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
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
I check the TV listings online everyday. I found
a TV show that featured the town I was
moving to. I was looking forward to it in front
of the TV. When the show started, I realized it
was about how to live inexpensively after
The town was introduced as the area that
had many budget apartments where retirees
with a drastic income drop could afford and
save money. The show chose a couple of
apartments as super money-saver ones of all
others. To my surprise, my new apartment was
one of them! Seeing the exact building I was
about to move in on TV, I felt delighted and
embarrassed at the same time.
To sum up, the apartment I selected is one
of the best bargain apartments located in the
least expensive area in Japan. It proved my
discerning eye as a bargain hunter, but also
declared my new place was the cheapest in the
country on national television. I have a low
income, all right, but I’m not retiring…
Episode From Surviving in Japan / Hidemi Woods
A black shape of a bear is drawn on a yellow background with big capital letters of ‘Beware of Bears!’. That is a poster I see everyday out of my apartment window lately. Not just one. It’s on the fence along a stream and at the little bridge over it so that I spot it everywhere sitting at my table. It has multiplied rapidly this year. On a bench at the nearby park, on the public bathroom wall in my neighborhood, at scattered vacant lots, the posters are rampant here and there that I’d never seen before in my town. Those are not just for warning. Those indicate the spots where bear’s foot prints were left or a bear was actually witnessed. From morning till night, patrol cars with loudspeakers drive around blaring out “Bears are spotted! Be careful when going out!” all day long. The car stops on the little bridge beneath my window and sets off firecrackers to scare off bears. Some members of the local hunting association fired blank shots there. It’s said that the reason why bears come down to a residential area from the mountains so often has to do with the climate change that causes a shortage of food for them.
About ten years have passed since I moved in this snowy town enclosed by the mountains. It’s been warmer and snowed less year after year compared to when I began to live here. That has helped make my winter days easier that I used to suffer from claustrophobia by the deep snow coverage.
Added to the climate change that affects my daily life, I also sense my own mind changes. I had feared if a monotonous country life rusted me away when I decided to move in here. It didn’t happen. Rather, the quiet life increased my concentration and contributed more productivity for my lifework than the time when I lived in the metropolitan area. I have a serener mindset than before and it gives me more understanding toward myself and the world I live in.
Recently, people have stayed home and worked remotely in Japan too. They have left big cities and moved to rural areas. More and more people from Tokyo have moved into my small town that I had expected nothing but to become desolate every year. There are many unfamiliar new residents in the apartment building where I live. The building used to look like a ghost house with dark windows, but it has almost no available room now. I had never imagined that would happen mere one year before. The unthinkable things occurred at the unthinkable speed. In this trend, we can’t tell what happens next. In three years, bears might be chasing after me. Not bears but people might start chasing people and killing each other. Or human race might extinct because of viruses. There might be days of a panic, or moments of danger for life. Even so, it could turn to be better. These unprecedented years have shown how much human imagination is limited. I myself have learned that a superficially dire thing can turn out to be a good thing in the end. Besides, I saw unthinkable things happen, so why not unthinkably good ones? I believe they could happen as well. They should.
The nearest grocery store from my home is a 25-minute walk away. That small local store carried a sale on eggs at one dollar for ten. I walked there with my partner to get them. Since my town is so small and rural, there are usually almost no pedestrians on the streets. Except that cars are passing by sparsely, I hardly see anybody. But on our way back home from the grocery store, I saw a woman standing by a field and watching wild flowers. It was rare to see someone on the street. As I was getting closer, I perceived her looking at me with her face filled with a big smile that was totally familiar to me. I knew her.
She used to be a resident in the apartment building where I live. We often came across and shared some time together at the communal spa in the building. She is much older than I am, but we somehow got along well and chatted heartily every time we saw each other at the spa. About six years ago, she moved out of the apartment to the different one in the same town. I unexpectedly felt so sad because I had regarded her as if part of my family unconsciously since we met and talked almost everyday. However, when I saw her for the last time and she tentatively hinted her suggestion to exchange contact information and invite me to her new place, I just chickened out and dodged a reply. I wavered tremendously but didn’t have courage to step into a new friendship. We parted without even asking each other’s names. The spa had become quiet ever since. Occasionally from nowhere, a thought about how she has been doing came up to my mind while I was taking a bath with no one to chat. I regretted my decision not to be friends with her. I missed her more than I had thought.
