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“Yakult Lady” Chie Takamizawa

by Judit Kawaguchi

Chie Takamizawa, 30, is a “Yakult Lady” in downtown Tokyo. A mother of two boys, aged 8 and 9, she first got on her delivery bicycle when her second baby turned 8 months old. With almost eight years of speeding through alleys and avenues, Takamizawa delivers healthy beverages, yogurt and Yakult, a delicious fermented probiotic health drink, to her hundreds of loyal customers who depend on her and the drinks to keep them regular. Yakult contains billions of “good bacteria” that keep the digestive system in top working condition — specifically the Lactibacillus casei strain called Shirota. Every day about 25 million people drink it in 32 countries, delivered to their homes or offices by 79,000 Yakult Ladies like Takamizawa. As one of central Tokyo’s top-30 saleswomen, Takamizawa always carries 20 kg of the tiny bottles on her route, kept fresh by 10 kg of ice. Although the load is heavy, it doesn’t feel that way to her: She says it’s been a great ride for her family, and she plans on peddling a lot more.

Having a shotgun wedding doesn’t mean your life will go up in smoke! When I was 19 and in college, he was 21 and already working. We dated for six months before I got pregnant, but we knew we loved each other, and we are still very close and happy. My two best girlfriends also got married quickly and have perfect family lives with beautiful children.

If parents work with all their hearts, their children also put the same effort into their studies and sports. We never tell our kids to study hard or do better at baseball practice. It comes natural to them. They see my husband and me working hard, and even though they are so young, they know they should do their best, too.

Quitting a job must be very painful. I don’t know if I can ever quit because I love my coworkers and customers too much. For example, one of my customers is in his late 80s. His wife drank Yakult until she passed away recently so he continues to place the little bottles on her butsudan (Buddhist family altar) every day. When I make deliveries to him, we pray together.

When parents have no worries about their children, they perform well at work. Most Yakult Ladies are mothers, and the older women teach the younger ones how to be better parents. In our office, we have 12 women and 26 kids. Our little ones are next door. They walk over for a hug, or we stop by and kiss them. They never cry because they are near us. And when the children go for a walk with their teacher, we kiss them and off they go. The company understands that we are moms first, then Yakult Ladies.

There is no demerit to having kids. You become strong fast because you want to protect them. You must be together since they are all over the place! For the 100-plus difficult things that parenting can entail, you get 200-plus happiness points: There is nothing more fun than seeing kids grow up.

A mother’s feelings are not just reflected in but also transferred to her children. One day when I went home angry, within minutes my kids were fighting. I realized that my negative feelings flew right into their little hearts. Children are so sensitive, they can read people so perfectly. Now even if I am having a bad day, on the way home I focus on changing my feelings from negative to positive. By the time I arrive home, I always feel better. If I open the door happy, my kids run to me. I can even tell them that I had a rough day and they encourage me with “Keep fighting, mom!”

Any small goal is OK, but make a new one every day. In the morning, I always have a fresh goal, such as today I will sell this much Yakult or that many boxes of a particular tea. If I don’t reach my goal by the time I usually finish, I rest, eat lunch and go out again. Without a goal, I would not work so hard.

Don’t worry about aging. Today you’re the youngest you’ll ever be for the rest of your life, so enjoy this precious 24 hours.

No matter what you do, some days are just horrible. Don’t freak out! Once every couple of weeks I have a day that is just awful, from a.m. to p.m. It rains cats and dogs, or I fall off my bike, my customers are not at home or they don’t buy anything, my kids are fighting, I burn the dinner. “Today is a bad day,” I say and just accept it all. The next day is always fine.

Judit Kawaguchi loves to listen. She is a volunteer counselor and a TV reporter on NHK’s “Weekend Japanology.” Learn more at: http://juditfan.blog58.fc2.com/