The tiny close community of a small village used to be the whole world for me who was born to a farming family living in a rural area of Japan. The sole window to the outside world was TV through which I had encountered what I had never seen in my daily life.
Back in those days, Japanese TV dramas were made and shot in the capital city of Japan, Tokyo. The city view and the people’s way of living in Tokyo looked so cool. Everything from fashion to lifestyle was completely different from things in Kyoto where I lived. On TV, Tokyo seemed like a future world decades ahead to me. I was hooked by one particular weekly crime drama which was shot on location all around Tokyo. Every location looked as if it had been in a Western country and the detectives in the drama were extremely stylish. I was absorbed in seeing that exotic world every week and had spent the other six days of the week waiting for the drama. As soon as I finished watching that show, I would rush into my room and write out the entire show in the notebook. I reproduced all the lines of characters and all the settings by depending on my memory. Since there was no way to record a TV program as a video cassette recorder was yet to come, I read my notebook over and over again to watch it inside my head until the next show was on air. In hindsight, the world of TV dramas was fictional which didn’t exist even in Tokyo, but I was too young to realize that.
Years went by and I became a musician. By the time two years have passed since I joined my first band, the band not only had played gigs around Kyoto but also had made guest appearances and had our songs played on local radio shows from time to time. We had made some connections with music producers who came down to the western part of Japan from Tokyo as judges for some live contests. However, our progress was limited because all the major music labels of Japan were based in Tokyo. My partner and I began to consider moving our base to Tokyo as we were geographically too far off to make a career in music.
Moving to Tokyo was a big deal to me. While I seldom attended, it meant I would quit college once and for all. As a much more serious matter, an old Japanese custom didn’t allow a successor of the family, that was me, to leave home. For me, leaving home meant abandoning my family and all the privileges. Although it seemed crazy to throw away everything when I had no idea how to live on as a musician in Tokyo, I felt living there would be better than staying in my family’s home for the rest of my life. I preferred eating hamburgers and french fries from McDonald’s to eating home-grown vegetables from my family’s fields every single day. I knew it wouldn’t be healthy, but at least I would be able to eat what I chose, when I wanted. To sum up, moving to Tokyo was all about freedom. I was more than willing to jump into the free world where I would make all choices by myself instead of the old fixed rules and customs.
Oddly enough, things went unexpectedly smoothly once I made up my mind to move to Tokyo. Various kinds of obstructions that had been seemingly difficult to be cleared resolved themselves almost magically. The moving day arrived sooner than I had imagined.
I was waiting for the bullet train bound for Tokyo on the platform in Kyoto Station. A friend of mine came to see me off. She was surprised that she was the only one for me there. “Even your parents don’t see you off?” she sounded bewildered. I wondered what awaited me in the outside world of my window. I was both looking forward to it and afraid.
When I was five or six years old and visited my grandparents’ home, an acquaintance of the family’s showed up. He is good at fortune telling, at least known to the family so. My grandparents’ family deeply depended on fortune telling for almost everything, including my mother’s marriage and the building of their new house. They excitedly brought me to the man and asked him to see my future.
According to him, by just looking at someone’s ear, he could tell the future. Surrounded by almost all members of the family, I was made to show my ear to him. As soon as he saw my ear, he shouted, “Oh! This is an ear of a family’s successor!” I had never seen him before, and was introduced to him only as a child related to them. But in my family, I had been already looked on as a successor because I was a firstborn and there was no boy. Since the man uttered an accurate situation, they were so impressed and said in unison that the man surely could see the future.
I, on the other hand, was shocked. Succeeding my family meant living at the same house with my parents and bearing the same last name all my life. While I had been told I would success the family, I still had clung to a little hope of freedom and secretly enjoyed imagining my future. Although I had only a younger sister so far, my parent may have a baby boy in future and then my secret wish would come true. I could choose my husband by myself and could live wherever I want.
