I answered the phone from my grandfather on my mother’s side one day when I was in junior high. I sensed something wrong at once from his unusually somber tone. He wanted to talk to my mother and she began to tell him repeatedly to wait right there. My grandfather called her to let her know he was going to kill himself. He picked up the pay phone at the train station before he took a train to a place where he had chosen to die, and said goodbye to my mother.
My father rushed into the car to get to the station while my mother stayed home in case my grandfather called again. My father caught him at the station, asked him what was going on, and persuaded him not to take the train. As he didn’t want to return home, my father checked him in at a hotel near the station. My mother joined there and they talked him out of killing himself.
She came home at night and told me what had happened. As an old custom in Japan, a married couple used to live with the spouse’s parents. My grandparents on my mother’s side lived with their another daughter and her husband, and they had tackled everyday arguments and disputes. The center of their domestic troubles was often my grandmother. She finally got mad at my grandfather who had always steered himself away the troubles and stayed out of quarrels. He was a war veteran of WWII and had a reward certificate from the government. She picked it up, said “Is this peace of paper making you some kind of honorable man?” and tore it before his eyes.
Without saying a word, he left home for Atami, which was a Japanese popular seaside resort where my grandparents once visited on their honeymoon. Thankfully, he ended up staying at a hotel with my father instead of committing suicide there. When my grandmother called my mother about his disappearance that night, my mother made her worry all night to punish her, by telling a lie that she didn’t know his whereabouts.
Next day, he calmed down and went home safely. He just told my grandmother he had been in Atami for sightseeing, that she had believed until she died. He was always a quiet, gentle, tolerant man who never seemed suicidal. The war reward certificate must have meant a lot to him, probably a token of his desperate survival for his beloved wife. His choice of a place to die showed their honeymoon was the best time of his life…
Episode From An Old Tree in Kyoto /Hodemi Woods
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…
One summer in my childhood, my grandfather on my mother’s side invited my mother and me to lunch. The restaurant’s specialty was eels. An eel is an expensive treat in Japan. We arrived at an awfully old-fashioned Japanese restaurant where we took off our shoes and sat on the floor at the low table. Except for us, only one table was occupied by a woman with a small child, who was busily stuffing the leftovers into a tin box she had brought. Every time my grandfather needed a server to come to our table, he clapped his hands twice and called out, “Hey, sister!” It was an obsolete manner no longer practiced, which embarrassed my mother and me.
When our house was rebuilt, I had my own room for the first time. That time, my grandfather took my mother and me to a furniture store to buy me a bed and a wardrobe. After we chose the items, a young salesperson calculated the total. My grandfather naturally asked for a discount but the salesperson’s offer didn’t satisfy him at all. He was an old patron of the store and had bought every piece of furniture there for my mother when she got married. He was used to special treatment and assumed he would get one there. But the salesperson declined the further discount, as he was new and didn’t know my grandfather. Even so, my grandfather persisted and decided the total amount of his own. He handed bills to the salesperson, and told him how much the change to be brought back should be. My grandfather’s way apparently perplexed the salesperson. Standing next to my grandfather, I was so embarrassed again.
Eventually, a long tug-of-war was over and the salesperson brought back what my grandfather had told him. My bed and wardrobe were successfully discounted, but I learned my grandfather’s style was outdated in the modern world…
Episode From An Old Tree in Kyoto /Hodemi Woods
My childhood diet was very healthy. That may be the reason why I was such a skinny kid, contrary to how I am today.
I was born in a farmer’s family in Kyoto, an old city in Japan. My family used to be almost self-sufficient. We mainly ate the leftover vegetables of eggplant and spinach that weren’t fit to be sold at the market because of flaws. We also planted rice and other vegetables such as onions, potatoes, carrots, radishes, burdocks and green peppers, not for sale but exclusively for our daily meals. We kept barnyard fowls that provided fresh eggs every morning. Our breakfasts and lunches were almost always row egg mixed with rice and soy sauce, pickled vegetables and too-weak miso soup.
