a different world

As the process of moving, I went to my new
place for the second time. The area was
covered with deep snow this time and it looked
like a different world. I got to my new
apartment on foot from the train station,
walking along the sidewalk sandwiched
between the plowed snow walls. The snow
walls were my shoulder high and I’d never
seen this much snow in my life.
As soon as I arrived, I got down to cleaning
the room. I spent first two days cleaning the
stained carpet. On the second day, I was to
receive several boxes I’d sent from my old
apartment. Looking at the heavy, ceaseless
snow, I was afraid that my boxes wouldn’t
reach here, but they came all right, to my
relief.
On the third day, I went shopping for food.
To get to the supermarket, I needed to take a
train, and I walked along the snow walls to the
station again. I concentrated on my steps not
to slip when an icicle dropped from a lamppost
right before me. I got almost skewered. All the
way to the supermarket, I was busy watching
up and down, for my steps and icicles. That
was awfully similar to an advanced stage of
Mario Brothers. It was an ordeal just to get to
a store. On top of that, my toes became icy as
slush had seeped inside my supposed-to-be
waterproof boots that I’d bought specially for
this trip. You can’t make light of snowy
country…

Episode From Surviving in Japan / Hidemi 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

bargain hunter

I check the TV listings online everyday. I found
a TV show that featured the town I was
moving to. I was looking forward to it in front
of the TV. When the show started, I realized it
was about how to live inexpensively after
retiring.
The town was introduced as the area that
had many budget apartments where retirees
with a drastic income drop could afford and
save money. The show chose a couple of
apartments as super money-saver ones of all
others. To my surprise, my new apartment was
one of them! Seeing the exact building I was
about to move in on TV, I felt delighted and
embarrassed at the same time.
To sum up, the apartment I selected is one
of the best bargain apartments located in the
least expensive area in Japan. It proved my
discerning eye as a bargain hunter, but also
declared my new place was the cheapest in the
country on national television. I have a low
income, all right, but I’m not retiring…

Episode From Surviving in Japan / Hidemi 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

Bear Attacks hr636

A black shape of a bear is drawn on a yellow background with big capital letters of ‘Beware of Bears!’. That is a poster I see everyday out of my apartment window lately. Not just one. It’s on the fence along a stream and at the little bridge over it so that I spot it everywhere sitting at my table. It has multiplied rapidly this year. On a bench at the nearby park, on the public bathroom wall in my neighborhood, at scattered vacant lots, the posters are rampant here and there that I’d never seen before in my town. Those are not just for warning. Those indicate the spots where bear’s foot prints were left or a bear was actually witnessed. From morning till night, patrol cars with loudspeakers drive around blaring out “Bears are spotted! Be careful when going out!” all day long. The car stops on the little bridge beneath my window and sets off firecrackers to scare off bears. Some members of the local hunting association fired blank shots there. It’s said that the reason why bears come down to a residential area from the mountains so often has to do with the climate change that causes a shortage of food for them.
About ten years have passed since I moved in this snowy town enclosed by the mountains. It’s been warmer and snowed less year after year compared to when I began to live here. That has helped make my winter days easier that I used to suffer from claustrophobia by the deep snow coverage.
Added to the climate change that affects my daily life, I also sense my own mind changes. I had feared if a monotonous country life rusted me away when I decided to move in here. It didn’t happen. Rather, the quiet life increased my concentration and contributed more productivity for my lifework than the time when I lived in the metropolitan area. I have a serener mindset than before and it gives me more understanding toward myself and the world I live in.
Recently, people have stayed home and worked remotely in Japan too. They have left big cities and moved to rural areas. More and more people from Tokyo have moved into my small town that I had expected nothing but to become desolate every year. There are many unfamiliar new residents in the apartment building where I live. The building used to look like a ghost house with dark windows, but it has almost no available room now. I had never imagined that would happen mere one year before. The unthinkable things occurred at the unthinkable speed. In this trend, we can’t tell what happens next. In three years, bears might be chasing after me. Not bears but people might start chasing people and killing each other. Or human race might extinct because of viruses. There might be days of a panic, or moments of danger for life. Even so, it could turn to be better. These unprecedented years have shown how much human imagination is limited. I myself have learned that a superficially dire thing can turn out to be a good thing in the end. Besides, I saw unthinkable things happen, so why not unthinkably good ones? I believe they could happen as well. They should.

