My hometown is in Kyoto, which is a popular
tourist destination in Japan. There is a big
historic festival called Gion Festival in summer.
Because it attracts visitors all over the world
and the venue is too crowded, my family had
never gone out to see it.
When I was in high school, my friend
suggested hanging around the venue on the
eve of the festival. The evening of the eve is
also a popular attraction with the parade floats
parked on the street. To go there, it was
common to wear a yukata, which is a casual
kimono for the summer season. I didn’t have
one of those and asked my mother to get one.
Before the festival, she bought a yukata for me
so that I could go. I liked its design very much.
Usually, a yukata had a pattern of morning
glories or goldfish, but mine was unique and
fancy with a fireworks pattern. It became my
treasure as I wore it again a couple of years
later for the festival with my first boy friend.
Meanwhile, after my younger sister failed the
TV talent show audition, she hadn’t stopped
learning Japanese dancing against my wish. My
mother convinced her that she failed because
we were late for the audition that day.
According to my mother, the judges weren’t
taking enough time to see how talented my
sister was. So, she had still taken lessons in
Japanese dancing. It’s danced with wearing a
kimono and for practice, with a yukata. My
sister had some yukatas as her casual practice
wear for the lesson.
One evening, when I was left at home as
usual, my sister came home with my parents
from a lesson. She was wearing my yukata.
She used my treasured fireworks yukata as
her casual practice wear. I cried, “It’s mine!”
My mother explained she was out of fresh
yukatas and made her borrow mine for that
evening only. They were too insensitive to care
about my feelings toward her Japanese
dancing lessons and my yukata. I’ve never
worn it since then…
Episode From An Old Tree in Kyoto /Hodemi Woods
Episode from My School Days in Kyoto: A Japanese Girl Found Her Own Way by Hidemi Woods
As all the people around me professed Buddhism and Shintoism, I had never been exposed to Christianity until I entered junior high school. The junior high I attended was a private Catholic convent school and most teachers were nuns. Since I had never had any contact with nuns before, they were nothing but mysterious to me. They lived together in a convent next to the school and wore a veil. They were called like Sister Catherine or Sister Patricia although they were Japanese. Until I got used to them, I had always wondered about the small basics. Do they have an ordinary Japanese name? Do they really stay single for life? Are they bold under a veil? Yes, yes, and no, I gradually learned the answers.
I had studied English quite hard to catch up with other students who came from the same convent’s elementary school that gave them a head start in English education. One teacher, called Sister Judith, happened to know that and kindly found a pen pal for me. While students mostly didn’t like sisters, she was an exception. She was popular because she was friendly and beautiful. Students also respected her since she graduated from one of the most renowned universities in Japan and was the smartest sister at school.
The school had the very rigid rules for uniform. If an irregular bag was spotted, it would be confiscated. I carried my personal small bag into school one day in addition to the big uniform bag, and Sister Judith caught me. She said she had to confiscate it and I begged her not to. I promised her I wouldn’t use it for school ever again. She decided to overlook my breach for once out of consideration for my emotional plea. As a stupid teenager, I was defiant to pretty much everything. I believed nothing good existed in this world. So I took my irregular bag out of my uniform bag again as soon as I passed through the school gate after school that day. I was walking toward the bus stop with the bag dangling. Someone called out my name from behind. It was Sister Judith. She didn’t return to the convent as usual and left for an errand on that particular day.
She didn’t confiscate my bag, though. Instead, she was crying. “I trusted you and that was why I let you go. But you betrayed my trust. I’m bitterly disappointed in you,” she said quietly and walked away. I felt it was much better that she yelled at me and took away my bag…
There’s an old Japanese custom called ‘Age of Thirteen Visit’. A child who reaches thirteen years old by the traditional system of age reckoning visits a specific local shrine to receive wisdom.
The important event has one critical rule. The thirteen-year-old visitor should never look back until they pass through the shrine’s gate after the visit. If it happens, wisdom they’ve just gotten is returned. Every time a topic of the visit was brought up by some chance in my childhood, my mother would strictly instruct me not to look back when my visit came. It had become a repeated threat for me. After those years, I reached eleven years old, which is thirteen by the traditional system, and the day for the visit arrived.
I was so tensed and nervous because of years of my mother’s threat. I got dressed up with kimono and my mother put a wig on my hair to make me look grown-up. While I was greedy enough to look forward to getting wisdom, I was anxious about looking back as much. From the moment we left home, my mother kept reminding me not to look back at the shrine. As the pressure had accumulated, a sense of panic had been built inside me. By the time we prayed at the altar in the shrine and started leaving, I was panicky. On the spot about only several yards to the exit gate, I couldn’t stop myself and looked over my shoulder. I blundered away my once-in-a-lifetime visit. My mother made sure I didn’t look back when we passed the gate. I lied and said no.
On our way home, we dropped by my aunt’s house. She noticed that I was wearing a wig. But when she pointed it out, my mother instantly denied it. I didn’t understand why she had to lie about such a small thing like a wig, but she just insisted it was my real hair. My aunt slipped beside me when we were about to leave and asked me if it was a wig. Although I said yes indifferently, she triumphantly uttered, “I knew it!” She sounded as if she had beaten me and I felt annoyed. I hated my mother’s totally unnecessary lie. And as for me, I went through a terrible teenage life with my own trifling lies. I believe that was because I had returned wisdom at the shrine on my Age of Thirteen Visit…
When my younger sister had learned Japanese
dancing for a couple of years, my mother
decided to get her on a local TV talent show.
Unlike me, my sister was always my mother’s
pride for her prettiness.
To be on the show, there was an audition in
a city, about 20 miles away from our home. My
father was going to drive them there. I
assumed they would go with just three of
them, leaving me behind as usual. For this
particular occasion though, I felt rather happy
not to join them because I had borne a grudge
against Japanese dancing since my mother let
my sister take lessons not me. But my mother
had the nerve to demand me to come with
them to the audition, saying that it was a huge
event for my sister and I should show support
I got in the car, not for her audition but for a
possibility to eat out at a restaurant on our
way back, which we hardly did and the three of
them might do without me. My mother was
never punctual and we were already late by
the time we left home. From then, things were
just like the movie, ‘Little Miss Sunshine’.
When we got there, the registration was
closing and the judges were leaving. My
mother desperately begged for the audition.
They reluctantly allowed it with the obvious
intention of making it finish quickly. After my
sister danced for a few seconds, they stopped
the music and said thank-you. I kept asking
my mother if it meant she passed or not while
my sister gloomily undressed.
When my mother admitted my sister failed, I
felt over the moon. I thought justice had been
served. I was in an utterly good mood and was
saying, “Let’s eat out! Which restaurant shall
we go?” all the way in the dismal car. My
parents and my sister were too depressed to
respond to me and we ended up going straight
home. I couldn’t get to eat out after all…
Episode From An Old Tree in Kyoto /Hodemi Woods