“You don’t have to sleep if you don’t want to.”

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From kindergarten to the lower grades, I had suffered from insomnia. I hated going to kindergarten and then to school too strongly to sleep on school nights. As the morning to go there approached, I felt more and more nervous and tense. I would be wide awake in futon no matter how eager I was to fall asleep, watching glittering patterns on the back of my eyelids for hours. Tears ran through my cheeks into my ears during those long nights. When it dawned and the room was filled with the gray of the morning, I could finally doze awhile.

 I slept beside my grandparents as my parents were occupied with my little sister in a different room. Before going to sleep, I would try to be near my mother as long as I could because she used to be the last one that retreated to her bedroom at night. But soon I was to be prodded into going to my grandparents’ room to sleep. I once found the courage to confide to my mother that I was having insomnia. She scoffed at it and said anyone could sleep by just closing his or her eyes. Her advice was to close my eyes. I wondered how dumb she thought I was, since I did so to sleep every night. She didn’t take it seriously and so I kept staying awake on weeknights secretly.

 Sunday nights were the worst. The thought that a long week at school would start next morning made it undoubtedly impossible for me to sleep. My grandparents used to watch TV in futon before going to sleep. Their favorite drama was on Sunday nights and the end of the drama meant my grandmother fell asleep. I can still hear in my ears the sad tune of the drama’s ending. My grandfather would read a little after that. When the light by his pillow was turned off was a signal that he would also go to sleep and I would be left alone awake in futon.

 One night, he noticed I wasn’t asleep in the middle of the night. “You’re still awake,” he was surprised. I confessed that I couldn’t sleep, and he simply said, “Don’t sleep, then.” While I couldn’t believe what I had just heard, he explained, “You don’t have to sleep if you don’t want to.” I had never thought that way. I didn’t have to sleep! Like magic, his words cured my insomnia and I have fallen asleep easily ever since…

Episode From An Old Tree in Kyoto /Hodemi Woods

Audiobook  : Japanese Dream by Hidemi Woods On Sale at online stores or apps. 
Apple Books, Audible, Google Play, Nook Audiobooks,  43 available distributors in total. 

“You can go.”

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A long time ago, when Japan had the feudal system, my family was a landlord of the area. It has come to a complete downfall over the years, but my family still clings to its past glory. For them, to succeed the family is critical. I’m firstborn and have no brother which meant that I was a successor and destined to spend the whole life in my hometown.

 But music changed everything. To pursue a career in music, my hometown was too rural and I had to move out. Back then I was a college student and moving to a city meant dropping out of school. My parents fiercely opposed but as usual, they left the matter to my grandfather who controlled the family. Considering his way to keep a tight rein, everybody including myself thought he might kill me.

 I could have run away, but I wanted to tell him for once what I want to do for my life. He answered right away “You can go.” He added, “You earned it by yourself. I’ve watched you all your life and I know you. That’s why I let you do what you want.” Although I had always looked for a way to get rid of him, it was him who made me free and what I am now…

Episode From An Old Tree in Kyoto /Hodemi Woods

Audiobook  : Japanese Dream by Hidemi Woods On Sale at online stores or apps. 
Apple Books, Audible, Google Play, Nook Audiobooks,  43 available distributors in total. 

a dictator of my family

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My grandfather used to say that he would live until 100 years old. When I was a child and lived with him, I hated him. He was a dictator of my family. My grandmother, my parents, my younger sister and I lived with him cowering and flattering him because we were afraid of him. He wielded absolute power over us and nobody could oppose him.

 We needed his permission for anything. For instance, when I wanted a puppy, my plea was rejected because he said, “This is my house.” As a child, I thought his existence immensely violated my freedom and was hoping that he would not live so long.

 He liked going out and sometimes took me to a department store. It had never been a pleasant outing. He was stingy. He would go to a department store just for browsing without buying anything, wearing a ragged jacket and worn-out shoes. For lunch, he would order the lowest priced dish and share it with me. And he would tell me to fill my stomach with tea because tea was free there. He couldn’t make it to 100 and passed away at the age of 96. My family agrees that I’m the one who have the character just like him…

Episode From An Old Tree in Kyoto /Hodemi Woods

Audiobook  : Japanese Dream by Hidemi Woods On Sale at online stores or apps. 
Apple Books, Audible, Google Play, Nook Audiobooks,  43 available distributors in total. 

