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 started to think about becoming a singer-songwriter in the beginning of 1980’s when I still lived in my hometown of Japan where I was born and grew up. By the end of the first month as a college student, I had lost interest in a college life since I didn’t care about getting a degree or being hired by a renowned company after graduation. A college had turned into an unnecessary place for me because of music. Only I tried to follow the footsteps of a Japanese band that I had admired most. Before they became professional, they started their careers by forming bands at universities and colleges where they were enrolled. I tried to do the same. As I had easily known, I found nobody in my college all of which students were women and most of which students attended as preparations for homemaking and marrying a doctor. I searched other universities for band members, for which I used my otherwise wasteful college life.
At that time, PCs or smartphones were yet to come. Even CDs didn’t exist. To listen to music, you needed to buy a record, put it on a turn table of a stereo carefully and gingerly not to scar the record surface, put down a record needle softly onto the start groove, and wait for music to begin while watching the record turning fast. The moment music started, the space shifted in a flash from where you had been. That was the essence I used to feel with a record. The sound of an analog record is different from the digitalized CD’s one. I feel the former round and deep that vibrates and seeps into the heart. Both Western and Japanese rock music I had listened to back then conveyed something to inspire like a struggle for life or for freedom. I’ve seen quite a few people whose life was actually changed by music.
A record has been given way to a CD, and then to download and streaming. On the making side, recording on a tape by physical instruments has turned more and more into entering data on a computer by software. The sound has become mechanical with copying and pasting. Having an impact is valued more than being dramatic. I hadn’t the slightest idea this kind of music scene would arrive in the future when I lived the beginning of 80’s. I simply had believed that music could change the world and save someone by healing a sore heart just as it did to me. While the music scene did change, my belief remains unchanged. I’ve been striving to make music by taking advantage of the digital side into inspiring songs.
Back in the eighties, I was trying to form a band to have my songs heard as soon as I started a college. I came across a bulletin board of a band circle at one university that was recruiting new members. I went to the meeting where many freshmen gathered. The circle leaders were matching a new member to an existent band according to which part the new comer played and which part the band needed. Because I intended to join a professional-aiming, high-grade band, I pitched earnestly my skills of writing songs, singing, playing the keyboard and the guitar, and most especially, my passion for music. The person who interviewed me said outright that there was no available band for me to join. While I was preparing to leave, I noticed that other freshmen got assigned to a band one after another. They all said they had no skills or had never played an instrument, except that they all were cute and had a flirty smile. Again, my passionate, serious attitude backfired there too, as if it foretold my subsequent music career. I learned that bands at Japanese universities and colleges in 80’s were for those who just wanted to enjoy a campus life not for those who sought a music career.
I was excluded from campus musicians and couldn’t use my college life for member hunting. As a college has become useless to me more than ever, I was sent outside the campus to look for a member in the real world.
If I could go back in time by a time machine, I would most certainly choose one summer day in my senior year of high school and redo that day.
In the summer of my senior year, I had been in the final stage of study for the entrance exam to the leading university in Japan. My love for music was the biggest obstacle for study and I tended to lapse into listening to rock and pop records on the stereo easily. Since I spent too much time in music instead of study, I determined to stop listening music until the entrance exam was over. I pulled the plug of my stereo off the outlet, paste it on the wall of my room along with a handmade poster that said ‘Patience!’ in capital letters. I tried to devote everything for a life at the best university in Japan.
I was an avid fan of a Japanese band called Tulip. Most albums and tapes I had were theirs. I frequently went to their concert that would give me a heavenly time. I had had to stop going there as well in that summer. So ironically, or almost fatefully I should say, Tulip was having the 1000th concert that coincided that particular summer of that particular year, of all summers and years in the calendar. It was a milestone big enough for them and their fans to be held at an amusement park that was reserved specifically for the event for the whole day. The amusement park was operated as ‘Tulip Land’ for the day, where paper cups and plates donned Tulip Land’s special logos and designs that were available on that day only, commemorative goods were sold, games and events connected with Tulip were held during the daytime, and the 1000th special open-air concert was held in the evening. As you can imagine, it was a dream event in which fans would drool all over. For me, it would be the day with Woodstock, Comic-Con and Disneyland combined all together at one place. It would be actually a dream. There was no way to miss it.
