The Turning Point hr648

Photo by Ingo Joseph on Pexels.com

I was nervously looking at a passing view of houses and factories from the window of the express train that ran between Kyoto and Osaka in Japan. On that day, I headed for Osaka to meet for the first time the person who had posted a recruitment ad for the band in a music magazine. I was tense not only because I wasn’t good at meeting people, but also because my demo tape to be exchanged at the meeting had sounded terrible. When I recorded it, I couldn’t manage to make it as I hoped it to be. In the end, I was so frustrated that I aborted recording in the middle of one of my songs. And I was carrying that tape as the finished product for the first meeting. I was easily able to imagine the dumbfounded expression of the person who would have listened to this tape.
It had been three months since I started college life that had turned out to be a waste of time and I began to look for a band. Although I had determined to pursue music as my lifelong career, my band searching hadn’t been going well. I had felt I was at a deadlock. If I had failed to form a band again with this meeting, futile days would have gone on. I couldn’t stand it any longer. The train arrived at Osaka and I came to the meeting place 10 minutes late.
The young man was standing where the railway track ended as Osaka was the terminus. When I passed him by on purpose, he called me to stop though he didn’t know my face. We greeted and entered the cafe. He introduced himself along with his music career so far. Although he was younger than I was and still a high school student, he had a wealth of experience in music under his belt. He had formed several bands with which he had won quite a few competitions and awards. I wondered why he hadn’t mentioned them in his recruitment ad on the magazine. He of course had written much more songs than I had. Compared to his experience, a few gigs and my own songs were nothing. Inevitably however, he asked about me and my turn to talk about myself came.
After I heard about his glorious career, I didn’t feel like telling him mine. I just gave him snippets of information such as I started to play the piano when I was four years old since I had applied to his ad as a keyboardist/singer. And instead of my experience, I ranted and raved about my passion. I didn’t have anything else for self-promotion but showing how committed I was to make a career as a musician. I did so also because I had my poor demo tape waiting to appear. As I remembered the last line of his ad was ‘A band member with passion wanted’, I thought my passion was the best defense as well as selling point. I even told him how hurriedly I had pedaled my bicycle when I went to get a double postcard to contact him prior to this meeting. After he listened to me half amusedly, he told me that his band would start with me as the keyboardist.
As it turned out, we exchanged demo tapes not to listen there but just to make sure later. All he needed to find out at the meeting was passion for music. Through his rich experience in forming a band, he had been sick of Japanese musicians’ common attitudes that they wanted to be professional only if they were lucky. They would play in a band until they got a steady job at the office and quit. No matter how skillful they were, they would decisively lack intention to become a professional musician whatever it took. I happened to have that kind of intention more than anybody and got to show him. I joined a band and the meeting was over. When we were about to leave the cafe, I said to him “Don’t bother about my coffee,” because it was still a common practice back then in Japan that a man should pay for a woman. He answered, “I wouldn’t do such a thing.” He was a rare progressive person for a Japanese of those days. Along with the cool cafe in the big city and the new band, I felt like I opened the door to the future at the meeting.
I was relieved to have found the band and have broken a deadlock finally when I headed home. I took the train back to Kyoto again, which was running toward the future this time. In the train, I listened to his demo tape on my Walkman. On the tape were three songs he wrote and sang with his own guitar playing. I was astounded. His songs, singing, playing were all excellent. Even the recording quality sounded as if it were of a professional musician. I couldn’t believe what I had just found. I was convinced I had hit the jackpot. With this talent, the band would become professional and be a big hit in no time. Success was assured. For the first time in my life, I felt hope enormous enough to tremble. All at once, everything I saw looked different. The same somber houses and factories that I had seen out of the train window the way there were beautiful now. The regular train was gorgeous and all the passengers seemed happy. Among those happy passengers, a shaft of sunlight beamed only on me and shone me. I saw my wretched life with too many failures ending at last. A successful life that I should have was about to start instead.
I listened to the tape repeatedly on my way home feeling literally over the moon. The thing I couldn’t see was that this was the entrance to my adult life filled with sufferings and miseries that I would have endured as a musician to this day.

