The Katsura River hr658

Back in those days of my childhood, a person who was going to commit suicide always took his or her shoes off and put them together neatly before jumping from the top of the building on Japanese TV dramas. It seemed Japanese people wanted to take off their shoes even when they tried to kill themselves just as they took them off at the entrance of the house. I somehow feel convinced.

There is a bridge called Katsura-ohashi Bridge over the Katsura River about a twenty-minute walk away from my family’s house that used to stand in Kyoto where I was born and grew up. The bridge is about 400-feet long as the river under it is quite big and wide. On one summer day in the fourth grade, I went to the bridge with seven or eight friends of mine to play by the Katsura River. Because it was probably the first time each of us played at the riverside without a grown-up chaperon, the outing was felt like an adventure and we were having so much fun by the river.

After a little while, one of my friends seemed to have enough spree to suggest we walk in the river along the bridge piers  toward the opposite bank. It was midsummer and the river banks had widened with less water. To us, the river looked shallow and easy to walk in and go further. Since we were all feeling adventurous, we persuaded ourselves that a fourth grader was a big, old kid for whom crossing the river on foot was a cinch. We started splashing across the current with a war cry.

In the beginning we were only ankle-deep in water, but soon water reached to our knees. Our walking speed dropped tremendously. By the time our thighs dipped in water, the stream got fast. It was hard just to stand still without holding onto a bridge pier although we had trod across merely one third of the river. The fast stream crushed against the bridge pier and my thighs, splashing big waves. Suddenly, fear sprang out from the bottom of my guts and yelled at me, “You’re in real trouble! You can’t possibly move ahead. What if you get swept away? Not to mention the opposite bank, you’ll drown to death right here!” Panic engulfed me. I looked back to return, but I was too scared to move, feeling that with this one step I was going to be carried away by the current. There was no way either to go forward or to go backward. I was stuck in the middle of the strong current. Thinking that wasn’t what was supposed to go, I looked around other kids. They also had stopped walking with a scared face just as I did. As if a tacit agreement, we slowly tried and managed to move backwards. When we finally returned to the riverbank where we had set off, our spree had thoroughly gone. Dejected in heart, without talking, we plodded our way home.

About ten years later, I was looking at the Katsura River again from the edge of Katsura-ohashi Bridge after taking off my shoes and putting them together neatly. It was when over a year had passed since I started my career as a musician despite dissent from my parents and friends. Although I had tried harder than I had ever done before, nothing had worked. On the other hand, I didn’t want to live doing what I didn’t want to do. I was stuck without either way to go forward or to go backward, again. I leaned over the parapet and stared at the surface of the river, seriously intending to jump into it. Then, something came into view. I saw three ducks swimming out from under the bridge. They stopped right down below me and just floated there. I vaguely thought I might strike and kill them when I jumped and hit the surface. All of a sudden, that thought drove me out of a daze. I came to my senses and pulled myself back away from the railing. Until that point, the world around me had been completely silent, but noises came back to my ears all at once. I noticed some cars honked at me while passing by. I hurriedly put back on my shoes.

You should challenge at the risk of your life if you wish to fulfill your dreams. Only after you brace yourself for death, can you live your own life. To attain that understanding, I had had to do a few more suicidal attempts in the course of my life. I understood after all and keep challenging, thankfully. 

my last pride

Photo by Igor Ovsyannykov on Pexels.com

I usually get prepared foods at half price at a
supermarket after they give up on selling them
at the list prices as the store’s closing time
draws near. I know very well the exact times
when they put half-off stickers on the leftover
items for several supermarkets near my
apartment.
As I’ve been shopping this way for years,
some of the shoppers have become familiar to
me. At several different supermarkets, the
people jostling for half-off items are usually the
same line-up, including me. They sometimes
get acquainted with each other and exchange
information. Although I am, without doubt, one
of them, I don’t feel like joining the half-off
circle. When I find familiar faces, I always
pretend not to notice and try to look away
from them. It seems my last pride while
enjoying shopping at half price more than
anybody else.
I saw one of familiar half-off shoppers at a
supermarket the other day. She’s the one I see
almost every time I shop during the half-off
time. That evening, she was returning some
half-off items to the shelf, looking into her
wallet carefully. I thought I saw what I should
not see because it was one of the saddest
sights to me that someone was calculating the
rest of money for what they wanted to buy. As
soon as she left the shelf though, I picked the
items she had unwillingly returned and put
them into my basket, as they were goodies.
While buying them was completely legal and
nothing unethical, I couldn’t help feeling guilty
somehow…

