I met him in person

Jacques Villeneuve is my favorite racing driver alive. I saw him racing for the first time on my first ever visit to a circuit in Suzuka, Japan. Before the Formula One race, there was a Formula Three race as a pre-race event. Jacques was racing in it. I hadn’t known him until then, but when I saw his driving, I predicted that he would be a Formula One driver someday. After that, he went on racing in North America, and won Indy 500. Four years after I first saw his race, he came to Formula One just as I had predicted. Because he realized my prediction, I became a big fan of his and cheered him ardently every race. He eventually became the world champion.

Seven years ago today, I met him in person. I was in Montreal and happened to drop by a restaurant for lunch while running an errand. He was there. What are the odds that you bump into someone whom you have wished to meet so badly for a long time? It was a pure miracle to me. I knew he wouldn’t like to be bothered his private time but I couldn’t help approaching him. He listened to me kindly, patiently, smiling, while I was spouting about how much I admired him. We shook hands. I usually wear nice clothes to eat out but on that particular day, I didn’t expect to go into a restaurant. At the happiest moment of my life, of all the clothes, I met him in a $5 jacket, a $7 skirt and with a necklace I had picked up on the street…

Episode From Surviving in Japan / Hidemi Woods

made an origami crane with a tiny sheet of paper

My relative’s home where I mistook my grandmother’s uncle for a kidnapper was the place that my grandmother had lived in mostly until she got married. Her mother was a geisha and died right after her birth. As she didn’t have a father, her mother’s parents took her in and raised her at their home. When I visited there as a child, her mother’s brother had succeeded the family. Her mother’s brother, or my grandmother’s uncle, who is the one that took me to the secret place, was a medal-awarded artist for Japanese lacquer. He had a studio beside the house and his young son invited me in. There, his son made an origami crane with a tiny sheet of paper merely half an inch square and gave it to me. I felt like I watched magic. His older son was an architect. So, the lineage of my grandmother on my mother’s side is abundant in artistic people. When I left home to pursue a career as a musician, my grandfather approved and let me go despite of my parents’ opposition. But a few years later, he realized that I had been determined and wouldn’t come home to succeed the family. He began to blame my mother. He thought I became a musician because of part of my blood, which came from my mother’s side that had a geisha in the lineage…

He said he would show us something wonderful

The small town I newly moved in reminds me of the one where my relative’s house is located. They both are in the mountains, far from the city. Only, my relative’s is in the western part of Japan and mine is in the eastern part. I once visited there with my cousin’s family when I was little. At that time, my grandmother’s uncle lived there with his family. When I was playing with my cousin outside, an old man came up and told us to follow him. He said he would show us something wonderful. Since I didn’t see him inside the house, he was a total stranger to me. And judging from what he’d just said, he was quite plainly a kidnapper. Nevertheless, my older cousin easily accepted his offer and began to set off. I stopped her but she was sure it was all right and eager to go with me. I reluctantly followed the old man and my cousin. We got into the bushes that were spread out before the front yard of the house. The bushes became thicker as we walked on. While we were moving by pushing back big leaves, I had become certain I couldn’t come back alive. The bush had been too thick to find a way back. I deeply regretted that I had trusted my cousin. Then, out of nowhere, we reached open space and a beautiful river lay in front of my eyes. The sight was breathtaking even to a small child like me. But soon, the fear I was being kidnapped returned to me. I imagined my cousin and I would be killed here. When I was preparing for the worst, the man started to go back. We followed him and safely came back to the relative’s house. He was my grandmother’s uncle. If I had known earlier, I shouldn’t have been that scared and could have enjoyed the trip so much…