Marriage in Japan hr634

I went out for lunch with my partner at a cafe the other day that stood across the train station in a Japanese desolate rural town where I live. To call it a cafe is a bit too fancy. It’s not the likes of Starbucks but rather a small old mom-and-pop diner that was built well over 30 years ago and remained as it was, which perfectly matched this old town itself.
We sat at the table and overheard a conversation from the table next to us. Three old women in their eighties sat around the table by the window. “She has passed away, too.” “This could be the last time we get together.” Although they were exchanging a downright sad conversation, they were talking in a matter-of-fact way and their chats were lively.
While we were eating a salad with watermelon that came with our main dishes of curry and rice with a fried pork cutlet, a family of three came in. A boy about ten years old and his parents in their thirties sat at the table near ours. As soon as their orders were taken, the boy started reading one of comic books that the diner placed for customers, and his father went outside to smoke. His mother was staring into space.The father came back in when their dishes arrived on the table but they didn’t talk while they were eating. Except that the parents occasionally said something to the boy separately, there was no conversation between the parents. After they finished eating, the father went out again to make a phone call, the boy played with diner’s puzzle toys, and the mother stared into space again. I saw through the window the father talk with someone over his phone pleasantly while smoking and laughing. He came back in and also began to play with a puzzle toy. I thought it was much more fun for him to have lunch with a person on his phone.
Quite too often, I see a married couple having almost no conversation at a restaurant. I wonder if people stop talking each other when they get married. While they must have clicked each other enough to get married in the first place, what makes them fall silent? Since I have never been married, I have no idea whether it’s because they have changed or they have lost interest in each other after marriage. The closest married couple I know is my parents, which means my knowledge about marriage is a generation old. My parents are from farming villages in Kyoto that is the oldest city in Japan. According to the old custom, their marriage was arranged by their families’ intention not their own. Inevitably, they were strangers with no affection whatsoever. In my childhood, my mother used to say, “I wouldn’t have married such an ugly guy like your father unless he had money.” Times have changed, and people get married by their own will in Japan. Nevertheless, if a couple who liked each other finds it difficult to talk once they marry, I don’t understand what marriage is for. The mystery deepens still more.
The family of three left hastily after they were done with the toys and staring. The party of three old women ordered refills of their soft drinks repeatedly and lingered at the table with their conversations, as if they were reluctant to leave the diner.

I headed to a cafe

It was a bit chilly in the early morning and I pulled on my sweater and gloves. I headed to a cafe. On my way there, I found a one-yen coin – a Japanese version of a penny on the ground. I made an enough effort to take off my gloves, squat, and when my fingers were just about touching the coin, I realized it was a discarded battery. On my way back home, I found a coin on the ground again. I made the same effort again, and when my fingers were just about touching the coin, I realized it was the very same discarded battery I had tried on my way to the cafe. I still can’t believe I fell for the same trap twice…

Magic of Friday the 13th’s Full Moon hr624

The day was planned for my partner and me to go to the city that takes us a 90-minute train ride from home. It was Friday the 13th with a full moon. As a superstitious person, it gave me a slightly uneasy feeling. I tried to shake it off and went out anyway. And here are spooky things that happened on that day.
I had lunch at an all-you-can-eat buffet restaurant. The buffet included Asian foods as their limited-time specialty menu. Even for a Japanese, they were novel to me. I tried them for the first time and quite enjoyed them. The lunch time was coming to an end and the customers were leaving. The large restaurant with many tables had gotten near empty. Then out of nowhere, tow young men appeared with plates filled with food and sat at the table next to ours. It was weird.
A new customer is usually ushered to a table by a server at this restaurant. The server asks if there are any additional orders beside the buffet, such as free refill soft drinks or alcoholic beverages, and puts down a check and a wet towel – a pack of a wet tissue is provided at almost all the restaurants in Japan – on the table, then leaves. The wet tissue and the piece of paper for a check are the mark telling the table is taken by customers while they are off to get food at the buffet. The table next to us had no wet tissues or check. The two men didn’t show up with a server but had already gotten food. And they sat right next to us among all those empty tables in a huge restaurant. I suspected that they sneaked in and tried to eat without paying by using us as some sort of camouflage.
While my suspicious eyes observed them eating merrily, one of them suddenly started looking around, uttered “What? What?”, and left the table hurriedly. I thought there he ran away. But he returned right away and said to the other man, “My bag is gone.” They began to look for it around and under other tables. When I was convinced that they finally ran away, they returned with a server and told her that his bag was missing. The server replied, “This table wasn’t your table. Yours was over there.” She brought their wet towels and check along with his bag from the far table. They were surprised, and said to each other, “This table wasn’t ours? I thought we were ushered here!”
It was my turn to be surprised. Didn’t they notice the wet towels? Weirder yet, were my partner and I invisible? Weren’t we the distinguishable mark for the table in the empty restaurant? They must have been tricked by some magic of Friday the 13th’s full moon. That seemed the only explanation. By the way, my partner himself had walked toward the wrong tables several times there by the same magic, which he kept from me and reluctantly confessed me later.
After we left the restaurant, I shopped groceries at a supermarket. The supermarket had handed out QR code mobile coupons that I had acquired. There was a machine to convert the QR code into a paper coupon inside the store since the checkout counter takes only physical coupons. The machine had a screen that showed a step-by-step instruction. It looked so simple and easy that a customer only needed to scan the code on a smartphone. With the instruction telling ‘Scan Your Phone’ I scanned, but no coupon came out. No matter how closely I put my phone to the screen, no response. I tweaked the brightness, tried to place it horizontally or vertically, uttering unconsciously “What? What?”. About ten unsuccessful sweaty tries later, I noticed a red light was blinking under the machine. That was where the phone should be placed. Instead, I was holding the phone to the instruction screen.
Before going home, I dropped in a cafe at the train station. The cafe had the sink for customers to wash their hands next to the pick-up counter. I wiped my hands with paper towels and threw them away into the trash bin. Although I pushed the lid, it didn’t open. I thought something had jammed and I pushed several times more, of course uttering “What? What?” again. It wouldn’t open. I pushed really hard and almost sprained my fingers. And I saw a foot pedal beneath the bin. I sweated all over again with my cheeks brushing while the lid easily opened with the pedal.
I shouldn’t have underestimated Friday the 13th’s full moon. Its magic is dangerous…