When I left my hometown for Tokyo and started living by myself there in the mid 80’s, quite a few second-run theaters for movies still remained. Those theaters showed two or three films at the price of one new film. The best experience of mine was when I saw ‘Top Gun’, ‘Taps’ and ‘Back to the Future’ as an all-night triple feature program at a second-run theater in a suburb of Tokyo. Those films were already a bit old by then and the show time was the middle of the night, so that the price was incredibly low accordingly. I left my apartment at night, ate out for dinner, got hamburgers to have inside the theater and was immersed into the movie world until dawn. The main attraction for me had been ‘Top Gun’ that turned out to be so-so. Instead, I was deeply moved by ‘Back to the Future’ although I had thought it would be a silly 50’s comedy judging from its trailer. The film became my best one and had held that position for many years to come.
Back then, I had just moved to Tokyo to become a musician in spite of all the opposition from my family and friends. I had been feeling unsettled constantly because of anxiety and loneliness, which stemmed from uncertainty of my future. I had been clueless about whether I would be successful as a musician and how my life would unfold itself. I saw ‘Back to the Future’ in that state of mind and the story and the ending of the film encouraged me immensely.
When I lived in my hometown with my family, many rules bound me. To begin with, that all-night movie experience was a dream within a dream since my curfew was as early as 9 p.m. Other rules were abundant. Singing while eating was forbidden, a gap between the body and the edge of the table must not exist during the meal, whistling or playing the piano after dark was prohibited, some ways of talking to my grandparents were banned, walking with audible steps inside the house wasn’t allowed, chewing something in the mouth in public was regarded as an act of barbarity, and so on and on. But once I began to live by myself, I was freed from all the family rules and everything was left to my discretion. I ate what I wanted, when I wanted. I woke up when I felt like it, since I didn’t work at an office. I slept until evening at times, and rarely cleaned or did the dishes. The bathroom got moldy. While I appreciated freedom, I realized how slack I really was. My music career didn’t go well either. I had expected I could find my band members easily as Tokyo was the biggest city in Japan where so many aspiring musician gathered from all parts of Japan. The reality was Tokyo simply had too many bad unmotivated musicians. It was extremely hard to find a member whom I desired and my band just kept breaking up. That was far from what I had planned as life in Tokyo. I sometimes got tempted to doubt if my decision to come here was the right one even though I hadn’t had any other choice.
When I finished to see the movies all night and left the theater, it was early morning in the real world. I headed back for my apartment. The train had started running and many commuters were walking hurriedly and gloomily toward the station already. They used the train bound for downtown that was an opposite direction to where I was going. I was waiting on the empty platform for my train while watching them waiting on the nearly overflowing platform. When their train came, they pushed and crammed themselves into the cars. The station workers additionally pushed their backs from outside to squeeze as many passengers as possible in and the train doors barely closed. Minutes after it departed, the platform got filled with commuters quickly again. I stepped in the empty opposite train and yawned in the seat, remembering ‘Back to the Future’. When I decided to live by myself in Tokyo that was a far and unknown big city, I was afraid and trembled for what my life was going to be like. I gave up my right to an inheritance by leaving my family, and a possible steady income by quitting college. I was alone by parting from my family and my friends who disagreed and didn’t support me mentally. I threw away everything which wasn’t easy for me. But as Marty’s father dared, I had dared in my own way and left for Tokyo. I hoped that action of mine changed my future. In a good way, I wished.
A small plane was landing on a runway. Beyond it was a blue ocean with white wave crests beneath a cloudy sky that was beginning to be cracked and show a glimpse of the blue sky with a ray of sunlight. That was what I was gazing blankly at through a glass wall of the lounge over coffee and vegetable juice at the small local airport in Japan. Then a thick rainbow appeared from the sea surface toward the sky. It didn’t arc but stretched upright like a big pillar. I hoped it was a good omen.
When I faced financial difficulty and my income decreased sharply last year, I was resigned not to be able to afford a trip ever again. But as it turned out, I have taken a trip much more than I had ever done before in a year because the Japanese government subsidized to save the struggling travel industry so that I could enjoy a hotel stay with a minimal amount of money by using the benefit. I am such an unprincipled person who willingly make use of a bill when it comes to benefits while I usually criticize the government. And here, I was having a good time at the exclusive lounge for holders of a credit card with a premium status that I obtained by the credit card company’s promotion for first-year-free membership. Of course I am going to cancel the card within the first year during which I make the most of it by taking advantage of free stuff as much as possible. My decreased income hasn’t improved at all, yet I manage to hang onto my life persistently although it seemed all over one year ago.
I used to be sulky all the time when I was a child. I would constantly grumble and complain to my parents and they frequently asked me why I couldn’t be thankful for anything even a little bit. I still don’t know why I behaved like that, but I certainly had been discontent with pretty much everything as far as I can remember. It could have been nasty meals, could have been a tense atmosphere living with my grandparents, or could have been pressure from an unspoken rule to become a successor of the family as a firstborn. In any case, I was simply surrounded by what I didn’t like. Although my family was wealthy in those days, I didn’t find anything to be thankful for as a child.
