I came across a website on which custom-made T-shirts, caps and tote bags are made and sold worldwide. Since I have been in a financial crunch lately, I could make and sell T-shirts with my poor drawing on them there. I browsed others’ merchandise which designs looked professional and like works of art. Looking at them, it was obvious that my daub had no part to play there. I tried to look for some other possible designs of my own.
It was when the idea of kanji struck me. Kanji means Chinese characters in Japanese and one of three character sets used for Japanese. That character set is prevalent in Japan and most Japanese names contain it. My name also consists of three kanji characters. When I lived in the U.S. and Canada and my signature was required at shops or other businesses, the salesclerk who looked at it curiously often expressed how cool it was. I sometimes saw a person wearing a T-shirt that had kanji on it, but mostly it didn’t make sense or it had an awkward meaning. That was probably because someone who didn’t have enough knowledge about kanji made the shirt easily. While I understood that the person wearing it didn’t know her or his shirt was telling an absurd thing to the public, I couldn’t help giggling secretly. I even spotted those who tattooed that weird kind of kanji. As a native of Japan, I thought I could make kanji merchandise with proper meanings and decided to give it a try.
Every kanji has its meaning. For instance, my first name is comprised of two kanji characters one of which means ‘excellent’ and the other means ‘beautiful’, and they are read ‘Hidemi’ together. Because of the character’s meaning, my name is embarrassing, I admit. Japanese parents put their expectations and wishes into a name when they name their child. A child’s name reflects their parents’ taste and personality. They wish her or him to be gentle, or to be kind, and they choose the corresponding kanji for their child’s name in most cases. Sometimes a name seems destined specifically for a politician, or a name aims to endure life. As for my partner’s name, its meaning is to be dutiful to one’s parents. Both his parents have already deceased and whether he fulfilled their wish or not is uncertain. Japanese people have to live with carrying bittersweet names on their shoulders.
When I was little, I asked my grandmother on my mother’s side what kanji characters were used for her name Fuki. She told me that Fuki was her nickname and her real name was Fukiko by three kanji characters with the meaning of ‘wealthy’, ‘noble’ and ‘child’ respectively. I had sent her a New Year card or a Christmas card every year by that name with those kanji characters for decades until she passed away. When I attended her funeral, I saw a placard hung at the entrance of a small shabby prefabricated funeral home. It showed whose funeral this was. Although the funeral took place according to officially registered documents, my grandmother’s name on the placard wasn’t what she had told me. Her name was actually Fuki, not Fukiko, and kanji wasn’t used for it. There is a different character set in Japan called katakana, which represents only sound without meaning like the alphabet. Her real name was in those characters, not in kanji. I asked my mother if she had known that. My mother said she also had thought her name was Fukiko in kanji since she was a child. I wondered how many family members of hers had known her real name. At least her own child and grandchild hadn’t. I suppose that she wanted to be wealthy and noble, for which she chose the kanji characters, and named herself.
I chose kanji for my first custom-made T-shirt. They mean ‘hope’.
Mt. Fuji is regarded as a symbol of good luck. Looking out the window of my apartment, I can barely see the top of Mt. Fuji far away after the leaves fall off from the trees nearby.
It’s a season I can see it, but I haven’t been able to find it this year where it’s supposed to be. My partner told me that he has seen it for some time. I looked and looked for the unique shape of Mt. Fuji which was hardly overlooked. Then I noticed that the branches of the trees near my apartment had stretched upward. They block Mt. Fuji at my eye level but not at my partner’s who is much taller than I am. No matter how hard I jump, I can’t see the top. Starting this year, I am too short for good luck…
Eve has come. Only one day to Christmas. To a person like me who anticipate Christmas too much, the rest of the year is just a sideshow. As an athlete prepares for the Olympics, I condition myself for Christmas. You should do everything in moderation though, otherwise you would end up like me who feel sad thinking Christmas is over tomorrow while feeling extremely happy to have it at last. My consolation is a concept of ‘Twelve Days of Christmas’. I cheer up myself saying that Christmas Day is the beginning of the twelve days of Christmas, not the end of it. Well, how can I soothe this infantile myself twelve days later? Let’s say just 11 months to go again…
Merry Christmas! How are you spending Christmas Day? I am having rotisserie chicken, pasta and pizza at my apartment with my partner.
A box was delivered from my parents. It was a Christmas present of wine. My parents usually enclose an attacking message to deny what I do and I prepared myself for it. To my surprise, they didn’t do so for once. No attacking words from my parents. That can be considered as a miracle to me. I wish each one of you a peaceful, joyful Christmas. Happy Holidays.
