Doll’s Festival

The Doll’s Festival in Japan is for celebrating
girls and they decorate old style dolls on
stepped shelves. The festival I had when I was
12 years old coincided with the day to know
whether I passed or failed the entrance
examination for the best private junior high
school in the city. In Japan, each candidate is
given an applicant number and a school
releases the numbers of the passed ones on
big boards put up in a school.
After excruciating two years that I attended
the supplementary private school for the exam
additionally after finishing a whole day at the
elementary school, I was reasonably confident.
I went to see the announcement boards with
my parents and my younger sister. It was a
big day for my family, as the result would more
or less decide my future.
In front of the boards, I was astounded. My
number wasn’t there. I failed. On our way
home, we stopped at a bakery for cake for the
Doll’s Festival. While my mother and my sister
went in the bakery, I was waiting in the car
with my father. It started to snow. I still can
vividly picture those snowflakes falling and
melting on the windshield. I had never felt so
devastated before.
In the evening, my mother took a bath with
me and she wailed saying “I’m so
disappointed!” again and again. Because I
wasn’t used to seeing her crying, my despair
turned fear. The fear that I made a fatal,
catastrophic error. Since then, every year on
the Doll’s Festival, I remember that year’s
festival…

Episode From An Old Tree in Kyoto /Hodemi 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

male-dominated

People like to label everything, and the school
name is very important for them. They
evaluate a person not by what they do, but by
the school they go to. So, to get in a renowned
school, students are prepared for years ahead
for their future. I wasn’t an exception among
those who were caught up in this stupid trend
a long time ago.
My mother was feverish to get me in the
best junior high school in the city where I grew
up. She didn’t want me to be a highly paid
worker at a big company in the future since
the society was male-dominated. She wanted
me to be in the best school out of vanity and in
order to boost the possibility for me to meet a
future candidate of a highly paid worker and
marry him.
I even took the entrance examination for an
eminent supplementary private school to
attend after classes of the elementary school,
to be prepared for an entrance examination of
a junior high school…

Episode From An Old Tree in Kyoto /Hodemi 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

She had no place to go

My parents married by an arranged marriage.
Marriage used to be a knot between two
families, not individuals in Japan. A mutual
acquaintance introduced my parents to both
families with their photographs. Although my
parents didn’t like each other, the tie as the
family seemed favorable to their parents. My
mother agreed with the marriage very
unwillingly after the fortuneteller said that she
would handle money by the million if she
married my father.
As for my father, he reluctantly obeyed his
parents’ decision because he had never said
‘no’ to his father in his life. A month after the
wedding, my mother decided to leave my
father because she couldn’t stand to live with
his parents any longer. She went back to her
parents’ home but her father didn’t allow her
to come back. She had no place to go and
gave in to her dismal marriage. And I was
born. I wasn’t the result of a happy marriage,
but I embodied my mother’s resignation…

Episode From An Old Tree in Kyoto /Hodemi 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

excellent and beautiful

My mother turns to a fortuneteller when it
comes to a big decision. Every big decision that
has fundamentally influenced her life was
made by a fortuneteller, including her
marriage. When my parents named their
children, they of course had a fortuneteller
choose the names. So, I was named by a total
stranger. My parents each had their own pick
for my name when they visited the
fortuneteller and they also had a few other
names as spares just in case. The fortuneteller
picked ‘Hidemi’ out of the spares, which was
neither of their picks. Most Japanese names
are written in Chinese characters. Each of the
characters has its inherent meaning. My name
is composed of two characters. The character
for ‘hide’ means ‘excellent’ and the one for ‘mi’
means ‘beautiful’.
In Japan, we are often asked the
corresponding characters to the name when
we give out our names. I always explain
“Hidemi as in excellent and beautiful.” And the
person who hears it almost always gives me a
wry smile. I know what they think…

Episode From An Old Tree in Kyoto /Hodemi 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

postcard from my mother

I received an unusually nice postcard from my
mother, which said she was worried about me
because aftershocks of the Japan’s earthquake
had still continued to come almost every day in
this area.
She had also called me right after the
earthquake and when the phone service was
restored, she asked me if I was all right. Both
gestures of hers were unlike her usual attitude
toward me. When she called, she asked me
what my apartment was like and where it was
located, too. I have lived here for nine years
and have told her about my apartment many
times over the years. I don’t know if she’s not
listening to what I’m saying or she simply
doesn’t care about me, but either way, she
doesn’t remember things around me at all.
Considering that many people in Japan have
felt helpless and faint-hearted since the
earthquake, her true concern might be just for
her future as an old woman, not for me. I
found a wrap with a markdown of 75% that
had left unsold for winter and bought it as a
Mother’s Day gift to send to my mother. When
it arrives, I’m sure she will glance at it, tuck it
away in her drawers, and forget about it
quickly. I know this much because a few years
before, she has told me not to come home
again, and yet, she has acted as if nothing had
happened between us…

