While clearing closets at my parents' house in Nara in December following my mother's death the month before, I came across a large square card in a pile of old documents. A snapshot of a baby looking at a birthday cake was glued in the center of the card, and I recognized that it was me at the time of my first birthday.

Interestingly, surrounding the picture my parents and relatives had written a few words expressing their best wishes for me. The message from my mom, written in red ink, read: "We named you Tomoko, with hopes that you'll grow into a person as honest and pleasantly fresh as morning."

My name is written using the two kanji — characters in Japanese based on Chinese ideographs — of 朝 (tomo) and 子 (ko). The first character means "morning," and the second means "child" — so in English I am "Morning Child."