※ This is a blog post originally published in Japanese by Nami Kishida on December 2, 2020, which has been translated into English and reprinted by M’s Lab. from Max Agency Co., Ltd. under the direction of Mika Kuramoto, upon request by the author, who hoped people around the world would be able to read her words. (To read it in other languages, click here)
“My entire fortune” breaks down like this: one part is the sum of the dribs and drabs of money I was able to save up since college, working in a venture company for a total of ten years. The other is the royalties from a book I wrote, a book I poured all my soul into, to the point where I believe I’ll never be able to write anything like it again.
All of that, gone in an instant.
Because I bought a foreign car.
And I don’t even have a driver’s license.
Still, for me, in my own way, I’m proud of how I spent my money.
So. Before you say anything. Just listen.
First of all, I bought the car for someone else.
It’s for my mother, Hiromi Kishida.
Twelve years ago, she came down with this insane condition called aortic dissection and had to get an insane surgery straight out of “House” or something. The surgery left her paralyzed from the waist down.
Aside from the fact that her legs are completely immobile, she’s so energetic that people do a double-take when they see her.
Right after the surgery, though, she said she might as well die if she couldn’t walk anymore and spent day after day on her hospital bed crying nonstop. I cried, as well.
What brought my mother’s spirits up again was “a car you can drive with only your hands.” We looked at each other and went, “Wait, that’s a thing!?”
Thus, my mother took out a long-term loan and got a red Honda Fit.
We had it remodeled so that instead of stepping on the brake and the accelerator, she’d use her hand to control them.
My mother trained like crazy for a month, practicing this gorilla-like move where she’d lift her wheelchair up by herself and lug it over into the backseat. After that, she was capable of taking herself out for a drive wherever she pleased.
When my mother, who needed the help of others all the time, could finally drive my brother and me to school and work, she glowed with happiness and said, “At last, I can be helpful to my babies!”
Fast-forward to ten years later.
The thing with cars is, when you drive one for a while, it’ll eventually break down.
One day, my mother said, “I guess it’s about time we look for a new one.”
“Do you want to get the same one again?”
“Well, I do wish that I could drive the car I want to drive, for once in my life.”
There you have it. We want to drive what we want to drive.
Between my mother in a wheelchair and my little brother with an intellectual disability, I think our family has settled with having fewer options compared to others.
Fewer shops we can shop in, fewer schools we can attend, and even fewer clothes we can have.
The same goes for cars.
We’d find a car that was available within our humble budget (my brother doesn’t even have an income), which could be remodeled for accessibility, which could fit in parking spaces, which could stow a wheelchair, and which was at a comfortable height for my mother to hop into. That was the car we would choose. In other words, not the car we wanted to have, but the car that we could have.
“Well, there’s only one car we’d ever want, right?”
In the back of our minds, my mother and I were picturing the same vehicle.
It was the car that my late father, Koji Kishida, loved with all his heart—a Volvo.
That Volvo was everything to my father.
My father worked in home renovation, and he would remodel old apartments while carefully preserving their history and nostalgic ambiance. He had a particularly undying love for German and Scandinavian architecture. Volvo just so happens to be from Scandinavia.
When the Great Hanshin Earthquake hit, my father witnessed everyone’s homes and cars crumble to smithereens. He said, “I chose this hulk of a car so it can protect my family the next time disaster strikes,” and trusted that hulk-of-a-car Volvo with all his being.
He’d plop my brother and me in the backseat, which could fold down flat, and took us on a wild ride from our quaint countryside town in Kobe all the way to Tokyo Disneyland.
He had gotten a sunroof custom-made against my mother’s strong protest, an addition we would go on to use not even once, just as she had predicted.
That was my father. Then, fifteen years ago, he suddenly died of a heart attack.
We wanted to keep anything that my father had poured his heart into near to us. I thought that if I ever lost my way in life, I could just gaze into the love he left with us and find my way back.
Nevertheless, we had no choice but to let the Volvo go.
We had to cover the costs of closing the construction company he’d founded. I was busy getting ready for high school. My brother had disabilities. Having been a stay-at-home mom for so long, the only work my mother could pin down was a part-time job. We could just narrowly get by on the insurance money, but we couldn’t afford much more.
