On the morning of a day off, I had a long, relaxed breakfast with my partner at home. He told me that he had just seen an interesting dream the previous night. His “interesting” dreams usually bore me, but I reluctantly agreed to hear it out of habit.
In his dream, it was my birthday. We had a party by ourselves in a fictional shabby apartment with half-price deli foods from the clearance shelves of a supermarket. A leftover of three-day-old dessert was converted into my birthday cake and waiting on the kitchen counter. A door bell rang although we didn’t invite anyone and nobody was supposed to come.
My partner opened the door and two Japanese couples showed up. Each couple was fictional, rich old friends of mine in the dream. They were prim in luxury brand clothes and bringing expensive sweets as gifts. They had apparently expected a glamorous home party in a gorgeous apartment. At the sight of them, I shouted to my partner, “Let them in and keep company!” and stormed into my room for a change and makeup because I was wearing worn-out clothes and no makeup. My characteristic wasn’t fictional and I was a vain person even in his dream. He showed them into the living room. They looked disappointed and regretful that they came to where they didn’t belong while he hurriedly cleared the table and fixed drinks for them. Then, there was the second door bell.
This time, a modest woman was standing at the foot of the stairs that led to the outside of the building. She had something handmade as a gift and looked up nervously. “Another guest showed up!” my partner yelled toward me. I rushed out, ran down the stairs, tripped, and dived into a big puddle beside the woman. He saw me sprawling in mud, with my best dress ruined and red and blue from my makeup spread on the surface of muddy water. This part of his dream was familiar to me. In reality, about a month ago, I was walking with my partner looking upward somehow and fell over a big rock. I landed onto hard asphalt and hit my cheek. My palms got grazed badly and covered with blood. That clumsily shocking sight must have remained in his brain.
At this point of his dream, he was resigned to a ruined birthday and his motivation gave out. He went back inside and said to the couples of preceding visitors, “Hidemi dived into a puddle. Would you mind leaving now?” They seemed relieved to be released from a wretched place like this and hurried away.
Just after they had left, strangers appeared one after another. An American man with a camera, a Chinese family and a group of Southeast Asian women came in, all asking “Is this Hidemi’s apartment?” They were looking around curiously and taking photographs. Other people of various races kept coming and the apartment that began to expand was packed with them. He saw more people from the world heading toward my apartment. He became worried that everyone would be disappointed at this place that had nothing to see, nothing interesting. On the contrary, all of those who came seemed content, talking each other at ease or just sitting in a relaxed mood. Looking at them, he realized that what people seek was healing. And he woke up.
Little by little, the number of people around the world who visit my website has been growing since last year. Some visitors leave a comment or a like, some follow me. Those kind actions may have contributed to his dream.
In the meantime, I also had a dream on the same night. I was with Will Smith and a world-famous dancer in my apartment. A box was delivered for me, that was a secret award for the most distinguished person of each fields. Both Will and the dancer had received it before. “You got it!”, they exclaimed. I opened the box excitedly, and there came out a pink hippopotamus headgear. I put it onto my head with profound reverence, felt a sense of achievement, and woke up. In Japanese, ‘hippopotamus’ means ‘Kaba’. If you read it backwards, it is pronounced ‘Baka’, which means ‘fool’ in English.
As I’ve been constantly looking for an apartment online, I found a pretty good one again. It’s located by a lake near Mt. Fuji and it’s spacious, furnished and Western-style. Usually, this kind of property is far above my price range, but this one is discounted considerably so that it dove into my range.
The catch is that the building is very old by Japanese standards. It’s 36 years old. Still, it’s the most gorgeous place I could possibly afford. I gathered information about the area, such as the climate, restaurants, shops and most importantly, the train and bus schedules because I don’t have a car. I decided to go to look at the room and sent an e-mail to the real estate company for an appointment. Meanwhile, I bought a train schedule book and made a precise plan to go there as a weekend trip.
A reply from the real estate company included the more detailed information about the apartment. Because it’s old, the water pipes may give out at any moment. The boiler is broken, too. To finish up, one of the residents is wanted for murder. It’s not the one again…or, is it…?
Episode From Surviving in Japan / Hidemi Woods
My apartment hunting is still going on and I found the best pick so far online last night. That could be it. It looked so attractive and I got excited enough to prepare for going there to close a deal first thing in the morning.
There was some time before dawn and I looked up on the Internet about the property. Plenty of information was there, most of which were complaints about the superintendent of the building. All complaints seemed to refer to the same person and I became doubtful whether I could live in a place that such a bad person manages. While I read on the complaints, a different one caught my eye. A low flow of a shower. It was the last blow. By the time the morning dawned, my excitement was gone…
Episode From Surviving in Japan / Hidemi 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.
