Audiobook : Japanese Dream by Hidemi Woods On Sale at online stores or apps.
The family of my grandfather on my mother’s side used to be a landlord of the area and has lived on the ancestral land generation after generation. My grandfather succeeded the family when he got married with my grandmother. In the end, four generations lived together in the big house: my grandparents, their daughter and their son-in-low, their grandson and his wife, and their great-grandchildren. They had constant disputes but nobody could leave the house to keep their old family style.
My grandfather was unconscious for weeks in the hospital when his time was drawing near. A couple of days after his family decided to turn off his life-support system, their house was burned down to the ground. It was my grandmother who caused the fire. A candle she lit on the Buddhist altar made something catch fire and spread all over. No one was injured but the police questioned my grandmother persistently. She went to the hospital to see my grandfather and repeated loudly in his ear, “The house was burned down! It’s all gone!” She told my mother that she thought he heard her though he was unconscious, and he would die soon along with the house. As she said, he passed away the very next day.
I attended his funeral, worrying about how devastated my grandmother would be, because my grandparents were such a nice couple. On the contrary, she was fine and somehow gleeful. I wondered if their relationship was my grandfather’s one-sided love. Considering her life, it’s possible that she had hated the house all those years since she married into the family.
By the time the house was being rebuilt, she lived at a nursing institution with her daughter who had suffered from dementia and no longer recognized her mother. She herself gradually had health problems and spent the rest of her life in the institution. She died there and never lived in the new house…
To keep being a dreamer living in Japan is as hard as to catch a fly in the air with chopsticks, and yet it’s not all impossible.
The chain of events that you have never experienced in your life changes your routine days into chaos. While you can’t quite grasp the sudden change of circumstances, it throws you into confusion in which you continually need to make decisions and actions. You are sucked by mighty force against your will and can’t get out. It inevitably changes some point of your life, your way of life, and your inner self also. As a result, you become another person who is not the one you used to be.
That is exactly what happened to me from the fall of 2009 to the fall of 2011. At that time, I was too deep in a whirl to understand what was happening and why it was happening. But in hindsight, it was supposed to happen and someone or something pushed my back, yanked my arm, and rushed me who was reluctant into the new place.
For me being a singer-songwriter from Kyoto in Japan, the change coincided with the time when I gave up chasing fame and fortune that I had been craving fervently enough to leave my family and its long good lineage. I ignored the commercial-based timetable for the first time and took time as long as I was satisfied to complete a song for which I composed, wrote English words, arranged, and recorded all instruments and vocals by myself. When the song’s completion was on the horizon, what would change everything began to happen.
Embarrassment and conflict in my odd daily life, the massive earthquake and the following nuclear meltdown that unexpectedly knocked the bottom out of such daily life, surprises and transitions in the new place, and my new self. If you find my awkward, tottering adventure funny, it’d be worth taking on and I’d be more than happy.
Episode From Surviving in Japan by Hidemi Woods
After my grandfather quit a chair of a local chrysanthemum association, the number of his chrysanthemum pots had gotten less and less in the front yard of our house. Visitors to see his chrysanthemums had also tapered off to almost none. He stopped exhibited them at a public display. Yet, he had still grown a few pots and brought his best pot to a ward office by his bike, as a gift. No one in the ward office asked for it, but my grandfather was sure that everyone appreciated.
He delivered every year and once he did it on a very windy day. He put a pot on a back carrier of his bike and set off. When he arrived at the ward office, the flower had been snapped off by the wind somewhere on the way and only the stalk was left on the pot. He turned back home right away and carried his second best pot. When he arrived, the flower was again gone in the wind. He successfully delivered his chrysanthemum on his third trial. To my father, that was the funniest incident in his entire life.
Soon my grandfather stopped delivering his chrysanthemums anywhere because he became too weak to ride his bike. Even so, he continued to look after chrysanthemums in the yard until he passed away.
Spending years besieged by my grandfather’s chrysanthemums, I had fostered hostility to them. He monopolized the yard so autocratically that they symbolized his egotism. Eventually, I detested them. I even have the impression that my childhood is ruined and eaten up by chrysanthemums.
Now, I live in the town far away from my hometown and when I see them on display such as at the train station in autumn, I remember my grandfather. And I realized I actually think they are beautiful, and I like them…
Episode From An Old Tree in Kyoto /Hodemi Woods
Besides growing chrysanthemums in the front yard of our house as a hobby, my grandfather had been a chair of a local chrysanthemum association for a long time. He organized exhibitions and displays, and gave lectures. He enjoyed his post immensely, as he was quite an egotist.
One day, two officials of the association came up to our house. They looked grave and were apparently bringing some bad news. They asked my grandfather to step down as the chair. The reasons were his old age and his too long tenure. That infuriated my grandfather. He yelled at them and refused strongly. Two officials begged on their knees bowing so deeply that their foreheads touched the floor, which showed how much they wanted him to resign.
It was the time when the National Athletic Meet was being held in my hometown soon and that was going to be the biggest display of chrysanthemums for the association. The crown prince was to come and it would be the greatest honor to my grandfather to have the prince look at his organized decorations. It was out of the question to him to step down with the event he had longed for coming. After a long argument, he reluctantly consented on condition he stepped down after the meet. They also reluctantly accepted his condition and left.
He repeatedly said, “They had some nerve!” because he couldn’t believe someone dared ask for his resignation. He took charge of chrysanthemum decorations at the meet as his last work as a chair. Until he died, a framed photograph of the crown prince at the meet had hung on the wall of his room…
Episode From An Old Tree in Kyoto /Hodemi Woods
Nearly four months have passed since I moved in my new apartment. While I’m still unpacking countless cardboard boxes, I’d been working for handmade soundproof walls in my bedroom/studio that borders on the neighboring apartment with my partner’s help. Since I overestimated reinforced concrete of which my apartment building was made, my life in a quiet environment solely depends on our handmade walls of flattened cardboard boxes, soundproof polyurethane and soundproof vinyl sheets.
We’ve finished the whole four walls and the floor. To my disappointment, our soundproofing couldn’t resolve the clanging noise that came from some pipe. The source is still unknown but it’s a weekly thing that wakes me up every Thursday. Also the footsteps and other noises form the room above easily disturb my sleep. And a new comer has arrived. A flush noise in a drainpipe has begun to be heard since mid-August. Those seem to come from the ceiling of my room that is a weak spot for handmade soundproofing. Now I have to resort to the last measure.
Putting my bed into a big container made of many drapes and boards and sleeping in it, which I used to do in my old apartment before I moved out. It’s like Dracula sleeping in a little larger coffin. Although to sleep in a quiet room out of that coffin-like thing was one of my main purposes of moving in here, I’m about to end up being no better than before. All my enormous amount of effort and time to move didn’t pay to get a quiet life. It’s so hard to secure a good night’s sleep…
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.
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…
Episode From An Old Tree in Kyoto /Hodemi Woods
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…