But when the man declared I was destined to be a successor, I saw my hope crushed. I felt all doors of possibilities slammed shut. Now I knew where I would live, what my last name would be, and even which grave I would be buried in. While I despaired, they congratulated me joyfully, as if good news were delivered. “Good for you! You are a successor! It’s your destiny!”
Decades later, the man’s fortune telling proved wrong after all. I left home and live where I want. My last name is unchanged all right, but of my own free will…
Episode From An Old Tree in Kyoto /Hodemi Woods
When I did online shopping the other day, I found out that my credit card had been cancelled.
It was what I feared most in this world and had dreaded for my entire adult life. Now, it has happened. The credit card was to use money that my grandfather had left for me, which was the biggest resource of my income. It was stopped by my parents.
Being entitled to inherit the family’s money was the root cause why my mother had hated me since I was born. My parents continued to harass and attack me after I left home in order to make me give up the money. And they have finally succeeded to do what they had wanted for such a long time. Closing the account.
On that night, I couldn’t sleep until morning because of flaring anger. I thought of leaving a note to my partner, jumping on the bullet train to move 450 miles to my parents’ apartment, bursting into there with a knife, stubbing and killing them, and then turning myself in to go to the prison. That would settle my anger and I would no longer have to worry about money for the rest of my life.
I had repressed that urge so hard all night long and managed to make it to the breakfast table. My partner suggested that I should call my parents to clear the situation. I didn’t like the idea. There was no point of talking to them since I had known their intention so well. Besides, if I had called them, my anger would have erupted and I would have spewed out cursed words along with fierce threats. And as my sister has been doing, I would have kept yelling, “Go to hell! Die right now!”
I called them after all not to curse them though, but to squeeze some money from them anyhow. I had turned into a devil all the same. I was holding my phone with a hand that was trembling with anger. My mother answered.
She sounded weak and old as if a snake’s slough or a mere shadow had been talking. The minute I heard that voice, my about-to-explode anger subsided for some reason. Then oddly, I felt pity for her and even fond of her. I also exchanged greetings and made small talk with my father. We didn’t bring up even a single word about money. Instead, we talked rather friendly and considerately as if a source of hatred ran out. And I hung up by saying “Good-bye,” that was really meant this time.
We had had hostile relations with each other and quarreled for decades. The only connection between us had been my grandfather’s money. Now that it was cut, our ties disappeared likewise. Only what my parents had done to me remained. After all those years, they never loved me to the end. I had longed to be loved by them, which was never realized. Our relationship had been long ruined and now our problems that were the only things we had shared were gone too. Everything was over and we have become strangers.
I felt lonely because I would never see them again. On the other hand, I was released from unquenchable anger that had dwelt in me for an eternity. Then I couldn’t sleep that night again from anxiety about how to pay living expenses from now on.
Next day my partner and I went to Coco’s for which we had mobile coupons. The coupons had been received for free desserts on our birthdays that were long passed. As they had remained unused, we ordered a free dessert for each of us there.
A big plate was placed before each of us, on which were a small piece of chocolate cake, small macaroons and ice cream. It was a small portion for the huge plate so that the most part of the plate was empty as if the blank space had been a main purpose of it. On the blank space, there was a message written by big letters of stenciled chocolate powder, which said, ‘HAPPY BIRTHDAY’. The server said in a loud voice that could be heard throughout the restaurant, “Congratulations! Happy Birthday!” and left our table. My partner and I stared fixedly at the letters on the big plate and then at each other.
I had surely thought my life was finished, but I could be reborn into a new life in a way. That thought gave me a little relief. And a sense of freedom as well.