I remained the same in my twenties. I was filled with anger everyday though I managed to leave home and live on my own as a musician instead of succeeding the family. I had craved for fame that I couldn’t get no matter how hard I tried. I bore a strong grudge against major record labels and the Japanese society as a whole that wouldn’t appreciate me. I couldn’t see one single thing that I should be thankful for. Everything in the world looked hostile to me.
Now I got old and thankful for being able to continue to do what I want to do for my life while I still have neither money nor fame. I have learned that one can find a way to live somehow unless one loses oneself. I finished my last glass of free drinks after so many glasses of it at the lounge while seeing a small plane blasting down the runway and taking off. I left the lounge with my partner and headed down to the airport lobby with the escalator. There, I found a gigantic Christmas tree against the backdrop of a beautiful twilight sky out of the window. Watching the glittering Christmas tree, I felt blessed, and thankful as well.
I finished sending out my Christmas cards. Japanese people don’t have a custom to send them. Instead, they send New Year post cards. I prefer a Christmas card though because a New Year card has some restrictions. For instance, it has to be arrived on New Year’s Day, or, you can’t send nor receive it when someone related to you has died the previous year because it is regarded as bad luck. I don’t make it time-consuming but once I start writing a Christmas card, I tend to take time decorating the card with stamps or stickers. Mostly, I would send them to my grandparents on both my father’s and mother’s sides. One by one I lost them and I have sent the cards fewer and fewer. In September, my grandmother on my mother’s side passed away. She was the last grandparent of mine. Now I have no grandparents and the number of Christmas cards I send is so small…
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.
One evening when I was little and lived with my uncle, he talked with my grandparents in the living room and I felt unusual tension drifting from the room. I peeked in, and saw my grandparents cry. I was shocked, as I had never seen them cry before. I asked my mother what happened and she reluctantly told me that my uncle wanted to marry someone whom my grandparents couldn’t approve of.
In my hometown, a marriage used to be ties between the families, not between the individuals. My family was once a big landowner of the area and they had clung to the pride long after the downfall. That was why they still did strict screening for the family’s marriage.
My uncle wanted a love marriage, which disappointed my grandparents bitterly enough to tears. My grandfather ruled the family powerfully and no one could disobey him. He didn’t allow my uncle’s wish. Not long after, my uncle got married with my mother’s cousin by an arranged marriage.
At the wedding, I happened to see the bride, who was supposed to be having her happiest day wearing a beautiful bridal kimono, crying in the dark corner of the hallway. She didn’t want to marry my uncle. Her relatives were persuading her to go through the wedding. That sight decided my image of a marriage. She became my aunt, and I’m still single…
I had a dream about my grandparents on my mother’s side last night. Both of them have passed away, my grandfather nine years ago and my grandmother eight months ago. I attended both funerals but I didn’t cry there because I was nervous about meeting a lot of relatives and ritual customs that I had to follow. It was quite later on when a sad feeling of having lost them sank in.
In the dream, I was having dinner with my grandparents and some relatives. All of us knew my grandparents would soon die and it was a farewell party for them. They were sitting at the table, smiling, and seemed very happy although they also knew this would be the last time to get together. While I was talking to them casually, I got suddenly swept over by the fact that this was the last time to see them and talk with them. I felt madly that I didn’t want to lose them. Then, tears spurted from my eyes like a cartoon. I tried to stop them with my hands but they were spurting too strongly.
I woke up. I had never shed that large amount of tears before in my dream. Maybe I had this dream because I missed them badly, or, because I got drenched in the rain yesterday on my way home from Costco and the wet sensation still remained on my face…
The family of my grandfather on my mother’s side used to be a landlord of the area and has lived on the ancestral land generation after generation. My grandfather succeeded the family when he got married with my grandmother. In the end, four generations lived together in the big house: my grandparents, their daughter and their son-in-low, their grandson and his wife, and their great-grandchildren. They had constant disputes but nobody could leave the house to keep their old family style.
My grandfather was unconscious for weeks in the hospital when his time was drawing near. A couple of days after his family decided to turn off his life-support system, their house was burned down to the ground. It was my grandmother who caused the fire. A candle she lit on the Buddhist altar made something catch fire and spread all over. No one was injured but the police questioned my grandmother persistently. She went to the hospital to see my grandfather and repeated loudly in his ear, “The house was burned down! It’s all gone!” She told my mother that she thought he heard her though he was unconscious, and he would die soon along with the house. As she said, he passed away the very next day.
I attended his funeral, worrying about how devastated my grandmother would be, because my grandparents were such a nice couple. On the contrary, she was fine and somehow gleeful. I wondered if their relationship was my grandfather’s one-sided love. Considering her life, it’s possible that she had hated the house all those years since she married into the family.