Back then in Japan, it was an era of so-called ‘Entrance Exam War’. Students with four-hour sleep pass, and with five-hour fail, that was a general rule for the war. Not individual ability but a name of the school one was graduated from decided later income and social rank in Japan. It still does. I think a social structure like that has brought this long economic decline to today’s Japan. In a whirlpool of the relentless era, I was an immature, foolish high school senior who was willingly sucked into the war to get a name of the university. In the depth of it, I had looked for any possible way to spare time for the dream event. It would be held in Tokyo that was over 300 miles away from Kyoto where I lived. It couldn’t be a matter of a couple of hours but a two-day trip. It would be crazy to waste two days in the middle of fierce competition like ‘Entrance Exam War’. I reached a heartbroken decision. I chose to study in my room instead of going to Tulip Land.
I had had gloomy days for a few months until the day of the event came. My dismal feeling culminated on the day. For the entire day, all I thought of was what was going on in Tulip Land. I glanced at the clock every hour and imagined what game was held by now. Is it a trivia quiz about Tulip? Or a lottery game for Tulip goods? Are fans sipping soda out of a paper cup that has ‘Tulip Land’ printed on the side? Has the concert started? By which song is it kicked off? Which song are they playing now? Are the fireworks showing? Is it done? Is it over now? I couldn’t focus on anything all day long. I spent the whole day in my room without studying at all.
At the end of the day, I realized I could have been there. I just might as well have gone to Tulip Land as wasted the whole day. I intensely regretted it and literally gnashed my teeth. I blamed myself for my stupidity. The size of regret appalled me so that I sincerely hoped never to feel this way.
I hopefully expected time would heal the regret. On the contrary, it had tortured me at length for months. The regret hadn’t been eased but deepened. It continued to ask me what I was doing, and the question had evolved gradually into why I was studying for the entrance exam, what going to the best university meant, whether it would bring happiness, and eventually, it began to ask me what I lived for. As I had grappled with those questions, I studied less and less. By the time of the entrance exam, I had lost interest in the university. Instead, I got a grip on what I really wanted to do.
I failed the exam not only to the leading university but to all the other famed ones I had chosen as a safety measure. Only one college of my worst-case scenario accepted me but I didn’t feel like going there. I decided to do what I want however society works or whatever people say because I simply didn’t want to experience that kind of regret again. All what I went through in that six-month period after one regret of Tulip Land set the course to take. I chose to live as a singer-songwriter.
Decades have passed, and yet Tulip’s 1000th concert pops up in my mind every time I think about regret. Tulip Land had never been held again. Since the band broke up and the guitarist passed away, it never will. I passed up the once in a lifetime event for sure. Time neither solved the problem nor eased the pain. I still agonize over how foolish I was not to go. In me, a word ‘regret’ stands for Tulip Land.
A computer is a faithful band member to me. It plays exactly as I ask for and it’s a brilliant multi player. The best thing is it never quits the band. I have countless band members who came and left. Every time we failed an audition, somebody in my band wanted to quit and left. In some cases, they just quit because they wanted to get a ‘real’ job. I’m always a motivated person for music and quitting the band has never crossed my mind to date.
After all, only my partner and I were left as human beings in the band except for computers and we’ve stayed this way for years. And now, another member joined our band in the shape of a computer. When I opened the box, the letters on a leaflet caught my eye. It said, ‘It starts here.’ I hope a lot of good things start here, with this new computer. Well, as things start here, the payment also starts here…
Episode From Surviving in Japan / Hidemi Woods
When I was a teenager, I always wanted to be a singer-songwriter but I was inclined to become a mixing engineer at one time.
That was mainly because I believed that I was too ugly to be a singer-songwriter and should work behind the scenes in the music business. Also, I was a big fan of a Japanese band called Tulip then and I thought working as a mixing engineer was the only way to get close to them. Besides, a person who works on the console at a recording studio or a concert hall looked so cool to me. When I was a senior in high school, there was a course guidance book in the classroom. I looked up how to become a mixing engineer in it. A few technical colleges were introduced there but they required a high score on physics. I was good at math, but in physics, I had no hope. So, I couldn’t find a way to be a mixing engineer.
Time passed, I noticed that I’ve been sitting at the computer console alone for the mix down of my new song all the time lately. It can mean that my dream came true after all. Only one thing is missing. I get no pay…
Episode From Surviving in Japan / Hidemi Woods