Keeping a foreign car inspected and tuned up did not fit within our allowance.
We watched the Volvo as it was taken away for the trade-in. It felt like we had traded in something more—a precious link with him. I was choked with pain.
“Let’s get a Volvo again someday.”
That was the promise my mother and I made.
One day, I’d be all grown up. I’d make my own money. And I’d get us back a Volvo.
But it was right after that my mother collapsed with her condition, and the Volvo was sent to the back of the line. Honestly, it would take everything we had just to keep living through each day.
“I still hope that maybe one day, at least once in our lives, we’d be able to take a Volvo for a spin,” I’d think to myself on occasion.
Until I heard that the Volvo V40 had been discontinued.
This was a TOTAL disaster.
The thing is, although Volvo provides a wide variety of cars, there’s actually only one make that my mother, who uses a wheelchair, could drive.
The popular SUV-type models had high seats, far too tall for my mother to climb into from her wheelchair.
She could get into a Sedan, but the V60 and V90 are wide as heck, meaning that there wouldn’t be enough space left on the side to roll up a wheelchair in ordinary parking lots.
Ergo, the only model for the Kishida family: the V40!
Feeling like some family from “The Flintstones,” we rolled our way over to our local Volvo dealership.
A man by the name of Yamauchi came over to help us.
“Is it true that the V40 has been discontinued?”
“Yes, the only V40s left are the ones that haven’t been sold…… We actually only have one left at this location.”
“B-but like, are they really not going to make any more? Ever?”
“Unfortunately, they’ve gone out of trend, and I’ve been told that we’re not making any more.”
“One day, sometime in our lives” is a day that may never come.
We may never be able to own a Volvo again for the rest of our lives.
“I mean, you may still be able to find one at a used car dealership……”
“We actually tried that once before, but it was really complicated to get the remodeling we need to have done. With getting all the right parts and talking with the body shop and all, we’d feel more comfortable buying from an official dealer.”
My mother made a sour face.
I casually glanced over to look at the price of the white V40 on display.
It was 4,200,000 yen (just over 40,000 USD).
“This is our last V40, so we’d be willing to lower that figure to 3,990,000 yen (~38,000 USD)!”
Yeah, still nope.
Even if we scraped together all our savings, it wouldn’t be enough.
My mother can’t get a loan for that amount because of her income and other payments.
I had just started my freelance career, and I was still paying back my student loans. I couldn’t even pass the guarantor screening to lease a 100,000-yen apartment (~1,000 USD) in Tokyo.
There must… there must be something, right?
What if we tried to get lucky and strike gold?
Let’s see now… an oil well, some hot springs, buried treasure, rare metals, natural gas…
My book royalties.
I just published a book in late September! It won’t cover the full cost of the car, but it’s the first time in my entire life that I’ve earned such a big chunk of money.
Except it hasn’t been wired to me yet!!!!!!!!
“Ummmm, I’m actually expecting a large chunk of money to come in soon…”
“A chunk of money……?”
“Yes. So, if I combine that with my savings, I think I might just have enough.”
“Wait, are you saying you’re paying the whole thing in cash upfront?”
“Cash. Upfront. Yep.”
Our corner of the dealership erupted in quiet havoc. My mother and Mr. Yamauchi asked me over and over if I was really sure I could do that, but I felt that there was no going back.
“Honey, don’t back yourself into a corner. You never know what’s coming. Why don’t you keep it all in your savings……” my mother fretted.
“If all that money is just going to sit around while we wait for an emergency that may never happen, I’d rather just splurge it all now and treat my family to an awesome time! We’ve been frugal for so long! I can always start saving again!”
I had turned the love and memories my family had given me into essays, which had come back in the form of royalties. Now, I can buy back my father’s beloved Volvo and use it to give my mother the time of her life as my father would have, and live our lives to the fullest in a car we love with our heads held high.
You bet that’s what I’m gonna do.
No matter how bad things might get, I’ll figure something out. That’s why, right now, I’m just focusing on making someone happy, working as hard as I can. I think. Who knows.
