I chose music as my lifelong carrier when I was a college student. The first thing I got down to was to form a band. After I realized I couldn’t find band members at nearby universities because students played music just for fun, I expanded my search to the general public. Until then, the whole world I had been familiar with was the small hamlet where I was born and grew up and the schools I went to. I was about to tread on to the unknown, new world. It was early 80’s when neither the Internet nor SNS had existed yet. The common way to find band members back then was recruitment columns on dozens of pages in a monthly music magazine. When you found someone appealing to you, you would contact him or her by a double postcard to receive a reply. I narrowed down to two postings for a candidate band. As I couldn’t figure out which one was better, I asked my mother out of curiosity. She glanced at each posting and without much attention picked one which address indicated a good residential district. Neither she nor I ever imagined that casual pick would have changed the course of life of mine, my parents’ and of the one who posted the recruitment message. From that point, inexplicable passion moved me in fast forward mode. I jumped on my bike, rushed to the post office to get a double postcard on which I scribbled enthusiastic self promotion on the spot, and mailed it. A few days later I received the reply card with the phone number on it. We talked over the phone and set up the meeting in Osaka where he lived. Osaka is the big city located next to Kyoto where I lived. It took me about a 15-minute bike ride to the train station plus s 45-minute ride on the express train, which was quite a travel for me who was a farmer’s daughter in the small village of Kyoto. Adding to that going to the big city alone was so nervous in itself, the one whom I was going to meet was a boy. I had hardly talked to boys of my generation since I went to girls’ school from junior high to college. That all felt like a start of my adult life. Before I set out for Osaka though, there was a problem. I needed to make s demo tape of my songs for the meeting where we were to exchange demos. When he talked over the phone about the exchange of demo tapes, I said “Exchanging demos? Sure, it’s a matter of course!,” which I found myself in a cold sweat to be honest. I had only one song on a tape that I had made for an audition. All other songs of mine were on paper as it was before the era of hard disc recording by a computer. The gadgets for a demo I had were a radio cassette tape recorder, the piano and the guitar. I didn’t have a microphone or a mixer, which meant I had to record by singing to my own accompaniment in front of the tape recorder. Although I had done that before and even done a few gigs too, the demo I finished this time sounded so lame that I thought he would turn me down as his band member at the meeting. To me, my demo tape sounded as if it made me a laughingstock since I had confidently declared myself to become a professional musician over the phone. He would either laugh at me or get angry for wasting his time when he listened to it. Rather, I may have had excessive self-esteem to think about becoming a musician with those poor songs in the first place. It seemed more and more like the recurrence of my mistake in which I failed the entrance examination of most universities after I had declared to everyone around me that I would go to the most prestigious university in Japan. I felt hesitant to go to Osaka for the meeting. On the other hand, my sudden loss of confidence showed how much I committed this time. At that point of my life, joining a band was so important. An audition or a gig as a high school student was nothing compared to that. I didn’t have my purpose for living anywhere else. It was the only way left for me to go on. I had no other choice but to be heading for the meeting with my demo tape held in my hand.
When I was a ninth-grader and a leader of the ninth-grade play team for the homecoming at school, I devoted myself to dramatization and direction in the run-up to the homecoming. The teacher in charge of our team praised my first dramatization. He said it was a good script and I had a talent. While I was motivated, other members of the team didn’t have a whit of interest or enthusiasm. They tried to make me decide everything. I took care of the set, the props and the costumes while teaching the lighting and acting. Above all, their acting was terrible. They were just reading their lines in a monotone. No matter how strenuously I explained, they simply couldn’t act. I acted every role for them and asked them to mimic me. As I needed to tell every member what to do and how to do, I felt like I was working with a bunch of robots in the team. At last, they started suggesting that I would be better off if I did everything in the play alone by myself, instead of giving them each and every single instruction. Maybe it was true, but there was one exception among the cast members. The girl whom I cast as a leading roll tackled her acting earnestly and seriously. She followed every instruction and advice from me. Other members were still sardonic for my casting of a non-pretty, unpopular girl as a leading role, but her acting got better and better. It seemed she felt an obligation to me for the casting. She even brought a present for me on my birthday although we had never been close and had hardly talked with each other at school until the play team got going. With her and my effort, our team successfully put on the play at the homecoming and it was much better than I had expected. This curriculum play was part of a school competition. The faculty would vote to decide the best play among the seventh, eighth, and ninth-grade team’s plays. It was a school’s tradition that a ninth-grade team won every year. As a ninth-grade team leader, I was sitting at the auditorium, preparing myself for receiving the prize out on the stage when the winner was announced. “The eighth-grade team!” the announcement filled the air.
