When I left my hometown for Tokyo and started living by myself there in the mid 80’s, quite a few second-run theaters for movies still remained. Those theaters showed two or three films at the price of one new film. The best experience of mine was when I saw ‘Top Gun’, ‘Taps’ and ‘Back to the Future’ as an all-night triple feature program at a second-run theater in a suburb of Tokyo. Those films were already a bit old by then and the show time was the middle of the night, so that the price was incredibly low accordingly. I left my apartment at night, ate out for dinner, got hamburgers to have inside the theater and was immersed into the movie world until dawn. The main attraction for me had been ‘Top Gun’ that turned out to be so-so. Instead, I was deeply moved by ‘Back to the Future’ although I had thought it would be a silly 50’s comedy judging from its trailer. The film became my best one and had held that position for many years to come.
Back then, I had just moved to Tokyo to become a musician in spite of all the opposition from my family and friends. I had been feeling unsettled constantly because of anxiety and loneliness, which stemmed from uncertainty of my future. I had been clueless about whether I would be successful as a musician and how my life would unfold itself. I saw ‘Back to the Future’ in that state of mind and the story and the ending of the film encouraged me immensely.
When I lived in my hometown with my family, many rules bound me. To begin with, that all-night movie experience was a dream within a dream since my curfew was as early as 9 p.m. Other rules were abundant. Singing while eating was forbidden, a gap between the body and the edge of the table must not exist during the meal, whistling or playing the piano after dark was prohibited, some ways of talking to my grandparents were banned, walking with audible steps inside the house wasn’t allowed, chewing something in the mouth in public was regarded as an act of barbarity, and so on and on. But once I began to live by myself, I was freed from all the family rules and everything was left to my discretion. I ate what I wanted, when I wanted. I woke up when I felt like it, since I didn’t work at an office. I slept until evening at times, and rarely cleaned or did the dishes. The bathroom got moldy. While I appreciated freedom, I realized how slack I really was. My music career didn’t go well either. I had expected I could find my band members easily as Tokyo was the biggest city in Japan where so many aspiring musician gathered from all parts of Japan. The reality was Tokyo simply had too many bad unmotivated musicians. It was extremely hard to find a member whom I desired and my band just kept breaking up. That was far from what I had planned as life in Tokyo. I sometimes got tempted to doubt if my decision to come here was the right one even though I hadn’t had any other choice.
When I finished to see the movies all night and left the theater, it was early morning in the real world. I headed back for my apartment. The train had started running and many commuters were walking hurriedly and gloomily toward the station already. They used the train bound for downtown that was an opposite direction to where I was going. I was waiting on the empty platform for my train while watching them waiting on the nearly overflowing platform. When their train came, they pushed and crammed themselves into the cars. The station workers additionally pushed their backs from outside to squeeze as many passengers as possible in and the train doors barely closed. Minutes after it departed, the platform got filled with commuters quickly again. I stepped in the empty opposite train and yawned in the seat, remembering ‘Back to the Future’. When I decided to live by myself in Tokyo that was a far and unknown big city, I was afraid and trembled for what my life was going to be like. I gave up my right to an inheritance by leaving my family, and a possible steady income by quitting college. I was alone by parting from my family and my friends who disagreed and didn’t support me mentally. I threw away everything which wasn’t easy for me. But as Marty’s father dared, I had dared in my own way and left for Tokyo. I hoped that action of mine changed my future. In a good way, I wished.
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.
My mother turns to a fortuneteller when it
comes to a big decision. Every big decision that
has fundamentally influenced her life was
made by a fortuneteller, including her
marriage. When my parents named their
children, they of course had a fortuneteller
choose the names. So, I was named by a total
stranger. My parents each had their own pick
for my name when they visited the
fortuneteller and they also had a few other
names as spares just in case. The fortuneteller
picked ‘Hidemi’ out of the spares, which was
neither of their picks. Most Japanese names
are written in Chinese characters. Each of the
characters has its inherent meaning. My name
is composed of two characters. The character
for ‘hide’ means ‘excellent’ and the one for ‘mi’
In Japan, we are often asked the
corresponding characters to the name when
we give out our names. I always explain
“Hidemi as in excellent and beautiful.” And the
person who hears it almost always gives me a
wry smile. I know what they think…
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