (n.b. Takada-san not pictured)