There is no formal casino in Japan. Instead, there are innumerable pachinko parlors all over Japan. A pachinko is a very popular Japanese gambling game that is partly like pinball and partly like slot. They buy small silver balls to play with, and the machine brings out the balls if they win. They exchange the balls for money or items like cigarettes and chocolates. For some reason, it’s not allowed to exchange directly for money. They get a certain strange item with their balls once, and exchange it for money at a small dark hut behind the building. A pachinko parlor is sort of a mix of a casino and a game arcade. It has a large number of pachinko machines side by side in aisles and exists around almost everywhere people live.Sadly, it doesn’t make people a millionaire. By playing all day, they win a few hundred dollars at most. As for me, I’ve never played a pachinko in my life. My life itself is awfully like gambling and I’m bogged down with it completely…
There’s an old Japanese custom called ‘Age of Thirteen Visit’. A child who reaches thirteen years old by the traditional system of age reckoning visits a specific local shrine to receive wisdom.
The important event has one critical rule. The thirteen-year-old visitor should never look back until they pass through the shrine’s gate after the visit. If it happens, wisdom they’ve just gotten is returned. Every time a topic of the visit was brought up by some chance in my childhood, my mother would strictly instruct me not to look back when my visit came. It had become a repeated threat for me. After those years, I reached eleven years old, which is thirteen by the traditional system, and the day for the visit arrived.
I was so tensed and nervous because of years of my mother’s threat. I got dressed up with kimono and my mother put a wig on my hair to make me look grown-up. While I was greedy enough to look forward to getting wisdom, I was anxious about looking back as much. From the moment we left home, my mother kept reminding me not to look back at the shrine. As the pressure had accumulated, a sense of panic had been built inside me. By the time we prayed at the altar in the shrine and started leaving, I was panicky. On the spot about only several yards to the exit gate, I couldn’t stop myself and looked over my shoulder. I blundered away my once-in-a-lifetime visit. My mother made sure I didn’t look back when we passed the gate. I lied and said no.
On our way home, we dropped by my aunt’s house. She noticed that I was wearing a wig. But when she pointed it out, my mother instantly denied it. I didn’t understand why she had to lie about such a small thing like a wig, but she just insisted it was my real hair. My aunt slipped beside me when we were about to leave and asked me if it was a wig. Although I said yes indifferently, she triumphantly uttered, “I knew it!” She sounded as if she had beaten me and I felt annoyed. I hated my mother’s totally unnecessary lie. And as for me, I went through a terrible teenage life with my own trifling lies. I believe that was because I had returned wisdom at the shrine on my Age of Thirteen Visit…
The cab was running through my familiar neighborhood where I spent my entire childhood. It was still shabby as it used to be. The cab drove through old houses of my childhood friends where I used to play with them, and under the overhead train bridge where I ran into perverts so many times. From the car window, I saw the elementary school I went to, and the sidewalk on which my first song came to me while I was walking. The bookstore where my father bought me my first English dictionary and also where he spotted his missing cousin. A place where a milk factory used to be that I waved to its plastic cows beside the gate every time I passed by in my father’s car. The old temple where my late grandparents used to take me and let me feed doves.
Then something struck me and I suddenly realized. It wasn’t just the house I was losing. I was losing my hometown and departing from my childhood. I would never be in this neighborhood again because it was going to be an unrelated, foreign place from now on. Although I had always hated my neighborhood, that thought brought a lump to my throat and soon I found myself crying. I was stunned and overwhelmed by this unexpected feeling. If I hadn’t been inside a cab, I would have wailed.
The cab came near Kyoto Station that was my destination. My late grandfather often took me to this area around the station that used to be undeveloped, decayed and in the miserable condition. But now, after years of intense redevelopment, it has become an urban area with numerous modern buildings of hotels, fashionable shops and huge shopping malls. It was a completely new different place and I found no trace of what I was familiar with the area. The cab stopped at the signal close to the station and there stood a new movie complex by the street. I casually wondered if it showed ‘Tomorrowland’. Then I felt I was actually stepping into it.
Things and places I had been with were all disappearing and a place I had never seen before appeared in front of me. I saw a change more clearly than ever. I was leaving everything old behind and going into a new world. The world I’m walking into is unknown, but therefore there are full of possibilities…
Japan experienced the biggest earthquake in its history. When it occurred, I was in the room upstairs of my apartment. At first, I felt faint quivers and went downstairs just in case it grew stronger and I needed to escape outside. As soon as I reached the foot of the stairs, it showed its main force.
The building began to shake violently and I held the LCD monitor with my right hand and the toaster with my left hand without thinking. The shaking got even stronger and it was hard to stay standing. As a native of Japan, I was supposed to be accustomed to an earthquake since we have one quite regularly. Nevertheless, this scale was surreal. The room swung right and left fiercely and it lasted long. Two heavy pots on the top of the toaster went flying along with jugs and thermoses, as the toaster I was holding with all my strength kept moving madly.
Even things upstairs were tumbling down the stairs. Until the shake finally stopped, I was vaguely thinking Tokyo was being destroyed completely. While I was still in shock trying to comprehend what had just happened, a strong aftershock came. It was as big as the first one. This time, the big tall shelves fell down throwing everything on them to the floor. I had never been so scared in my life. I was actually crying during the shake, shouting “Help! Help!” When it was over, the whole floor of my apartment was covered with things and there was no place to step on. I wondered what I had done so wrong that I should have such a terrifying experience…
”Earthquakes, Nuclear Meltdown and Tokyo: Japan experienced the biggest earthquake in its history / Hidemi Woods”
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