The water supply got contaminated by a radioactive material which amount was above the intake limit for babies. A few days earlier, a dangerous level of radiation for overall intake had been detected on spinach from the areas near the exploded nuclear power plant.
Since the earthquake hit Japan, a new fear has arisen day after day. This time, the TV news showed a long line of people at stores, who came to buy bottled waters. The water in my town was also contaminated over the intake limit for babies temporarily, but now the amount of a radioactive material has dropped and the water is drinkable. I look up the readings of radiation for the area I live in on the Internet everyday and fluctuate between hope and despair. Aftershocks and scheduled blackouts still continue. Worries and fuss that I had regularly had about a move to my new place seem so trivial now. Just surviving is fortunate enough. Being able to use electricity and water supply is fully grateful. For the first time, I found myself longing for cherry blossoms to bloom soon…
These days, I’ve had nightmares about living in a deserted, out-of-the-way place repeatedly. In them, I was forced to join a dreary folk festival in deep snow with a handful of local people, or I was surrounded by uncivilized people whose language I didn’t understand, or I lived in an ancient, old-fashioned building. Those dreams seem to represent my vague unease for moving to my new place that is located in a remote, mountainous, snowy region. I’ve completed a song I’d been working on for seven years, and I’m about to move out the apartment I’ve lived for nine years. I’m moving to a whole new town where I have no acquaintances, and I’ll start promoting our latest song and recording a new song. From then onward, I don’t know how my life goes. I believe it will be wonderful as long as I stay alive without giving up. I will enjoy and cherish every process to a new step, which hopefully would be the better one…
I came across a website on which custom-made T-shirts, caps and tote bags are made and sold worldwide. Since I have been in a financial crunch lately, I could make and sell T-shirts with my poor drawing on them there. I browsed others’ merchandise which designs looked professional and like works of art. Looking at them, it was obvious that my daub had no part to play there. I tried to look for some other possible designs of my own.
It was when the idea of kanji struck me. Kanji means Chinese characters in Japanese and one of three character sets used for Japanese. That character set is prevalent in Japan and most Japanese names contain it. My name also consists of three kanji characters. When I lived in the U.S. and Canada and my signature was required at shops or other businesses, the salesclerk who looked at it curiously often expressed how cool it was. I sometimes saw a person wearing a T-shirt that had kanji on it, but mostly it didn’t make sense or it had an awkward meaning. That was probably because someone who didn’t have enough knowledge about kanji made the shirt easily. While I understood that the person wearing it didn’t know her or his shirt was telling an absurd thing to the public, I couldn’t help giggling secretly. I even spotted those who tattooed that weird kind of kanji. As a native of Japan, I thought I could make kanji merchandise with proper meanings and decided to give it a try.
Every kanji has its meaning. For instance, my first name is comprised of two kanji characters one of which means ‘excellent’ and the other means ‘beautiful’, and they are read ‘Hidemi’ together. Because of the character’s meaning, my name is embarrassing, I admit. Japanese parents put their expectations and wishes into a name when they name their child. A child’s name reflects their parents’ taste and personality. They wish her or him to be gentle, or to be kind, and they choose the corresponding kanji for their child’s name in most cases. Sometimes a name seems destined specifically for a politician, or a name aims to endure life. As for my partner’s name, its meaning is to be dutiful to one’s parents. Both his parents have already deceased and whether he fulfilled their wish or not is uncertain. Japanese people have to live with carrying bittersweet names on their shoulders.
When I was little, I asked my grandmother on my mother’s side what kanji characters were used for her name Fuki. She told me that Fuki was her nickname and her real name was Fukiko by three kanji characters with the meaning of ‘wealthy’, ‘noble’ and ‘child’ respectively. I had sent her a New Year card or a Christmas card every year by that name with those kanji characters for decades until she passed away. When I attended her funeral, I saw a placard hung at the entrance of a small shabby prefabricated funeral home. It showed whose funeral this was. Although the funeral took place according to officially registered documents, my grandmother’s name on the placard wasn’t what she had told me. Her name was actually Fuki, not Fukiko, and kanji wasn’t used for it. There is a different character set in Japan called katakana, which represents only sound without meaning like the alphabet. Her real name was in those characters, not in kanji. I asked my mother if she had known that. My mother said she also had thought her name was Fukiko in kanji since she was a child. I wondered how many family members of hers had known her real name. At least her own child and grandchild hadn’t. I suppose that she wanted to be wealthy and noble, for which she chose the kanji characters, and named herself.
