“It was a fox! A fox got me!”

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

I’ve never been this happy.

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…

 

episode from An Old Tree in Kyoto / Hidemi Woods

made an origami crane with a tiny sheet of paper

My relative’s home where I mistook my grandmother’s uncle for a kidnapper was the place that my grandmother had lived in mostly until she got married. Her mother was a geisha and died right after her birth. As she didn’t have a father, her mother’s parents took her in and raised her at their home. When I visited there as a child, her mother’s brother had succeeded the family. Her mother’s brother, or my grandmother’s uncle, who is the one that took me to the secret place, was a medal-awarded artist for Japanese lacquer. He had a studio beside the house and his young son invited me in. There, his son made an origami crane with a tiny sheet of paper merely half an inch square and gave it to me. I felt like I watched magic. His older son was an architect. So, the lineage of my grandmother on my mother’s side is abundant in artistic people. When I left home to pursue a career as a musician, my grandfather approved and let me go despite of my parents’ opposition. But a few years later, he realized that I had been determined and wouldn’t come home to succeed the family. He began to blame my mother. He thought I became a musician because of part of my blood, which came from my mother’s side that had a geisha in the lineage…

I felt as if I had been put in prison with a life sentence

It has gotten warmer little by little and spring is near. Shortly, cherry blossoms are blooming here and there around Japan, making a usually somber country beautiful. Cherry blossoms mean the season to begin a new year at a school and an office in Japan. It was spring when I entered elementary school and this time of year reminds me of how I felt at that time. At Japanese schools, the whole school assembly is held once a week. I remember the first assembly at the elementary school held in the schoolyard. The school had a large number of students, well over 2,000. They gathered in the schoolyard to listen to a principal’s weekly address, lined up in neat rows by the class and the grade. As I was in the first grade, my row was near the edge of the yard. I glanced at the far side of it, where the sixth-graders stood in line. They were tall and looked like grown-ups to me. And all of a sudden, a strong sense of claustrophobia seized me. I realized that I would keep coming to this school until I grew that big. Considering the excruciating two years I spent at kindergarten, coming here for six years seemed forever and torture. On top of that, it wouldn’t end there. Three years at junior high school and another three years at high school would follow. My mother had already talked about a college then, too. The day I would be freed from school I loathed so much would be so far away. I felt as if I had been put in prison with a life sentence, while the principal was congratulating the first-graders in his speech and cherry blossoms were warmly looking down…

In Japan, St. Valentine’s Day

In Japan, St. Valentine’s Day is the day that women give chocolate to men. When I was a freshman at high school, I had a big crush on my math teacher and gave him a handmade chocolate cake on Valentine’s Day. I wasn’t interested in cooking at all and never helped my grandmother and my mother in the kitchen. Although cooking was an unknown territory for me, I decided to make a chocolate cake on a whim. It turned out to be way harder and more time-consuming than I thought. I made two cakes and chose the better-looking one for the teacher and the other to be stored in the fridge for my family and myself. I handed the cake to the teacher at school and was so happy because he seemed pleased. I came home in a good mood and tried the other cake in the fridge myself. My good mood was extinguished on the spot. It tasted horrible. I’d never had such a terrible cake before, and haven’t since. Of course I tasted it to make sure while cooking, but I did so for chocolate icing, not for sponge cake. As you know, chocolate can’t go wrong, but sponge cake possibly can. I felt awful imagining the teacher was having the vicious cake with his colleagues or his family on Valentine’s Day…

I lost my hope and purpose entirely…

Hiring specifically new graduates is a Japanese companies’ custom. If you fail to enter a university after finishing high school and spend another year to take an entrance examination again a year later, you would be one year older than other new graduates, and that is a big disadvantage to be hired at a Japanese company. When I failed all universities I applied for, my hope to work at a big company as a super career woman was crushed. The college I passed belonged to the same school as the high school I went to, and wasn’t effective to open a gate for a big company upon graduation. Come to think of it, the dream of my youth was purely based on my vanity because I don’t think I’m cut out for a nine-to-five job nor I don’t want to be a business person. I can’t even wake up in the morning to begin with. But I was young and stupid enough then, and totally at a loss for what to do for life, as I lost my hope and purpose entirely…