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…
To keep being a dreamer living in Japan is as hard as to catch a fly in the air with chopsticks, and yet it’s not all impossible.
The chain of events that you have never experienced in your life changes your routine days into chaos. While you can’t quite grasp the sudden change of circumstances, it throws you into confusion in which you continually need to make decisions and actions. You are sucked by mighty force against your will and can’t get out. It inevitably changes some point of your life, your way of life, and your inner self also. As a result, you become another person who is not the one you used to be.
That is exactly what happened to me from the fall of 2009 to the fall of 2011. At that time, I was too deep in a whirl to understand what was happening and why it was happening. But in hindsight, it was supposed to happen and someone or something pushed my back, yanked my arm, and rushed me who was reluctant into the new place.
For me being a singer-songwriter from Kyoto in Japan, the change coincided with the time when I gave up chasing fame and fortune that I had been craving fervently enough to leave my family and its long good lineage. I ignored the commercial-based timetable for the first time and took time as long as I was satisfied to complete a song for which I composed, wrote English words, arranged, and recorded all instruments and vocals by myself. When the song’s completion was on the horizon, what would change everything began to happen.
Embarrassment and conflict in my odd daily life, the massive earthquake and the following nuclear meltdown that unexpectedly knocked the bottom out of such daily life, surprises and transitions in the new place, and my new self. If you find my awkward, tottering adventure funny, it’d be worth taking on and I’d be more than happy.
After my grandfather quit a chair of a local chrysanthemum association, the number of his chrysanthemum pots had gotten less and less in the front yard of our house. Visitors to see his chrysanthemums had also tapered off to almost none. He stopped exhibited them at a public display. Yet, he had still grown a few pots and brought his best pot to a ward office by his bike, as a gift. No one in the ward office asked for it, but my grandfather was sure that everyone appreciated.
He delivered every year and once he did it on a very windy day. He put a pot on a back carrier of his bike and set off. When he arrived at the ward office, the flower had been snapped off by the wind somewhere on the way and only the stalk was left on the pot. He turned back home right away and carried his second best pot. When he arrived, the flower was again gone in the wind. He successfully delivered his chrysanthemum on his third trial. To my father, that was the funniest incident in his entire life.
Soon my grandfather stopped delivering his chrysanthemums anywhere because he became too weak to ride his bike. Even so, he continued to look after chrysanthemums in the yard until he passed away.
Spending years besieged by my grandfather’s chrysanthemums, I had fostered hostility to them. He monopolized the yard so autocratically that they symbolized his egotism. Eventually, I detested them. I even have the impression that my childhood is ruined and eaten up by chrysanthemums.
Now, I live in the town far away from my hometown and when I see them on display such as at the train station in autumn, I remember my grandfather. And I realized I actually think they are beautiful, and I like them…
The junior high school I attended had the high school on the same premises. Both students shared most facilities and some extracurricular activities. The school held a welcoming assembly for the first-year students in junior high and freshmen in high school. It was for school’s extracurricular activities to recruit a new member and all activities were introduced on the stage.
The main show was a play by the drama club, which was a huge hit. The cast members were the high school students, who performed a dramatic love story so well in glittering dresses. I had never seen a play at a theater before and I was struck by the power of the stage. It was beautiful, glamorous and dreamy. I couldn’t believe this somber Catholic school had a brilliant drama club like that. It was like Hollywood suddenly appeared in my school.
Since it was a girls’ school, the male parts were played by female students in male attire. They were so handsome and students of the female part were so beautiful. The whole first-year students were fascinated by the play and had kept talking about it in rapture for days after the assembly. The drama club was a joint extracurricular activity of junior high and high school. As I had been searching for the way to be cool at school, I thought I now really found the answer: join the drama club.
The club accepted interim members before they joined formally. I took part in an activity as an interim member after class. Almost 100 first-year students were there as the interim members. The senior high school students taught us voice exercises and tongue twisters. Among them I spotted the cast members of the play. Although they had been stars at school, they looked ordinary girls in the school uniform without the costume and makeup. We had practiced voice exercises and tongue twisters for the whole week and almost 100 new comers got down to six. They were just attracted by the glamor of the stage and couldn’t stand steady, inconspicuous everyday training. I was one of the surviving six because I knew there would be long training days before getting on the stage, and also because I believed the drama club was the only hope to become cool. I decided to join it formally…
Besides growing chrysanthemums in the front yard of our house as a hobby, my grandfather had been a chair of a local chrysanthemum association for a long time. He organized exhibitions and displays, and gave lectures. He enjoyed his post immensely, as he was quite an egotist.
One day, two officials of the association came up to our house. They looked grave and were apparently bringing some bad news. They asked my grandfather to step down as the chair. The reasons were his old age and his too long tenure. That infuriated my grandfather. He yelled at them and refused strongly. Two officials begged on their knees bowing so deeply that their foreheads touched the floor, which showed how much they wanted him to resign.
It was the time when the National Athletic Meet was being held in my hometown soon and that was going to be the biggest display of chrysanthemums for the association. The crown prince was to come and it would be the greatest honor to my grandfather to have the prince look at his organized decorations. It was out of the question to him to step down with the event he had longed for coming. After a long argument, he reluctantly consented on condition he stepped down after the meet. They also reluctantly accepted his condition and left.
He repeatedly said, “They had some nerve!” because he couldn’t believe someone dared ask for his resignation. He took charge of chrysanthemum decorations at the meet as his last work as a chair. