After 55 years since Yaeko, Professor Ueno’s wife passed away, they are joined together in Tokyo’s Aoyama cemetery.
Family descendants held a ceremony on May 19 to commemorate the event of Professor Ueno’s reunification with his wife Yaeko. Ueno’s family had initially chosen another bride for him, as was the custom during that time, but they never married. The Professor eventually met Yaeko, a tea ceremony instructor, and they set up a household in Shibuya Ward. But, due to his previous pledge, they never legally married.
After Ueno’s sudden death at age 53, Yaeko was not allowed to continue living in their home due to inheritance rights. After moving several times, Professor Ueno’s former students pitched in to purchase a home for the grieving widow.
Through it all, Yaeko always made sure Hachiko was well cared for. The loyal Akita’s frequent escapes to “wait” for the professor’s return, made it clear that he needed to be closer to the train station at Shibuya. To this end, Hachiko moved several times, eventually ending up with Professor Ueno’s former gardener.
Hachi and Yaeko: The Truth
Many believe that Yaeko had a poor relationship with Hachiko. However, 93-year-old Takeshi Ando, who created the second Hachiko statue at Shibuya Station, denied these claims.
His father, Teru Ando, who produced the first statue of Hachiko, often took the dog into his studio. Hachiko was old and weak and Ando could not capture a good pose.
But when Yaeko arrived to see Hachiko, the dog stood up energetically and ran straight toward Yaeko. According to Takeshi Ando, his father made the statue from Hachiko’s appearance at that moment.
“It was wonderful how joyful Hachiko was when he saw Yaeko,” Ando said.
In later life, Yaeko told her family members,
“I want my remains to be placed in the grave of my beloved Prof. Ueno when I die.”
But sadly, her wish was not honored, and she was laid to rest in another cemetery in Tokyo.
In 2013, which marked the 90th anniversary of Hachiko’s birth, Keita Matsui, the 48-year-old curator at Shibuya Folk and Literary Shirane Memorial Museum, and Professor Shiozawa, 63, of the University of Tokyo, agreed to make Yaeko’s wish come true.
Shiozawa heads a study lab established by Ueno, and was president of the Japanese Society of Irrigation, Drainage and Rural Engineering which manages Ueno’s grave.
After obtaining agreement from the descendants of Ueno and Yaeko’s families, they began efforts to move Yaeko’s remains.
The Family Unites
Shiozawa played a leading in negotiations with the Tokyo metropolitan government, which manages the cemetery. It took around two years to obtain the proper burial rights.
The great-grandson of Yaeko, Masami Takahashi, 65, attended the ceremony on May 19. He said, “I was moved to think that love can transcend time. All my family members are glad.”
Matsui, who has studied Hachiko’s life for many years, said that it was appropriate since Ueno and Yaeko lived together in Shibuya ward. “To Hachiko the professor was his father, and Yaeko was his mother”, he said.
“By putting the names of both (Hidesaburo and Yaeko) on their grave, we can show future generations the fact that Hachiko had two keepers,” added Shiozawa.
Oasis of Tranquility
In the spring, the walking paths of Aoyama cemetery are lined with vibrant pink cherry blossoms and the expansive grounds are a popular place to walk. The foreigners’ cemetery section is fascinating. One can see the history of expats, from around the world, who lived in Japan many years ago.
Hachiko’s memorial is also located in the small family enclosure. It contains a shrine, a small Akita statue, flower vases, incense sticks and various offerings. Every time I visit, the tokens vary.
The last time, I saw many foreign coins. In respect, I left a coin as my offering as so many have done through the years. It was a teary moment thinking of all the people who continue to love and honor Hachiko.
Hachiko’s family loved him and each other dearly, that much is clear. While they’re no longer with us, their story lives on…