My great-grandmother was a geisha

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My great-grandmother was a geisha. She grew up in a remote village surrounded by the mountains and left home for a big city to become a geisha. She had a daughter by a patron and died right after she gave birth. The daughter was my grandmother on my mother’s side. She didn’t remember her mother at all and didn’t know her father, either. No one still knows who her father is, except that he was a rich and powerful name.

 She was taken in and raised by her mother’s parents at their home in the mountains, but for various reasons, she was soon handed over to one relative to another. She lived in countless different homes of her relatives and changed her school for innumerable times in her childhood. At every school she attended, she was the smartest honor student and had never dropped to second.

 One of her relative’s homes where she lived for a while was my grandfather’s. Years after she left, he told his parents that he wanted to marry her. She got married with him at the age of sixteen and moved in his house again as his wife. She settled down and got her family at long last. But only five years later, my grandfather was drafted for World War II and she was left with her two daughters, one of which is my mother, and her in-laws.

 A former prodigy with no home and no parents found herself working hard as a farmer everyday in the fields with her in-laws…

Episode From An Old Tree in Kyoto /Hodemi Woods

Audiobook : Japanese Dream by Hidemi Woods On Sale at online stores or apps. Apple, Audible, Google Play, Nook Audiobooks,  43 available distributors in total

Nothing But Leaves My Carrot Gives hr643

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When I was nine years old, I suffered from a kidney disease called nephritis. I skipped school and stayed in bed at home for a week as I felt sick and had a fever every day. It had gotten so worse that I vomited blood one night and passed out. My mother found it next morning and called in a neighbor who worked as a nurse. She urged my mother to take me to the local clinic which doctor in turn urged her to get me examined at the hospital. As a result, I was hospitalized for nephritis.
As it was when I lived in a small village of Kyoto, Japan, no one in my family knew what nephritis was. My mother rummaged out a supplement of a homemaking magazine that featured medical issues. It had charts of disease that showed a result according to symptoms by following the arrows to correspond applicable symptoms. I chose the arrows of my symptoms and ended up the result of ‘death’. No matter how many times and how many different patterns I tried, the bottom of the chart concluded with a word ‘death’. “Does it mean I’ll die of this disease in any case?” My mother and I asked the same question to each other and closed the booklet.
My hospitalized days in a shared room of six patients at the children’s ward began. As a nephritis patient, I didn’t have freedom of flushing the toilet. Urine had to be kept in a glass jar each time to be examined. Its amount and color told a condition of a patient. Other patients’ jars were put on the shelves along with mine. Compared to others’, mine was less and darker. I was afraid if my condition was so bad. Because I didn’t want to admit it and didn’t want doctors and nurses to find it either, I tried to cheat. Into a one-time jar, I urinated twice so that at least my amount seemed normal. It had escalated gradually and I urinated the whole day into one jar. Ironically, the abnormally large amount of urine drew an alarming attention of a nurse who thought my illness had taken an inexplicable turn for the worse. It worked directly opposite to what I had intended and I confessed my cheating helter-skelter.
My six-patient room wasn’t usually lonesome as we were kids and some of their parents were allowed to stay with them on the couches next to their beds. But some got permission to go home for the night provisionally, some got well and left the hospital, some got worse and moved to a single room, all of which coincided at the same time and the room was almost empty one night. A girl whose bed was on the opposite side of mine and I were only patients in the room. After the lights-out time, she asked in the darkness if I was still awake. As I answered yes, she started telling me a story that she made. I thought she felt lonely and couldn’t sleep because the room was too quiet that night with just two of us. Her story was about two rabbits. They seeded, watered and grew carrots at each section in the field. The night before the harvest, one of the two rabbits sneaked in the field and pulled out all the carrots from the other rabbit’s section. He ate them all and put leaves back on each hole to cover it. Next morning, two rabbits came up to the field and started to harvest their carrots on their each section. The other rabbit, who knew nothing about the night before, was excited to reap his carrots since he had been looking forward to this day for long. But every time he pulled out his carrot, there was nothing beyond the leaves. He was puzzled and sang, “Nothing but leaves my carrot gives!” While his friend rabbit was pulling out a ripe carrot one after another next to his section, he pulled out only leaves out of a hole repeatedly and sang each time, “Nothing but leaves my carrot gives!” I dozed off and woke up by the girl’s voice of “Hidemi, are you listening?” a few times during the story. Unfortunately, my patience didn’t last until the end. I had been completely asleep at that part of the story and didn’t get the ending. With hindsight, her story may not be her original but something she read or heard since it ‘s too good for a story that a small child makes. Either way, I still remember the story for some reason. When my song didn’t sell at all although I had spent many years to complete it, I heard “Nothing but leaves my carrot gives!” from somewhere.
One day, we had a new comer in the six-patient room. Although she was a junior high school student and wasn’t supposed to be in the children’s ward, she was sent here because the women’s ward was full. She was unhappy to be confined with kids and complained to her mother and the nurses. She looked a grown-up to me and I liked her instantly. I went to her bed to talk to her and tried to console her. I had been stuck to her bedside every day since. She often told me not to make her laugh because her wound from an appendix operation hurt. She laughed at my talks anyway. When she left the hospital, she gave me a gift. It was a small porcelain doll who was wearing a white bouffant skirt beneath which was a bell. On the skirt, there was a printed inscription saying, “I wish for your happiness.” I had put her on the shelves in my room long after I left the hospital, until I grew up and left home.
I think those hospital days have influenced me immensely. I had been constantly aware of death in those days. I got well after all but I had never felt death so close to me in my life. As it’s said that people don’t live life unless they understand death, that experience has driven me to think things based on the idea that I eventually die, and therefore to do what I want for my life. Even if my carrot gives nothing but leaves.

