In place of my parents who were busy working
out in a field as farmers from dawn till late
night, I was raised by my grandmother.
Although I spent most of time at home with
her, we had a quite distant relationship. She
was rigid and quiet, and I had felt tense all the
time. She was friendly to my younger sister
but with me, she herself seemed strained. I
was regarded as a successor of the family back
then and she treated me like some sort of VIP.
She didn’t accept idle talk and didn’t
understand any joke. Whenever I was talking
casually, she stopped what she was doing right
away and fixed her eyes on me to listen.
So, it was impossible to have relaxed
conversation with her. Also, she was strict
about manners and chided me for my way of
eating, sitting at the table, or walking.
Consequently, our mealtimes were silent.
Sometimes, she would set my meal at the
table perfectly and retreat to her room like a
servant. She hardly talked about anything
personal, and even when I asked, she just
shrugged it off as if it was irrelevant. I had
lived with her for over 20 years but I never
knew her. Three years have passed since she
passed away, and she still remains as a
mystery to me…
Episode From An Old Tree in Kyoto /Hodemi Woods
After I was graduated from a Catholic high school in Kyoto, Japan, I went overseas for the first time in my life as a family trip around Europe during spring break right before starting college. The culture shock I experienced there seemed to alter my brain. It took control of me and began to inflict cracks everywhere on common practice of the small hamlet of Kyoto that I was born and grew up in.
One of the things I realized in Europe was that so many different people lived by so many different ways of their own. It had been always that way and not worth mentioning, but that kind of notion blurred in my home town where everybody knew everybody who lived in the same way. As a firstborn, I was destined to succeed my family that had lasted over 1000 years, which meant I should live with my family in the same house, on the same location, for my entire life until I die. Although that had been fixed according to the hamlet’s long-standing common practice, what I saw and felt in Europe told me that shouldn’t be the only way to live.
Another thing Europe showed me was better understanding of my parents. Through numerous happenings during the trip, I learned their true self. They weren’t wise, weren’t respectable and didn’t even love each other. It became questionable whether I should follow the fixed life that was demanded by my parents now that I found they didn’t deserve trust.
The first day of college came in only a couple of days after I returned from Europe. It was an orientation day on which we had a physical checkup. I didn’t understand why it was necessary in the first place. For a few-minute-long checkup, all the freshmen had to stand in line waiting for their turns. We waited for three to four hours doing nothing, just standing. I couldn’t leave the line for lunch. A friend from the same high school as I had been in spotted me and went to get a cookie. While I was munching it standing in an everlasting long line, I felt dreadful for my college life that had just started. I had been fed up with my school days that were inefficient, wasteful, full of totalitarian practice. I thought I finally got out of it but it turned out to be started all over again. Everybody did the same ineffective thing at the same time here in college too.
The college had a compulsory two year’s curriculum claimed ‘general education’ and one of the subjects was physical education. About 30 students of the same class gathered at the ground wearing the college gym uniform. We played catch in pairs in one class, and danced odd moves to music all together in another. To me, it wasn’t college at all. I was sent back to kindergarten.
I asked myself what I was doing day after day. The world was infinitely vast yet life was too short. There was no time for doing what I was told to like others did. Time had to be spent on what I wanted to do even though others didn’t do. Three months later, I stopped attending all the classes other than an English conversation class. I knew I would neither graduate college nor get a degree as a result, but I didn’t care. There, I chose what to do by myself, and my own life has begun.
The house in which I grew up was about 100
years old. Pieces of the wall plaster were falling
off little by little and it was to be rebuilt when I
was ten. During the days of moving out, my
grandmother took out an old paper talisman
from her ancient drawers. It had a mysterious
picture on it. According to my grandmother,
the talisman drew clothes if it was kept in
drawers so that the drawers would be filled
with clothes. She gave it to me and told me
that I would never be short of clothes. I didn’t
say out loud but thought it wouldn’t work
because I knew how small her wardrobe was.
When our new house was completed, I had my
own room for the first time and kept the
talisman in my wardrobe. As I thought, I was
always short of clothes for years.
Although the talisman didn’t work, I brought
it with me when I left my hometown. Since
then, the number of my clothes has been
increasing and now, my closet is full of clothes.
The talisman does work after all, but it has an
awfully delayed effect. Another magic is, that
almost all of my clothes cost around $10…
Episode From An Old Tree in Kyoto /Hodemi Woods
This incident happened one New Year’s at the
end of the card game called ‘kabu’, in which
my uncle acted as dealer for the yearly family
casino at my grandparents’ house. He had lost
quite a lot to my cousin, who was his son, as
usual that night and my cousin had left the
table as the morning dawned.
My uncle, my mother and I were left at the
table and the game was about to close. My
mother asked for a few more deals because
she had also lost a large sum and wanted to
get it back. To recover her loss quickly, she bet
by the $100. The game was played for high
stakes every year, but I had never seen the
stakes this high. She lost in succession and her
loss swelled to $500 in a flash.
“This is the last bet,” she claimed in
desperation and put $500 on the table. She
tried to offset her total loss on the last deal of
the game. All at once the tension skyrocketed
and strange silence filled the room. I held my
breath and withdrew my usual small bet. The
cards were dealt tensely and my mother and
my uncle showed their hands of fate. Both
hands were ridiculously bad but my mother’s
was even worse. She lost $1000. Burying her
head in her hands, she repeatedly uttered, “It
can’t be! Can’t be true!” I saw tears in her
widely opened bloodshot eyes. Then she
repeated “Oh, my… Oh, my…” in a faint voice
for ten times and staggered away. I clearly
remember her state of stupor.
A couple of days later back in our home, I
enticed her into playing ‘kabu’ with me since I
learned how poorly she played it and I knew I
would win. I used to receive cash as a New
Year’s gift from my relatives during New Year’s
and it would amount to $1000. I dangled it in
front of her and said that it would be her
chance to get back her loss. She took it and we
played for $1000. As I had thought, she lost
another $1000 to me. She said she couldn’t
pay, and I offered her the installment plan. I
got $100 more to my monthly allowance of
$30 for the next ten months. That was the
richest year in my early teens.
Many years later, she failed in real estate
investment and lost most of our family fortune
that had been inherited for generations. The
amount she lost that time was well over $1
million. And that was the money I was
supposed to inherit…
Episode From The Girl in Kyoto / Hidemi Woods