I chose kanji for my first custom-made T-shirt. They mean ‘hope’.
As I recall it, a ticket vending machine first appeared in the early 80’s at the nearest train station from my home in Japan where I grew up. There had been two ticket windows one of which was replaced with the machine. It was an exciting new gizmo especially for children that spewed out a train ticket by just pushing a button corresponded to the destination. The ticket gate was still operated by a clerk. The ticket examiner stood in an open booth with special clippers in his hand. Passengers would show the commuter pass to him, or have the ticket clipped by his clippers to get a hole or a nick on it. The examiner handled clippers skillfully, clipped tickets one after another so fast and rhythmically. When passengers broke off, he would turn clippers many times in his hand artfully as if he had been a juggler. Later on, the ticket booth was also replaced by the automatic ticket gate. In those days, more and more vending machines had emerged here and there in Japan. They started with coffee and soft drinks, then cigarettes and beer. Soon pornographic magazines and condoms, hamburgers and noodle soup were all purchasable from the machine. Nowadays, ordering at restaurants has been by a touch screen on the table, and check-out counters at the supermarket have been self-service registers. Either at a restaurant or a supermarket, I pay an incorrect total once in two or three visits when human servers and cashiers take care the payment and make a mistake. I know the odds because I look into the receipt very carefully right after the payment each and every time. Almost in every case I don’t gain but overpay, which is a mystery, so that I claim at once. I understand I myself induce their mistakes by using every possible coupon and discount promotion in one payment that makes my total so complicated. When a machine handles service in place of a human, it’s fast, convenient, clean and no mistakes. But on the other hand, no small talk or smiles are a little tasteless. Even so, machines may fit better for me since I often get annoyed with people too easily. The day that machines take up most jobs of humans’ might arrive sooner than expected. If it happened, the government would pay the people a basic income by taxing companies. Is it possible that people don’t have to work? For the first time after the ancient times, humans would get liberated from money at long last. Everybody could live by doing what they want. I’m eagerly looking forward to seeing that day come. I’m strongly hoping. And I believe in a miracle as such.
I was nervously looking at a passing view of houses and factories from the window of the express train that ran between Kyoto and Osaka in Japan. On that day, I headed for Osaka to meet for the first time the person who had posted a recruitment ad for the band in a music magazine. I was tense not only because I wasn’t good at meeting people, but also because my demo tape to be exchanged at the meeting had sounded terrible. When I recorded it, I couldn’t manage to make it as I hoped it to be. In the end, I was so frustrated that I aborted recording in the middle of one of my songs. And I was carrying that tape as the finished product for the first meeting. I was easily able to imagine the dumbfounded expression of the person who would have listened to this tape. It had been three months since I started college life that had turned out to be a waste of time and I began to look for a band. Although I had determined to pursue music as my lifelong career, my band searching hadn’t been going well. I had felt I was at a deadlock. If I had failed to form a band again with this meeting, futile days would have gone on. I couldn’t stand it any longer. The train arrived at Osaka and I came to the meeting place 10 minutes late. The young man was standing where the railway track ended as Osaka was the terminus. When I passed him by on purpose, he called me to stop though he didn’t know my face. We greeted and entered the cafe. He introduced himself along with his music career so far. Although he was younger than I was and still a high school student, he had a wealth of experience in music under his belt. He had formed several bands with which he had won quite a few competitions and awards. I wondered why he hadn’t mentioned them in his recruitment ad on the magazine. He of course had written much more songs than I had. Compared to his experience, a few gigs and my own songs were nothing. Inevitably however, he asked about me and my turn to talk about myself came. After I heard about his glorious career, I didn’t feel like telling him mine. I just gave him snippets of information such as I started to play the piano when I was four years old since I had applied to his ad as a keyboardist/singer. And instead of my experience, I ranted and raved about my passion. I didn’t have anything else for self-promotion but showing how committed I was to make a career as a musician. I did so also because