“See? It’s easy!”

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Once, on the festival for the local shrine of my hometown, my favorite grandfather on my mother’s side and I were talking alone at the front yard of my house. He knew a lot about plants and taught me the names of trees in the yard. There was a rooftop space above the garage and it was surrounded by a fence. We went up the rooftop and my grandfather began to climb the fence.

 I tried to stop him but he said he could walk along the top of the fence. He was a war veteran and had been a POW in Russia for many years. In those days, according to him, Russian soldiers made POWs climb up tall chimneys and shot them from the ground for fun. His fellow POWs fell or got shot to death. Luckier men continued to climb up and survived.

 My grandfather was one of the latter. Although he was old and a little drunk after the festival meal, he balanced himself and walked on the narrow fence, which was merely 4 inches wide and 13 feet above the ground. Watching him easily walking on the fence, I understood how dreadful his life as a POW was. This must be a cinch for him compared to forced acrobatics. He jumped off the fence and said smiling, “See? It’s easy!” while I was crying for many reasons…

Episode From An Old Tree in Kyoto /Hodemi Woods

Audiobook : Japanese Dream by Hidemi Woods On Sale at online stores or apps. Apple, Audible, Google Play, Nook Audiobooks,  43 available distributors in total

My new Kindle has been published! “A Japanese Girl in The Catholic School of Kyoto : Nuns, Rich Girls and Jesus / Hidemi Woods”

I spent my schooldays from junior high to college at a Catholic school not for religious reasons but for my mother’s vanity. She wanted me to attend the most prestigious school in Kyoto in order to brag about it. With no religious background, I encountered quite a few unfamiliar events at school that held Catholic ceremonies regularly.
The school often celebrated the Mass, which was an entirely new and different culture to me and I hadn’t the slightest idea what they were doing. Christian students sat in the front row with white lace veils on their heads at the assembly hall. The priest gave them something that looked like a soft snack and they ate it. I regarded it as the believers’ benefits to have a snack during the Mass.
The school held the annual Candle Service near Christmas. Before my first-ever Candle Service at junior high, a Catholic sister told us to bring something from home as a donation for the Candle Service. She added for those who couldn’t think of what to bring, that bars of soap would do. I had no clue what the Candle Service was. All I could imagine was I would receive some sort of service from sisters. I looked forward to it because I thought sisters would serve cake or tea like a Christmas party, and I could get it just with a bar of soap. But as it turned out, we just stood in line holding a candle at the dark assembly hall and sang several hymns endlessly to the poor accompaniment of the orchestra club students. While singing, we got on the stage one by one and put a bar of soap or other donations into a cardboard box. When all the students finished putting their donations into the box, the service was over without any cake.
The school had a big, tall fir tree across from the entrance gate. It stood by the side of one of the school buildings like a wall decoration. Its top reached as high as the third floor of the building. Judging from its size, it was planted there when two sisters came from U.S. after WWII and opened the school.
Around Christmastime, the tree was decorated with ornaments and made the school look beautiful. I was a member of the student board when I was a sophomore. Until then, I hadn’t known that the decoration was a student board’s task. I felt exhilarating for the first time as a student board member. The boring board revived and every member had so much fun decorating the tree together. The tree was too tall to decorate the upper part from outside by a ladder. We got inside the building, put an ornament on the tip of a broomstick and stretched it out of the window of the third floor. Gold tinsel garlands were thrown toward the tree from the forth floor window. It was the biggest Christmas tree I had ever decorated.
I had had all those Christian events and classes in the Bible for years until college and yet I never really understood the meaning. I left school, got out into the world, and worked as a musician. Through the years of making music that hasn’t been paying, I feel I finally know why I continue and have spent so much time and energy to create a good song, which hasn’t brought me money or fame. It took a long time to understand, but better late than never, I suppose…

A Japanese Girl in The Catholic School of Kyoto : Nuns, Rich Girls and Jesus / Hidemi Woods

once visited on their honeymoon

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I answered the phone from my grandfather on my mother’s side one day when I was in junior high. I sensed something wrong at once from his unusually somber tone. He wanted to talk to my mother and she began to tell him repeatedly to wait right there. My grandfather called her to let her know he was going to kill himself. He picked up the pay phone at the train station before he took a train to a place where he had chosen to die, and said goodbye to my mother.

