Seattle Pup Book Review! "Yumi's Life Lessons by Kay Hirai
Yumi’s Life Lessons by Kay Hirai. Yumi Publishing, 2015.
“How to empower yourself and turn every day into a happy day” is the copy that greets us on the cover of Kay Hirai’s short, insightful book, Yumi’s Life Lessons. “Abandon hope, all ye who enter here” this isn’t.* Which is good, because in this delightful self-help book, introductions matter. Over the course of a mere 39 pages, we are introduced to three—this is a book after all, so everything must come in threes— lovable Jack Russell Terriers owned by Ms. Hirai at different stations in her life: Shiro, Yumi, and Max. Combined, they make for a stellar primer on the joys and the points of frustration that come with not just owning your dog, but growing with your dog.
Ms. Hirai was first introduced to Jack Russell terriers as young girl growing up in Japan when an American soldier gave her one. She named this feisty dog Shiro, after his white skin. Like all good dogs, she helped Ms. Hirai “through a difficult and tumultuous family life at the time.” Appropriately enough, at the end of the main portion of the book, we are introduced to Max, a new Jack Russell terrier who comes into Ms. Hirai’s new place in life after the passing of the awe-inspiring Yumi.
"Let Yumi’s Life Lessons
be your starting text
when deciding to get
a dog or a pet in general."
Yumi, of course, is the dog that seems to make the most impact on the author. In “Lesson 1: Less is Best,” Ms. Hirai expresses disappointment when she first picks up Yumi, noting that she was “entirely white with one brown ear. It was obvious that she was the runt of the liter.” And yet over time with Yumi’s “subtle and simple beauty,” she is smitten with this small dog and begins to change her life. She even says to Yumi, “You inspire me to do and enjoy the simple things in life.” As a dog owner, I can relate to this line. My mom has two sweet black Lab mixes and my dad has an adorable Shiba Inu who, not unlike Yumi, is also the runt of her liter. Whenever, I take our Shiba Inu out for a walk, she always stops to smell just about every blade of grass. (She also likes to channel her past life as lawn mower and eat as much grass as she can, which is normal behavior for the Shiba Inu breed.) Anyway, I know she just smells everything for territorial purposes, but it’s not hard to take a lesson from her and slow down, enjoy your surroundings, and just take in everything. A lesson I know Ms. Hirai and Yumi would easily appreciate.
But there are pleasant anecdotes to go along with these lessons of life, to be sure. Lesson 4 is titled “If You Aren’t Scared, You Aren’t Growing.” It tells the story of Yumi and Ms. Hirai learning to work together on Yumi’s agility. It’s a slow process that takes eighteen months for Yumi to master, but it makes for a great story about bonding and growth. I like that Yumi isn’t made out to be this superhero dog that masters everything the first time she attempts it. Basically, don’t get discouraged when it takes awhile for a dog to learn something new.
“You [Yumi] inspire me to do and enjoy
the simple things
View dog ownership under the lens of Kaizen, which, as the author puts it, is “life-long learning in small, incremental steps.” This was the theme I could relate to the most. A person should always learn throughout life, even—and, perhaps, more importantly—after formal education has ended. After all, dogs are deceptively simple, not simpletons. Humans need to keep learning to keep their minds sharp and the same applies to dogs.
Ironically enough, though, once you become a teacher, you also become the student. In the third lesson, which is called “Leadership—It All Starts with You,” Ms. Hirai says as much when she takes Yumi to training classes and discovers quickly that it was “not Yumi who was in training. It was me, the owner, who was being trained to be a good leader.” Any dog enthusiast or owner can relate to this epiphany and truly, it would behoove any new dog owner to at least take an obedience class. The better leader you are, the better the relationship with your dog. Ms. Hirai recognized this and allowed Yumi to really reach her full potential.
Unfortunately, after four short years of life, Yumi becomes sick and dies. This isn’t a spoiler alert, as the reader will find out only three pages in. I never met Yumi in person, but she came off as a real dog with real problems, but also an incredibly joyful one who really could ameliorate your life. As Ms. Hirai says, “Yumi came to me when I stood at the bottom a hill looking up.” I love the honesty and tenderness of that sentence and even though it comes at the end of lesson 10, it really does a great job at explaining everything that led up to it. Whether you’re at the bottom of the hill or the top, a dog will always stay be your side.
So, in keeping up with the theme of introductions, let Yumi’s Life Lessons be your starting text when deciding to get a dog or a pet in general. There is a lot of good information in here about adopting and rescuing dogs. There are even some testimonials by real-life pet owners about lessons they’ve learned from owning dogs. Some of these stories are better written than others, admittedly, but it’s imperative to point out that most of these people do not write for a living. So, I suppose these supplemental tales drive the point home, but I, personally, didn’t find them to be critical to the main story. In the future, if a friend of mine is considering getting a dog, then I will highly recommend the story of young Yumi because of its honest, loving portrayal of raising a dog that everyone from a new owner to the most seasoned dog enthusiast can appreciate. And even if you decide that owning a dog or any other type of pet is right for you, this small book makes for a good reminder that through hard work, focus, and not letting temporary disappointments get in the way, you too can empower yourself and make every day a happy day.
Reviewed by Kyle Evans
Kay Hirai is a Seattle Area author, entrepreneur, artist, and author.