Episode From Surviving in Japan by Hidemi Woods
I love Christmas. So much. I am anxiously counting down to Christmas all year long, every year. At long last, the holiday season has come. I decorated the tree and my apartment joyfully. After the decorations were all put up, I got grabbed by a feeling of melancholy. Being in the holiday season means that it will be over soon. Even before Christmas Day comes, I lament for it to be over. How many days are there left to celebrate Christmas? Very few! A negative countdown has started…
Episode From Surviving in Japan by Hidemi Woods
I spent my schooldays from junior high to college at a Catholic school not for religious reasons but for my mother’s vanity. She wanted me to attend the most prestigious school in Kyoto in order to brag about it. With no religious background, I encountered quite a few unfamiliar events at school that held Catholic ceremonies regularly.
The school often celebrated the Mass, which was an entirely new and different culture to me and I hadn’t the slightest idea what they were doing. Christian students sat in the front row with white lace veils on their heads at the assembly hall. The priest gave them something that looked like a soft snack and they ate it. I regarded it as the believers’ benefits to have a snack during the Mass.
The school held the annual Candle Service near Christmas. Before my first-ever Candle Service at junior high, a Catholic sister told us to bring something from home as a donation for the Candle Service. She added for those who couldn’t think of what to bring, that bars of soap would do. I had no clue what the Candle Service was. All I could imagine was I would receive some sort of service from sisters. I looked forward to it because I thought sisters would serve cake or tea like a Christmas party, and I could get it just with a bar of soap. But as it turned out, we just stood in line holding a candle at the dark assembly hall and sang several hymns endlessly to the poor accompaniment of the orchestra club students. While singing, we got on the stage one by one and put a bar of soap or other donations into a cardboard box. When all the students finished putting their donations into the box, the service was over without any cake.
The school had a big, tall fir tree across from the entrance gate. It stood by the side of one of the school buildings like a wall decoration. Its top reached as high as the third floor of the building. Judging from its size, it was planted there when two sisters came from U.S. after WWII and opened the school.
Around Christmastime, the tree was decorated with ornaments and made the school look beautiful. I was a member of the student board when I was a sophomore. Until then, I hadn’t known that the decoration was a student board’s task. I felt exhilarating for the first time as a student board member. The boring board revived and every member had so much fun decorating the tree together. The tree was too tall to decorate the upper part from outside by a ladder. We got inside the building, put an ornament on the tip of a broomstick and stretched it out of the window of the third floor. Gold tinsel garlands were thrown toward the tree from the forth floor window. It was the biggest Christmas tree I had ever decorated.
I had had all those Christian events and classes in the Bible for years until college and yet I never really understood the meaning. I left school, got out into the world, and worked as a musician. Through the years of making music that hasn’t been paying, I feel I finally know why I continue and have spent so much time and energy to create a good song, which hasn’t brought me money or fame. It took a long time to understand, but better late than never, I suppose…
To a person like me who anticipate Christmas too
much, the rest of the year is just a sideshow.
As an athlete prepares for the Olympics, I
condition myself for Christmas. You should do
everything in moderation though, otherwise
you would end up like me who feel sad thinking
Christmas is over soon while feeling
extremely happy to have it at last. My
consolation is a concept of ‘Twelve Days of
Christmas’. I cheer up myself saying that
Christmas Day is the beginning of the twelve
days of Christmas, not the end of it. Well, how
can I soothe this infantile myself twelve days
later? Let’s say just 11 months to go again…
Episode From Surviving in Japan / Hidemi Woods
I saw God for the first time in my dream the other day. I was preparing for work in my room. I looked out the window and noticed three small dots in the cloudy sky. While I was figuring out whether they were aircraft or UFOs, the three black dots were getting bigger and bigger as they were coming closer. They were flying with tremendous speed toward my window and I recognized each dot was in the shape of a human. The two of them were leading the way for the third one that was flying a little behind them. I was extremely frightened and covered my eyes. Even so, I felt an urge to see them and opened my eyes. They were hovering right in front of the window. As soon as I saw them, I clearly understood, or was told somehow, that the two human-shaped things at the front were angels and the also human-shaped one in the middle behind was God. In this dream, God was Jesus at the same time. Their looks were so different from my imagination. None of them had wings nor was wearing white. All of them were quite young with black hair, wearing black hooded coats. They were flying just by themselves, with their arms lightly forward and their knees slightly bent. I was completely awed and fearful. God/Jesus was looking straight into my eyes with a serious gaze while hovering. Then, He turned and flew away with His angels high up in the sky. When they disappeared, my mother came into my room. I told her what had just happened but she showed no interest. Instead, she asked me to let her hear our new song. The moment I pushed a play button, I woke up. Later on the same day, totally unexpectedly, our new song had been finished at long last.