 My father rushed into the car to get to the station while my mother stayed home in case my grandfather called again. My father caught him at the station, asked him what was going on, and persuaded him not to take the train. As he didn’t want to return home, my father checked him in at a hotel near the station. My mother joined there and they talked him out of killing himself.

 She came home at night and told me what had happened. As an old custom in Japan, a married couple used to live with the spouse’s parents. My grandparents on my mother’s side lived with their another daughter and her husband, and they had tackled everyday arguments and disputes. The center of their domestic troubles was often my grandmother. She finally got mad at my grandfather who had always steered himself away the troubles and stayed out of quarrels. He was a war veteran of WWII and had a reward certificate from the government. She picked it up, said “Is this peace of paper making you some kind of honorable man?” and tore it before his eyes.

 Without saying a word, he left home for Atami, which was a Japanese popular seaside resort where my grandparents once visited on their honeymoon. Thankfully, he ended up staying at a hotel with my father instead of committing suicide there. When my grandmother called my mother about his disappearance that night, my mother made her worry all night to punish her, by telling a lie that she didn’t know his whereabouts.

 Next day, he calmed down and went home safely. He just told my grandmother he had been in Atami for sightseeing, that she had believed until she died. He was always a quiet, gentle, tolerant man who never seemed suicidal. The war reward certificate must have meant a lot to him, probably a token of his desperate survival for his beloved wife. His choice of a place to die showed their honeymoon was the best time of his life…

Episode From An Old Tree in Kyoto /Hodemi Woods

Audiobook : Japanese Dream by Hidemi Woods On Sale at online stores or apps. Apple, Audible, Google Play, Nook Audiobooks,  43 available distributors in total

Podcast: dealt with the devil

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Audiobook 1 : Japanese Dream by Hidemi Woods On Sale at online stores or apps. 
Audiobook 2 : My Social Distancing and Naked Spa in Japan by Hidemi Woods On Sale at online stores or apps. 
Apple Books, Audible, Google Play, Nook Audiobooks,  43 available distributors in total.  
 

When I was little and took a bath with my mother, she said in the bathtub, “Never marry someone with whom you fall in love.” In her theory, marriage for love is a ticket to unhappiness because love burns out quickly. She insisted that I should have an arranged marriage as she did. She and my father would find a man for me and do all the necessary background checks so that I’d be better off.

 She also once said to me in the bathtub, “I married your father because he was wealthy. Do you think I would choose such an ugly man like him if he didn’t have money?” When I grew up, I learned that she had been seeing someone before she met my father at an arranged meeting, but she chose my father because he was richer and had better lineage.

 I think she dealt with the devil and sold herself at that moment. Since then, she has been unhappy and that made her a person filled with vanity and malice. When it comes to decision making, I always imagine what my mother would do and do the exact opposite. Since I adapted this rule, my life has been easier and better…

An eel is an expensive treat in Japan

One summer in my childhood, my grandfather on my mother’s side invited my mother and me to lunch. The restaurant’s specialty was eels. An eel is an expensive treat in Japan. We arrived at an awfully old-fashioned Japanese restaurant where we took off our shoes and sat on the floor at the low table. Except for us, only one table was occupied by a woman with a small child, who was busily stuffing the leftovers into a tin box she had brought. Every time my grandfather needed a server to come to our table, he clapped his hands twice and called out, “Hey, sister!” It was an obsolete manner no longer practiced, which embarrassed my mother and me.

 When our house was rebuilt, I had my own room for the first time. That time, my grandfather took my mother and me to a furniture store to buy me a bed and a wardrobe. After we chose the items, a young salesperson calculated the total. My grandfather naturally asked for a discount but the salesperson’s offer didn’t satisfy him at all. He was an old patron of the store and had bought every piece of furniture there for my mother when she got married. He was used to special treatment and assumed he would get one there. But the salesperson declined the further discount, as he was new and didn’t know my grandfather. Even so, my grandfather persisted and decided the total amount of his own. He handed bills to the salesperson, and told him how much the change to be brought back should be. My grandfather’s way apparently perplexed the salesperson. Standing next to my grandfather, I was so embarrassed again.

 Eventually, a long tug-of-war was over and the salesperson brought back what my grandfather had told him. My bed and wardrobe were successfully discounted, but I learned my grandfather’s style was outdated in the modern world…

Episode From An Old Tree in Kyoto /Hodemi Woods

Audiobook : Japanese Dream by Hidemi Woods On Sale at online stores or apps. Apple, Audible, Google Play, Nook Audiobooks,  43 available distributors in total

Podcast: An Ugly Girl in The Drama Club 2

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Audiobook : Japanese Dream by Hidemi Woods On Sale at online stores or apps. Apple, Audible, Google Play, Nook Audiobooks,  43 available distributors in total 
 
The drama club to which I belonged when I was a junior high school student had two school plays a year, for the homecoming entertainment and for the welcoming-new-students assembly. The casting would be done by a seniority system. A handful of senior members appeared on the stage and other members worked backstage.
New members usually started from the stage props staff, then were promoted to the scene shifter, the spotlighting, the curtain drawer/prompter, the stage lighting, and finally, the cast member. My fellow five new comers had quit within a year because they couldn’t take this slow promotion toward cast members, and I was the only one left among those who joined that year. Since there were so many members who were one year my senior, it seemed the day I would be cast in a play would never come in this seniority system. But once I begin something, I don’t quit easily.
When the twice-a-year school play came near, I would work eagerly backstage while seeing some senior cast members whose acting were much worse than mine rehearse on the stage. I started as the stage props staff. The first play I took part in was a Japanese drama. Some cast members had trouble putting on Japanese sandals very quickly when they stormed out of the room in one scene and complained to us. From then on I had stretched their sandals carefully before the scene for the cast members to put them on quickly. As the spotlighting, I learned to move a spotlight just as the cast member moved on stage and to keep the light above her chest all the time. Every once in a while in rehearsal, I made a mistake to follow the cast’s quick movement and my light missed the position slightly. In that case, the play would come to an instant halt and everyone turned to me. I would stand straight beside the spotlight and yell “I’m so sorry!” to the whole production.
 

I woke up with a slight pain in my neck.

I loved my grandfather on my mother’s side so much. He lived in a small town that was a 20-minute drive from my family’s home. We used to visit him quite often, and occasionally he also came to our house with my grandmother. At times they stayed overnight in which case my sister and I would scramble to sleep next to him. I won the place one night and he offered his arm for my head. I slept with my head on his arm, which wasn’t so comfortable, to be honest. I woke up with a slight pain in my neck.

 After they left, I began to feel sick and skipped school the next day. As my condition worsened with a fever, my mother tried to find the cause. I told her I had been sick since I slept with my head on my grandfather’s arm. She picked up the phone and reported it to my grandmother for a complaint. It took me a week to get well, but seemed nothing but a cold after all. I concluded my grandfather’s arm didn’t cause my illness.

 When I met him again, he told me he would never sleep beside me. He explained how relentless verbal attacks from my grandmother had been. She had blamed him for causing my illness everyday although he knew his arm had nothing to do with it. For him, it was an exact situation of biting the hand that feeds you. True to his word, he had never let me sleep beside him ever since no matter how much I pestered. I wondered how severely my grandmother ranted him…

Episode From An Old Tree in Kyoto /Hodemi Woods

Audiobook : Japanese Dream by Hidemi Woods On Sale at online stores or apps. Apple, Audible, Google Play, Nook Audiobooks,  43 available distributors in total

Podcast: a gold-rimmed glasses

 
Audiobook 1 : Japanese Dream by Hidemi Woods On Sale at online stores or apps. 
Audiobook 2 : My Social Distancing and Naked Spa in Japan by Hidemi Woods On Sale at online stores or apps. 
Apple Books, Audible, Google Play, Nook Audiobooks,  43 available distributors in total. 
 
a gold-rimmed glasses
I was raised by my grandmother on my father’s side. She was a very strict and unsociable woman. She led a secluded life and spent most of the time retreating into her room. She would take a trip or go to the theater with my grandfather only once or twice a year.
On those rare occasions, she always wore glasses that she usually didn’t at home. A pair of glasses was a must for her to dress up. She had only one pair with gold rims. Although they were an essential item of her best clothes, she looked terrible with them. She had a stern face by nature but the pair made her look fearsome. Everyone in my family knew that she looked much better without them, and yet, none of us had the courage to say so to her.
Consequently, on every important, memorable event in her later life, she had an awful look by putting them on. She did it not just outside. When there was a guest or I took my friends from school to our house, she always greeted with the glasses on. She had great confidence in glasses. Shortly before her death, she even urged my father to wear glasses because she believed they would help him look grand and dignified. Her treasured gold-rimmed glasses were put into her casket when she passed away. The unpopular pair went to heaven with her. I know she’s wearing them up there still…