My mother and brother were still on cloud nine when I got a call.
Mr. Yamauchi had reached out to us.
“Uh, Ms. Kishida, I’m calling about that Volvo you want to have remodeled for your mother.”
“Did you decide on a body shop?”
“Uh, not exactly…… Apparently, remodeling the driver’s seat in a Volvo for someone who has disabilities hasn’t really been done in Japan…… and they turned us down.”
“The driver’s seat circuitry in a Volvo is very different from domestic vehicles, and that seems to be the issue.”
“But, I’ve never had a customer in a wheelchair before—you’re my first. I’m determined to get your family the V40. Don’t worry, I’ll figure something out.”
You’ll… figure something out?
Well, this had gotten wildly out of hand.
But three days later, he really did figure something out.
“I found one. One place willing to handle the remodel for us!”
It turns out he had driven the Volvo every which way to different shops where he asked face to face if they could handle our remodeling job.
Yamauchi…… You crazy son of a……!
“Oh my godddddd! Thank you so much!”
“The thing is, the remodel isn’t exactly going to be cheap.”
“A cost we shall pay! (Eh, the government will give us a 100,000 yen subsidy (~1,000 USD), so it should be fine)”
“It’ll come to 520,000 yen (~5,000 USD)!”
This is my savings account. It holds my entire fortune, and aside from money for rent, it really is bone dry.
I pulled myself back together, and we headed over to see the body shop that took on our remodeling request.
The one and only place willing to take our case was Nissin Automotive Industry Kansai, and our new Volvo greeted us there. See how my mother was so overwhelmed with joy that her fingers are inadvertently clasped in prayer.
This pane had to be installed, and apparently, that was the tricky part!!!!
It’s just a pane, but what a pain it was.
Without this pane here when she was hopping up from her wheelchair, my mother would Humpty Dumpty herself splat-faced onto the ground, and that wouldn’t go over easy.
There was some wiring blocking the way, so normally they wouldn’t be able to install this here.
But they did it!!!!!!
Behold the hand-operated accelerator and brake! They’re here, too!
If you fold down the seats, the wheelchair fits, too!
My mother is crying tears of joy.
Koji—old man!—are you watching thissssss!?!?!?
I did it for you, toooooo!!!!!!
Everyone is on our siiiiiide!!!!!
SORRY FOR SELLING YOUR VOLVOOOOOO!!!!!!!
The man who accepted our remodeling request, CEO Masahiro Yamamoto, was a wonderful person, too.
“Isn’t remodeling a car really tough? Just like with the Volvo, every car has a different make.”
“You bet it’s tough! Even after I head home for the day and I’m eating dinner, and then when I’m soaking in the bath afterwards, I’m always thinking about how to solve whatever problems we’re facing on a project.”
“But if it’s so much work, then why did you say yes to us?”
“My father has difficulty walking, too. But just by being able to drive, the world of what you can accomplish opens up wide in front of you, and your life can get that much more exciting. That’s why I take on remodel jobs like yours.”
Racking your brains to come up with a new solution for someone special can ultimately help another special someone find happiness. It all starts with caring about another person.
Without this person, we would have lived the rest of our lives unable to realize our dream.
“What was the toughest remodeling job you’ve ever done?”
“A Ferrari. That was…… a challenge. It’s already hard enough just to find the right place to attach the parts, then on top of that, we’d have to pay tens of millions of yen for the smallest scratch. It was…… really scary……”
Yeah, scary is one way to put it.
To everyone at Nissin Automotive Industry Kansai who took on our case.
To Mr. Yamauchi, the man from the Volvo dealership who drove far and wide in search of a remodeler.
To all of you who bought my book or subscribed to my “note” webpage articles.
I love you all.
Thanks to you, we were able to bring our Volvo home with us.
Someday, we may roll through your town.
In my father’s favorite, a Volvo.
And now, now that we have it, I finally understand.
It wasn’t the Volvo that my father wanted.
It was to bring joy to his family.
For that purpose, no amount of money—no matter how high—was off limits.
He never gave up on the thing he cared most about.