I stay alive without giving up

These days, I’ve had nightmares about living in
a deserted, out-of-the-way place repeatedly. In
them, I was forced to join a dreary folk festival
in deep snow with a handful of local people, or
I was surrounded by uncivilized people whose
language I didn’t understand, or I lived in an
ancient, old-fashioned building. Those dreams
seem to represent my vague unease for
moving to my new place that is located in a
remote, mountainous, snowy region.
I’ve completed a song I’d been working on
for seven years, and I’m about to move out the
apartment I’ve lived for nine years. I’m moving
to a whole new town where I have no
acquaintances, and I’ll start promoting our
latest song and recording a new song. From
then onward, I don’t know how my life goes. I
believe it will be wonderful as long as I stay
alive without giving up. I will enjoy and cherish
every process to a new step, which hopefully
would be the better one…

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

Tokyo hr659

The tiny close community of a small village used to be the whole world for me who was born to a farming family living in a rural area of Japan. The sole window to the outside world was TV through which I had encountered what I had never seen in my daily life.

Back in those days, Japanese TV dramas were made and shot in the capital city of Japan, Tokyo. The city view and the people’s way of living in Tokyo looked so cool. Everything from fashion to lifestyle was completely different from things in Kyoto where I lived. On TV, Tokyo seemed like a future world decades ahead to me. I was hooked by one particular weekly crime drama which was shot on location all around Tokyo. Every location looked as if it had been in a Western country and the detectives in the drama were extremely stylish. I was absorbed in seeing that exotic world every week and had spent the other six days of the week waiting for the drama. As soon as I finished watching that show, I would rush into my room and write out the entire show in the notebook. I reproduced all the lines of characters and all the settings by depending on my memory. Since there was no way to record a TV program as a video cassette recorder was yet to come, I read my notebook over and over again to watch it inside my head until the next show was on air. In hindsight, the world of TV dramas was fictional which didn’t exist even in Tokyo, but I was too young to realize that.

Years went by and I became a musician. By the time two years have passed since I joined my first band, the band not only had played gigs around Kyoto but also had made guest appearances and had our songs played on local radio shows from time to time. We had made some connections with music producers who came down to the western part of Japan from Tokyo as judges for some live contests. However, our progress was limited because all the major music labels of Japan were based in Tokyo. My partner and I began to consider moving our base to Tokyo as we were geographically too far off to make a career in music.

Moving to Tokyo was a big deal to me. While I seldom attended, it meant I would quit college once and for all. As a much more serious matter, an old Japanese custom didn’t allow a successor of the family, that was me, to leave home. For me, leaving home meant abandoning my family and all the privileges. Although it seemed crazy to throw away everything when I had no idea how to live on as a musician in Tokyo, I felt living there would be better than staying in my family’s home for the rest of my life. I preferred eating hamburgers and french fries from McDonald’s to eating home-grown vegetables from my family’s fields every single day. I knew it wouldn’t be healthy, but at least I would be able to eat what I chose, when I wanted. To sum up, moving to Tokyo was all about freedom. I was more than willing to jump into the free world where I would make all choices by myself instead of the old fixed rules and customs. 

Oddly enough, things went unexpectedly smoothly once I made up my mind to move to Tokyo. Various kinds of obstructions that had been seemingly difficult to be cleared resolved themselves almost magically. The moving day arrived sooner than I had imagined.

I was waiting for the bullet train bound for Tokyo on the platform in Kyoto Station. A friend of mine came to see me off. She was surprised that she was the only one for me there. “Even your parents don’t see you off?” she sounded bewildered. I wondered what awaited me in the outside world of my window. I was both looking forward to it and afraid. 

threw away my past

As I’ve been packing my stuff to move out this
apartment, various things of sentimental value
to me have come out from the back of the
shelves. I’ve lived here for nine years and
forgotten about most of them since I stored
them away. Some are no longer useful, but
when I clear them out, I feel as if I threw away
my past. That makes me melancholy.
Occasionally, I find some money. It’s like I
get a bonus for packing, but it’s simply what I
stashed by myself in the first place and not
what I newly gained. Mostly, what I find are
numerous room slippers and old broken
appliances. I don’t understand why I kept so
many slippers without using. Packing and
moving requires a great deal of labor and time.
Worst of all, the broken appliances appear one
after another and discarding them is costly. I
have to pay for each one of them just to
dump…

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

His big secret

While I was packing my stuff to move to my
new place, I inadvertently dropped a scale
model of a Formula One car yesterday. It’s a
McLaren MP4/6 with Ayrton Senna in it, and
handmade by my American friend who made it
for me and gave me as a gift a long time ago.
A rear wing, a front flap, a mirror and a
steering wheel came off. The model is so
elaborate and the repair seems to require
delicate work. I’m not so confident of repairing
it as good as it was, and felt depressed.
I talked about it to my partner later, and he
hinted it had been already broken before I
dropped it. When I asked him what he meant,
he guiltily confessed that he had once dropped
it by himself a few years before. Because the
damage was on the opposite side of the
display, he hadn’t told me that to this date. His
big secret was out. I felt a little easier to find
out that I was not to blame. But it remains
broken all the same…

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

snowed very heavily

After a quarter of my furniture arrived at my
new apartment, I returned to my old place. It
snowed very heavily on the day of my
departure. When I was about to leave the
apartment, it stopped snowing once, and I
walked to the nearest train station instead of
calling a cab. The moment I got to the station,
it started snowing again, even more heavily. I
was waiting for the local train at the platform,
seeing a surreal view. Everything was entirely
covered with snow and it seemed as if there
was nothing but mountains. Only a vast white
ground spread out between the mountains and
me.

I felt like I was in the movie ‘ Fargo’.
The train didn’t come after the arrival time
had passed. The station was unmanned as it
was too remote, and no announcement was
available. I thought it was delayed by heavy
snow. Time went on. I began to feel uneasy
because I had a bullet train to catch at the
terminal station. There was a man who was
also waiting for the train, and he used the
station’s emergency phone to call the terminal.
He kindly came back to me and let me know
that the local train service was suspended due
to snow. I called a cab with my cell phone, got
to the terminal and barely caught the bullet
train for which I had the reserved ticket. I had
never been in such heavy snow in my life. Can
I really move in and live in the place where it
snows hard enough to stop the train…?

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

how little I could do

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The other night, I had a dream about joining
the military. I was going through various kinds
of training and failed each one of them. As I
couldn’t do any physical activities, the training
officer asked me if I could cook or wash. I
answered honestly I couldn’t do either. The
officer asked my former profession and I told
him that I was a singer-songwriter. He
suggested me to be in the entertainment
division, but I refused because I didn’t like to
perform in front of people. There was nothing I
could do. Then, for some reason, I was
deployed to Afghanistan. And I woke up.
It was a wild dream but the part that I
couldn’t do anything satisfactorily was a fact.
Getting out of bed, I realized again how little I
could do. It’s a wonder I still survive in this
world…

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

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

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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

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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

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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