In the summer of my fourth grade, I was in the hospital. It started as cold-like symptoms with a high fever. But I was left unattended because summer was the peak season for farming and my parents were extremely busy as farmers. To make things worse, my family had been rebuilding our house at the time and extra attention of my parents was paid to that.
About a week later, I vomited blood and fainted. That at last captured my parents’ attention and they realized the seriousness. When I became conscious, they had called a nurse who lived in the neighborhood and she was attending me. She suggested taking me to a hospital. After examination, I was diagnosed with nephritis. As the summer break for school was just around the corner, I was admitted to the hospital on the day the break began. Although I had been longing for the summer break as the precious time of my freedom, I was locked up in the hospital instead.
I shared the room with five other girl patients. Except for a very small or very sick child, parents weren’t permitted to stay overnight with the patients. They came during the visiting hours. I was nine years old and had never stayed outside home for such a long time before. I suffered from homesickness rather than from nephritis. My parents were too busy working seven days a week as farmers and only my mother visited me everyday. But she only made it less than one hour before the visiting hour ended although I was waiting for her all day long. No matter how desperately I begged her to come earlier, she prioritized her work and I got to see her merely forty minutes or so a day.
Sometimes my father also came to see me, taking my younger sister with him. In that case, when the visiting hour was over, I would see my parents and my sister off. They went into the elevator together and the door shut before me, excluding me alone. That was the thickest door I’d ever felt it was. I went back to my bed and lay down hiding tears from other girls and nurses. Maybe it hinted my future relationship with my family. The three of them still live together in their house that I left after I struggled and couldn’t quite fit in…
I spent almost the whole first year at the private junior high school as an uncool geek. Every get-cool scheme of mine had failed. Neither breaching the school rules nor joining the drama club worked. I hadn’t come up with a new idea and had hung around with my not-so-cool friends. One day we were having a hilarious time at recess with tongue twisters I had devised. I had made a list of oddly sounded words on a piece of paper and read it out quickly in front of my friends. I seemed to sound so funny and they laughed hard. As we were making a racket, other students began to look at us curiously. Some cool girls from rich families approached us and asked what was going on. They never came near uncool girls but I drew their attention this time. I showed the list and demonstrated my tongue twisters, which didn’t appeal to them at all. They sneered and left. But I realized one thing: cool girls starved for laughter because they put on airs and kept their countenance every day. If I could make them laugh regularly, they might like me and include me in their circle.I commenced my assaults in earnest. Since then, I had behaved in a silly way whenever I passed by cool rich girls at school. I made funny faces, walked by dancing weirdly, or mimicked a TV comedian. At first they just looked at me in dismay, but they were gradually interested in me. They stopped and talked to me, “You’re so funny!” Then I would press an insurance laugh with haphazard puns or gags. Since I didn’t have a talent for making people laugh basically, I was out of comic materials so easily. I had to use the fact of a farmer’s daughter to make them laugh. This last resort of mine really succeeded. Soon one of the cool girls asked me to have lunch together, and I was invited to her circle. I officially joined the cool group at last. That acted like magic and other students stopped mocking me completely. In the end, after so many trials, to be the class clown was indeed the solution to be cool at school for me…The effect of being in the cool and rich group at junior high school was much bigger than I had expected and was almost magical. I was no longer a geek at school. Other students’ attitude toward me changed dramatically and they even respected me. I jumped into the whole new world.The girls in the group looked through a teen fashion magazine and chatted about its contents zealously at lunchtime. It looked like an adult life to me, as I had never been interested in fashion, let alone talked about it with my friends. After school, they would hang around the downtown area in the city, looking around the shops or having a snack at a fast food restaurant. I had seldom been downtown and I felt like I started a city life all of a sudden. Walking by elegant shops had never been my usual habit, and as for a fast food restaurant, I had never stepped into it before. On weekends, they would go to the movies together. My