Photo/IllutrationNew employees of the Fuji Kyuko Co. group pose for a group photograph after a ceremony held April 1 to welcome them to the corporate world in Fujiyoshida, Yamanashi Prefecture. (Hiroshi Kawai)

Late April triggers a rueful memory from decades ago.

I was a rookie employee then, having just started working that spring. I received my first paycheck in late April, but I never spent any of it on my family: I didn't even buy them a present.

Later, I kicked myself: Why didn't I at least ask them out to dinner or something? My lapse haunted me for years.

"Yomawari Neko" (Cat on nocturnal patrol), a popular manga series by Kahoru Fukaya, 56, contains an episode about a young man who just got paid for the first time.

He invites his grandfather to a curry chain restaurant named CoCo Ichibanya. Sitting across the table, the young man takes out his wallet and tells his grandfather, "I always wanted to treat you to something nice with my first salary."

Looking at the back of his grandson paying the bill at the checkout counter, the grandfather joins his hands and bows deeply, as if in prayer.

The scene is profoundly moving.

When I talked to Fukaya about this, she said she hadn't made it up.

"An acquaintance of mine had actually witnessed such a scene in a curry restaurant in Niigata Prefecture and described it to me, and I simply drew the scene as described," she explained.

Fukaya recalled she was truly moved by two things: One, that the young man was obviously a frequent customer at the curry establishment and he simply wanted to bring his grandfather to a familiar place; and two, how the grandfather's face revealed his genuine appreciation for his grandson's gesture.

"It's truly tough to earn an income. I learned it only after I started working," Fukaya noted, having learned from experience that being able to pull in regular money is conditional on many factors, such as having a job and being in good health.

For many workers, I imagine this month's salary is probably due next week.

Last year, Mitsui Direct General Insurance Co., Ltd. asked 300 rookie workers how they intended to spend their first paycheck.

"Buy presents for parents" topped the answers, outnumbering other responses such as "deposit it in savings account" and "go on holiday."

A poem by Yasuko Takahara goes to this effect: "My daughter bought me a 'Kojien' dictionary with her first salary 30 years ago/ Now well-thumbed, it has aged well with me."

For the recipient, such a gift is truly a treasure for life.

--The Asahi Shimbun, April 20

* * *

Vox Populi, Vox Dei is a popular daily column that takes up a wide range of topics, including culture, arts and social trends and developments. Written by veteran Asahi Shimbun writers, the column provides useful perspectives on and insights into contemporary Japan and its culture.