A small plane was landing on a runway. Beyond it was a blue ocean with white wave crests beneath a cloudy sky that was beginning to be cracked and show a glimpse of the blue sky with a ray of sunlight. That was what I was gazing blankly at through a glass wall of the lounge over coffee and vegetable juice at the small local airport in Japan. Then a thick rainbow appeared from the sea surface toward the sky. It didn’t arc but stretched upright like a big pillar. I hoped it was a good omen.
When I faced financial difficulty and my income decreased sharply last year, I was resigned not to be able to afford a trip ever again. But as it turned out, I have taken a trip much more than I had ever done before in a year because the Japanese government subsidized to save the struggling travel industry so that I could enjoy a hotel stay with a minimal amount of money by using the benefit. I am such an unprincipled person who willingly make use of a bill when it comes to benefits while I usually criticize the government. And here, I was having a good time at the exclusive lounge for holders of a credit card with a premium status that I obtained by the credit card company’s promotion for first-year-free membership. Of course I am going to cancel the card within the first year during which I make the most of it by taking advantage of free stuff as much as possible. My decreased income hasn’t improved at all, yet I manage to hang onto my life persistently although it seemed all over one year ago.
I used to be sulky all the time when I was a child. I would constantly grumble and complain to my parents and they frequently asked me why I couldn’t be thankful for anything even a little bit. I still don’t know why I behaved like that, but I certainly had been discontent with pretty much everything as far as I can remember. It could have been nasty meals, could have been a tense atmosphere living with my grandparents, or could have been pressure from an unspoken rule to become a successor of the family as a firstborn. In any case, I was simply surrounded by what I didn’t like. Although my family was wealthy in those days, I didn’t find anything to be thankful for as a child.
I remained the same in my twenties. I was filled with anger everyday though I managed to leave home and live on my own as a musician instead of succeeding the family. I had craved for fame that I couldn’t get no matter how hard I tried. I bore a strong grudge against major record labels and the Japanese society as a whole that wouldn’t appreciate me. I couldn’t see one single thing that I should be thankful for. Everything in the world looked hostile to me.
Now I got old and thankful for being able to continue to do what I want to do for my life while I still have neither money nor fame. I have learned that one can find a way to live somehow unless one loses oneself. I finished my last glass of free drinks after so many glasses of it at the lounge while seeing a small plane blasting down the runway and taking off. I left the lounge with my partner and headed down to the airport lobby with the escalator. There, I found a gigantic Christmas tree against the backdrop of a beautiful twilight sky out of the window. Watching the glittering Christmas tree, I felt blessed, and thankful as well.
About a month ago, out of the blue, an offer for an online guest appearance came to me from a Podcast talk show. Since appearing on any talk show in the world remotely is possible thanks to the Internet while I reside in Japan, I took the offer rather casually. However, the more I got to know about the show, the more dismal my decision looked.
The show broadcasts from New York not only on Podcast but also on YouTube which means people see me not just listen to me. The content is an hour-long, one-on-one interview with the host. Learning those, I was gradually getting into trouble. I am an expert of stage fright and get extremely nervous in front of people. I do have my own Podcast show, but only on the premise that no one could see me behind the microphone. I have a complex about my looks and I couldn’t imagine how nervous I would be if I appeared on the screen. I would get hyper-tense and my broken English would get even worse. I would become speechless in the middle of the show or maybe would pass out. The show would be a mess and ruined because of me. It would certainly end in disaster.