way of spending time outside school completely changed and it was almost like I began to live in America. On the other hand, there was a huge set back to be a part of the group. It was horribly costly. My scant monthly allowance didn’t last more than a week while other girls from the rich family didn’t have to care. A coin jar in the dining room in my house became empty quickly. My younger sister’s stash of money in her desk drawer had been shrinking steadily by my regular stealing.One of the girls in the group had a friend in a boys’ school and he invited us to his school’s homecoming. Since ours was a girls’ school, it was an exciting opportunity to meet boys. There, the boys asked us out after the homecoming, but I was the exclusion among the group. No one asked me out. While they were headed for a fast food restaurant, I went home, crying.I would do anything to stay in the cool circle, including acting a totally different person by giving up being myself…
Back in my schooldays, there were required curricula specifically for the homecoming event. Students must participate in either an exhibition, retail, or a play. I chose a play every homecoming when I was a junior high school student. When the homecoming’s preparation began in my ninth grade, my passion for the theater was at its peak since I had been regularly cast for a major role in the drama club at school. Other students knew that and I was appointed as the ninth-grade play team leader almost automatically. Everyone had no interest in a required curriculum and I had to put together a play by leading fifty unwilling, reluctant team members. From the first meeting, I encountered foreseeable difficulties. No one brought up any suggestion of what play we would show at the homecoming. When I uttered a Japanese classic novel, they unanimously shouted, “That’s it! That’ll be our play!” in order to finish the meeting quickly. Our play was decided like this and I dramatized the novel for the first time in my life. I had thought it would be difficult, but it was unexpectedly so much fun. I finished the script quite fast. And then, the casting. I had decided not to be cast in the play myself because I had been already cast in a play of the drama club for the homecoming. I didn’t want to appear in every play at school like an attention freak. I thought it was cool that I produced, dramatized and directed for this curriculum play. But in the team, everyone had neither experience nor skill in acting and they didn’t want to be cast. It was again left to my sole decision. While I was choosing some students who seemed to like appearing on the stage, a girl timidly raised her hand. She said she wanted to act. Although I finally got a volunteer, I hesitated to cast her for a moment. She was not pretty. Other students started giggling at her brave attempt. Instantly I came to myself and remembered the fact that I was also regarded as an ugly girl at school. My bad looks contributed to continuous typecasting as an old, wicked woman in drama club’s plays. As I had been weary of disadvantage of appearance, I cast her as a leading role. My decision made other students gape. Thus, I had trying three months for the play with totally amateur actors and backstage staff…
When I was five or six years old and visited my grandparents’ home, an acquaintance of the family’s showed up. He is good at fortune telling, at least known to the family so. My grandparents’ family deeply depended on fortune telling for almost everything, including my mother’s marriage and the building of their new house. They excitedly brought me to the man and asked him to see my future.
According to him, by just looking at someone’s ear, he could tell the future. Surrounded by almost all members of the family, I was made to show my ear to him. As soon as he saw my ear, he shouted, “Oh! This is an ear of a family’s successor!” I had never seen him before, and was introduced to him only as a child related to them. But in my family, I had been already looked on as a successor because I was a firstborn and there was no boy. Since the man uttered an accurate situation, they were so impressed and said in unison that the man surely could see the future.
I, on the other hand, was shocked. Succeeding my family meant living at the same house with my parents and bearing the same last name all my life. While I had been told I would success the family, I still had clung to a little hope of freedom and secretly enjoyed imagining my future. Although I had only a younger sister so far, my parent may have a baby boy in future and then my secret wish would come true. I could choose my husband by myself and could live wherever I want.
But when the man declared I was destined to be a successor, I saw my hope crushed. I felt all doors of possibilities slammed shut. Now I knew where I would live, what my last name would be, and even which grave I would be buried in. While I despaired, they congratulated me joyfully, as if good news were delivered. “Good for you! You are a successor! It’s your destiny!”
