In voice mail, there was a message from my father that said he needed to be called back immediately. I was chilled to the bone. I have never received a single phone call from him that’s not disturbing. When he calls me, he does it to vent his spleen about his daily life and about my career as a musician. What comes out from the receiver is his lengthy verbal abuse. Nevertheless, I mostly return his call because things get worse if I don’t. This time was no exception and I called him back fearfully with trembling hands. Instead of a spurt of anger, he told me to come home as soon as possible and stay for a few days. I asked him what happened and he didn’t answer that. As his request sounded urgent, I repeatedly asked for the reason. He just dodged and kept saying that he wanted me to come home right away. I hung up and felt alarmed. Something must have happened. Since he had never given me good news, that something was most certainly a bad thing.
My parents’ home is located in Kyoto that is 500 miles away from where I live. It takes me over five hours to get there by bullet train. I don’t have so much free time to take that long trip without the reason. Besides, such an unusual request requires extra caution. I called my mother’s cell phone and asked her what was all about. She told me that they had decided to sell their house and move out. They were looking for a condominium to buy and moving in as soon as the house was sold. The house could be sold next month at the fastest, and they wanted me to sort out my stuff and spend time together under this house’s roof for the last time.
The house was built when I was nine years old at the place where our old house was torn down because it was too old to live in. That old house was built about 100 years ago. My ancestors lived at exactly the same spot generation after generation for over 1000 years since my family used to be a landlord of the area. We are here for around 63 generations. My father succeeded the family from my grandfather, and I would have been the next successor if I hadn’t left home to be a musician. Because my father failed the family business and didn’t have the next successor for help, he had sold pieces of our ancestor’s land one by one. Now his money has finally dried up and he can’t afford to keep the last land where the house stands.
When my grandfather passed away nine years ago, he complained to me again about financial help I wouldn’t lend. I promptly suggested that he should sell the house and its land. He got furious at my suggestion. He shouted, “How could you say something like that? Do you really think it’s possible? All ancestors of ours lived here! I live to continue our lineage right here for my entire life! Selling the house means ending our family lineage! It’s impossible!!” He bawled me out like a crazy man while banging the floor repeatedly with a DVD that I had brought for him as a Father’s Day gift.
But nine years later, the time inevitably came. Considering his mad fury about selling the house back then, it was easy for me to imagine that he planned to set fire on the house during the night I would stay and kill my mother and me along with himself. That seemed the true reason why he wanted me to come back. Those murder-suicide cases sometimes happen in Japan, especially among families with long history.
But the first thing that I felt at the news was not fear but relief. As I had known my father wouldn’t sell the house, I had thought that I would end up reaping the harvest of his mistakes as his daughter even though I didn’t succeed the family. I would have to liquidate everything in the house to pay his debts and sell the house and the land by myself after I would argue with all my relatives in the family’s branches who would most certainly oppose strongly. That picture of my dismal future had been long hanging low in my mind. But now, completely out of the blue, my father was taking up everything and I was discharged…
The house where I spent my childhood was very old. Half the floor in it was bare earth and my family lived like in the way of the Wild West. With our shoes on, we walked around the house and ate meals. It was all right to throw away the rest of a drink from a cup directly onto the floor.
My father used to smoke. When he smoked, he would light a cigarette with a match and toss the match to the dirt floor. It burned itself out. That is probably my earliest memory. I remember a thrown match was burning out on the floor and I said “Ah…” According to my parents, I uttered “Ah…” every time my father threw away a match as if I didn’t approve it. And my tone was always tinged with disappointment. I guess I was already cheap as a child and couldn’t bear a thing to be thrown away after just one-time use. I was nagging at my parents about everything all my childhood, and even my earliest memory is something critical about my parents. No wonder we’ve been on bad terms for such a long time…
Episode From An Old Tree in Kyoto / Hodemi Woods
Audiobook : Japanese Dream by Hidemi Woods On Sale at online stores or apps. Apple, Audible, Google Play, Nook Audiobooks, 43 available distributors in total
My younger sister won the first prize of a local
poem contest for elementary school students.