I started to think about becoming a singer-songwriter in the beginning of 1980’s when I still lived in my hometown of Japan where I was born and grew up. By the end of the first month as a college student, I had lost interest in a college life since I didn’t care about getting a degree or being hired by a renowned company after graduation. A college had turned into an unnecessary place for me because of music. Only I tried to follow the footsteps of a Japanese band that I had admired most. Before they became professional, they started their careers by forming bands at universities and colleges where they were enrolled. I tried to do the same. As I had easily known, I found nobody in my college all of which students were women and most of which students attended as preparations for homemaking and marrying a doctor. I searched other universities for band members, for which I used my otherwise wasteful college life.
At that time, PCs or smartphones were yet to come. Even CDs didn’t exist. To listen to music, you needed to buy a record, put it on a turn table of a stereo carefully and gingerly not to scar the record surface, put down a record needle softly onto the start groove, and wait for music to begin while watching the record turning fast. The moment music started, the space shifted in a flash from where you had been. That was the essence I used to feel with a record. The sound of an analog record is different from the digitalized CD’s one. I feel the former round and deep that vibrates and seeps into the heart. Both Western and Japanese rock music I had listened to back then conveyed something to inspire like a struggle for life or for freedom. I’ve seen quite a few people whose life was actually changed by music.
A record has been given way to a CD, and then to download and streaming. On the making side, recording on a tape by physical instruments has turned more and more into entering data on a computer by software. The sound has become mechanical with copying and pasting. Having an impact is valued more than being dramatic. I hadn’t the slightest idea this kind of music scene would arrive in the future when I lived the beginning of 80’s. I simply had believed that music could change the world and save someone by healing a sore heart just as it did to me. While the music scene did change, my belief remains unchanged. I’ve been striving to make music by taking advantage of the digital side into inspiring songs.
Back in the eighties, I was trying to form a band to have my songs heard as soon as I started a college. I came across a bulletin board of a band circle at one university that was recruiting new members. I went to the meeting where many freshmen gathered. The circle leaders were matching a new member to an existent band according to which part the new comer played and which part the band needed. Because I intended to join a professional-aiming, high-grade band, I pitched earnestly my skills of writing songs, singing, playing the keyboard and the guitar, and most especially, my passion for music. The person who interviewed me said outright that there was no available band for me to join. While I was preparing to leave, I noticed that other freshmen got assigned to a band one after another. They all said they had no skills or had never played an instrument, except that they all were cute and had a flirty smile. Again, my passionate, serious attitude backfired there too, as if it foretold my subsequent music career. I learned that bands at Japanese universities and colleges in 80’s were for those who just wanted to enjoy a campus life not for those who sought a music career.
I was excluded from campus musicians and couldn’t use my college life for member hunting. As a college has become useless to me more than ever, I was sent outside the campus to look for a member in the real world.
As long as I could remember, my family members had told me that I was a successor of the family and I was to live with my family all my life as my father, my grandfather, my great-grandfather and on and on and on did, by taking a husband into our family to bear our family name. They kept saying that as a usual chant so repeatedly that I was sort of under the spell that I would be stuck in the house as a successor until the day I die.
So, I was an outsider when other girls chatted giggly about what last name they would bear after their marriage or where they would live in the future. I knew what my last name and what my future address would be because they wouldn’t be changed. My whole life was so predictable for that matter. Since I knew my future, I had no interest in my life, and days were so boring.
I changed my future completely by abandoning my family, my friends, my hometown and the old tradition. Now, I’m free from my once-arranged future. Instead, I dread my uncertain future everyday…
The nearest grocery store from my home is a 25-minute walk away. That small local store carried a sale on eggs at one dollar for ten. I walked there with my partner to get them. Since my town is so small and rural, there are usually almost no pedestrians on the streets. Except that cars are passing by sparsely, I hardly see anybody. But on our way back home from the grocery store, I saw a woman standing by a field and watching wild flowers. It was rare to see someone on the street. As I was getting closer, I perceived her looking at me with her face filled with a big smile that was totally familiar to me. I knew her.
