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…
I like to spend my free time at a shopping mall. The first mall I had ever visited as a small child was called Rainbow Town. When it was built, people made noise about it because it was the first underground mall in western Japan -probably the first mall either on the ground or underground. The neighbors and the relatives of my family asked, “Did you go to Rainbow Town yet?” as daily greetings. My grandfather was fascinated by the concept of a mall. He often talked with wonder about what an artificial town was like and how it could exist underground.
Since the mall was located in the city next to ours, my grandparents and I finally went there one day by train. Although the destination was a mall, our purpose was sightseeing rather than shopping. My grandfather kept talking about his concern over sufficient air in the underground mall, while my grandmother got up early in the morning to fix lunch for all of us. We were headed for a mall as if we were going to NASA. The mall was crowded with cool, urban shoppers, and had a stream and a big fountain along the walk. I had never seen so many shops and restaurants gathering in one place. My grandparents were amazed that the mall was so bright with full electricity and decorative with water. They also couldn’t believe that there were restaurants, which used the fire to cook, though it was underground. My grandfather reminded me over and over that people and cars were passing through above us.
Because all the benches were taken, we sat on the rim of the fountain for lunch. We had my grandmother’s handmade rice balls and Japanese tea from our canteen there. Right in front of us was a nice restaurant where many customers had their decent lunch and a good time. My grandfather said to me triumphantly, “Do you know how much they have to pay in there? They’re stupid!” We left for home without eating or buying anything at the mall. My first mall experience wasn’t so good, but I love a shopping mall so much still…
episode from An Old Tree in Kyoto / Hidemi Woods
My childhood diet was very healthy. That may be the reason why I was such a skinny kid, contrary to how I am today.
I was born in a farmer’s family in Kyoto, an old city in Japan. My family used to be almost self-sufficient. We mainly ate the leftover vegetables of eggplant and spinach that weren’t fit to be sold at the market because of flaws. We also planted rice and other vegetables such as onions, potatoes, carrots, radishes, burdocks and green peppers, not for sale but exclusively for our daily meals. We kept barnyard fowls that provided fresh eggs every morning. Our breakfasts and lunches were almost always row egg mixed with rice and soy sauce, pickled vegetables and too-weak miso soup.
A natural life may sound beautiful and relaxing, but it’s not in reality. Our fowls would holler screaming crows at dawn every day which would induce the clamorous barking of dogs in the neighborhood. Sometimes, one of our fowls that I named and fed every day like my pets was missing, and we had chicken on the table at dinner that evening. It took time for me to realize I was eating my pet fowl while I was worried about its whereabouts. Sometimes, I did witness my grandfather choked and plucked our fowl.
Since we didn’t have to buy vegetables, we had large servings at meals. Unfortunately, all vegetable meals of ours tasted horrible because we had to pay for seasonings or cooking oil and we were stingy enough to refrain them. Everything on our table was flavorless and bland. It never stimulated my appetite and I stayed skinny. As time passed, shops had been appearing in the rural area around our house. Also, my grandfather began to loosen his tight reign of the household and my mother had been able to have some discretion to go shopping and spend money. Our self-sufficiency was rapidly falling. Foods from outside tasted awesome. My appetite finally came out of its long hibernation. I was hooked by ham and mayonnaise in particular, and became chubby in no time.
Of all the terribly-tasted foods that my grandfather had long eaten, he picked yogurt as the worst. When he saw my sister eat it everyday, he asked for one out of curiosity. He said he had never had such an awful food in his life. After I left home for my music career and started living by myself in Tokyo, he often asked my father to take him to my apartment that was far from Kyoto. He wanted to see what was like to live alone there. My father didn’t feel like taking on such a bother for him and used a clever repelling. He told my grandfather that I was eating pizza everyday in Tokyo.
