A Ribbon with A Bell hr626

One day in my childhood, a family of stray cats appeared in the front yard of our house in Kyoto, Japan where I was born and grew up.
I was raised by my grandparents and my grandfather had cherished several hundreds of chrysanthemum pots in the yard in those days. The yard was practically a sea of chrysanthemums. For that reason, the apparent house rule existed, which was not to keep a dog. I had never had a pet.
The cats family stood in the middle of the ragged path between the front door and the gate. There were four cats, one was big and others were very small kittens. I was about six years old and standing probably ten feet away from them when I found them that day. While I had constantly talked with my staffed animals, I was quite foreign to live animals. I walked toward them slowly and carefully with full of curiosity and a twinkle in my eye. As I got closer, a mother cat and two kittens quickly ran away. But one kitten didn’t move. He stayed where he was and just stared at me. I reached right in front of him and crouched before him. He was a tortoiseshell cat with gray and brown marks on his fur. He fixed his gaze upon me and never left. We looked into each others eyes for a while. I tentatively stretched my arm and touched him. He didn’t so much as flinch and kept looking at my eyes. I sensed that I was chosen as a friend by this kitten since I had no human friends back then. I held him with my both hands and felt surprising warmth of his body. I brought him inside the house.
I showed him to my grandmother and she promptly prepared a small dish of dried bonito. As I saw him nibbling it, I asked my grandmother if I could keep him with absolute certainty of no. Her unexpected reply was, “As long as it’s not a dog, your grandfather will allow if it’s kept inside.”
I got my first pet. I named him ‘Joe’ because he looked nothing else but ‘Joe’. I asked my grandmother for something like a collar now that he’s my pet. She scrambled and got me a bell and a red ribbon. I put them together and proudly presented to Joe’s neck. His quarters were decided at the entrance of the house, right behind the front door. I gave him some milk in the evening that day and talked to him into the night although I had been sometimes regarded as mute by others to whom I rarely spoke.
I thought Joe was as happy as I was. But after I went to bed, he began to cry. He didn’t call me though because he cried toward outside. Soon, I heard a cat meow outside too. It seemed his mother came to him. They meowed to each other with the front door between them. His fragile meows to the door continued till late at night. My grandmother suggested that I should release him because she couldn’t bear to see him miss his mother so much. I agreed that it was cruel to separate them. He wanted to be outside with his mother. I opened the front door and took him out. He swiftly scurried away. The time I had a pet lasted for less than 12 hours. The time I thought was liked by someone was laughably short.
A few days later, I felt I heard a bell ring. I went outside hurriedly and saw the yard. It was Joe. He huddled together with his family in the middle of the path, at the same spot where we first met. I called out, “Joe!” His mother and siblings ran away on my call, but Joe responded and turned to me. I was amazed that he had learned his name was Joe although our time together was so short. He remained there alone and gazed at me. This time, it looked to me as if he was smiling. At that moment I understood. He came back to see me. I felt an undoubtedly sure connection between us. I walked to him and held him in my arms. I took him into the house and told my grandmother that Joe came back. As she fixed a dish of dried bonito again, she told me not to repeat what we had done to him previously. While I was so happy to be reunited with him, I also knew I shouldn’t keep him. My happiness wasn’t the same as his. After I watched him eating his meal and talked with him briefly, I said goodbye to him. He left again.
In the next few weeks, I heard Joe’s bell on and off. I rushed outside every time, but didn’t see him. Since at least I was informed that he was around, I assumed that I could see him again sooner or later. Then, I made a finding one day at the foot of the bush beside the path in the yard. A red ribbon with a bell was laid on the ground. Joe had come to return it to me. The moment I saw it, I realized I would never see him again. And that was to be proved right. That was precisely how it ended.

The family had run away with huge debt.

When I lived in my hometown, there was our distant relative’s house at the back of ours. The relation was too distant for us to consider them as more than old neighbors. The man in the family was usually just one of our neighbors but once a year, he behaved as if he was our close relative. In the New Year, he would visit our house, coming right into the living room. No doorbell, nor calling. He would simply walk in, pass along the hallway, open the living room door and say, ‘Happy New Year!’ Unlike my parents, I would never complain about his behavior, though, because he gave me money as a New Year’s gift each time, which was also the Japanese tradition. Actually, he was generous all the time. He liked to hold events for the neighborhood such as a golf competition, and treat people to dinner and drinks. He had long been a PTA president. He was well-off enough to build a new house of a modern style with the lawn. I often heard his daughter play the piano. The mystery was, we didn’t know exactly what he did to afford his generosity. One day, we noticed that we hadn’t seen him and his family for days. Then, his house got off limits with a banner of foreclosure. The family had run away with huge debt. A collection agency came to our home, as they thought we knew his whereabouts as a distant relative. Later on, his beautiful new house was demolished. The lavish family disappeared with its house…