Her poem appeared in the local paper and
many people read it. The title was ‘My Mean
Back then, every time she saw my face, her
habit was to say “Play with me!” As I liked to
spend time alone, it had been an endless
torment. Her continuous play-with-me chant
would often drive me crazy and I tried to
escape from her as much as I could. Her poem
described how coldly I snubbed her whenever
she felt happy to see me at home, and that
was highly praised. To congratulate her, I told
her that she owed me for this prize because
her poem wouldn’t have existed if I had been
nice to her. I added that my meanness proved
right and so I would try harder to be mean to
her. Needless to say, she got on the verge of
crying and ran straight to my mother as usual
to tell on me…
Episode From An Old Tree in Kyoto /Hodemi Woods
Audiobook : Japanese Dream by Hidemi Woods On Sale at online stores or apps. Apple, Audible, Google Play, Nook Audiobooks, 43 available distributors in total
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.
My father’s hair started thinning in his late twenties and he has become bald by his mid-thirties. As a child, I knew him only as a bald man. One day, I came home from school, and found that my father’s head was full of hair all of a sudden. I was so surprised that I asked him what had happened. “Nothing,” he replied. I rushed to my mother and asked the same question. She said, “His hair grew back today.” I wondered how long I had spent at school. My conclusion was a toupee, except for which there was no other explanation. But my mother bluntly denied it. She reiterated his hair had simply grown back in one day. From her tone, I sensed that this was a sore subject I shouldn’t mention further. Back then, it had been my favorite trick that I quietly slid the bathroom door open and startled my father while he was taking a bath. I played the trick one evening and saw him covering his removed toupee frantically with a basin. Unfortunately, the basin rolled down from the toupee, making it lay bare. His embarrassed eyes met mine. I closed the door without saying a word and never played the trick again. I had lived with an unaccustomed-looking father in an awkward atmosphere for a next few weeks. Then, his toupee days came to an abrupt end and he returned to a bald man as if nothing had happened. We’ve never talked about it to date. A couple of years ago, I had a chance to see my cousin and we talked about our childhood memories. He said he hardly remembered his childhood, but did remember one thing vividly. His only memory was that my father showed up at his house wearing a toupee…
When I was in kindergarten, I was always pushed away and ignored by my fellow kindergartners.
I played the bells wearing a headpiece of a dove on stage alongside other kindergartners at an annual presentation before the parents. I was told to stand at the edge of the stage close to the wings. As we were playing, the kids next to me continued to thrust me into the wings. I tried to fight the way back onto the stage as it had looked more and more that I didn’t participate the performance. No matter how hard I tried, they kept pushing me aside and the best I could do was to poke half of my face out of the wings.
It was the time of an Apollo-frenzy and the kindergarten held an exhibit of miniature rockets made by the children for the parents. The rockets were to be made out of empty soft drink bottles. Since the plan of the exhibit was introduced, I had diligently collected empty bottles. By the time the miniature rocket began to be built, I collected and brought the highest number of bottles to the class. But once we started making, the kids wouldn’t use my bottles. Although all of us brought similar bottles in the same shape and size, they were carefully excluding the ones I brought as their materials. Every time I glued one of mine to the rocket, some kid removed it. I glued, they removed. The rocket had gotten bigger only with other kids’ bottles as we repeated the glue-remove maneuver persistently. Finally other kids’ patience to keep removing my bottle ran out and they started throwing it away out of the window. I went outside to pick it up and as soon as I came back, another bottle of mine was thrown out. Now a new routine had been established. They threw out, I picked in. The rocket completed without one single bottle of mine. I brought home all the bottles intact and told my parents that those were surplus. My mother came to the exhibit and saw the rocket that I didn’t participate to make, but with my name among the builder’s list.
Come to think of it, those kindergarten days precisely represent my whole life. As a singer-songwriter, I have been pushed away and ignored in music circles. Nobody has noticed nor recognized me as if I were an invisible person. I had dreamed that my songs would be in the charts and I would become a celebrity. I would be on ‘Tonight Show’ as a guest and talk with the host. I would be loved by people and be on the top of the world. I had prepared for that day for a long time. I had been dieting and exercising. I had been nice to people and talking to them to improve social skills. I had fervently craved fame. Meanwhile though, the songs that I completed with all my effort and strength by sacrificing everything else had never been appreciated. I think it’s time to accept the reality. It’s about time to abandon confidence and expectation for this world and to admit that I had overestimated the world.
