“See? It’s easy!”

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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…

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

once visited on their honeymoon

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I answered the phone from my grandfather on my mother’s side one day when I was in junior high. I sensed something wrong at once from his unusually somber tone. He wanted to talk to my mother and she began to tell him repeatedly to wait right there. My grandfather called her to let her know he was going to kill himself. He picked up the pay phone at the train station before he took a train to a place where he had chosen to die, and said goodbye to my mother.

 My father rushed into the car to get to the station while my mother stayed home in case my grandfather called again. My father caught him at the station, asked him what was going on, and persuaded him not to take the train. As he didn’t want to return home, my father checked him in at a hotel near the station. My mother joined there and they talked him out of killing himself.

 She came home at night and told me what had happened. As an old custom in Japan, a married couple used to live with the spouse’s parents. My grandparents on my mother’s side lived with their another daughter and her husband, and they had tackled everyday arguments and disputes. The center of their domestic troubles was often my grandmother. She finally got mad at my grandfather who had always steered himself away the troubles and stayed out of quarrels. He was a war veteran of WWII and had a reward certificate from the government. She picked it up, said “Is this peace of paper making you some kind of honorable man?” and tore it before his eyes.

 Without saying a word, he left home for Atami, which was a Japanese popular seaside resort where my grandparents once visited on their honeymoon. Thankfully, he ended up staying at a hotel with my father instead of committing suicide there. When my grandmother called my mother about his disappearance that night, my mother made her worry all night to punish her, by telling a lie that she didn’t know his whereabouts.

 Next day, he calmed down and went home safely. He just told my grandmother he had been in Atami for sightseeing, that she had believed until she died. He was always a quiet, gentle, tolerant man who never seemed suicidal. The war reward certificate must have meant a lot to him, probably a token of his desperate survival for his beloved wife. His choice of a place to die showed their honeymoon was the best time of his life…

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

An eel is an expensive treat in Japan

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 for my mother when she 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…

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

I woke up with a slight pain in my neck.

I loved my grandfather on my mother’s side so much. He lived in a small town that was a 20-minute drive from my family’s home. We used to visit him quite often, and occasionally he also came to our house with my grandmother. At times they stayed overnight in which case my sister and I would scramble to sleep next to him. I won the place one night and he offered his arm for my head. I slept with my head on his arm, which wasn’t so comfortable, to be honest. I woke up with a slight pain in my neck.

 After they left, I began to feel sick and skipped school the next day. As my condition worsened with a fever, my mother tried to find the cause. I told her I had been sick since I slept with my head on my grandfather’s arm. She picked up the phone and reported it to my grandmother for a complaint. It took me a week to get well, but seemed nothing but a cold after all. I concluded my grandfather’s arm didn’t cause my illness.

 When I met him again, he told me he would never sleep beside me. He explained how relentless verbal attacks from my grandmother had been. She had blamed him for causing my illness everyday although he knew his arm had nothing to do with it. For him, it was an exact situation of biting the hand that feeds you. True to his word, he had never let me sleep beside him ever since no matter how much I pestered. I wondered how severely my grandmother ranted him…

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

because I was able to monopolize him

My grandfather on my mother’s side was a quiet, generous and kind person. Because I lived with my grandfather on my father’s side, whose character was completely opposite to him, I liked him all the more.

 One day, when I was little, I was left in the backseat of the car with him while my parents were out for an errand. He suggested playing ‘rock-paper-scissors’. He took his notebook out of his pocket, and started drawing a score table. He had an honorable position in the local society, and there were many important notes and appointments in his notebook. But he was drawing the table for his granddaughter next to them without any hesitation. And the rock-paper-scissors match of my grandfather vs. me began. It had a lot of rounds and continued long after my parents came back to the car and we got going. He looked so merry, and I was absorbed in the game.

 It was my happiest time with him not because the game was fun but because I was able to monopolize him. There were only two of us without my younger sister around. The match ended with his great victory by a wide margin…

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

Flags of Our Fathers

I watched the movie, ‘Flags of Our Fathers’. It reminded me of my late grandfather on my mother’s side. He fought battles in World War II not in Iojima but in China. He was taken to Russia as a POW and was kept captive in the freezing Siberia prisoner’s camp. It was four years after the war when he was released and returned home. He had been away for eight years in total.

 After he came back, he became a locally prominent man, being a mayor and working as a member of a board of education. People looked up to him. I’ve been treated with favor on several occasions as his granddaughter. In his later years though, he suffered from Alzheimer’s and he would shout “There came Russian soldiers!” during the night or even at a restaurant.

 Writing about him recalled a peculiar incident. When I visited his house, I found that he had put up a big picture of the Japanese Emperor in his room. I uttered “You have bad taste!” because I believed in democracy. He replied sadly, “Hidemi, you should not say such a thing.” I’d forgotten the fact that he was one of the war veterans who went to the war for the Emperor. He was always so gentle that he rarely criticized anyone. That was the first and the only time that he reproved me…

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

Podcast: judge themselves

 
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. 
 
judge themselves
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…
It seems that people look back and judge themselves when they are nearing their ends. Not long before his death, my grandfather suddenly told my parents that he wanted to go to the department store where he once worked vigorously but had to leave to succeed the family.
My parents thought his consciousness grew dim because they assumed that he meant shopping, which he was too frail to do. I know what he really meant. He realized that he should not have given up what he wanted to do for his life. On his deathbed, he pointed at my mother and said, “You’re next.” I wonder if she would end up like him. Surely she looks a strong candidate for that matter…

Podcast: if you don’t want to

 
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. 
 
if you don’t want to 
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…

Podcast: 100 years old

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

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