Of course he knew both that I wasn’t and that my grandfather didn’t know what pizza was. He explained to my grandfather that a food called pizza was oily round bread covered with sour sticky substance called cheese that was stringy and trailed threads to a mouth at every bite. And he added a threat, “You would eat that thing in her small apartment. Can you do that?” My grandfather replied in horror, “Why should I eat such a thing rotten enough to pull threads? I can’t ever go to Tokyo.” That pizza description cleanly stopped my grandfather’s repetitive request.
When I returned home for a visit once, my grandfather asked me a question at dinner time. Pointing the four corners of the dining room and drawing invisible lines in the air with his chopsticks, he said, “Your entire apartment is merely about this size, isn’t it?” As I replied it was about right, he asked, “How come you chose to do all what is necessary to live in such a small space and eat stringy rotten foods with threads although you have a spacious house and nice foods here? Is music worth that much? I don’t understand at all.” He looked unconvinced. As for me, while I had a certain amount of hardship, I had a far better life with tasty foods and freedom compared to the one that I had had in this house. Nevertheless, I didn’t utter those words. I said nothing and pour sake for him into his small empty cup, instead.
My late grandfather liked to go out and often wanted to take me with him when I was little. Although I didn’t like to go out with him, I couldn’t say so because he was a tycoon in my family.
There were two reasons why going out with him wasn’t fun. One was because I was tense all the time being with him who used to be very strict. The other was because he sometimes took me to weird places such as the porn movies or a betting ticket office. So, when he said to me “Let’s go to a Christmas party together!” one day before Christmas, I sighed and felt dismal. It wasn’t common in Japan to have a Christmas party back then and I couldn’t imagine what it was like. It sounded shady enough since the offer came out from my grandfather. Of course I didn’t say no and left for the party with him.
The site was a small place looking like a community center. Several men were busy working in and out of the place. One of them spotted my grandfather in front of the building and greeted joyfully. He seemed so happy to have us. My grandfather was a head of a local senior citizen club and it turned out to be the club party. We arrived before the party officially started, but he led us inside. We were handed party hats and told to put on. The small hall was dark and had pretty Christmas decorations and music. There were a few snack stands and we were given tickets for the snack. Just for two of us, they worked in a hurry and let us know when the snack was ready one by one.
While people working there and my grandfather were all cheerful, I was cautious and sit tight because everything was totally new for me. I had never seen grown-ups having a Christmas party, had never put on a party hat, had never been suggested dancing, and had never seen my strict grandfather in such a good mood. We left when other guests began to show up. It was a sort of handmade party and not a gorgeous one. But unexpectedly, it was the best Christmas party I could remember…
episode from An Old Tree in Kyoto / Hidemi Woods
The elders of old families in the hamlet where I grew up had regularly practiced a Buddhist chant when I was little. My grandfather was one of them. He didn’t come home from the practice one night by the time he was supposed to. When we were worried and about to go look for him, he turned up at our doorstep sweating and getting muddy. He was shaken by fear and said, “It was a fox! A fox got me!”
Usually, he would come home by passing through the narrow unpaved alley that led to a wider street near our house. According to him, he was walking home on the familiar dirt alley as usual after he left the elder’s house where the chanting practice was held. But on that particular night, the alley he had walked hundreds of times didn’t come to the wider street. It didn’t end. When he reached the end of the alley, the entrance of the same alley started again instead of the street. The alley continued endlessly and he couldn’t get out of it. He began to panic, ran, tumbled, repeated countless trips through the alley and finally landed onto the street.
In my hometown, people believed that an inexplicable incident like this was caused by a fox that bewitched them. A fox sometimes pulled mischief around us, and my mother had a similar experience. Because it had been a common knowledge throughout the neighborhood, everybody in my family was fully convinced that my grandfather’s story was true – except I inwardly suspected that a fox might mean drunkenness. By the way, we call a shower when the sun is shining a fox’s wedding…
episode from An Old Tree in Kyoto / Hidemi Woods
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…
episode from An Old Tree in Kyoto / Hidemi Woods
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 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…
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…
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…