I had my poor demo tape waiting to appear. As I remembered the last line of his ad was ‘A band member with passion wanted’, I thought my passion was the best defense as well as selling point. I even told him how hurriedly I had pedaled my bicycle when I went to get a double postcard to contact him prior to this meeting. After he listened to me half amusedly, he told me that his band would start with me as the keyboardist. As it turned out, we exchanged demo tapes not to listen there but just to make sure later. All he needed to find out at the meeting was passion for music. Through his rich experience in forming a band, he had been sick of Japanese musicians’ common attitudes that they wanted to be professional only if they were lucky. They would play in a band until they got a steady job at the office and quit. No matter how skillful they were, they would decisively lack intention to become a professional musician whatever it took. I happened to have that kind of intention more than anybody and got to show him. I joined a band and the meeting was over. When we were about to leave the cafe, I said to him “Don’t bother about my coffee,” because it was still a common practice back then in Japan that a man should pay for a woman. He answered, “I wouldn’t do such a thing.” He was a rare progressive person for a Japanese of those days. Along with the cool cafe in the big city and the new band, I felt like I opened the door to the future at the meeting. I was relieved to have found the band and have broken a deadlock finally when I headed home. I took the train back to Kyoto again, which was running toward the future this time. In the train, I listened to his demo tape on my Walkman. On the tape were three songs he wrote and sang with his own guitar playing. I was astounded. His songs, singing, playing were all excellent. Even the recording quality sounded as if it were of a professional musician. I couldn’t believe what I had just found. I was convinced I had hit the jackpot. With this talent, the band would become professional and be a big hit in no time. Success was assured. For the first time in my life, I felt hope enormous enough to tremble. All at once, everything I saw looked different. The same somber houses and factories that I had seen out of the train window the way there were beautiful now. The regular train was gorgeous and all the passengers seemed happy. Among those happy passengers, a shaft of sunlight beamed only on me and shone me. I saw my wretched life with too many failures ending at last. A successful life that I should have was about to start instead. I listened to the tape repeatedly on my way home feeling literally over the moon. The thing I couldn’t see was that this was the entrance to my adult life filled with sufferings and miseries that I would have endured as a musician to this day.
When I was five or six years old and visited my grandparents’ home, an acquaintance of the family’s showed up. He is good at fortune telling, at least known to the family so. My grandparents’ family deeply depended on fortune telling for almost everything, including my mother’s marriage and the building of their new house. They excitedly brought me to the man and asked him to see my future.
According to him, by just looking at someone’s ear, he could tell the future. Surrounded by almost all members of the family, I was made to show my ear to him. As soon as he saw my ear, he shouted, “Oh! This is an ear of a family’s successor!” I had never seen him before, and was introduced to him only as a child related to them. But in my family, I had been already looked on as a successor because I was a firstborn and there was no boy. Since the man uttered an accurate situation, they were so impressed and said in unison that the man surely could see the future.
I, on the other hand, was shocked. Succeeding my family meant living at the same house with my parents and bearing the same last name all my life. While I had been told I would success the family, I still had clung to a little hope of freedom and secretly enjoyed imagining my future. Although I had only a younger sister so far, my parent may have a baby boy in future and then my secret wish would come true. I could choose my husband by myself and could live wherever I want.
But when the man declared I was destined to be a successor, I saw my hope crushed. I felt all doors of possibilities slammed shut. Now I knew where I would live, what my last name would be, and even which grave I would be buried in. While I despaired, they congratulated me joyfully, as if good news were delivered. “Good for you! You are a successor! It’s your destiny!”
Decades later, the man’s fortune telling proved wrong after all. I left home and live where I want. My last name is unchanged all right, but of my own free will…
A dream I wish to have in the night most isn’t about dating a Hollywood star, or making a great hit with my song. It’s not about my parents saying to me with tears “We were wrong. We’re sorry.” either.
