It’s no good!

I had a dream about my sister last night. In
each and every dream about her, she takes
my parents away from me. She’s four years
younger than I am and I still remember the
time when she was born. Although everybody
told me that I must have been very happy to
become a big sister, I felt gloomy more and
more as my mother’s due date was drawing
near.
I strongly wished my sister would never be
born because I knew grown-ups’ attention
would leave me. And I was right. She was born
to be my parents’ favorite. My mother
especially stood by her all the time, both
physically and mentally. I was sent away to my
grandparents’ room to sleep with them. My
mother’s arms and lap were always occupied
by my sister and I was constantly driven away
to my father.
Only consolation for me was my
grandfather’s attitude. Because Japan was
excessively male-dominated – it still is, in my
opinion – he was bitterly disappointed that his
newly born grandchild was a girl again. He
kept complaining about it to his neighbor
friends, saying “It’s no good! A girl again! No
good!” For that matter, he had six
grandchildren in all and none of them was a
boy. I regard it as a curse.
My sister still gets along well with my parents
as their favorite, lives with them in my
hometown, and they brag about whatever she
does while they criticize for whatever I do. To
this day, they remain taken away from me by
my sister. It can be a good thing for me,
though…

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

She had no place to go

My parents married by an arranged marriage.
Marriage used to be a knot between two
families, not individuals in Japan. A mutual
acquaintance introduced my parents to both
families with their photographs. Although my
parents didn’t like each other, the tie as the
family seemed favorable to their parents. My
mother agreed with the marriage very
unwillingly after the fortuneteller said that she
would handle money by the million if she
married my father.
As for my father, he reluctantly obeyed his
parents’ decision because he had never said
‘no’ to his father in his life. A month after the
wedding, my mother decided to leave my
father because she couldn’t stand to live with
his parents any longer. She went back to her
parents’ home but her father didn’t allow her
to come back. She had no place to go and
gave in to her dismal marriage. And I was
born. I wasn’t the result of a happy marriage,
but I embodied my mother’s resignation…

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

excellent and beautiful

My mother turns to a fortuneteller when it
comes to a big decision. Every big decision that
has fundamentally influenced her life was
made by a fortuneteller, including her
marriage. When my parents named their
children, they of course had a fortuneteller
choose the names. So, I was named by a total
stranger. My parents each had their own pick
for my name when they visited the
fortuneteller and they also had a few other
names as spares just in case. The fortuneteller
picked ‘Hidemi’ out of the spares, which was
neither of their picks. Most Japanese names
are written in Chinese characters. Each of the
characters has its inherent meaning. My name
is composed of two characters. The character
for ‘hide’ means ‘excellent’ and the one for ‘mi’
means ‘beautiful’.
In Japan, we are often asked the
corresponding characters to the name when
we give out our names. I always explain
“Hidemi as in excellent and beautiful.” And the
person who hears it almost always gives me a
wry smile. I know what they think…

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

postcard from my mother

I received an unusually nice postcard from my
mother, which said she was worried about me
because aftershocks of the Japan’s earthquake
had still continued to come almost every day in
this area.
She had also called me right after the
earthquake and when the phone service was
restored, she asked me if I was all right. Both
gestures of hers were unlike her usual attitude
toward me. When she called, she asked me
what my apartment was like and where it was
located, too. I have lived here for nine years
and have told her about my apartment many
times over the years. I don’t know if she’s not
listening to what I’m saying or she simply
doesn’t care about me, but either way, she
doesn’t remember things around me at all.
Considering that many people in Japan have
felt helpless and faint-hearted since the
earthquake, her true concern might be just for
her future as an old woman, not for me. I
found a wrap with a markdown of 75% that
had left unsold for winter and bought it as a
Mother’s Day gift to send to my mother. When
it arrives, I’m sure she will glance at it, tuck it
away in her drawers, and forget about it
quickly. I know this much because a few years
before, she has told me not to come home
again, and yet, she has acted as if nothing had
happened between us…

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

do the exact opposite

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…

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

A pair of 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…

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

grandparents who gave it to me

I had a dream about my grandparents last
night and couldn’t go back to sleep because I
missed them so badly. Both of them have
passed away, but they raised me when I was a
child in place of my parents who were too busy
working out in the field as farmers.
When I lived with my grandparents, I didn’t
appreciate being with them, as they were
strict, quiet and boring, and I constantly
missed my parents. But after I grew up and
left my hometown, I realized how my
grandparents regarded me and felt about me.
Until they passed away, I had returned home
once or twice a year. My grandfather would
wait for me with an envelope that had some
money for me inside, and my grandmother
with my favorite food that she would have
prepared and cooked from morning. She would
wear particularly for the day something I had
given to her before, to show me her gratitude.
Those things were what I could never expect
from my parents. My parents would be seldom
at home when I returned although my
homecoming was only yearly and informed well
beforehand. That was not because they were
working. They would be out for shopping or, at
one time, they were even gone on a trip to
Hawaii. They seemed to lack the sense of
pining for and anticipating someone. Or, they
may have simply avoided me. Parental
affection doesn’t necessarily come from
parents. In my case, it was my grandparents
who gave it to me…

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

pick up my family’s ancestors

In mid-August, Japanese people get a few
days’ holiday for the ‘Bon’ Festival that is a
Buddhist event to ease the suffering of their
ancestors in the life after death. It’s believed
that their ancestors’ spirits return to their
home during ‘Bon’ and the family and relatives
get together to hold a memorial service and
have a feast.
When I was little, I used to go to pick up my
family’s ancestors with my grandmother at the
beginning of the ‘Bon’ period. The pick-up spot
was a small, ordinary vacant lot on the edge of
the hamlet. Our neighbors would also pick up
their ancestors there. At dusk, we lit incense
sticks there and carried them home, on which
smoke our ancestors were supposed to ride to
our house. Once we arrived home, the incense
sticks were put on the Buddhist altar, and that
meant our ancestors came in there. We
welcomed them with many plates of food on
the altar.
Although it had been an annual sacred event
for my grandmother and me, it was stopped
abruptly one year for good. When I asked what
happened to the pick-up, my grandmother said
that our ancestors had decided to come home
by themselves from now on. In hindsight, I
assume the real reason was because my
grandmother’s bad leg had gotten worse and
she became unwilling to walk to the pick-up
spot, or simply the vacant lot was replaced
with a new house and there was no pick-up
spot available. But back then, it didn’t make
sense even to a child that our ancestors
suddenly considered their descendants’
convenience and stopped requiring a pick-up.
What about an old custom we had observed for
a long time…?

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

still remains as a mystery

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

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 Beginning of My Life hr638

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.