bears and monkeys

Recently, there has been more and more news
about bears and monkeys that appear in town
and attack people all around Japan. It’s said
that they come down from the mountains for
food, as there has been less food up on the
mountains due to the climate change and
deforestation. The area I live in now is animalfree

so far, because there aren’t mountains nor
woods around, just too many crazy people.
But at last, I heard the news that a bear
appeared in the area I’m moving to. My new
place is in the country with numerous woods
and fields, surrounded by mountains. A bear
was spotted in a field and a man got injured.
Terrifyingly, the field was quite close to my new
apartment and I think I walked beside it last
time I went to my place and was on my way to
shopping. That reminded me of a couple I saw
on the street then. They were walking with
tinkling bells. I knew that a bell worked to keep
from a bear encounter and I thought they
came back from hiking in the mountains. But
now I know they were tinkling bells for the
exact spot. By moving, I intended to be rid of
people, but never thought I would live among
bears instead…

Episode From Surviving in Japan / Hidemi Woods

Loneliness Is My Norm hr635

The nearest grocery store from my home is a 25-minute walk away. That small local store carried a sale on eggs at one dollar for ten. I walked there with my partner to get them. Since my town is so small and rural, there are usually almost no pedestrians on the streets. Except that cars are passing by sparsely, I hardly see anybody. But on our way back home from the grocery store, I saw a woman standing by a field and watching wild flowers. It was rare to see someone on the street. As I was getting closer, I perceived her looking at me with her face filled with a big smile that was totally familiar to me. I knew her.
She used to be a resident in the apartment building where I live. We often came across and shared some time together at the communal spa in the building. She is much older than I am, but we somehow got along well and chatted heartily every time we saw each other at the spa. About six years ago, she moved out of the apartment to the different one in the same town. I unexpectedly felt so sad because I had regarded her as if part of my family unconsciously since we met and talked almost everyday. However, when I saw her for the last time and she tentatively hinted her suggestion to exchange contact information and invite me to her new place, I just chickened out and dodged a reply. I wavered tremendously but didn’t have courage to step into a new friendship. We parted without even asking each other’s names. The spa had become quiet ever since. Occasionally from nowhere, a thought about how she has been doing came up to my mind while I was taking a bath with no one to chat. I regretted my decision not to be friends with her. I missed her more than I had thought.
And I saw her again after those years by this incredible coincidence. I jumped for joy to have bumped into her like this. Her big smile and loud laughter hadn’t changed a bit and she told me how she had been doing. After we chatted for a while, I sensed the time to say good-bye again was approaching. And I was swallowed by one single thought: Should we exchange contact information this time? I ran through a scenario in my head. If I asked her info here, she would expect me to get in touch later. Then if I got in touch with her, she would invite me to her place. Then if I went to see her, she would expect me to invite her back in my place next time. Then if we found little left to talk about, we would be distant gradually. Then if it broke off, I would regret my contact exchange of today retrospectively. While I was trying to see the future, she also tried to judge my feelings and tentatively brought up a plan to see each other again, like deja vu. The time to decide had come.
I had missed her. I had wanted to be friends with her. I made a wrong decision last time and this could be the second chance falling from the sky. On the other hand, I had too many bitter experiences about friendship and wanted to add no more. I felt harsh loneliness every time I lost friendship. The closer my friend and I were, the harder it was to be estranged. I tend to have high hopes and expect too much for someone I make friends with, that usually leads to painful disappointment when she or he doesn’t meet my expectation. I had had many friends and lost them. For me, getting along well isn’t enough to build friendship. I need to respect someone as a friend. People change. Once I can’t respect my friend any longer, my friendship is over. I also need to be accepted as who I am. That’s why most of my friends left me when I decided to become a musician. I wonder how I could ever start a new friendship as long as I know how I would feel when it ends. Disappointment would be huge this time all the more because I like her. I couldn’t bear the loneliness it would bring.
Since I was a child, I have struggled to escape from loneliness. I had searched for someone to get along, thought I found one, and realized I didn’t. Repeating the cycle had accumulated loneliness. I reached the point to afford no more loneliness long ago. But in the course of my life, I’ve got the solution. I think loneliness may be overestimated and it’s not so bad if you see it from a different perspective. Sometimes loneliness is freedom. Sometimes it’s self-esteem. It works for me to stop looking for the way not to be lonely, but accept to be lonely instead. To fend off loneliness, be lonely already.
I didn’t ask her contact information and neither did she mine after all. We said our good-byes without giving names again. We waved and resumed our ways in opposite directions. Immediately the blame on her crossed my mind that she should have pressed on our contact exchange. If she had cornered me and I had had no choice, I could have told. Why didn’t she simply ask me so that I could answer? No, I reconsidered, it was better as it went. I felt her kindness more than ever not to ask me and walked on with holding a lot of fresh eggs.

