pick up my family’s ancestors

In mid-August, Japanese people get a few
days’ holiday for the ‘Bon’ Festival that is a
Buddhist event to ease the suffering of their
ancestors in the life after death. It’s believed
that their ancestors’ spirits return to their
home during ‘Bon’ and the family and relatives
get together to hold a memorial service and
have a feast.
When I was little, I used to go to pick up my
family’s ancestors with my grandmother at the
beginning of the ‘Bon’ period. The pick-up spot
was a small, ordinary vacant lot on the edge of
the hamlet. Our neighbors would also pick up
their ancestors there. At dusk, we lit incense
sticks there and carried them home, on which
smoke our ancestors were supposed to ride to
our house. Once we arrived home, the incense
sticks were put on the Buddhist altar, and that
meant our ancestors came in there. We
welcomed them with many plates of food on
the altar.
Although it had been an annual sacred event
for my grandmother and me, it was stopped
abruptly one year for good. When I asked what
happened to the pick-up, my grandmother said
that our ancestors had decided to come home
by themselves from now on. In hindsight, I
assume the real reason was because my
grandmother’s bad leg had gotten worse and
she became unwilling to walk to the pick-up
spot, or simply the vacant lot was replaced
with a new house and there was no pick-up
spot available. But back then, it didn’t make
sense even to a child that our ancestors
suddenly considered their descendants’
convenience and stopped requiring a pick-up.
What about an old custom we had observed for
a long time…?

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

still remains as a mystery

In place of my parents who were busy working
out in a field as farmers from dawn till late
night, I was raised by my grandmother.
Although I spent most of time at home with
her, we had a quite distant relationship. She
was rigid and quiet, and I had felt tense all the
time. She was friendly to my younger sister
but with me, she herself seemed strained. I
was regarded as a successor of the family back
then and she treated me like some sort of VIP.
She didn’t accept idle talk and didn’t
understand any joke. Whenever I was talking
casually, she stopped what she was doing right
away and fixed her eyes on me to listen.
So, it was impossible to have relaxed
conversation with her. Also, she was strict
about manners and chided me for my way of
eating, sitting at the table, or walking.
Consequently, our mealtimes were silent.
Sometimes, she would set my meal at the
table perfectly and retreat to her room like a
servant. She hardly talked about anything
personal, and even when I asked, she just
shrugged it off as if it was irrelevant. I had
lived with her for over 20 years but I never
knew her. Three years have passed since she
passed away, and she still remains as a
mystery to 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

talisman

The house in which I grew up was about 100
years old. Pieces of the wall plaster were falling
off little by little and it was to be rebuilt when I
was ten. During the days of moving out, my
grandmother took out an old paper talisman
from her ancient drawers. It had a mysterious
picture on it. According to my grandmother,
the talisman drew clothes if it was kept in
drawers so that the drawers would be filled
with clothes. She gave it to me and told me
that I would never be short of clothes. I didn’t
say out loud but thought it wouldn’t work
because I knew how small her wardrobe was.
When our new house was completed, I had my
own room for the first time and kept the
talisman in my wardrobe. As I thought, I was
always short of clothes for years.
Although the talisman didn’t work, I brought
it with me when I left my hometown. Since
then, the number of my clothes has been
increasing and now, my closet is full of clothes.
The talisman does work after all, but it has an
awfully delayed effect. Another magic is, that
almost all of my clothes cost around $10…

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

New Year’s family casino

I ask you to keep what you are about to read
in here to yourself since it concerns an illegal
activity I was once engaged in.
Until I was about sixteen years old, my
parents, my younger sister and I had visited
my grandparents’ home every year during the
New Year’s. Limited for that time of the year, a
quiet countryside house of my grandparents’
would turn into a family casino. It consisted of
three different areas. In the card game area,
which was the living room, a card game called
‘kabu’ that is similar to blackjack would be
played. In the coin game area, which was my
grandparents’ room, would be for a game
called ‘mortar roller’. And the break area,
which was the dining room, would be for those
who didn’t like gambling or who needed food
and drink. It would be open for 24 hours but
only the family members could play.
The coin game was organized by my
grandmother. She set up a huge china mortar
for sesame on the tatami floor and the players
would sit around it on the floor. They would
take turns and roll a 10-yen coin, which is
worth about ten cents, inside the mortar. The
coin rolled along the side of the round mortar,
descending gradually toward the bottom. If it
landed on other coins at the bottom, the player
could get them. Although the game was
simple, we would be absorbed in playing and
our heads and eyes were rolling above the
mortar with a coin inside. My cousin was good
at it with her own devised technique to throw
in a coin. I would also win snugly with my
fixation on money.
Beside the excited circle, my grandfather and
my father, who were not interested in
gambling, would talk over Japanese tea that
my grandfather would make.
My grandmother would start fretting after
midnight and tell us to be quiet because she
had believed that the military policemen could
bust in with bayonets. We laughed at her
anachronism while seeing her try to mute the
mortar and still live in the WWII era. She
upgraded the mortar one year by putting a
round piece of cardboard near the bottom. The
mortar’s floor was raised and became wider
and flatter so that it was harder to make the
coin lie on top of the other. More coins to take
would be left at the bottom and the game got
more exciting. Those were such fond memories
and I can still hear the sound of a rolling coin
inside a mortar during New Year’s. Later on,
the joyful grandparents’ house was burned
down by my grandmother’s carelessness with a
candle. It’s gone forever…