I actually think they are beautiful

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After my grandfather quit a chair of a local chrysanthemum association, the number of his chrysanthemum pots had gotten less and less in the front yard of our house. Visitors to see his chrysanthemums had also tapered off to almost none. He stopped exhibited them at a public display. Yet, he had still grown a few pots and brought his best pot to a ward office by his bike, as a gift. No one in the ward office asked for it, but my grandfather was sure that everyone appreciated.

 He delivered every year and once he did it on a very windy day. He put a pot on a back carrier of his bike and set off. When he arrived at the ward office, the flower had been snapped off by the wind somewhere on the way and only the stalk was left on the pot. He turned back home right away and carried his second best pot. When he arrived, the flower was again gone in the wind. He successfully delivered his chrysanthemum on his third trial. To my father, that was the funniest incident in his entire life.

 Soon my grandfather stopped delivering his chrysanthemums anywhere because he became too weak to ride his bike. Even so, he continued to look after chrysanthemums in the yard until he passed away.

 Spending years besieged by my grandfather’s chrysanthemums, I had fostered hostility to them. He monopolized the yard so autocratically that they symbolized his egotism. Eventually, I detested them. I even have the impression that my childhood is ruined and eaten up by chrysanthemums.

 Now, I live in the town far away from my hometown and when I see them on display such as at the train station in autumn, I remember my grandfather. And I realized I actually think they are beautiful, and I like them…

Episode From An Old Tree in Kyoto /Hodemi Woods

Audiobook  : Japanese Dream by Hidemi Woods On Sale at online stores or apps. 
Apple Books, Audible, Google Play, Nook Audiobooks,  43 available distributors in total. 

chrysanthemum

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Besides growing chrysanthemums in the front yard of our house as a hobby, my grandfather had been a chair of a local chrysanthemum association for a long time. He organized exhibitions and displays, and gave lectures. He enjoyed his post immensely, as he was quite an egotist.

 One day, two officials of the association came up to our house. They looked grave and were apparently bringing some bad news. They asked my grandfather to step down as the chair. The reasons were his old age and his too long tenure. That infuriated my grandfather. He yelled at them and refused strongly. Two officials begged on their knees bowing so deeply that their foreheads touched the floor, which showed how much they wanted him to resign.

 It was the time when the National Athletic Meet was being held in my hometown soon and that was going to be the biggest display of chrysanthemums for the association. The crown prince was to come and it would be the greatest honor to my grandfather to have the prince look at his organized decorations. It was out of the question to him to step down with the event he had longed for coming. After a long argument, he reluctantly consented on condition he stepped down after the meet. They also reluctantly accepted his condition and left.

 He repeatedly said, “They had some nerve!” because he couldn’t believe someone dared ask for his resignation. He took charge of chrysanthemum decorations at the meet as his last work as a chair. Until he died, a framed photograph of the crown prince at the meet had hung on the wall of his room…

Episode From An Old Tree in Kyoto /Hodemi Woods

Audiobook  : Japanese Dream by Hidemi Woods On Sale at online stores or apps. 
Apple Books, Audible, Google Play, Nook Audiobooks,  43 available distributors in total. 

party days were over

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My grandfather liked a party so much. He threw it almost every week at home when I lived with him in my hometown. As he had held the chair of a local senior citizen society and a local chrysanthemum association after he retired, those parties weren’t so small with about 20 old people gathering each time. They weren’t official parties but his home parties solely for his own fun.

 He made my grandmother order catering and serve sake and beer, all with our family’s money. It was a big nuisance to other members of our family, but no one complained to him who was a dictator in the family. I used to feel disgusted when I came home from school and saw revelries in my home. One good thing about it was there was an occasional absentee or two if I was lucky. In that case, my grandmother would let me have a surplus dish and I got an unexpected feast. Sometimes though, an absentee turned out to be just a latecomer and my feast had to be aborted after only one bite.

 At one party, a man who was quite old drank too much and became unconscious in a chair. My grandfather called an ambulance and the man died at the hospital. Although my grandparents insisted he didn’t die in our house but died a natural death at the hospital, a big stain of his urine on the chair didn’t come off. The chair had been my grandmother’s favorite chair that she used when she did some sewing, but she never sat in it again.