It’s about numbers. I once saw a woman on TV who won 4 million dollars by the lottery with the numbers she had seen in her dream. Shortly after that, I myself saw numbers in my dream and began to buy a lottery ticket with those numbers. I won $10 for several times and $100 once, if not 4 million dollars.
Since then, I’ve always waited for numbers to appear in my dream, the numbers for the jackpot. And the other night, new numbers appeared in my dream for the first time in months. I was convinced that the time had come. I rushed to the only lottery stand in this small town and got a ticket for five consecutive drawings with those numbers.
I lost them all. I went out again in the snow with my partner for five more drawings. At the stand, he found that he had left an ATM card at home, which was necessary to get a lottery ticket. He acted as if he had lost 4 million dollars on the spot and looked up the sky with despair.
I’d never thought the numbers from my dream gave him so much hope. I ended up coming back again to get a ticket before the next drawing day. While I rely on my dream numbers and keep meeting the deadline for each drawing rigidly, a possibility of the jackpot is practically none…
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 nearest grocery store from my home is a 25-minute walk away. That small local store carried a sale on eggs at one dollar for ten. I walked there with my partner to get them. Since my town is so small and rural, there are usually almost no pedestrians on the streets. Except that cars are passing by sparsely, I hardly see anybody. But on our way back home from the grocery store, I saw a woman standing by a field and watching wild flowers. It was rare to see someone on the street. As I was getting closer, I perceived her looking at me with her face filled with a big smile that was totally familiar to me. I knew her. She used to be a resident in the apartment building where I live. We often came across and shared some time together at the communal spa in the building. She is much older than I am, but we somehow got along well and chatted heartily every time we saw each other at the spa. About six years ago, she moved out of the apartment to the different one in the same town. I unexpectedly felt so sad because I had regarded her as if part of my family unconsciously since we met and talked almost everyday. However, when I saw her for the last time and she tentatively hinted her suggestion to exchange contact information and invite me to her new place, I just chickened out and dodged a reply. I wavered tremendously but didn’t have courage to step into a new friendship. We parted without even asking each other’s names. The spa had become quiet ever since. Occasionally from nowhere, a thought about how she has been doing came up to my mind while I was taking a bath with no one to chat. I regretted my decision not to be friends with her. I missed her more than I had thought. And I saw her again after those years by this incredible coincidence. I jumped for joy to have bumped into her like this. Her big smile and loud laughter hadn’t changed a bit and she told me how she had been doing. After we chatted for a while, I sensed the time to say good-bye again was approaching. And I was swallowed by one single thought: Should we exchange contact information this time? I ran through a scenario in my head. If I asked her info here, she would expect me to get in touch later. Then if I got in touch with her, she would invite me to her place. Then if I went to see her, she would expect me to invite her back in my place next time. Then if we found little left to talk about, we would be distant gradually. Then if it broke off, I would regret my contact exchange of today retrospectively. While I was trying to see the future, she also tried to judge my feelings and tentatively brought up a plan to see each other again, like deja vu. The time to decide had come. I had missed her. I had wanted to be friends with her. I made a wrong decision last time and this could be the second chance falling from the sky. On the other hand, I had too many bitter experiences about friendship and wanted to add no more. I felt harsh loneliness every time I lost friendship. The closer my friend and I were, the harder it was to be estranged. I tend to have high hopes and expect too much for someone I make friends with, that usually leads to painful disappointment when she or he doesn’t meet my expectation. I had had many friends and lost them. For me, getting along well isn’t enough to build friendship. I need to respect someone as a friend. People change. Once I can’t respect my friend any longer, my friendship is over. I also need to be accepted as who I am. That’s why most of my friends left me when I decided to become a musician. I wonder how I could ever start a new friendship as long as I know how I would feel when it ends. Disappointment would be huge this time all the more because I like her. I couldn’t bear the loneliness it would bring. Since I was a child, I have struggled to escape from loneliness. I had searched for someone to get along, thought I found one, and realized I didn’t. Repeating the cycle had accumulated loneliness. I reached the point to afford no more loneliness long ago. But in the course of my life, I’ve got the solution. I think loneliness may be overestimated and it’s not so bad if you see it from a different perspective. Sometimes loneliness is freedom. Sometimes it’s self-esteem. It works for me to stop looking for the way not to be lonely, but accept to be lonely instead. To fend off loneliness, be lonely already. I didn’t ask her contact information and neither did she mine after all. We said our good-byes without giving names again. We waved and resumed our ways in opposite directions. Immediately the blame on her crossed my mind that she should have pressed on our contact exchange. If she had cornered me and I had had no choice, I could have told. Why didn’t she simply ask me so that I could answer? No, I reconsidered, it was better as it went. I felt her kindness more than ever not to ask me and walked on with holding a lot of fresh eggs.