Frantic Washing hr628

I am a germphobic. I never go out without packs of wet wipes and always carry a small spray bottle of sanitizer. Whenever I touch anything that shares contact with others, I wipe my hand right away. It’s especially cumbersome when I go on a trip. My routine after check-in is to spray sanitizer to tissues with which I wipe the door knobs, switches, handles of the wardrobe and the refrigerator, hangers, remote controls, faucets, toilet seat, toilet cover, flush handle. If the hotel doesn’t have a duvet style bed for its rooms, I bring clothespins and wrap the cover with the sheet by fastening them together so that any part of my body doesn’t touch the cover that isn’t washed each time. Then I place two pairs of slippers that I bring from home, one for pre-shower and one for post-shower. As you can imagine, it’s so much fuss for me to stay at a hotel. I just can’t help it.
I took a short trip the other day to a neighboring prefecture. For this trip, I was extra nervous because of that Corona virus turmoil. The local train I got on was near empty and most of the sparse passengers were wearing a medical mask. A 2-hour somewhat tense train ride later, I arrived at the hotel. A big spray bottle of sanitizer was put at the entrance and all the hotel staff at the front desk were wearing a mask. I went out for lunch at a family restaurant and it was also empty despite lunchtime. The shopping mall I visited afterwards had only few shoppers around. Since I hate crowds and a jam, all places turned in my favor. It seemed I bought comfort with nervousness. Back in the hotel room, I worked through my room-cleaning routine and had dinner with my partner in the room with deli foods I had gotten at the supermarket, not because I was worried about Corona virus at a restaurant but because I am cheap.
Next morning, I used the elevator to have a free breakfast at a small eat-in space inside the hotel. I was off guard and didn’t wear a mask although the small elevator was unexpectedly packed with guests. Nobody was talking and I unconsciously held my breath. After an awkward silence, I was released to the designated floor. The breakfast was a buffet style. I took food with tongs that many guests used, out of plates that they slowly walked by and looked into. Everyone pushed buttons on the dispenser of coffee and juice. Wet wipes didn’t give me usual assurance for this particular trip. I went back to my room and washed my hands frantically.
I have once read an article that says excessive hygiene is counterproductive. It means that being exposed usually to germs builds resistance and thus makes people hard to get sick. If so, my germphobia is not only self-complacent unction but also simply a bad habit. That may be true, but I can’t, just can’t stop for the life of me.

I had never been in such heavy snow in my life.

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 an unreal 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…?

I got almost skewered.

As the process of moving, I went to my new place for the second time. The area was covered with deep snow this time and it looked like a different world. I got to my new apartment on foot from the train station, walking along the sidewalk sandwiched between the plowed snow walls. The snow walls were my shoulder high and I’d never seen this much snow in my life. As soon as I arrived, I got down to cleaning the room. I spent first two days cleaning the stained carpet. On the second day, I was to receive several boxes I’d sent from my old apartment. Looking at the heavy, ceaseless snow, I was afraid that my boxes wouldn’t reach here, but they came all right, to my relief. On the third day, I went shopping for food. To get to the supermarket, I needed to take a train, and I walked along the snow walls to the station again. I concentrated on my steps not to slip when an icicle dropped from a lamppost right before me. I got almost skewered. All the way to the supermarket, I was busy watching up and down, for my steps and icicles. That was awfully similar to an advanced stage of Mario Brothers. It was an ordeal just to get to a store. On top of that, my toes became icy as slush had seeped inside my supposed-to-be waterproof boots that I’d bought specially for this trip. You can’t make light of snowy country…

Japanese people have lost money and also manners.

On my way to do the holiday shopping, I dropped by McDonald’s for breakfast. Although the place was huge, it was crammed with people and I gave up eating there. I usually eat in a thrifty way at home with food at the sale price or half price. But since it was the holiday season, I decided to eat out luxuriously for once. There was a hotel near McDonald’s and I had all-you-can-eat breakfast at a restaurant there. I hadn’t been there for a couple of years and noticed things had changed. Most of the customers having breakfast there are the ones who stay at the hotel. Last time I had breakfast there, all the customers were Japanese. But now, most of them were Chinese and South Korean. They traveled by package tours and left almost all at once. After their big buses departed the hotel, only a few tables were occupied by Japanese. And I found out that Chinese and South Korean travelers’ manners have become better than Japanese ones. Japanese customers’ kids were shouting and running around the restaurant. Young couples were eating with the room slippers of the hotel on. Japan has been in a long economic downturn for years. In these years, Japanese people have lost money and also manners. Thinking about the transition of times, I spent two hours for the breakfast while having as mush as I could to the verge of a burst of my stomach, in order to make the most of money I paid…

bears and monkeys that appear in town and attack people

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 animal-free 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…

most important emergency item

Last weekend, I went in my new apartment for the first time since I looked at the room with a real estate agent in September. Although the building was 20 years old and I had expected some fixtures would have been broken, everything worked fine including a heater and a boiler. Only, the room was dirty from the former resident’s poor maintenance, meaning an extensive cleanup awaited me. The room was carpeted, and that carpet was extremely dirty with countless stains. I was talking with my partner how careless the former resident must have been, and at dinnertime, it was my partner who inadvertently spilled soy sauce on it. Already a new stain has been registered.

My biggest concern about living in that room had been whether claustrophobia would fall on me or not. One of my ways to lessen the phobia is turn on the TV. My cell phone is capable of receiving TV and I carried it around as the most important emergency item for the phobia in the room. Thankfully, I didn’t feel the phobia but tried to turn on the TV for fun before going to sleep. Then, my cell phone told me that it couldn’t receive it. As the building stood surrounded by high mountains, the wave was too weak to be received. Once I realized the TV wouldn’t be on, I felt a touch of claustrophobia all of a sudden. I shouldn’t have tried TV…