I’ve never been this happy.

When my grandfather was young, his father wanted him to be a schoolteacher. He had been visiting schools to have his son hired. Behind his back, my grandfather, who didn’t want to be a teacher, secretly applied to the biggest department store in the city and got accepted for the job there without any connections.

 It was a famous, long-standing department store and before he started his job there was a three-way interview, the company personnel, my grandfather and his father. Now he came to a point to tell the truth to his father. Because he knew how much his father wanted to see him as a teacher, he braced himself for a stormy opposition. Instead, his father came to the interview, suggested to eat out on their way home, and ordered unusually expensive dishes for both of them, saying, “This is the best day of my life. I’ve never been this happy.”

 My grandfather was quickly regarded as an executive candidate at the department store for his earnest and diligent work. But only a few months later, his father suddenly died. He was a farmer and the family lost its breadwinner and the master of the house. My grandfather had no choice other than quitting his job to take care of the family as a successor. He gave up his dream, became a farmer and dedicated his life solely to succeed the family, which I left although I was supposed to succeed…

 

episode from An Old Tree in Kyoto / Hidemi Woods

live until 100 years old

It was my grandfather’s birthday on Sunday. He would be 100 years old if he was still alive. His motto was to live until 100 years old. The reason was simple. A TV show. There was a show in Japan that introduced people who were 100 years old along with their family and their daily life. My grandfather’s dream was to appear and be introduced in the show.

 He always had to be the center of attention. Every time his name happened to be mentioned in a local paper or a community bulletin, he would underline his name, clip the article, and show it to everyone. To me, it looked so stupid because he kept pointing at the underlined name although I knew his name duly. He craved to be famous. So, to be 100 years old was the chance of a lifetime for him to be on TV. He instructed us to be prepared for the filming. For instance, he told me to return home on the day of filming and answer questions about him from a reporter in front of the camera. His dream didn’t come true and I was the only one who celebrated his 100th birthday…

 

episode from An Old Tree in Kyoto / Hidemi Woods

I felt uncomfortable up to my limit.

The pianist’s house where I took piano lessons was about a 10-minute drive from my home. My parents took me there and sometimes I took the bus alone when they were busy working. I wasn’t allowed to come home by bus though, because I was still too little to get on the bus alone in the evening. So, my parents would pick me up on their way home from work when my lesson finished. The problem was they were usually late. I had to wait for them at the pianist’s house long after my lesson was over. He let me wait in the lesson room while watching other students’ lessons. But, my parents often didn’t show even after the last student’s lesson finished. In that case, the pianist felt pity and let me wait in the living room. That put me in the utmost awkward situation. As it was evening, his family was gathering for dinner. A good smell was wafting from the kitchen. They couldn’t start eating because I was still there. Everyone in the house had to wait for my parents. And I had experienced this torment not once, but several times. Once, I felt uncomfortable up to my limit and it became impossible to wait like that any longer. I called my grandparents at home and my grandfather came to pick me up with his motorbike. That night, my mother bawled me out for asking my grandfather to get me. She always acted like a perfect parent before my grandparents, but she said my phone call damaged her effort. While she was furious at me, I couldn’t understand why I was to blame not she, who left me waiting for hours in the choking discomfort…

unspoken rule of the game

The classic card game is usually played during New Year’s in Japan. There used to be a family gathering in New Year’s in my house every year. On one New Year gathering after I won the tournament of the game at school, I suggested to play it because I had become extremely good at it. I played with my relatives and my grandfather. I won dominantly by getting most of the cards. Then, my grandfather began to be angry with me, saying I was unfair. In 100 poems the cards hold, a player often has his or her favorite poem. It’s considered that person’s specialty, called ‘my eighteenth’ in Japan. No player other than that person can take the card on which his or her favorite poem is written, even if the card is right in front of you. Other players concede it by letting the person pick the card on purpose. They say it’s an unspoken rule of the game. I ignored it and just kept taking as many cards as I could whether it was somebody’s eighteenth or not, because to me, the game was a matter of memory and speed. With my grandfather, my relatives also began to complain. Although the game was one of very few things I was good at, nobody had played it with me ever since…

A man with sunglasses was standing behind me.

When I was six or seven years old, my grandfather took me to my aunt’s house. They weren’t so well-off then, living in a small house with a lot of cats and dogs and eating from the aluminum plates. Across their house was a pachinko parlor. It was a really shabby place. My grandfather took me there and made me wait while he was playing. The place was small, filled with pachinko machines, cigarette smoke and down-and-outers. Since there was no waiting place for a kid, I was just strolling through the narrow aisles between the noisy machines and worn-out people. Suddenly, someone called me and I turned around. A man with sunglasses was standing behind me. He held two buckets of silver balls, which meant he had won a rare amount. The buckets were too full to hold the all balls and some of them were spilling. He pushed the buckets to me and said, “Take these. Go exchange for your chocolates.” Because he pressed them forcibly, I had no choice but to receive. And he disappeared. My grandfather was astounded when he saw me with the buckets and told me to return them to the man, but we couldn’t find him. I had never hold that much chocolate in my arms. The brand of the chocolate still remains my favorite.

The restaurant’s specialty was eels.

One summer in my childhood, my grandfather on my mother’s side invited my mother and me to lunch. The restaurant’s specialty was eels. An eel is an expensive treat in Japan. We arrived at an awfully old-fashioned Japanese restaurant where we took off our shoes and sat on the floor at the low table. Except for us, only one table was occupied by a woman with a small child, who was busily stuffing the leftovers into a tin box she had brought. Every time my grandfather needed a server to come to our table, he clapped his hands twice and called out, “Hey, sister!” It was an obsolete manner no longer practiced, which embarrassed my mother and me. When our house was rebuilt, I had my own room for the first time. That time, my grandfather took my mother and me to a furniture store to buy me a bed and a wardrobe. After we chose the items, a young salesperson calculated the total. My grandfather naturally asked for a discount but the salesperson’s offer didn’t satisfy him at all. He was an old patron of the store and had bought every piece of furniture there when my mother got married. He was used to special treatment and assumed he would get one there. But the salesperson declined the further discount, as he was new and didn’t know my grandfather. Even so, my grandfather persisted and decided the total amount of his own. He handed bills to the salesperson, and told him how much the change to be brought back should be. My grandfather’s way apparently perplexed the salesperson. Standing next to my grandfather, I was so embarrassed again. Eventually, a long tug-of-war was over and the salesperson brought back what my grandfather had told him. My bed and wardrobe were successfully discounted, but I learned my grandfather’s style was outdated in the modern world…