O-Fukuro mother


Mother (fukuro, o-fukuro)

***** Location: Japan
***** Season: Non-seasonal Topic
***** Category: Humanity


There are many ways to adress one's mother and father in Japanese. They depend on your age and social position. You have O-kaasan お母さん, haha-ue 母上 and many more.

Here is a long list of MOTHER words.
Use the Language Encoding for Japanese (EUC).

for grandmother, see below.


O-fukuro おふくろ お袋

Since the Muromachi era (15-16th century), ofukuro (literally, "sack") has been used a word for "mother". There are many reasons for this:

A mother was always the finance minister of the family, in charge of the purse (sack).
A baby is wrapped with its mother's placenta before its birth, as if the baby were in a sack. One of the words for "womb" is kobukuro 子袋, "a sack for a baby".


Family Names are Growing Pains

Japanese family relationships have never been simple.
For children, the first lesson in complications begins with the all-important question of what to call their parents.

A man is worried that once he turns 40, his father will take him aside again and order him to change the names, this time to "Oyaji (Pop)" and "Ofukuro (literally, 'reverent bag')" -- the traditional way middle-aged men address their parents.

He says he hasn't the heart to call his mother by such a term. "Ofukuro to yobarete iiki no suru onna wa inai hazu (No woman can be called a bag and feel good about it)," says my friend, the ever-sensitive "kookoo-musuko (孝行息子 good son)."

(China Daily/agencies)


Addressing mom and dad

Quoted from a Letter to the Japan Times
Professor emeritus, University of ReginaRegina, Saskatchewan

I was surprised to read in Kaori Shoji's Oct. 28 article, "For Japanese, family names are the worst growing pains," that the traditional way middle-age men address their parents is oyaji (father) and ofukuru (mother). Of course, among friends these terms are used in an endearing way in most cases, but for parents to demand that they be addressed as such is questionable.

For one thing, addressing your father directly as "oyaji" often has a hint of disrespect. Similarly, "ofukuro" lacks the warmth that you might wish to convey to a mother. Exceptions would be for those families where members are easygoing and treated as equals.

Of about 1,000 students, mostly between the ages of 20 and 30, questioned in a survey, only 5.3 percent use "ofukuro" and "oyaji" when addressing their parents directly. Most (67.6 percent) use "okasan" or "kasan" and "otosan" or "tosan." I don't believe that this percentage will change significantly even when these young people reach middle age.
(See the Japanese survey at  http://www.wako.ac.jp/souken/touzai93/tz9313.html )

Regarding the term "ofukuro," which is the word "fukuro" (bag) preceded by the honorific "o," there are many theories about its origin. One of them holds that it is a reference to the ovary. Another one holds that it points to the bag that held the family's financial funds and papers in ancient times. Of course, this bag was under the full control of "ofukuro." The tradition of "ofukuro" managing the family finances continues in many families even today.

There are some old urban legends about "oyajis" who were forced to leave their homes just as they were expecting to enjoy their retirement years. They were left penniless because of their philandering and disinterest in family matters during their years of married life. Unbeknownst to the "oyaji," all financial control and ownership of the house had been transferred to the "ofukuro" by using the "hanko" (seal) held by her.

© The Japan Times: Sunday, Nov. 28, 2004


o-fukuro no aji ... お袋の味 the taste of mother's cooking

in a letter to her, you can write :
Zenryaku ofukuro sama : Dear mother!

Worldwide use

Things found on the way

kagamimochi, fukude, kazarimochi =
very hard rice cakes for the New Year decoration. To break and crumble them by hand is indeed a difficult task. The crumbs are put into hot soup to make them softer for eating.


ooo ooo ooo ooo ooo ooo ooo ooo ooo

shinan 指南 
instruction, teaching, teacher

This comes from the Chinese, shinansha 指南車, a mechanical clockwork device with a doll that always pointed south. Someone with a straight character.

All the details in Japanese or German are here:

shinan no waza 至難の業
something very difficult to do


The following haiku by Issa are a play with words with o-fukuro お袋 (mother) and fuku 福 (good luck) . They do not work well in translations.

o-fukuro ga o fukude chigiru shinan kana
o-fukuro ga fukude o chigiru shinan kana

this lesson ..
mother is crumbling the
rice cakes

(Tr. Gabi Greve)


Ora ga haru


o-fukuro no fukucha o kumeru shinan kana

how to ladel lucky tea
from its pouch...
a lesson

Lucky Tea (fukucha) as haiku topic

This translation might be changed, here are some suggestions from the Haiku Translation Forum:

mother is ladeling
the New Year tea -
what a lesson !

(Tr. Gabi Greve)

Revised version

how to ladel Mother's
lucky tea...
a lesson

Tr. David Lanoue

In Issa’s family the lesson has been handed down from his grand mother, the mother-in-law to his wife. And it should be passed to his daughter who has died the year before.


haha kara musume e o-cha tsutawarazu

from mother to daughter
the lucky tea wasn’t handed

Renku and haiga by Sakuo Nakamura


I think this is a pun on the impossibility of ladling tea from a mother's womb... Perhaps the moment that prompted the poem was Issa spilling the tea, and the pun occurred to him...

to ladle tea from
my mother's womb,

Read the arguments of Kei san .