claustrophobia

Last weekend, I went in my new apartment for
the first time since I looked at the room with a
real estate agent in September. Although the
building was 20 years old and I had expected
some fixtures would have been broken,
everything worked fine including a heater and
a boiler. Only, the room was dirty from the
former resident’s poor maintenance, meaning
an extensive cleanup awaited me.
The room was carpeted, and that carpet
was extremely dirty with countless stains. I
was talking with my partner how careless the
former resident must have been, and at
dinnertime, it was my partner who
inadvertently spilled soy sauce on it. Already a
new stain has been registered.
My biggest concern about living in that
room had been whether claustrophobia would
fall on me or not. One of my ways to lessen the
phobia is turn on the TV. My cell phone is
capable of receiving TV and I carried it around
as the most important emergency item for the
phobia in the room. Thankfully, I didn’t feel the
phobia but tried to turn on the TV for fun
before going to sleep. Then, my cell phone told
me that it couldn’t receive it. As the building
stood surrounded by high mountains, the wave
was too weak to be received. Once I realized
the TV wouldn’t be on, I felt a touch of
claustrophobia all of a sudden. I shouldn’t have
tried TV…

Episode From Surviving in Japan / Hidemi Woods

another surprise

Here is the finale of my apartment hunting. I
had complained about delay of the contract to
a real estate agent and she had advanced the
date for it.
Two days before signing, she called me
and gave me yet another surprise. She went in
the room to make sure everything was okay
and found out that the owner had taken away
all of the furniture and appliances although the
room was supposed to be furnished. According
to her, everything was gone except for a
kitchen table. She sounded more shocked than
I actually was. Because each piece of furniture
and appliances had looked pretty old and
worn-out when I saw the room, and even if
unfurnished, the price was still a lot lower than
the area’s average, I asked her not to retrieve
them as she offered. I accepted the present
condition, and signed a contract at last.
My six-month long apartment hunting is
officially over. Starting now is my moving saga.
It’s decided for me to move 160 miles far from
where I live now to the countryside surrounded
by mountains. Is it really possible for me to live
in the mountains secluded from people? More
than anything else, please no more bad
surprises for me…

Episode From Surviving in Japan / Hidemi Woods

my fridge

A new supermarket opened one block away
from my apartment. It’s the closest
supermarket and I can see it from my window.
Since the construction started in spring,
I’d been looking forward to its opening while
seeing the progress of the construction site. I
jumped in it on the long-waited opening day
and the store exceeded my expectation.
Their prices were a lot lower than I’d
thought. They have carried the opening sale
and I’ve been there almost every day. Before
the opening, a flier of the store came in, which
said, ‘Please use us as your fridge.’ With this
proximity to my place, I thought it would be a
good idea, depending on the prices. Now that
the prices are low, using the store as my fridge
is becoming real. Because I found something
at the lowest price ever each time there and
couldn’t resist getting them, I’ve brought home
more food than I could eat. As a result, my
home fridge is packed, too.
Once I decided to move out my
apartment, this nice supermarket appeared.
Leaving the store behind makes me feel
hesitant to move…

Episode From Surviving in Japan / Hidemi Woods

ancient poem is written

It was my birthday yesterday 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 designs 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…

Episode From Surviving in Japan / Hidemi Woods

What kind of game are we playing?

Here’s an update on my ongoing apartment hunting. After I saw the room and deliberated, I decided on the place which price was 20 percent off. A week after I submitted the application form to the real estate company, its agent told me that she hadn’t been able to reach the owner. A few days later, she called me again and said that she finally contacted the owner. But she asked me to wait a little more as the owner wanted to consider the price. From then on, both the agent and I have been just waiting. Now I noticed absurdity.

The 20 percent off price was offered by the owner in the first place, not by me. Is he or she considering his or her own price? And is he or she going to decline the price by himself or herself? What kind of game are we playing? Two weeks have already passed since I applied for the room. I have no idea how it unfolds hereafter…

Episode From Surviving in Japan / Hidemi Woods