Episode From An Old Tree in Kyoto /Hodemi 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

do the exact opposite

When I was little and took a bath with my
mother, she said in the bathtub, “Never marry
someone with whom you fall in love.” In her
theory, marriage for love is a ticket to
unhappiness because love burns out quickly.
She insisted that I should have an arranged
marriage as she did. She and my father would
find a man for me and do all the necessary
background checks so that I’d be better off.
She also once said to me in the bathtub, “I
married your father because he was wealthy.
Do you think I would choose such an ugly man
like him if he didn’t have money?” When I
grew up, I learned that she had been seeing
someone before she met my father at an
arranged meeting, but she chose my father
because he was richer and had better lineage.
I think she dealt with the devil and sold
herself at that moment. Since then, she has
been unhappy and that made her a person
filled with vanity and malice. When it comes to
decision making, I always imagine what my
mother would do and do the exact opposite.
Since I adapted this rule, my life has been
easier and better…

Episode From An Old Tree in Kyoto /Hodemi 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 Doll’s Festival

The Doll’s Festival in Japan is for celebrating
girls and they decorate old style dolls on
stepped shelves. The festival I had when I was
12 years old coincided with the day to know
whether I passed or failed the entrance
examination for the best private junior high
school in the city. In Japan, each candidate is
given an applicant number and a school
releases the numbers of the passed ones on
big boards put up in a school.
After excruciating two years that I attended
the supplementary private school for the exam
additionally after finishing a whole day at the
elementary school, I was reasonably confident.
I went to see the announcement boards with
my parents and my younger sister. It was a
big day for my family, as the result would more
or less decide my future.
In front of the boards, I was astounded. My
number wasn’t there. I failed. On our way
home, we stopped at a bakery for cake for the
Doll’s Festival. While my mother and my sister
went in the bakery, I was waiting in the car
with my father. It started to snow. I still can
vividly picture those snowflakes falling and
melting on the windshield. I had never felt so
devastated before.
In the evening, my mother took a bath with
me and she wailed saying “I’m so
disappointed!” again and again. Because I
wasn’t used to seeing her crying, my despair
turned fear. The fear that I made a fatal,
catastrophic error. Since then, every year on
the Doll’s Festival, I remember that year’s
festival…

Episode From An Old Tree in Kyoto /Hodemi 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

lost over $1 million

This incident happened one New Year’s at the
end of the card game called ‘kabu’, in which
my uncle acted as dealer for the yearly family
casino at my grandparents’ house. He had lost
quite a lot to my cousin, who was his son, as
usual that night and my cousin had left the
table as the morning dawned.
My uncle, my mother and I were left at the
table and the game was about to close. My
mother asked for a few more deals because
she had also lost a large sum and wanted to
get it back. To recover her loss quickly, she bet
by the $100. The game was played for high
stakes every year, but I had never seen the
stakes this high. She lost in succession and her
loss swelled to $500 in a flash.
“This is the last bet,” she claimed in
desperation and put $500 on the table. She
tried to offset her total loss on the last deal of
the game. All at once the tension skyrocketed
and strange silence filled the room. I held my
breath and withdrew my usual small bet. The
cards were dealt tensely and my mother and
my uncle showed their hands of fate. Both
hands were ridiculously bad but my mother’s
was even worse. She lost $1000. Burying her
head in her hands, she repeatedly uttered, “It
can’t be! Can’t be true!” I saw tears in her
widely opened bloodshot eyes. Then she
repeated “Oh, my… Oh, my…” in a faint voice
for ten times and staggered away. I clearly
remember her state of stupor.
A couple of days later back in our home, I
enticed her into playing ‘kabu’ with me since I
learned how poorly she played it and I knew I
would win. I used to receive cash as a New
Year’s gift from my relatives during New Year’s
and it would amount to $1000. I dangled it in
front of her and said that it would be her
chance to get back her loss. She took it and we
played for $1000. As I had thought, she lost
another $1000 to me. She said she couldn’t
pay, and I offered her the installment plan. I
got $100 more to my monthly allowance of
$30 for the next ten months. That was the
richest year in my early teens.
Many years later, she failed in real estate
investment and lost most of our family fortune
that had been inherited for generations. The
amount she lost that time was well over $1
million. And that was the money I was
supposed to inherit…

Episode From The Girl in Kyoto / 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

ancient poem is written

It was my birthday yesterday and my parents sent me presents. The gifts from my mother were exactly the same necklace as the one she had sent me a couple of years ago, a vinyl bag which she apparently had got as a freebie, and some towels she didn’t use anymore. She also enclosed a bag of rice crackers. My hometown is in Kyoto that is a Japanese historic city with a lot of old temples and shrines. Many stores there take advantage of the location and use the historic sites and events as their signature designs for wrapping.

The store my mother bought rice crackers used a Japanese classic card game. It’s played with 100 cards on each of which an ancient poem is written. For some reason, I was very good at the game when I was a teenager. I haven’t played it for a long time. Some of the 100 poems were printed on the wrapping of the rice crackers and I remembered how good I was. The best present from my mother this year was a wrapper of a snack…

Episode From Surviving in Japan / Hidemi Woods