Decades later, the man’s fortune telling proved wrong after all. I left home and live where I want. My last name is unchanged all right, but of my own free will…
Heaps of old jackets, skirts, shirts and dresses that I no longer wear are sitting in the back of my wardrobe. All of them are bargains and out-of-date. Even though it’s said fashion recurs in a cycle, they are too old and worn to be put on again. And yet, I can’t throw them away. In addition to a memory that each one of them holds, I feel guilty to throw away what is still somehow usable by keeping its original form. That sort of my own rule applies not only to clothes but to everything, from food to a cardboard box. I just can’t waste anything. Recently, I have often seen a notice on the table in a restaurant, which says ‘Clear your plate for the earth.’ or ‘Remember again the old don’t-waste-food spirit.’ As a person who is too cheap to leave food on a plate, I always wonder since when Japanese people stopped clearing their plates and forgot the don’t-waste spirit. I’ve practiced it all my life as a habit. A bus person might mistake my finished plates and cups for clean ones because not a bit or a drop remains there when I leave the table. I attribute it to my grandfather’s DNA. I lived with my grandparents when I was a child and I used to go out with my grandfather. His black leather shoes were totally worn-out. They were not as bad as Chaplin’s but a tip of the shoe had a hole. No matter how often my grandmother asked if he should get a new pair, he was adamant that he could still walk in his shoes. For him, it didn’t matter how he looked in them but whether they were usable or not. Since he kept putting on those shoes with a hole, my grandmother had no choice but to polish them for him. As a result, a weird item as shiny worn-out shoes came into existence. My grandfather would take me to a department store in the city in those shoes and strolled around grandly. Even as a small child, I was embarrassed by his shoes and hated to go out with him. It wasn’t about money. He had enough money to buy new shoes. On the contrary, he was a rich man who had quite a few properties. That meant his shiny worn-out shoes weren’t necessity. Whether wearing them was his hobby or his principle is still a mystery. It’s more than a decade since my grandfather passed away. I wonder how the world would be like if people around the world put on worn-out shoes as a common practice. Goods wouldn’t be consumed so much, the number of factories would be less, and more forests would remain. There would be less CO2 emissions, climate change would be delayed, and wildfire and a new virus would be sporadic. All it takes is us wearing worn-out shoes. The problems are solved. Regrettably, I don’t have the courage to do so. I’m too self-conscious about how I look to others. I don’t want to be looked down on by my looks. Even if my actions led to the destruction of the world, I would like to stroll about a tinseled city and show off by dieting and dressing myself in fashionable clothing. Am I a senseless person? I wonder how my grandfather feels looking at me from above.
The high school I attended held a mandatory summer camp when I was a freshman. The students chose activities such as swimming, hiking, cycling and so on beforehand. To spend the time in the camp together, my group of close friends at school decided to choose the same activities. We considered carefully which ones were the easiest and mildest, and chose archery and cycling. A couple of months later the cycling day in the camp arrived. We set off on each rental bicycle. Right after that, one of my friends, called Yone, fell. She quickly got back on her bike and we started again. Immediately, she fell again. We stopped to wait for her. She caught up with us by pushing her bike and said, ‘Sorry. Now let’s go!” But the same thing was repeated for the third time, her falling down, us waiting. We finally asked her what was going on and heard her astonishing confession. She said, “I can’t ride a bike.” We gaped. Being unable to ride a bike was nothing, but why did she choose cycling among all activities then? And telling us now? We pressed her for an explanation why she didn’t just say so when we decided on cycling. She told us that she couldn’t because we were joyfully talking about how easy cycling would be. In our group, she was the tenderest one, but also a pushover. She always had no opinion of her own and conformed to others. That was a given, but I never thought this much. We were talking about pushing our bikes and going all the way on foot with her when she said, “I’m ruining your plan for an easy activity. I can’t make you walk all the way because of me. Please ride on. I think I can manage along the way. I’m sorry. Sorry.” We mounted on the bike, not pedaling but walking while Yone kept falling and saying sorry for a million times. Her indecisive, weak-minded attitude has gradually gotten on my nerves. A girl of other group whom I had barely talked before pedaled back toward us. She had something to ask me. I answered and chatted, and we hit it off instantly. When I realized, I pedaled with her separating from my group. I stopped to wait at the foot of the downward slope and heard a scream. It was Yone flying down the slope on her bike and tumbling into a rice paddy.
When I was little, my mother constantly said bad things about others. She believed that, even when someone was kind to her, there must have been some plot behind the nice gesture. To sum up what she talked about every day, there are only evil people in this world.
In kindergarten, mothers would fix a lunchbox for their kids and the kids would eat lunch with their classmates and their teacher. At one lunchtime, when I was opening a lid of my lunchbox, I inadvertently dropped it to the floor without having a single bite and it overturned there. I lost my lunch. While other kids laughed at me, my teacher, who had been trying so hard to make me play with other kids because I had ignored them and had hardly talked to anyone, cleaned up the mess for me and took me to a small candy store outside the kindergarten.
She told me to pick any bread I liked. I picked one timidly, feeling afraid what kind of trap this would be, as I didn’t have any money. She suggested one more. I couldn’t figure out what was going on and shook my head. She picked one more piece of bread by herself, took out money from her own wallet, and gave all the bread to me.
I was stunned. She bought me lunch. It was the first time that someone unrelated to me was so kind to me. Since then, I had started talking to her. Even after I finished kindergarten, I had kept exchanging letters with her and I still send her a Christmas card every year.
She was the first person who destroyed my mother’s theory of the evil world and taught me that there were some good people in this world…