My first appearance as a guest on a local radio show happened when I was twenty years old. Although only my voice was on the air, I was so nervous that I actually soiled myself, which I summon all the courage to confess here for the first time. As more shame of mine, I usually get soaked with sweat whenever some neighbors happen to talk to me. My sweat keeps dripping down just for trifling chattering and even my native language Japanese got broken because I am keyed up too much. I am excessively self-conscious and afraid of how I look and how I sound at all times. I didn’t think such a person like me was able to speak properly in front of the camera. For the whole one month after the online interview was scheduled, I had been fretting and worried about the show. The worst case scenario had come over my mind so many times and convinced me that I should cancel it each time. On the other hand though, I knew it could be a one-in-a-million opportunity for me. As a nameless artist, receiving an offer for a guest appearance might never happen again in my life. It was too valuable to throw away since this could easily be the last chance I got. I decided to go through it after days of consideration and wavering. As the date was closing in, I had relived my life in elementary school where a vaccination was mandatory on a regular basis. Because I was terrified of needles, I didn’t want the scheduled day to come. As it came closer, I counted down the remaining time and hoped that day would pass in a flash or I would do a time warp to the next day of the injection. I even thought it would be better that the world ended before the shot. I had felt the same way until the interview finally arrived.
The interview started at 2 a.m. Japan time because of the time difference. I am a night person, but my brain has almost engaged in a sleep mode at 2 o’clock in the morning. Adding to that, a rash broke out due to lingering nerves. On top of that, I lost some weight and my stomach constantly growled because I had had a decrease in appetite since the interview was scheduled. I knew the microphone would pick up my stomach’s growling during the recording. The condition had never been worse. By the time the recording actually began, just to wrap up was all I wanted.
In the end, I was elated enough to be conceited and talk large thanks to the excellent, compassionate host while it was so miserable that it was painful to watch or listen. As it turned out, I somehow felt good to talk about what I was thinking although my ever messy speaking conveyed merely half of what I really wanted to say. Above all, it was all done, and I didn’t soil myself this time.
I had always dreamed of getting on a talk show as a guest. Every time I watched a talk show on TV, I had secretly wished to be there someday since I was little. I used to imagine myself being asked questions and answering them on the screen. I would wonder what kind of feeling it would be seeing someone have interest in me. After so many years, I was unexpectedly blessed with an opportunity like this, which was quite magical considering the fact that I became neither famous nor rich. And I realized that my dream came true.
The tiny close community of a small village used to be the whole world for me who was born to a farming family living in a rural area of Japan. The sole window to the outside world was TV through which I had encountered what I had never seen in my daily life.
Back in those days, Japanese TV dramas were made and shot in the capital city of Japan, Tokyo. The city view and the people’s way of living in Tokyo looked so cool. Everything from fashion to lifestyle was completely different from things in Kyoto where I lived. On TV, Tokyo seemed like a future world decades ahead to me. I was hooked by one particular weekly crime drama which was shot on location all around Tokyo. Every location looked as if it had been in a Western country and the detectives in the drama were extremely stylish. I was absorbed in seeing that exotic world every week and had spent the other six days of the week waiting for the drama. As soon as I finished watching that show, I would rush into my room and write out the entire show in the notebook. I reproduced all the lines of characters and all the settings by depending on my memory. Since there was no way to record a TV program as a video cassette recorder was yet to come, I read my notebook over and over again to watch it inside my head until the next show was on air. In hindsight, the world of TV dramas was fictional which didn’t exist even in Tokyo, but I was too young to realize that.
Years went by and I became a musician. By the time two years have passed since I joined my first band, the band not only had played gigs around Kyoto but also had made guest appearances and had our songs played on local radio shows from time to time. We had made some connections with music producers who came down to the western part of Japan from Tokyo as judges for some live contests. However, our progress was limited because all the major music labels of Japan were based in Tokyo. My partner and I began to consider moving our base to Tokyo as we were geographically too far off to make a career in music.
Moving to Tokyo was a big deal to me. While I seldom attended, it meant I would quit college once and for all. As a much more serious matter, an old Japanese custom didn’t allow a successor of the family, that was me, to leave home. For me, leaving home meant abandoning my family and all the privileges. Although it seemed crazy to throw away everything when I had no idea how to live on as a musician in Tokyo, I felt living there would be better than staying in my family’s home for the rest of my life. I preferred eating hamburgers and french fries from McDonald’s to eating home-grown vegetables from my family’s fields every single day. I knew it wouldn’t be healthy, but at least I would be able to eat what I chose, when I wanted. To sum up, moving to Tokyo was all about freedom. I was more than willing to jump into the free world where I would make all choices by myself instead of the old fixed rules and customs.