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

I can’t apply my policy

Photo by Ekaterina Belinskaya on Pexels.com

The apartment I currently live in is furnished,
and the place I’m moving to isn’t. That means
I need to get appliances.
First, I bought a microwave oven. And
now, I’ve been looking for a washer. To get a
large appliance like it is quite tricky because it
needs to be set up inside the room. Almost all
retail stores have restrictions on delivery. They
don’t deliver large appliances to isolated
islands or mountainous regions in Japan, or if
they do, they charge extra cost. My new place
is located in the mountains and right among
the restricted areas. There’s a way to shop at a
local store to avoid those delivery restrictions,
but the town I’m moving to is so small to have
only one electrical appliance store. And since
it’s not a chain store, I would pay the list price.
I usually have a strict policy to get something,
which is to get at the lowest price on the
market. But I can’t apply my policy to getting
large appliances this time. I have to give
priority to a store that delivers to my place
over a price. Combined with the extra charge,
the price gets higher and higher. It’s not my
style of shopping, but I have no choice.
Following a bear’s attack, obstacles to live in
the mountains have emerged one by one…

Episode From Surviving in Japan / Hidemi Woods

bears and monkeys

Photo by Bogdan Glisik on Pexels.com

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

My junk

Photo by cottonbro on Pexels.com

I can’t throw things away. Because I’m easily
attached to my belongings and also I’m thrifty,
I keep things for a possible future use, just in
case. As a result, my tiny apartment has
become even smaller with junk such as wornout

clothes, cracked shoes and sundries that I
don’t know what they are for anymore.
As I’ve started moving to my new place, I
realized how time-consuming packing all the
junk was. Packing one cardboard box a day is a
maximum addition to my daily life. So, my
moving process is horribly slow. With this
speed, I can’t even imagine the day I finish
packing everything into boxes will ever come. I
feel like it lasts forever. But the longer it takes,
the more money I end up spending, because
I’ll have to keep paying the rent for my old
apartment. My junk, which I’ve kept to save
money in the first place, took advantage of my
weakness and began to take money away from
me…

Episode From Surviving in Japan / Hidemi Woods

unbelievable twist

About my apartment hunting, I’ve written up
to the point that the owner of the room wanted
to consider his or her price, which had been
offered as 20 percent off by himself or herself
in the first place. Two more weeks have passed
and the owner offered 10 percent off. Since I
was going to pay the full price to begin with,
10 percent off was still a good deal to me. I
answered to take it.
Then, the situation took an unbelievable
twist, again. The real estate agent asked me to
pick my convenient days for a contract among
several days in the end of October. That means
it would take two months to close the deal
since I decided on the room. At first, I thought
it would be done in a week because the
process was simple – look at the room, make a
decision, sign a contract and pay. How could it
be possible to spend two months for this easy
process? At this stage, it should be done only
by signing a contract, and yet, they need three
more weeks just to do that.
Meanwhile, I noticed the owner had placed
an ad for the very room I applied for on a
different real estate company’s website. The
room remains available there. Now, a suspicion
crept into my mind. Is the owner waiting for
someone who wants the room at the full price
and prolonging the deal on purpose? But that
someone was me because it was the owner
who offered the discount while I didn’t ask for
anything. Whatever the plot is, it’s beyond my
comprehension. I wonder when and how the
whole thing is settled…

Episode From Surviving in Japan / Hidemi Woods

My Robot Band hr657

Photo by Kindel Media on Pexels.com

Year of 1984 was one of the bitterest years of my life and also a major turning point. After I was able to join the band of a locally acclaimed young man, the band had been striving to become professional in Osaka, which is the biggest city in the western Japan. While I had unwavering confidence in the songs we wrote, we constantly had difficulty in finding desirable members. Except for him and me, other members had come and gone, and we couldn’t materialize our ideal sound with any of them. Even a gig was almost impossible with just two of us being permanent members.

My partner and I couldn’t waste any more time searching for apt band members who shared similar passion as ours and played exactly how we wanted. As the solution, we came up with the idea to use a rhythm machine and a sequencer in place of human members. Those gadgets were the cutting edge of music instruments at the time and had just appeared on the market. We thought they would be perfect band members who realized our sound as we requested because we were the ones that put data into them. We weren’t sure about the passion side of machines, but at least they would commit and wouldn’t quit like humans did. Because personal computers were still in the floppy disk era and not strong enough for music, we connected a rhythm machine, a sequencer and synthesizers with cables to play a gig. Added to the machines, I was on the keyboard and vocals, and my partner was on the guitar and vocals. There formed my robot band.