It happened a long time ago when I lived in Tokyo. My partner and I had dinner at a restaurant one night after we hung around the mall. We came back to our apartment that we had rented on the top floor of the building as our home and the office for our record label. When I tried to turn my key on the front door, I noticed the door had remained unlocked. It was weird. I may have forgotten to lock the door when I left, which was highly unlikely since I was fussy about locking and couldn’t leave without making sure that the door wouldn’t open by trying the knob for a couple of times. I got in feeling dubious, but our apartment didn’t look unusual. Then my partner suddenly said, “Why is the cabinet open?” My heart began to beat fast with overwhelming uneasiness and I hurried into the bedroom that had a balcony. The tall window to the balcony had been smashed broken. It was a burglary. I called the police right away while my partner was gingerly looking into the bathroom, the closet, and behind the drapes to see if the burglar wasn’t still hiding. Those minutes were the scariest as too many movie scenes flashed back to me. Thankfully, there was nobody. The police arrived quickly since the station was ironically only a block away from my apartment. Such a location apparently wasn’t safe enough to prevent burglary. The policemen came in and looked around. As they saw the messy rooms, they showed sympathy saying, “It’s played havoc, huh?” It was funny because my apartment had been messy as it was long before burglary. But probably thanks to it, the burglar didn’t notice an envelope that held a few thousand dollars for the bills and was mingled with scraps of paper on the table. Instead of cash, a dozen of Disney wrist watches that was my collection, a cheap wrist watch that was my partner’s memento of his late mother, an Omega wrist watch that I received from my grandparents as a souvenir of their trip to Europe decades ago, and one game software were missing. Actually, those items had been the only valuables in my office apartment. Other than those and litter, my apartment had been quite empty. The reason was simple. I was near bankrupt at that time. I had started up my music label with my partner and it had grown steadily as business. A person I had trusted offered substantial financial support and I took it. I rented this apartment and hired staff with that money. Then the financial supporter tried to take over my label and threatened to suspend further finance if I refused. Amid horrible disgusting negotiations, money stopped being wired into my account. The label came to a standstill for lack of funds. I laid off all staff and saw what took eight years for my partner and I to build from a scratch crumbling down. The blow was amplified by anger and self-loathing from the fact that I was deceived by a person I had trusted. Despair and emptiness led to apathy. I stopped doing or thinking anything and had played a game every day. In hindsight, if there hadn’t been burglary, my partner and I would have kept paying the costly rent for the apartment and playing a game until we spent all the money that was left. But something clicked when I saw the very game software I had played every day picked among other many games to be stolen, and the glass window of my dream penthouse apartment smashed. It marked the point where I hit the bottom but also was a wake-up call. We moved out the luxurious apartment immediately and rented a cheap studio apartment in a small two-storied building. That move left some money in my bank account. The deposit of the penthouse apartment was returned, too. Also, I received an unexpected insurance payout. The expensive rent of my former apartment included a damage insurance. The insurance company assessed the damage based on the report I submitted to the police. For some reason, they calculated the payout more than the total price of what were stolen. I discussed with my partner about what to do with the money. We decided to go to California. A new start form zero. And that was to be the beginning of all these, everything that I do at present. My works have been taken to the world by that decision, made by the burglary.