Oddly enough, things went unexpectedly smoothly once I made up my mind to move to Tokyo. Various kinds of obstructions that had been seemingly difficult to be cleared resolved themselves almost magically. The moving day arrived sooner than I had imagined.
I was waiting for the bullet train bound for Tokyo on the platform in Kyoto Station. A friend of mine came to see me off. She was surprised that she was the only one for me there. “Even your parents don’t see you off?” she sounded bewildered. I wondered what awaited me in the outside world of my window. I was both looking forward to it and afraid.
Back in those days of my childhood, a person who was going to commit suicide always took his or her shoes off and put them together neatly before jumping from the top of the building on Japanese TV dramas. It seemed Japanese people wanted to take off their shoes even when they tried to kill themselves just as they took them off at the entrance of the house. I somehow feel convinced.
There is a bridge called Katsura-ohashi Bridge over the Katsura River about a twenty-minute walk away from my family’s house that used to stand in Kyoto where I was born and grew up. The bridge is about 400-feet long as the river under it is quite big and wide. On one summer day in the fourth grade, I went to the bridge with seven or eight friends of mine to play by the Katsura River. Because it was probably the first time each of us played at the riverside without a grown-up chaperon, the outing was felt like an adventure and we were having so much fun by the river.
After a little while, one of my friends seemed to have enough spree to suggest we walk in the river along the bridge piers toward the opposite bank. It was midsummer and the river banks had widened with less water. To us, the river looked shallow and easy to walk in and go further. Since we were all feeling adventurous, we persuaded ourselves that a fourth grader was a big, old kid for whom crossing the river on foot was a cinch. We started splashing across the current with a war cry.
In the beginning we were only ankle-deep in water, but soon water reached to our knees. Our walking speed dropped tremendously. By the time our thighs dipped in water, the stream got fast. It was hard just to stand still without holding onto a bridge pier although we had trod across merely one third of the river. The fast stream crushed against the bridge pier and my thighs, splashing big waves. Suddenly, fear sprang out from the bottom of my guts and yelled at me, “You’re in real trouble! You can’t possibly move ahead. What if you get swept away? Not to mention the opposite bank, you’ll drown to death right here!” Panic engulfed me. I looked back to return, but I was too scared to move, feeling that with this one step I was going to be carried away by the current. There was no way either to go forward or to go backward. I was stuck in the middle of the strong current. Thinking that wasn’t what was supposed to go, I looked around other kids. They also had stopped walking with a scared face just as I did. As if a tacit agreement, we slowly tried and managed to move backwards. When we finally returned to the riverbank where we had set off, our spree had thoroughly gone. Dejected in heart, without talking, we plodded our way home.
About ten years later, I was looking at the Katsura River again from the edge of Katsura-ohashi Bridge after taking off my shoes and putting them together neatly. It was when over a year had passed since I started my career as a musician despite dissent from my parents and friends. Although I had tried harder than I had ever done before, nothing had worked. On the other hand, I didn’t want to live doing what I didn’t want to do. I was stuck without either way to go forward or to go backward, again. I leaned over the parapet and stared at the surface of the river, seriously intending to jump into it. Then, something came into view. I saw three ducks swimming out from under the bridge. They stopped right down below me and just floated there. I vaguely thought I might strike and kill them when I jumped and hit the surface. All of a sudden, that thought drove me out of a daze. I came to my senses and pulled myself back away from the railing. Until that point, the world around me had been completely silent, but noises came back to my ears all at once. I noticed some cars honked at me while passing by. I hurriedly put back on my shoes.
You should challenge at the risk of your life if you wish to fulfill your dreams. Only after you brace yourself for death, can you live your own life. To attain that understanding, I had had to do a few more suicidal attempts in the course of my life. I understood after all and keep challenging, thankfully.