And I saw her again after those years by this incredible coincidence. I jumped for joy to have bumped into her like this. Her big smile and loud laughter hadn’t changed a bit and she told me how she had been doing. After we chatted for a while, I sensed the time to say good-bye again was approaching. And I was swallowed by one single thought: Should we exchange contact information this time? I ran through a scenario in my head. If I asked her info here, she would expect me to get in touch later. Then if I got in touch with her, she would invite me to her place. Then if I went to see her, she would expect me to invite her back in my place next time. Then if we found little left to talk about, we would be distant gradually. Then if it broke off, I would regret my contact exchange of today retrospectively. While I was trying to see the future, she also tried to judge my feelings and tentatively brought up a plan to see each other again, like deja vu. The time to decide had come.
I had missed her. I had wanted to be friends with her. I made a wrong decision last time and this could be the second chance falling from the sky. On the other hand, I had too many bitter experiences about friendship and wanted to add no more. I felt harsh loneliness every time I lost friendship. The closer my friend and I were, the harder it was to be estranged. I tend to have high hopes and expect too much for someone I make friends with, that usually leads to painful disappointment when she or he doesn’t meet my expectation. I had had many friends and lost them. For me, getting along well isn’t enough to build friendship. I need to respect someone as a friend. People change. Once I can’t respect my friend any longer, my friendship is over. I also need to be accepted as who I am. That’s why most of my friends left me when I decided to become a musician. I wonder how I could ever start a new friendship as long as I know how I would feel when it ends. Disappointment would be huge this time all the more because I like her. I couldn’t bear the loneliness it would bring.
Since I was a child, I have struggled to escape from loneliness. I had searched for someone to get along, thought I found one, and realized I didn’t. Repeating the cycle had accumulated loneliness. I reached the point to afford no more loneliness long ago. But in the course of my life, I’ve got the solution. I think loneliness may be overestimated and it’s not so bad if you see it from a different perspective. Sometimes loneliness is freedom. Sometimes it’s self-esteem. It works for me to stop looking for the way not to be lonely, but accept to be lonely instead. To fend off loneliness, be lonely already.
I didn’t ask her contact information and neither did she mine after all. We said our good-byes without giving names again. We waved and resumed our ways in opposite directions. Immediately the blame on her crossed my mind that she should have pressed on our contact exchange. If she had cornered me and I had had no choice, I could have told. Why didn’t she simply ask me so that I could answer? No, I reconsidered, it was better as it went. I felt her kindness more than ever not to ask me and walked on with holding a lot of fresh eggs.
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
Episode From Surviving in Japan / Hidemi Woods
About my apartment hunting, I’ve written up
to the point that the owner of the room wanted
to consider his or her price, which had been
offered as 20 percent off by himself or herself
in the first place. Two more weeks have passed
and the owner offered 10 percent off. Since I
was going to pay the full price to begin with,
10 percent off was still a good deal to me. I
answered to take it.
Then, the situation took an unbelievable
twist, again. The real estate agent asked me to
pick my convenient days for a contract among
several days in the end of October. That means
it would take two months to close the deal
since I decided on the room. At first, I thought
it would be done in a week because the
process was simple – look at the room, make a
decision, sign a contract and pay. How could it
be possible to spend two months for this easy
process? At this stage, it should be done only
by signing a contract, and yet, they need three
more weeks just to do that.
Meanwhile, I noticed the owner had placed
an ad for the very room I applied for on a
different real estate company’s website. The
room remains available there. Now, a suspicion
crept into my mind. Is the owner waiting for
someone who wants the room at the full price
and prolonging the deal on purpose? But that
someone was me because it was the owner
who offered the discount while I didn’t ask for
anything. Whatever the plot is, it’s beyond my
comprehension. I wonder when and how the
whole thing is settled…
Episode From Surviving in Japan / Hidemi Woods
Here’s an update on my ongoing apartment hunting. After I saw the room and deliberated, I decided on the place which price was 20 percent off. A week after I submitted the application form to the real estate company, its agent told me that she hadn’t been able to reach the owner. A few days later, she called me again and said that she finally contacted the owner. But she asked me to wait a little more as the owner wanted to consider the price. From then on, both the agent and I have been just waiting. Now I noticed absurdity.
The 20 percent off price was offered by the owner in the first place, not by me. Is he or she considering his or her own price? And is he or she going to decline the price by himself or herself? What kind of game are we playing? Two weeks have already passed since I applied for the room. I have no idea how it unfolds hereafter…
Episode From Surviving in Japan / Hidemi Woods