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…

Congratulations!

February is the time that most universities and colleges hold an entrance examination in Japan. When I was a senior at high school, I applied for five universities and one college. I failed all five universities. They send the result by mail and put it up on the campus too. An applicant is allotted a number and the numbers of passed applicants are put up on a big bulletin board there. For one of the universities I applied, I was fairly confident about passing after the examination, and I went to see the result at the campus alone before receiving it by mail. There were lots of numbers on the big board and I was quite sure mine was among them. But it wasn’t. I failed the exam. And there, I discovered a human reaction to totally huge despair: laugh. To my surprise, completely unaware, I laughed. Besides the applicants, around the board were students who were recruiting those who passed to their clubs and circles, and people at local businesses who were looking for part-timers. Because I laughed, they thought I passed and they flooded around me at once. They handed numerous fliers to me, saying ‘Congratulations!’ I came home by subway. At the station, I dropped to a trash bin a big bundle of fliers that were meant for only those who passed. Tears also fell. During the subway ride, I felt like my life was going in a long endless tunnel instead of a train. I remember how dark my future seemed that day…

I am too short for good luck

Mt. Fuji is regarded as a symbol of good luck. Looking out the window of my apartment, I can barely see the top of Mt. Fuji far away after the leaves fall off from the trees nearby. It’s a season I can see it, but I haven’t been able to find it this year where it’s supposed to be. My partner told me that he has seen it for some time. I looked and looked for the unique shape of Mt. Fuji which was hardly overlooked. Then I noticed that the branches of the trees near my apartment had stretched upward. They block Mt. Fuji at my eye level but not at my partner’s who is much taller than I am. No matter how hard I jump, I can’t see the top. Starting this year, I am too short for good luck…

all my furniture is the lowest price one

My moving process began in earnest. I’ve already sent several boxes to my new place, and now I set about my furniture. I looked up on the Internet for the lowest possible price and decided to move furniture separately by a small cargo container, since I don’t have a car. Although it’s the cheapest way, the cost of the shipment is about the same as the total value of my furniture, because all my furniture is the lowest price one. I might as well replace them to new ones as spend money to move them, but people don’t do a garage sale in Japan. I can’t throw away what is still usable and I’m attached to them. For the first shipment, I emptied and cleaned the shelves and drawers. They were seven pieces and it took me more time and energy than I had thought to do the work. I was exhausted, but it’s just the beginning. Only about a quarter of the moving was done. More pieces of cheap furniture await me…

The family had run away with huge debt.

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…

became her new superstition

New Year is the biggest holiday in Japan. There is a traditional meal for it, which is called ‘osechi’. It’s assorted foods of beans, boiled vegetables, boiled fish, and steamed fish paste, boxed in layered containers. The kinds of an assortment are slightly different at each family according to the family tradition. My family’s traditional ‘osechi’ was absolutely terrible. The assortment consisted of only three kinds of food. Boiled carrots, boiled burdocks and black soybeans. That’s it. We even didn’t have to buy them except for black soybeans because they were grown in our family’s field. It was accompanied by miso soup that had sticky rice cake and big taro in it. Big taro was grown in our front yard and my family held a superstition that you would become a head of something by eating it in the New Year. Unfortunately, it’s huge and painfully tasteless. As a child, I always wondered how they could call them a New Year’s special feast since our daily meals were better. To conclude the ‘feast’, we drank special tea. A cup of Japanese tea with a pickled plum sunk in the bottom. As another superstition, my family believed that it would bring happiness, but it tasted horrible and made me unhappy right away. And then, what I thought couldn’t be any worse hit the new bottom. On one New Year’s Day, there was a new addition to our traditional meal. It was called ‘kuwai’ and looked like a chestnut with a sprout. My mother heard that eating it in New Year made you ‘sprout’ to the world. It became her new superstition and my father began to grow it in the front yard. It tasted utterly awful. If primitive people found it in the woods and tried it, they would certainly dismiss it as inedible. Although I had endured the terrible feast until I left home, I’m not a head of anything, nor don’t sprout to the world…

spend the closing days of the year on cleaning frantically

Japanese people spend New Year’s Eve cleaning. Basically, they spend the closing days of the year on cleaning frantically because somehow they need to clean up the house thoroughly and wash the car before the new year comes. The cleaning reaches the climax on New Year’s Eve. Mothers also need to prepare the special meal for New Year’s. The pressure that everything has to be done by New Year makes them prickly all day. They often take it out to someone in their families. So, New Year’s Eve is a day of cleaning and fighting in Japan. I recall few New Year’s Eves in my childhood that I managed to escape my mother’s scolding. I sincerely wanted to get rid of that custom, and have firmly decided not to clean up on New Year’s Eve. Even so, every year I find myself cleaning up somewhere in my apartment in spite of myself. I did it today, too. Does DNA work in this act…?