By the time the house was being rebuilt, she lived at a nursing institution with her daughter who had suffered from dementia and no longer recognized her mother. She herself gradually had health problems and spent the rest of her life in the institution. She died there and never lived in the new house…
I was born and grew up in a small village of Kyoto, Japan. My family made a living by farming, which contributed to my even more old-fashioned childhood than usual that was nothing like a current ordinary life. Food on the table was almost self-sufficient that came form our fields or the front yard and the chicken coops of the house. We had only one tiny refrigerator without a freezer that was more than enough as beer or watermelons were chilled by pumping well water. The bathtub was round and made of wood. Its floor was a round iron plate on which a round wooden board was put in to sit. Beneath the iron plate was a small furnace that my grandmother put wood, straw or used paper in the fire to heat water in the bathtub. Our toilet was a wooden bucket placed in the garage. My grandfather would carry it on a wooden pole to our fields as manure. Not only the way of living was old-fashioned, but also the way of thinking was. All the family members obeyed submissively my grandfather who was a patriarch of my family. Women were deemed to be inferior to men and treated unfairly. Families were giving and receiving them through marriage as if they were commodities. But the changes of the world can’t be stopped. In the year I was born, a bullet train started running between two major cities in Japan, Tokyo and Osaka. It was dubbed ‘a dream super express’ because of a high speed. The city of Kyoto where I lived was close to Osaka and on the line of the bullet train. A new special railroad and its platforms were built above the existing ones. The railway near my home accordingly had the new overhead railroad above it. When I was an elementary school student, I crossed the local train railroad and the big, tall, splendid bullet train railroad by an underpass beneath the tracks on my way to school on foot every day. In the middle of the passage, when a local train or a freight train passed above my head, I would cringe at an enormously thunderous noise. But the bullet train sounded like a whistling wind, almost soothing. The number of children had been increasing as the economy was picking up. The elementary school I went to burst with students and a new school was built when I was in the fifth grade. I was sent to the new one that stood right next to the railroad. Out of the windows, the bullet train was running. From a brand new school building, I had never get bored to see the bullet train zipping past at incredibly high speed through the countryside where time went by so slowly. Thanks to the bullet train, my new school had the air conditioner since the building had soundproofing windows that can’t be opened because of train noises. My former four years in the old school with wooden buildings and coal stoves were felt like ancient. I loved the bullet train so much. To me, it seemed alive with a soul like Thomas the Tank Engine as its headlights looked like eyes and its coupler cover looked like a nose. Since I had difficulty in getting along with others back then, I felt more attached and closer to the bullet train than other human beings. Every time I saw it passing by, I sensed it glanced at me and was running toward the future, carrying hope and dreams. Years later, I left home of an old village and moved to Tokyo by bullet train to become a musician. Sometimes there is a day when we feel that this world has come to an impasse and been headed just for destruction. But if we adapt ourselves to new ways of living or thinking, we may be able to see more of something bright and exciting. In 2027, Japan is going to have a new railway on which magnetic levitation bullet trains called Linear Bullet Trains run at the highest speed of 320 miles per hour. I wonder how their faces look like. I can’t wait to see them.
The cab was running through my familiar neighborhood where I spent my entire childhood. It was still shabby as it used to be. The cab drove through old houses of my childhood friends where I used to play with them, and under the overhead train bridge where I ran into perverts so many times. From the car window, I saw the elementary school I went to, and the sidewalk on which my first song came to me while I was walking. The bookstore where my father bought me my first English dictionary and also where he spotted his missing cousin. A place where a milk factory used to be that I waved to its plastic cows beside the gate every time I passed by in my father’s car. The old temple where my late grandparents used to take me and let me feed doves. Then something struck me and I suddenly realized. It wasn’t just the house I was losing. I was losing my hometown and departing from my childhood. I would never be in this neighborhood again because it was going to be an unrelated, foreign place from now on. Although I had always hated my neighborhood, that thought brought a lump to my throat and soon I found myself crying. I was stunned and overwhelmed by this unexpected feeling. If I hadn’t been inside a cab, I would have wailed. The cab came near Kyoto Station that was my destination. My late grandfather often took me to this area around the station that used to be undeveloped, decayed and in the miserable condition. But now, after years of intense redevelopment, it has become an urban area with numerous modern buildings of hotels, fashionable shops and huge shopping malls. It was a completely new different place and I found no trace of what I was familiar with the area. The cab stopped at the signal close to the station and there stood a new movie complex by the street. I casually wondered if it showed ‘Tomorrowland’. Then I felt I was actually stepping into it. Things and places I had been with were all disappearing and a place I had never seen before appeared in front of me. I saw a change more clearly than ever. I was leaving everything old behind and going into a new world. The world I’m walking into is unknown, but therefore there are full of possibilities…