 Also, my grandfather’s home party days were over. He never had a party for his clubs at home again. We retrieved quiet days to our house in a weird way. But I missed the delicious excess dish once in a while…

Episode From An Old Tree in Kyoto /Hodemi Woods

Audiobook 1 : Japanese Dream by Hidemi Woods On Sale at online stores or apps. 
Audiobook 2 : My Social Distancing and Naked Spa in Japan by Hidemi Woods On Sale at online stores or apps. 
Apple Books, Audible, Google Play, Nook Audiobooks,  43 available distributors in total. 

Shiny Worn-out Shoes hr646

Heaps of old jackets, skirts, shirts and dresses that I no longer wear are sitting in the back of my wardrobe. All of them are bargains and out-of-date. Even though it’s said fashion recurs in a cycle, they are too old and worn to be put on again. And yet, I can’t throw them away.
In addition to a memory that each one of them holds, I feel guilty to throw away what is still somehow usable by keeping its original form. That sort of my own rule applies not only to clothes but to everything, from food to a cardboard box. I just can’t waste anything. Recently, I have often seen a notice on the table in a restaurant, which says ‘Clear your plate for the earth.’ or ‘Remember again the old don’t-waste-food spirit.’ As a person who is too cheap to leave food on a plate, I always wonder since when Japanese people stopped clearing their plates and forgot the don’t-waste spirit. I’ve practiced it all my life as a habit. A bus person might mistake my finished plates and cups for clean ones because not a bit or a drop remains there when I leave the table.
I attribute it to my grandfather’s DNA. I lived with my grandparents when I was a child and I used to go out with my grandfather. His black leather shoes were totally worn-out. They were not as bad as Chaplin’s but a tip of the shoe had a hole. No matter how often my grandmother asked if he should get a new pair, he was adamant that he could still walk in his shoes. For him, it didn’t matter how he looked in them but whether they were usable or not. Since he kept putting on those shoes with a hole, my grandmother had no choice but to polish them for him. As a result, a weird item as shiny worn-out shoes came into existence. My grandfather would take me to a department store in the city in those shoes and strolled around grandly. Even as a small child, I was embarrassed by his shoes and hated to go out with him.
It wasn’t about money. He had enough money to buy new shoes. On the contrary, he was a rich man who had quite a few properties. That meant his shiny worn-out shoes weren’t necessity. Whether wearing them was his hobby or his principle is still a mystery.
It’s more than a decade since my grandfather passed away. I wonder how the world would be like if people around the world put on worn-out shoes as a common practice. Goods wouldn’t be consumed so much, the number of factories would be less, and more forests would remain. There would be less CO2 emissions, climate change would be delayed, and wildfire and a new virus would be sporadic. All it takes is us wearing worn-out shoes. The problems are solved.
Regrettably, I don’t have the courage to do so. I’m too self-conscious about how I look to others. I don’t want to be looked down on by my looks. Even if my actions led to the destruction of the world, I would like to stroll about a tinseled city and show off by dieting and dressing myself in fashionable clothing. Am I a senseless person? I wonder how my grandfather feels looking at me from above.

Podcast: POW

 
Audiobook 1 : Japanese Dream by Hidemi Woods On Sale at online stores or apps. 
Audiobook 2 : My Social Distancing and Naked Spa in Japan by Hidemi Woods On Sale at online stores or apps. 
Apple Books, Audible, Google Play, Nook Audiobooks,  43 available distributors in total. 
 
POW 
Once, on the festival for the local shrine of my hometown, my favorite grandfather on my mother’s side and I were talking alone at the front yard of my house. He knew a lot about plants and taught me the names of trees in the yard. There was a rooftop space above the garage and it was surrounded by a fence. We went up the rooftop and my grandfather began to climb the fence.
I tried to stop him but he said he could walk along the top of the fence. He was a war veteran and had been a POW in Russia for many years. In those days, according to him, Russian soldiers made POWs climb up tall chimneys and shot them from the ground for fun. His fellow POWs fell or got shot to death. Luckier men continued to climb up and survived.
My grandfather was one of the latter. Although he was old and a little drunk after the festival meal, he balanced himself and walked on the narrow fence, which was merely 4 inches wide and 13 feet above the ground. Watching him easily walking on the fence, I understood how dreadful his life as a POW was. This must be a cinch for him compared to forced acrobatics. He jumped off the fence and said smiling, “See? It’s easy!” while I was crying for many reasons…

Closure and Rebirth hr645

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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.