Episode From The Girl in Kyoto / Hidemi 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

Rainbow Town

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

Her treasured gold-rimmed glasses

I was raised by my grandmother on my father’s side. She was a very strict and unsociable woman. She led a secluded life and spent most of the time retreating into her room. She would take a trip or go to the theater with my grandfather only once or twice a year. On those rare occasions, she always wore glasses that she usually didn’t at home. A pair of glasses was a must for her to dress up. She had only one pair with gold rims. Although they were an essential item of her best clothes, she looked terrible with them. She had a stern face by nature but the pair made her look fearsome. Everyone in my family knew that she looked much better without them, and yet, none of us had the courage to say so to her. Consequently, on every important, memorable event in her later life, she had an awful look by putting them on. She did it not just outside. When there was a guest or I took my friends from school to our house, she always greeted with the glasses on. She had great confidence in glasses. Shortly before her death, she even urged my father to wear glasses because she believed they would help him look grand and dignified. Her treasured gold-rimmed glasses were put into her casket when she passed away. The unpopular pair went to heaven with her. I know she’s wearing them up there still…

they may have simply avoided me

I had a dream about my grandparents last night and couldn’t go back to sleep because I missed them so badly. Both of them have passed away, but they raised me when I was a child in place of my parents who were too busy working out in the field as farmers. When I lived with my grandparents, I didn’t appreciate being with them, as they were strict, quiet and boring, and I constantly missed my parents. But after I grew up and left my hometown, I realized how my grandparents regarded me and felt about me. Until they passed away, I had returned home once or twice a year. My grandfather would wait for me with an envelope that had some money for me inside, and my grandmother with my favorite food that she would have prepared and cooked from morning. She would wear particularly for the day something I had given to her before, to show me her gratitude. Those things were what I could never expect from my parents. My parents would be seldom at home when I returned although my homecoming was only yearly and informed well beforehand. That was not because they were working. They would be out for shopping or, at one time, they were even gone on a trip to Hawaii. They seemed to lack the sense of pining for and anticipating someone. Or, they may have simply avoided me. Parental affection doesn’t necessarily come from parents. In my case, it was my grandparents who gave it to me…

‘Bon’ Festival in Japan

In mid-August, Japanese people get a few days’ holiday for the ‘Bon’ Festival that is a Buddhist event to ease the suffering of their ancestors in the life after death. It’s believed that their ancestors’ spirits return to their home during ‘Bon’ and the family and relatives get together to hold a memorial service and have a feast. When I was little, I used to go to pick up my family’s ancestors with my grandmother at the beginning of the ‘Bon’ period. The pick-up spot was a small, ordinary vacant lot on the edge of the hamlet. Our neighbors would also pick up their ancestors there. At dusk, we lit incense sticks there and carried them home, on which smoke our ancestors were supposed to ride to our house. Once we arrived home, the incense sticks were put on the Buddhist altar, and that meant our ancestors came in there. We welcomed them with many plates of food on the altar. Although it had been an annual sacred event for my grandmother and me, it was stopped abruptly one year for good. When I asked what happened to the pick-up, my grandmother said that our ancestors had decided to come home by themselves from now on. In hindsight, I assume the real reason was because my grandmother’s bad leg had gotten worse and she became unwilling to walk to the pick-up spot, or simply the vacant lot was replaced with a new house and there was no pick-up spot available. But back then, it didn’t make sense even to a child that our ancestors suddenly considered their descendants’ convenience and stopped requiring a pick-up. What about an old custom we had observed for a long time…?