Since the end of the last year, strange things have happened to me as if some messages had been being sent. I had vaguely received and interpreted them. Then I came across one movie that defined the message and made me wide awake. I hadn’t been able to shake off the idea that I had been locked up in a prison or an institution since I was little. And I was right. I realized this world’s true self. Now I have, at long last, found the way to get out of it.
I can’t wake up in the morning. I can’t get along with others. I can’t do what I don’t like. I can’t notice transparent glass so that I bang into it. I can’t get a driver’s license. I can’t perceive people’s feelings. But everything is all right from now on. I am happy to be pushed away from the world because I am no longer part of it. By willingly stopping being part of it, I got out of this world and attained freedom. It’s so funny I had desperately tried all my life to belong to this society that I had known is crazy since my childhood. I will live as myself without conforming to the craziness. I will not care about this society’s value now that I’m out of it. Instead, I evaluate solely by my own value. I judge what is good. I decide what is successful. I’ve never felt free this much in my entire life. All of a sudden, everything reversed and people look locked up while I was released. Outside, my life itself is art because it exists to create music. My songs are supreme pieces and that means I’m totally successful. I’ve become a true artist standing center stage in a spotlight.
My father was an attentive father. He treated me so nicely throughout my childhood. My mother didn’t like how he treated me because she believed he was just spoiling me. Every time he did a nice thing to me, she got angry. To avoid her anger, he had learned to give me a treat without her presence. Near my home was a temple famous for the five-storied pagoda, and a fair was held along the approach to it once a month. A relative of ours had a booth at the fair and my father helped carry merchandise every month. He never forgot to get some toys for me there when his work was done. There was no greater pleasure for me than seeing him entering the house, waving some play house items to me. Of course he was scolded by my mother when she caught it. I usually slept beside my grandparents and I had suffered from chronic insomnia in my childhood. Once in a while, I had a happy occasion to sleep with my parents when my grandparents were on their trip. On one of those occasions, my mother was taking a bath when my father came to futon next to me. Since my parents didn’t know about my insomnia, he was surprised I was still awake. He thought I couldn’t sleep because I was too hungry. Not to be caught by my mother, he stealthily got out of the room, sneaked into the kitchen, made a rice ball and brought it to me. He told me to finish it before my mother came out of the bathroom. Seeing me devouring it, he said that he had never made a rice ball by himself before and didn’t know how. It was surely the ugliest rice ball, but the most delicious one I ever had. My mother also didn’t like to see me cry. She had told me not to cry because crying made me look like an idiot. While my little sister cried all the time, I tried not to as hard as I could. But as a small child, I sometimes couldn’t help it and my mother would get angry with me for crying. In those cases, my father always said to me, “You’re not crying, are you? You’re just clearing your eyes, right?” I hadn’t noticed until recently that there are the exact words in my song ‘Sunrise’. I’ve put his words unconsciously…
One summer in my childhood, my grandfather on my mother’s side invited
my mother and me to lunch. The restaurant’s specialty was eels. An eel
is an expensive treat in Japan. We arrived at an awfully old-fashioned
Japanese restaurant where we took off our shoes and sat on the floor at
the low table. Except for us, only one table was occupied by a woman
with a small child, who was busily stuffing the leftovers into a tin box
she had brought. Every time my grandfather needed a server to come to
our table, he clapped his hands twice and called out, “Hey, sister!” It
was an obsolete manner no longer practiced, which embarrassed my mother
and me. When our house was rebuilt, I had my own room for the first
time. That time, my grandfather took my mother and me to a furniture
store to buy me a bed and a wardrobe. After we chose the items, a young
salesperson calculated the total. My grandfather naturally asked for a
discount but the salesperson’s offer didn’t satisfy him at all. He was
an old patron of the store and had bought every piece of furniture there
when my mother got married. He was used to special treatment and
assumed he would get one there. But the salesperson declined the further
discount, as he was new and didn’t know my grandfather. Even so, my
grandfather persisted and decided the total amount of his own. He handed
bills to the salesperson, and told him how much the change to be
brought back should be. My grandfather’s way apparently perplexed the
salesperson. Standing next to my grandfather, I was so embarrassed
again. Eventually, a long tug-of-war was over and the salesperson
brought back what my grandfather had told him. My bed and wardrobe were
successfully discounted, but I learned my grandfather’s style was
outdated in the modern world…