became her new superstition

New Year is the biggest holiday in Japan. There is a traditional meal for it, which is called ‘osechi’. It’s assorted foods of beans, boiled vegetables, boiled fish, and steamed fish paste, boxed in layered containers. The kinds of an assortment are slightly different at each family according to the family tradition. My family’s traditional ‘osechi’ was absolutely terrible. The assortment consisted of only three kinds of food. Boiled carrots, boiled burdocks and black soybeans. That’s it. We even didn’t have to buy them except for black soybeans because they were grown in our family’s field. It was accompanied by miso soup that had sticky rice cake and big taro in it. Big taro was grown in our front yard and my family held a superstition that you would become a head of something by eating it in the New Year. Unfortunately, it’s huge and painfully tasteless. As a child, I always wondered how they could call them a New Year’s special feast since our daily meals were better. To conclude the ‘feast’, we drank special tea. A cup of Japanese tea with a pickled plum sunk in the bottom. As another superstition, my family believed that it would bring happiness, but it tasted horrible and made me unhappy right away. And then, what I thought couldn’t be any worse hit the new bottom. On one New Year’s Day, there was a new addition to our traditional meal. It was called ‘kuwai’ and looked like a chestnut with a sprout. My mother heard that eating it in New Year made you ‘sprout’ to the world. It became her new superstition and my father began to grow it in the front yard. It tasted utterly awful. If primitive people found it in the woods and tried it, they would certainly dismiss it as inedible. Although I had endured the terrible feast until I left home, I’m not a head of anything, nor don’t sprout to the world…

spend the closing days of the year on cleaning frantically

Japanese people spend New Year’s Eve cleaning. Basically, they spend the closing days of the year on cleaning frantically because somehow they need to clean up the house thoroughly and wash the car before the new year comes. The cleaning reaches the climax on New Year’s Eve. Mothers also need to prepare the special meal for New Year’s. The pressure that everything has to be done by New Year makes them prickly all day. They often take it out to someone in their families. So, New Year’s Eve is a day of cleaning and fighting in Japan. I recall few New Year’s Eves in my childhood that I managed to escape my mother’s scolding. I sincerely wanted to get rid of that custom, and have firmly decided not to clean up on New Year’s Eve. Even so, every year I find myself cleaning up somewhere in my apartment in spite of myself. I did it today, too. Does DNA work in this act…?

I couldn’t live up to his high expectations toward me.

My younger sister joined with me in taking piano lessons at the pianist’s house years later. While I didn’t practice, my sister was a diligent student who practiced earnestly. Still, I was the one whom the pianist raved about in the lessons. He was an elderly man and often danced to the piece I was playing falteringly. My sister played fluently on the other hand, but he once slapped her hands while she was playing. He shouted ‘It’s not like that at all!’ as if he couldn’t take her playing anymore. To me, it seemed she played much better than I did, but to him, she didn’t. He held a students’ performance once a year at a concert hall. He picked a piece for a student to play there according to their skill. Because I didn’t practice, my skill had progressed extremely slowly over the years. Even though he had admired my hidden ability, he couldn’t pick a piece for me that required high skill. I played an easy piece that a grade school student could play when I was already a teenager. I couldn’t live up to his high expectations toward me and quit. Eventually, I started writing songs and chose music for my career. Since the pianist also composed music and made sound with a synthesizer, I thought I could learn it form him and visited his house for the first time in years. In the rich residential area, only his gorgeous mansion had disappeared and nothing remained of the house but the empty lot there. I wondered if the place had really existed in the past…

I felt uncomfortable up to my limit.

The pianist’s house where I took piano lessons was about a 10-minute drive from my home. My parents took me there and sometimes I took the bus alone when they were busy working. I wasn’t allowed to come home by bus though, because I was still too little to get on the bus alone in the evening. So, my parents would pick me up on their way home from work when my lesson finished. The problem was they were usually late. I had to wait for them at the pianist’s house long after my lesson was over. He let me wait in the lesson room while watching other students’ lessons. But, my parents often didn’t show even after the last student’s lesson finished. In that case, the pianist felt pity and let me wait in the living room. That put me in the utmost awkward situation. As it was evening, his family was gathering for dinner. A good smell was wafting from the kitchen. They couldn’t start eating because I was still there. Everyone in the house had to wait for my parents. And I had experienced this torment not once, but several times. Once, I felt uncomfortable up to my limit and it became impossible to wait like that any longer. I called my grandparents at home and my grandfather came to pick me up with his motorbike. That night, my mother bawled me out for asking my grandfather to get me. She always acted like a perfect parent before my grandparents, but she said my phone call damaged her effort. While she was furious at me, I couldn’t understand why I was to blame not she, who left me waiting for hours in the choking discomfort…

A piano was a must-have item for her to satisfy her vanity.

My parents bought me a piano and I started learning to play at the age of four. It was my mother who wanted it, not me. Although she disliked music so much, a piano was a must-have item for her to satisfy her vanity. At first, a neighbor came to teach me at home, then I began to go to a pianist’s house to take lessons when I got a little older. The pianist had about 100 students and I was probably the laziest student of all. I really hated practicing. I took a lesson once a week, and sometimes didn’t play at all for the whole week between the lessons. A wonder was, I was his favorite student for some reason. He was quite strict with his students but to me, he regularly said that I had a feeling for music somehow. No matter how poorly I played, he kept admiring me for what he called my natural ability. He seemed to believe that I was talented and had the makings of a pianist, but unfortunately, that never motivated me. I didn’t practice anyway and remained an unwilling student all along…