It happened a long time ago when I lived in Tokyo. My partner and I had dinner at a restaurant one night after we hung around the mall. We came back to our apartment that we had rented on the top floor of the building as our home and the office for our record label.
When I tried to turn my key on the front door, I noticed the door had remained unlocked. It was weird. I may have forgotten to lock the door when I left, which was highly unlikely since I was fussy about locking and couldn’t leave without making sure that the door wouldn’t open by trying the knob for a couple of times. I got in feeling dubious, but our apartment didn’t look unusual. Then my partner suddenly said, “Why is the cabinet open?” My heart began to beat fast with overwhelming uneasiness and I hurried into the bedroom that had a balcony. The tall window to the balcony had been smashed broken. It was a burglary.
I called the police right away while my partner was gingerly looking into the bathroom, the closet, and behind the drapes to see if the burglar wasn’t still hiding. Those minutes were the scariest as too many movie scenes flashed back to me. Thankfully, there was nobody. The police arrived quickly since the station was ironically only a block away from my apartment. Such a location apparently wasn’t safe enough to prevent burglary.
The policemen came in and looked around. As they saw the messy rooms, they showed sympathy saying, “It’s played havoc, huh?” It was funny because my apartment had been messy as it was long before burglary. But probably thanks to it, the burglar didn’t notice an envelope that held a few thousand dollars for the bills and was mingled with scraps of paper on the table. Instead of cash, a dozen of Disney wrist watches that was my collection, a cheap wrist watch that was my partner’s memento of his late mother, an Omega wrist watch that I received from my grandparents as a souvenir of their trip to Europe decades ago, and one game software were missing. Actually, those items had been the only valuables in my office apartment. Other than those and litter, my apartment had been quite empty. The reason was simple. I was near bankrupt at that time.
I had started up my music label with my partner and it had grown steadily as business. A person I had trusted offered substantial financial support and I took it. I rented this apartment and hired staff with that money. Then the financial supporter tried to take over my label and threatened to suspend further finance if I refused. Amid horrible disgusting negotiations, money stopped being wired into my account. The label came to a standstill for lack of funds. I laid off all staff and saw what took eight years for my partner and I to build from a scratch crumbling down. The blow was amplified by anger and self-loathing from the fact that I was deceived by a person I had trusted. Despair and emptiness led to apathy. I stopped doing or thinking anything and had played a game every day.
In hindsight, if there hadn’t been burglary, my partner and I would have kept paying the costly rent for the apartment and playing a game until we spent all the money that was left. But something clicked when I saw the very game software I had played every day picked among other many games to be stolen, and the glass window of my dream penthouse apartment smashed. It marked the point where I hit the bottom but also was a wake-up call. We moved out the luxurious apartment immediately and rented a cheap studio apartment in a small two-storied building.
That move left some money in my bank account. The deposit of the penthouse apartment was returned, too. Also, I received an unexpected insurance payout. The expensive rent of my former apartment included a damage insurance. The insurance company assessed the damage based on the report I submitted to the police. For some reason, they calculated the payout more than the total price of what were stolen. I discussed with my partner about what to do with the money. We decided to go to California. A new start form zero. And that was to be the beginning of all these, everything that I do at present. My works have been taken to the world by that decision, made by the burglary.
Since I shopped at Costco for the first time, I’ve been still in shock at their low prices and thinking about it all the time. I had decided to move out this apartment after getting some signs for that and had narrowed down the possible areas. But none of them has Costco nearby. I can’t give up the pleasure to shop at those low prices. And it’s a rare store where I can get products from the U.S. that I really like. Inside Costco, there is a very small, compact America. It’s the easiest way to visit the U.S., in a way. Now that I knew Costco and became a member, I should move to the area close enough to shop there. So, my selection of the place to live went back to the starting point. Costco is beginning to take control of my life…
Next to my apartment is a parking lot. A loud noise of a car engine without a muffler woke me up early in the morning today. Sick people who enjoy driving a car without an engine muffler and with a booming car stereo are increasing here. I was able to go back to sleep but then the neighbor kids’ voice disturbed my sleep again.
The window of my room looks out on the front yard of a neighbor’s house. Kids and idle housewives were playing and talking loudly. Kids are my archenemies. They relentlessly attack me with their evil, highpitched voices and shrieks. When I first moved in here, there were few houses around. But soon, more and more houses were built, more families were moving in, and I got surrounded by kids.