Although it had seemed perfect, we faced quite a few obstacles to play in the band with machines. Let alone it cost heftily and carrying them around by two of us without a car was a daunting physical challenge each time, it took enormous time to enter the whole data of our songs into them. As thumb drives or hard disk drives were yet to come, we needed to record special signals sounding like ‘beeeeep, bip, beep, bip, beep’ into a cassette tape to save the data. The data consumed one cassette tape per song, not at one go although the signals were long. I once inadvertently tripped on one of the cables which erased the whole data that I had spent all night inputting. The worse troubles awaited us at the gig. The innumerable necessary cables and cords made setting and preparation for my band far more complicated and time-consuming than other bands. One single wrong connection would break synchronization. On one occasion, the machines didn’t start and we couldn’t play but stood still on stage because one of the stage staff pulled out one cable by mistake. On another occasion, one of the machines suddenly uttered “Pi!” and went silent in the middle of playing. Furthermore, I needed to put a specific setting for each song on the several keyboards during every interval between our songs. Because the stage usually went dark between songs, it wasn’t easy to see the correct buttons and switches on my keyboards. A stage staff person once came up on the stage to help me with the setting by lighting over my keyboards with his lighter. The venue strictly banned any use of fire and he was harshly reprimanded for that afterwards because of me. Through those unpredictable chilling experiences, I basically feared every time if songs would start without hitches instead of enjoying gigs whenever I was on stage.

Still, harder trials existed. Other bands mostly consisted of college students who played as a hobby not for a career. Their attitude toward music was incredibly easygoing and they were just having fun on stage. Their songs were frivolous likewise. Yet, they were able to draw a large audience since they had friends on the campus so that their gig was usually a big hit with a livened up crowd. On the other hand, my band was just two people standing surrounded by numerous instruments and machines, and singing serious lyrical songs. Because we didn’t have friends to gather, the audience were strangers who had no interest in our playing and just waited for our gig to end.

That was also the case when we took part in a live contest. To make matters worse, a contest was sometimes fixed where the winner had already been decided. As I didn’t know that the contest was only held to give that winner the credential before the label signed a contract with the prearranged winner, I was appalled when we lost to a really bad but pretty singer.

I had gotten to loathe live performance by those experiences. Not just loathe it, but I had gotten to break out in a cold sweat on gigs. Since then, we have performed live less and less and have done none these days. I guess that shows how much I learned the hard way. To this day, the nightmares I have most are that I am playing on stage. However, my robot band has been transformed since it got off stage. The machines turned into a personal computer with software who has been my important partner to create my music. Thanks to it, I have been able to embody exactly what sounded in my head. A long period of time later, my robot band eventually made my dream come true. 

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

it’s close to the limit of my patience

Photo by Edgar Colomba on Pexels.com

Despite the ceaseless agitation that Japan’s population has been decreasing and its birthrate has critically dropped, a population explosion has been happening in my neighborhood in particular.

People keep moving in, kids keep being born, and houses and stores keep being built. Only the space around me is the exception of a Japanese trend. The more the people, the higher the odds of crazy ones.

I introduced here my neighbors who used the street as their own yard and let their kids shoot hoops from the busy street to their house. The noise of a bouncing ball was so annoying and I dropped a note to stop in their mailbox one day. It worked and I had retrieved peaceful sleep for a couple of weeks as I usually sleep in the daytime. A sad fact is that crazy people don’t learn. They resumed playing basketball on the street last Sunday and I had to drop the note again. This neighborhood was once quiet and sparse, but now, it’s close to the limit of my patience…

Episode From Surviving in Japan / Hidemi Woods

the happiest time in my life

An artist who has a contract with a major record company generally has a deadline for work. Due to the cost of studio use and the promotion schedule, they often need to finish recording in a couple of weeks. Sometimes, it requires compromise and the work results in what they didn’t want.

I, on the other hand, have no contract, no obligation, no bind. I’ve been working on the current song for seven years now, including two years of recording. These years have been the happiest time in my life, with contentment from work. I’m in an ideal position to pursue my music as much as I want, so to speak. I always wonder why people don’t live like this.

Of course, if they do, fame and money is almost certainly hopeless as is my case. I have no contract, no fame, no money, and call it ideal. Maybe I’m beginning to become a nutcase…

Episode From Surviving in Japan / Hidemi Woods