My new Kindle has been published! ‘Living in Kyoto: My Early Life with Japanese Traditions / Hidemi Woods’

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…

Living in Kyoto: My Early Life with Japanese Traditions / Hidemi Woods

always tinged with disappointment

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

She had no place to go

My parents married by an arranged marriage.
Marriage used to be a knot between two
families, not individuals in Japan. A mutual
acquaintance introduced my parents to both
families with their photographs. Although my
parents didn’t like each other, the tie as the
family seemed favorable to their parents. My
mother agreed with the marriage very
unwillingly after the fortuneteller said that she
would handle money by the million if she
married my father.
As for my father, he reluctantly obeyed his
parents’ decision because he had never said
‘no’ to his father in his life. A month after the
wedding, my mother decided to leave my
father because she couldn’t stand to live with
his parents any longer. She went back to her
parents’ home but her father didn’t allow her
to come back. She had no place to go and
gave in to her dismal marriage. And I was
born. I wasn’t the result of a happy marriage,
but I embodied my mother’s resignation…

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

do the exact opposite

When I was little and took a bath with my
mother, she said in the bathtub, “Never marry
someone with whom you fall in love.” In her
theory, marriage for love is a ticket to
unhappiness because love burns out quickly.
She insisted that I should have an arranged
marriage as she did. She and my father would
find a man for me and do all the necessary
background checks so that I’d be better off.
She also once said to me in the bathtub, “I
married your father because he was wealthy.
Do you think I would choose such an ugly man
like him if he didn’t have money?” When I
grew up, I learned that she had been seeing
someone before she met my father at an
arranged meeting, but she chose my father
because he was richer and had better lineage.
I think she dealt with the devil and sold
herself at that moment. Since then, she has
been unhappy and that made her a person
filled with vanity and malice. When it comes to
decision making, I always imagine what my
mother would do and do the exact opposite.
Since I adapted this rule, my life has been
easier and better…

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

this was a sore subject I shouldn’t mention further

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…

You wimp! You can’t decide anything by yourself!

I was a fan of a local country band called Bugs Bunny when I was in junior high school and they were going to give a performance at an open-air municipal auditorium. Their performance was one of the series of the local traditional musical event. It would start at 6:30 p.m. while my curfew was 7:00 p.m., which meant I needed an exceptional permission from my parents. My father readily gave it, telling me that he used to go to the event himself when he was young. He guaranteed it would be so much fun. I was changing my clothes before leaving home on that day when my mother asked what I was doing. I told her about the event, and she said madly, “ Are you out of your mind? Your curfew is seven o’clock!” I explained that my father had allowed me to go, but she kept saying, “No way! You can’t go!” I called out to my father for help and she demanded angrily, “Did you allow this? Did you, really?” He said yes in a faint voice and got under her fiery anger. I begged him to persuade her, but her definite noes drowned out his “It’s rather an educational event.” At last, he said to me, “You can’t go because your mother says so.” That was the last straw. I screamed at him, “You wimp! You can’t decide anything by yourself! I hate you!” I called my friend crying, to tell her that I couldn’t make it because my father was my mother’s servant, and stopped speaking to him. On the next evening, he came into my room hesitantly. As I ignored, he put a bag on my desk and said “Sorry.” After he left, I opened the bag and inside was a book of poems, which I had wanted for some time. I had talked about it casually at dinner and he remembered. He gave me a gift instead of confronting my mother. A few years later though, his character changed completely for an unexpected reason. It happened when I decided to be a musician after high school. Until then, he was a gentle father who liked music so much that he recorded my singing for practice when I was little and bought me records, a stereo and a guitar. But since I chose music as my career, he has been mean and spiteful to me and been opposed to my decision to date. Who would think one career choice reverses someone’s personality?…

You’re not crying. You’re just clearing your eyes.

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…

I feel like a fugitive

Japan has a census every five years and now it’s the time. Back in my hometown, the chair or a leader of the area used to be entrusted with distribution and collection of the forms for the whole block as voluntary work. Then, the forms would be handed to the area’s public office by him or her. When my father took charge of it, he looked through all the forms after collecting them for possible errors in filling them out, that was also one of the responsibilities. But, as he was checking errors in the forms, he inevitably acquired neighbors’ personal information, such as the income, the family members, the work place, and the academic background. I felt extremely unpleasant about it. After I left my hometown and was on my own, I had never submitted a census, as I knew what a person who came to collect the form did with my form. Probably because of the similar complaints, the government has changed rules for this year’s census. They hired people to distribute and collect the forms and the form should be sealed by a person who filled it out. With this way, the personal information should be protected from some neighbor. Instead, the form collection person is persistent ever, now that it’s a job. They keep coming up to my apartment and even call after me on the streets in the neighborhood. I go out sneakily, looking around for a collection person. I feel like a fugitive every day…

I tried one last time under the dim light of a mercury lamp.

Here, I make an embarrassing confession. I hadn’t been able to ride a bicycle without training wheels until the fifth grade. I always believe that riding a bicycle successfully for the first time should be like the one in the movie ‘Kramer vs. Kramer’ where a father played by Dustin Hoffman jumps for joy and takes a picture of his son’s first ride. Sadly, parents in real life are too defective. My parents used to be farmers who worked out on the field from dawn to night. They hardly took a day off and when they did, it was a rainy day. During winter when their work was a little less hectic, they would bring crops from the field to a communal wash place by the small park near our home. They spent the rest of the day washing the crops by hand with their long booted feet soaked in freezing water. My father used a short interval between the field and the wash place to teach me to ride a bicycle. He couldn’t spare more time and I wasn’t a fast learner. After a few unsuccessful attempts, I became the only one among the kids of around the same age in the neighborhood who couldn’t ride a bike.

One day, my mother took me to the park with my sister on her way to work. Because she told us to bring our bicycles, I thought she would teach me this time. But she spotted a couple of older kids in the park, asked them to teach me and rushed into the wash place. With the kids’ help, my younger sister by four years got to ride a bike without training wheels, while I couldn’t. The kids laughed at me. When my mother poked her head around the door of the wash place and asked them how it went, they said, “She’s no good! Her sister rode it first!”

Much later, I was already close to my then-best friend Junko and took courage to ask her to teach me. She helped me in the park earnestly until it went dark. As it was time to go home, I tried one last time under the dim light of a mercury lamp. And I finally made it. Behind me, I heard Junko shouting for joy, “She’s riding! She made it! Hooray!” When I stopped and looked back, I saw her face flush with happiness. I miss her. More than I miss my parents…