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.
Where I grew up wasn’t a good neighborhood. To my mother, seeing her child go to a public junior high school was out of the question. To get in a privileged private junior high, she made me go to a supplementary private school after the classes of elementary school. But even to get in the supplementary school, there was an entrance examination because it was for selective kids.
As the public elementary school I attended was low at the educational level, my score of the exam was bad although I was the smartest at school. But the exam included an IQ test, which I had never taken before. In a three-way interview between the examiner, my mother and me after the exam, the examiner told us that he had never seen this high IQ. I was supposed to fail the exam due to the low marks, but they let me pass as an exception considering my high IQ.
Since then, I’ve relied on my IQ for my life. My IQ is the only source of my confidence in my pathetic life but it’s the reason of my suffering as well. I’ve been unable to accept each and every failure of mine because I don’t understand why my high IQ couldn’t avoid it. Why do I fail in so many things? Why am I unsuccessful? Will I end my life without making use of my IQ?
My partner compares me to a Formula One car. Although it runs faster than any other cars on a circuit, it’s completely useless on a regular street. I’m looking for a circuit for me but unfortunately, roads in the real world are all rugged with various obstacles…
Episode From An Old Tree in Kyoto /Hodemi Woods
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
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…
Episode From An Old Tree in Kyoto /Hodemi Woods
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.
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…
Episode From An Old Tree in Kyoto /Hodemi Woods
I was born at the small hospital in a rural area. Although not many expectant mothers checked in there, two baby girls were born on the same day, one of whom was I. We shared the newborn room, sleeping in a bed side by side. Before the birth, I’d had a possibility to have severe jaundice of the newborn.
My mother was told it would either leave a brain defect if I had it, or make me extremely intelligent if I didn’t have it. Instead of jaundice, I was born with a hip joint dislocation. My right leg had been regularly dislocated and hung loosely until I was one or two years old and my mother had to take me to the hospital each time.
About the time when my leg finally stopped getting dislocated, there was a piece of news in a local newspaper that a little girl was thrown into the river and killed by her parent. The victim was the baby who was born on the same day as I was and slept in the next bed to me at the hospital. Since both the town and the hospital were small, my mother and my grandmother remembered the name of the baby and the area she lived in. I was luckier and I outlived her without any more dislocation or jaundice. The latter should have resulted in me being extremely intelligent but my parents consider me simply crazy…
Episode From An Old Tree in Kyoto /Hodemi Woods
When I did online shopping the other day, I found out that my credit card had been cancelled.
It was what I feared most in this world and had dreaded for my entire adult life. Now, it has happened. The credit card was to use money that my grandfather had left for me, which was the biggest resource of my income. It was stopped by my parents.
Being entitled to inherit the family’s money was the root cause why my mother had hated me since I was born. My parents continued to harass and attack me after I left home in order to make me give up the money. And they have finally succeeded to do what they had wanted for such a long time. Closing the account.
On that night, I couldn’t sleep until morning because of flaring anger. I thought of leaving a note to my partner, jumping on the bullet train to move 450 miles to my parents’ apartment, bursting into there with a knife, stubbing and killing them, and then turning myself in to go to the prison. That would settle my anger and I would no longer have to worry about money for the rest of my life.
I had repressed that urge so hard all night long and managed to make it to the breakfast table. My partner suggested that I should call my parents to clear the situation. I didn’t like the idea. There was no point of talking to them since I had known their intention so well. Besides, if I had called them, my anger would have erupted and I would have spewed out cursed words along with fierce threats. And as my sister has been doing, I would have kept yelling, “Go to hell! Die right now!”
I called them after all not to curse them though, but to squeeze some money from them anyhow. I had turned into a devil all the same. I was holding my phone with a hand that was trembling with anger. My mother answered.
She sounded weak and old as if a snake’s slough or a mere shadow had been talking. The minute I heard that voice, my about-to-explode anger subsided for some reason. Then oddly, I felt pity for her and even fond of her. I also exchanged greetings and made small talk with my father. We didn’t bring up even a single word about money. Instead, we talked rather friendly and considerately as if a source of hatred ran out. And I hung up by saying “Good-bye,” that was really meant this time.
We had had hostile relations with each other and quarreled for decades. The only connection between us had been my grandfather’s money. Now that it was cut, our ties disappeared likewise. Only what my parents had done to me remained. After all those years, they never loved me to the end. I had longed to be loved by them, which was never realized. Our relationship had been long ruined and now our problems that were the only things we had shared were gone too. Everything was over and we have become strangers.
I felt lonely because I would never see them again. On the other hand, I was released from unquenchable anger that had dwelt in me for an eternity. Then I couldn’t sleep that night again from anxiety about how to pay living expenses from now on.
Next day my partner and I went to Coco’s for which we had mobile coupons. The coupons had been received for free desserts on our birthdays that were long passed. As they had remained unused, we ordered a free dessert for each of us there.
A big plate was placed before each of us, on which were a small piece of chocolate cake, small macaroons and ice cream. It was a small portion for the huge plate so that the most part of the plate was empty as if the blank space had been a main purpose of it. On the blank space, there was a message written by big letters of stenciled chocolate powder, which said, ‘HAPPY BIRTHDAY’. The server said in a loud voice that could be heard throughout the restaurant, “Congratulations! Happy Birthday!” and left our table. My partner and I stared fixedly at the letters on the big plate and then at each other.
I had surely thought my life was finished, but I could be reborn into a new life in a way. That thought gave me a little relief. And a sense of freedom as well.