I tried one last time under the dim light of a mercury lamp.

Here, I make an embarrassing confession. I hadn’t been able to ride a bicycle without training wheels until the fifth grade. I always believe that riding a bicycle successfully for the first time should be like the one in the movie ‘Kramer vs. Kramer’ where a father played by Dustin Hoffman jumps for joy and takes a picture of his son’s first ride. Sadly, parents in real life are too defective. My parents used to be farmers who worked out on the field from dawn to night. They hardly took a day off and when they did, it was a rainy day. During winter when their work was a little less hectic, they would bring crops from the field to a communal wash place by the small park near our home. They spent the rest of the day washing the crops by hand with their long booted feet soaked in freezing water. My father used a short interval between the field and the wash place to teach me to ride a bicycle. He couldn’t spare more time and I wasn’t a fast learner. After a few unsuccessful attempts, I became the only one among the kids of around the same age in the neighborhood who couldn’t ride a bike.

One day, my mother took me to the park with my sister on her way to work. Because she told us to bring our bicycles, I thought she would teach me this time. But she spotted a couple of older kids in the park, asked them to teach me and rushed into the wash place. With the kids’ help, my younger sister by four years got to ride a bike without training wheels, while I couldn’t. The kids laughed at me. When my mother poked her head around the door of the wash place and asked them how it went, they said, “She’s no good! Her sister rode it first!”

Much later, I was already close to my then-best friend Junko and took courage to ask her to teach me. She helped me in the park earnestly until it went dark. As it was time to go home, I tried one last time under the dim light of a mercury lamp. And I finally made it. Behind me, I heard Junko shouting for joy, “She’s riding! She made it! Hooray!” When I stopped and looked back, I saw her face flush with happiness. I miss her. More than I miss my parents…

without a certificate or a diploma, there’s no way to show people the result, thus winning is pointless

When I was in junior high school, there was a tournament of the Japanese classic card game that I wrote about. One hundred cards were laid out before competitors and each card had an ancient Japanese poem written on it. A teacher read a hundred poems one by one and competitors picked the corresponding card. The one who got the most cards would be a winner. The game isn’t as simple as it sounds. While a poem reader reads the whole poem, only the latter half of the poem is written on a card. To pick a card fast before it’s taken by your rivals, you memorize the whole poem. The instant the top of a poem is read, you recall the poem’s latter half, find the card it’s written among the laid 100 cards, and pick it.

Because my family had the game at home and played it occasionally, the poems were quite familiar to me. I was able to memorize all 100 poems easily before the tournament, that let me beat a competitor one after another, as by the time the teacher read a first verse, the card of the poem’s yet-unread latter half was already in my hand. At the finals, I even beat the smartest girl at school and won the tournament. I came home with great joy and told my mother I had won. Her response was, ‘Where’s a certificate?’ According to her, without a certificate or a diploma, there’s no way to show people the result, thus winning is pointless. She urged me to have a teacher issue the certificate and I asked the teacher. A few days later, I received a makeshift paper for the certificate. The pitiful paper was decorated proudly in a frame by my mother…

The best present from my mother this my birthday was a wrapper of a snack

It was my birthday and my parents sent me presents. The gifts from my mother were exactly the same necklace as the one she had sent me a couple of years ago, a vinyl bag which she apparently had got as a freebie, and some towels she didn’t use anymore. She also enclosed a bag of rice crackers. My hometown is in Kyoto that is a Japanese historic city with a lot of old temples and shrines. Many stores there take advantage of the location and use the historic sites and events as their signature design for wrapping. The store my mother bought rice crackers used a Japanese classic card game. It’s played with 100 cards on each of which an ancient poem is written. For some reason, I was very good at the game when I was a teenager. I haven’t played it for a long time. Some of the 100 poems were printed on the wrapping of the rice crackers and I remembered how good I was. The best present from my mother this year was a wrapper of a snack…