Every time I move somewhere quiet, the area quickly gets booming and kids are running everywhere destroying my cozy living environment. Now that I’ve decided to move, the destination should be someplace quiet, kids-free, bugs free, and hopefully, people-free…
I have a strong phobia about bugs. My apartment is heavily armed by numerous bug repellers, such as electrical, herbal, you name it.
The other day, it was very cold like winter, and yet, a bug appeared in my room, right next to an electrical bug repeller. Impossible. A couple of weeks earlier, a light switch of the bathroom got broken. Combined it with the inconceivable way of the bug’s appearance, I took them as signs to move out this apartment. The last time I moved was also when I found a bug and a light switch of the bathroom got broken. It was the best decision as the move turned my luck. I’ve started packing my stuff even though I have no idea where to move. I’ve got a lot of cheap stuff as a result of sale-hunting and have little time to pack, so it will take a long time to move, anyway…
I’m not good at being with people by nature. I always like to being alone and stay inside my room. Basically, any contact with others is uncomfortable. Not to mention phone calls, public places are dreadful for me unless they are near empty with few people. I hate to have a person standing right behind me at the checkout counter in a supermarket. Whenever I take a train, I search for a car that has the least passengers. My so-called ‘body bubble’ seems excessively large. I often almost utter a scream when a person bumps into or even slightly brushes me. Needless to say, chattering with others is excruciating. My apartment building has a communal spa for the residents and I use it everyday. The residents are inevitably acquainted with each other and small talk between them is rampant in the spa. I’m often caught up in it and desperately try to find closure of the conversation by sweating all over. To avoid an ordeal, I’m usually careful not to share time together with familiar residents as much as possible. When I see them, I practically run away. My partner calls me a robot because of my behavior.
The time of recent social distancing shouldn’t bother a person like me. Social distancing has been already my thing for a long time. At least I had believed so. I had thought it wouldn’t hurt a natural ‘social-distancer’ as myself. But I found I was wrong.
One of my favorite Japanese comedians from my childhood was infected with Corona virus and was killed by it in a matter of days. Until just recently, he had appeared on various TV shows and his funny face had been the norm for TV. The daily TV time in a Japanese living room has changed suddenly, completely. He was a nationally popular comedian who earned the monstrous TV rating. When I was a child, my family gathered in front of TV for his show at 8 p.m. every Saturday and laughed so hard together. Kids at school would talk about the show next Monday and laugh again together. When I was in my early teens, I danced his signature gig called ‘Mustache Dance’ so frantically in the dining room that my foot slipped and I fell hitting my face on the dining table. Those memories made me feel as if part of me was lost with him by his death.
Among my familiar residents in my apartment building are a mother and her daughter. They are athletes and rough, thudding around restlessly and talking loudly in a vulgar tongue all the time. I heard that they were moving out soon. Since I was bothered with their noisy manner and pushy conversations toward me at the communal spa, I felt relieved that I could reclaim the quiet bath time. One evening during the days I had waited for them to move out, I saw them at the spa. They left for the locker room while I was still in the bath and I intentionally took time in there to avoid meeting them at the locker room, as usual. After giving them enough time to clothe and go home, I stepped out to the locker room, assuming they were already gone. On the contrary, they were still there, standing side by side courteously toward me. They had been waiting for me. The mother told me that they were moving out tomorrow and this would be the last time to see each other. She said politely, “Thank you so much for all these years. You helped us in various ways.”
I had known them since I moved in nine years ago. The daughter was still a small child back then, who was running and shrieking around the locker room. She is to be a freshman in high school this spring. She occasionally talked to me about her school days or her passion for skiing. The mother once broke her foot at her workplace and she had been on crutches in the spa. I got out of the tub to open and hold the door to the locker room for her every time until she stopped limping. When we were late together at the locker room that went black after the spa’s closing time, we would clothe together under the light of my pocket LED lamp. Those memories flooded back to me all of a sudden at the last time I saw them although I had thought it would evoke nothing as I had been looking forward to getting rid of them. While I was looking at the daughter’s liquid eyes that were staring straight at me, I was overwhelmed by inexplicable sadness and my eyes began to be filled with tears in spite of myself. I clumsily said goodbye and returned to my apartment. A robot couldn’t say goodbye well.
I found tall wooden shelves discarded at a garbage dump of my apartment. It was as good as new and I carried it into my place. The shelves seemed to be a product of someone’s moving-out. I cleaned it and made it my new shoe shelves.
I felt so good seeing my shoes arranged beautifully on the shelves. The pitiful thing is, though, that almost all the shoes cost less than $20, mainly $10, and about half of them are worn out and have holes and cracks…