> our mother scoops
> the lucky tea for us--
> what a great skill!

*) There are three beans put in the pot of New Year tea.
Scooping the tea with a bean inside brings good luck.

> our mother divides
> the cake for good luck--
> what a great skill!


The intentions of my translations:

The word play in Japanese "ofukuro" and "fuku~" suggest that it is the mother who brings good luck to me/us. So, I wanted to put the same suggestion into the translations, however without a word play.

"shinan" is a lesson, teaching, but its homonym means "extremely difficult". Mother loves all her children and does not prefer anyone. Only she can do miracles with tea and cakes, and everyone can feel she loves him.
That is why I tried to connect these two meanings into one: "a great skill". And that is why it is "our mother" and "us" in my translations. Even if I am her husband, I talk/think about her as about "mother".

One more translation:

our mother divides
the lucky cake between us--
what a great skill!

Grzegorz Sionkowski
Read the arguments of Gregor .


Kobayashi Issa

naki haha ya umi miru tabi ni miru tabi ni

my dead mother--
every time I see the ocean
every time...

"She never complained about my dirty diapers, and carried me day and night on her back or in her arms. She begged milk to feed me. She borrowed medecine from the neighbors to make me well when I was sick. Since I was merely a child at the time, I was completely unaware of all that hardship, and shot up like a regular bamboo sprout."

Issa's mother died when he was just a little over two years old. He was then raised by his grandmother.
In his diary, this haiku is followed immediately by another ocean poem:

murasaki no kumo ni itsu noru nishi no umi

on purple clouds
when will I set sail?
western sea

In mythic terms, the western sea separates this world from the Pure Land. The ocean, then, is a barrier between this world and the next, keeping Issa separate from his beloved mother.

Tr. and Comment: David Lanoue

my dead mother -
every time I look at the sea
every time I look

Tr. Gabi Greve

Sakuo comment
Issa’s mother has died when he was 3 years old. His family lived in the mountains.
There is no strong relation between his mother and sea.
At this time he had a female student in Futtsu, seaside town. He loved her so much.
But she died after a pleasant ku meeting with Issa. Her name is Kakyou.
I think Issa had double image, mother and Kakyou, in this haiku.

Sakuo Renku

omoi dashiteru umibe no hito mo

remembering a lady too
lived on the seashore

source : Nakamura Sakuo

Related words

baba, o-baba sama 婆 grandmother, old lady

. WKD : Kobayashi Issa 小林一茶 .

murasame ya o-baba ga maki mo aki no kure

rain shower --
even grandma's evergreen
in this autumn dusk

Tr. Chris Drake

yuugure ya o-baba ga matsu mo kiri ga tatsu

twilight --
mist rises up through
grandma's pine, too

Tr. Chris Drake

These hokku occur close to each other in Issa's diary for the 9th month (Oct.), the last month of lunar autumn, in 1814, when Issa was on a trip to the area just east of Edo.
As Maruyama Kazuhiko points out, the first hokku is a reference to a classical waka, number 491 in the Shin-kokinshuu anthology (1205) by the poet-priest Jakuren (1139-1202). It is a very famous poem, no. 87 in the Hundred Waka by a Hundred Poets anthology.
The second hokku is also clearly referring to the same waka, and the allusion suggests that the passing rain shower mentioned in the first hokku has already ended a short time before both hokku:

through needles
of evergreens still wet
from a rain shower
mist rises up
in autumn dusk

In Issa's two hokku the evergreen tree (probably a Japanese cedar or a Japanese cypress) and the pine stand on the property of an old woman. The use of family terms such as "grandma" for people outside one's family toward whom one has warm feelings is very common in Japanese, and Issa is impressed by the way the woman cares for her trees, though the exact number of trees is unclear.

What seems important to Issa is that the old woman, who is not famous and probably not even noticed by most of the people in the town where he is staying, seems to be just as sensitive and alert to the deep pathos of time passing and to the beauty of the raindrops remaining on her trees after a shower as the aristocratic poet-priest was centuries before. Autumn seems to appreciate her trees back, and before it disappears it sends mist rising up through them once more. Since the hokku are written late in the fall, "autumn dusk" means both twilight and also the impending end of autumn.

Chris Drake


***** New Year Tea, Lucky Tea (fukucha)

***** . World Mother-in-Law's Day .

***** . Mother and Father - reflected in KIGO .


. Fukuro, fukuroo 梟 - ふくろ - 福ろ owl.
The Auspicious Owl



Unknown said...

Oh! what a great information it is on mother and ofukuro in daily life.
This site makes us feel Japanese traditional custom well.



Gabi Greve said...

いかなごに まづ箸おろし 母恋し   

to eat sand lance
first I put my chopsticks down -
I long for mother

Takahama Kyoshi 高浜虚子

Emotions and Haiku

Longing for a person ...