She used to be a resident in the apartment building where I live. We often came across and shared some time together at the communal spa in the building. She is much older than I am, but we somehow got along well and chatted heartily every time we saw each other at the spa. About six years ago, she moved out of the apartment to the different one in the same town. I unexpectedly felt so sad because I had regarded her as if part of my family unconsciously since we met and talked almost everyday. However, when I saw her for the last time and she tentatively hinted her suggestion to exchange contact information and invite me to her new place, I just chickened out and dodged a reply. I wavered tremendously but didn’t have courage to step into a new friendship. We parted without even asking each other’s names. The spa had become quiet ever since. Occasionally from nowhere, a thought about how she has been doing came up to my mind while I was taking a bath with no one to chat. I regretted my decision not to be friends with her. I missed her more than I had thought.
And I saw her again after those years by this incredible coincidence. I jumped for joy to have bumped into her like this. Her big smile and loud laughter hadn’t changed a bit and she told me how she had been doing. After we chatted for a while, I sensed the time to say good-bye again was approaching. And I was swallowed by one single thought: Should we exchange contact information this time? I ran through a scenario in my head. If I asked her info here, she would expect me to get in touch later. Then if I got in touch with her, she would invite me to her place. Then if I went to see her, she would expect me to invite her back in my place next time. Then if we found little left to talk about, we would be distant gradually. Then if it broke off, I would regret my contact exchange of today retrospectively. While I was trying to see the future, she also tried to judge my feelings and tentatively brought up a plan to see each other again, like deja vu. The time to decide had come.
I had missed her. I had wanted to be friends with her. I made a wrong decision last time and this could be the second chance falling from the sky. On the other hand, I had too many bitter experiences about friendship and wanted to add no more. I felt harsh loneliness every time I lost friendship. The closer my friend and I were, the harder it was to be estranged. I tend to have high hopes and expect too much for someone I make friends with, that usually leads to painful disappointment when she or he doesn’t meet my expectation. I had had many friends and lost them. For me, getting along well isn’t enough to build friendship. I need to respect someone as a friend. People change. Once I can’t respect my friend any longer, my friendship is over. I also need to be accepted as who I am. That’s why most of my friends left me when I decided to become a musician. I wonder how I could ever start a new friendship as long as I know how I would feel when it ends. Disappointment would be huge this time all the more because I like her. I couldn’t bear the loneliness it would bring.
Since I was a child, I have struggled to escape from loneliness. I had searched for someone to get along, thought I found one, and realized I didn’t. Repeating the cycle had accumulated loneliness. I reached the point to afford no more loneliness long ago. But in the course of my life, I’ve got the solution. I think loneliness may be overestimated and it’s not so bad if you see it from a different perspective. Sometimes loneliness is freedom. Sometimes it’s self-esteem. It works for me to stop looking for the way not to be lonely, but accept to be lonely instead. To fend off loneliness, be lonely already.
I didn’t ask her contact information and neither did she mine after all. We said our good-byes without giving names again. We waved and resumed our ways in opposite directions. Immediately the blame on her crossed my mind that she should have pressed on our contact exchange. If she had cornered me and I had had no choice, I could have told. Why didn’t she simply ask me so that I could answer? No, I reconsidered, it was better as it went. I felt her kindness more than ever not to ask me and walked on with holding a lot of fresh eggs.
This time in my fourth grade, I was in the hospital. It started as
cold-like symptoms with a high fever. But I was left unattended because
summer was the peak season for farming and my parents were extremely
busy as farmers. To make things worse, my family had been rebuilding our
house at the time and extra attention of my parents was paid to that. A
week or so later, I vomited blood and fainted. That at last captured my
parents’ attention and they realized the seriousness. When I became
conscious, they had called a nurse who lived in the neighborhood and she
was attending me. She suggested taking me to a hospital. After
examination, I was diagnosed with nephritis. As the summer break for
school was just around the corner, I was admitted to the hospital on the
day the break began. Although I had been longing for the summer break
as the precious time of my freedom, I was locked up in the hospital