A natural life may sound beautiful and relaxing, but it’s not in reality. Our fowls would holler screaming crows at dawn every day which would induce the clamorous barking of dogs in the neighborhood. Sometimes, one of our fowls that I named and fed every day like my pets was missing, and we had chicken on the table at dinner that evening. It took time for me to realize I was eating my pet fowl while I was worried about its whereabouts. Sometimes, I did witness my grandfather choked and plucked our fowl.
Since we didn’t have to buy vegetables, we had large servings at meals. Unfortunately, all vegetable meals of ours tasted horrible because we had to pay for seasonings or cooking oil and we were stingy enough to refrain them. Everything on our table was flavorless and bland. It never stimulated my appetite and I stayed skinny. As time passed, shops had been appearing in the rural area around our house. Also, my grandfather began to loosen his tight reign of the household and my mother had been able to have some discretion to go shopping and spend money. Our self-sufficiency was rapidly falling. Foods from outside tasted awesome. My appetite finally came out of its long hibernation. I was hooked by ham and mayonnaise in particular, and became chubby in no time.
Of all the terribly-tasted foods that my grandfather had long eaten, he picked yogurt as the worst. When he saw my sister eat it everyday, he asked for one out of curiosity. He said he had never had such an awful food in his life. After I left home for my music career and started living by myself in Tokyo, he often asked my father to take him to my apartment that was far from Kyoto. He wanted to see what was like to live alone there. My father didn’t feel like taking on such a bother for him and used a clever repelling. He told my grandfather that I was eating pizza everyday in Tokyo.
Of course he knew both that I wasn’t and that my grandfather didn’t know what pizza was. He explained to my grandfather that a food called pizza was oily round bread covered with sour sticky substance called cheese that was stringy and trailed threads to a mouth at every bite. And he added a threat, “You would eat that thing in her small apartment. Can you do that?” My grandfather replied in horror, “Why should I eat such a thing rotten enough to pull threads? I can’t ever go to Tokyo.” That pizza description cleanly stopped my grandfather’s repetitive request.
When I returned home for a visit once, my grandfather asked me a question at dinner time. Pointing the four corners of the dining room and drawing invisible lines in the air with his chopsticks, he said, “Your entire apartment is merely about this size, isn’t it?” As I replied it was about right, he asked, “How come you chose to do all what is necessary to live in such a small space and eat stringy rotten foods with threads although you have a spacious house and nice foods here? Is music worth that much? I don’t understand at all.” He looked unconvinced. As for me, while I had a certain amount of hardship, I had a far better life with tasty foods and freedom compared to the one that I had had in this house. Nevertheless, I didn’t utter those words. I said nothing and pour sake for him into his small empty cup, instead.
I loved my grandfather on my mother’s side so much. He lived in a small town that was a 20-minute drive from my family’s home. We used to visit him quite often, and occasionally he also came to our house with my grandmother. At times they stayed overnight in which case my sister and I would scramble to sleep next to him. I won the place one night and he offered his arm for my head. I slept with my head on his arm, which wasn’t so comfortable, to be honest. I woke up with a slight pain in my neck.
After they left, I began to feel sick and skipped school the next day. As my condition worsened with a fever, my mother tried to find the cause. I told her I had been sick since I slept with my head on my grandfather’s arm. She picked up the phone and reported it to my grandmother for a complaint. It took me a week to get well, but seemed nothing but a cold after all. I concluded my grandfather’s arm didn’t cause my illness.
When I met him again, he told me he would never sleep beside me. He explained how relentless verbal attacks from my grandmother had been. She had blamed him for causing my illness everyday although he knew his arm had nothing to do with it. For him, it was an exact situation of biting the hand that feeds you. True to his word, he had never let me sleep beside him ever since no matter how much I pestered. I wondered how severely my grandmother ranted him…
Episode From An Old Tree in Kyoto /Hodemi Woods