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.
Living in Japan, I have been recently selling what I have in my apartment through a Japanese online service that is similar to eBay.
Japanese people had basically prioritized anything new and hadn’t been accustomed to buying and using what was used. They had believed what they got should be new and unused whether it was a house or a car. Needless to say, there had been no way that they put on or used what a stranger wore or possessed. It could have had something to do with their social customs of not shaking hands nor hugging. Or, they were just simply too hygienic.
However, as the Japanese economy has steadily worsened, the used market has finally grown larger. I myself struggle to make both ends meet, and I started selling my stock of clothes and cosmetics in order to make up for living expenses. I had had a tendency to get extreme bargain items even if they weren’t strictly necessary because I loved bargain hunting. That contributed too much unused stuff all over my small apartment. Selling it is a good idea that helps give my apartment space and also give me some money.
At the same time though, I feel a little sad as I remember how much fun I had when I shopped for the item or how excited I was when I wondered where to go with those clothes on. The higher my stuff’s selling price can be expected, the harder I say good-by to that one as I like it better and have a happier memory of my purchase.
My sister used to live alone abroad in an apartment provided by her company that included a housekeeping service. She had gradually been unable to throw away empty cans or wrappers after she consumed the contents because each one carried some kind of memory to her. She had kept them until her apartment was filled with her mementos that were commonly called piles of garbage. That made the housekeeper’s work incredibly difficult and they complained to my sister’s company repeatedly. My sister got fired for that although she had held a management job and her own secretary. While I don’t think I am as extremely attached to my stuff as she is, I can understand to some extent how she feels. Does DNA work here, I wonder.
During my daily parting with my attached things and memories, my mother called me the other day. She was going to rent an apartment and asked me to be a surety which was required for the contract. I gaped at her audacity to ask me a favor after she has deceived and tormented me mentally and financially so many times. I refused her request outright. As always, she couldn’t think of anything but using me in any possible way. My adamant refusal seemed to put an end to our relationship at long last. As for this matter, I felt relieved and free rather than sad.
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 had an interesting dream the other night. In it, I was at my parents’ house in my hometown. My father set a bomb in my purse to blow up the house. I ran out to escape and found that the house was placed at the bottom of a deep pit. The only way to survive was to climb up a steep slope to the edge of the pit. While climbing it desperately with all my force, I saw a rainbow on the edge. Finally I reached to the edge. There was nobody else except me who was out of the pit. I looked up at the sky and saw a gigantic red dragon. When I was awed by the beautiful sight, fireworks began.
And I woke up. I thought something very good might happen to me because I saw several items which are regarded as of good omen, such as a rainbow, a dragon, and fireworks. But then again, I know nothing will happen from my experience. I once saw a dream of picking up a large coin of $10 million and yet nothing has happened…
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…
The house where I spent my childhood was very old. Half the floor in it was bare earth and my family lived like in the way of the Wild West. With our shoes on, we walked around the house and ate meals. It was all right to throw away the rest of a drink from a cup directly onto the floor.
My father used to smoke. When he smoked, he would light a cigarette with a match and toss the match to the dirt floor. It burned itself out. That is probably my earliest memory. I remember a thrown match was burning out on the floor and I said “Ah…” According to my parents, I uttered “Ah…” every time my father threw away a match as if I didn’t approve it. And my tone was always tinged with disappointment. I guess I was already cheap as a child and couldn’t bear a thing to be thrown away after just one-time use. I was nagging at my parents about everything all my childhood, and even my earliest memory is something critical about my parents. No wonder we’ve been on bad terms for such a long time…
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…
When I lived in my hometown, there was our distant relative’s house at the back of ours. The relation was too distant for us to consider them as more than old neighbors. The man in the family was usually just one of our neighbors but once a year, he behaved as if he was our close relative. In the New Year, he would visit our house, coming right into the living room. No doorbell, nor calling. He would simply walk in, pass along the hallway, open the living room door and say, ‘Happy New Year!’ Unlike my parents, I would never complain about his behavior, though, because he gave me money as a New Year’s gift each time, which was also the Japanese tradition. Actually, he was generous all the time. He liked to hold events for the neighborhood such as a golf competition, and treat people to dinner and drinks. He had long been a PTA president. He was well-off enough to build a new house of a modern style with the lawn. I often heard his daughter play the piano. The mystery was, we didn’t know exactly what he did to afford his generosity. One day, we noticed that we hadn’t seen him and his family for days. Then, his house got off limits with a banner of foreclosure. The family had run away with huge debt. A collection agency came to our home, as they thought we knew his whereabouts as a distant relative. Later on, his beautiful new house was demolished. The lavish family disappeared with its house…
During the construction of my family’s new house, many contractors and
carpenters came and worked every day. As we lived in barns as a
makeshift home at the edge of the construction site, I saw them
regularly and had a crush on one of the carpenters. He would come to
work by car and pass under a pedestrian bridge at the almost exact time
every morning. I used the bridge to the elementary school, and every
morning when I was walking on the bridge, his car passed beneath it. I
waved at him and he waved back at me every time. One day, while I was
hanging around near the construction site, he came up to me and handed
me a key chain in which miniature playing cards were contained. He said
it was a small gift for me. I was over the moon. But, that was the last
time I saw him. Because the construction company executive ran away with
all the money my family had paid, the pay for the workers stopped. The
construction was abandoned and no one came to work anymore. Only a
carpenter with craftsmanship who carved beautiful patterns on the wooden
thresholds came to continue his work without pay after his new job. But
the carpenter I had a crush on never showed, and his car never passed
under the pedestrian bridge. I cherished the miniature playing cards for
a long time…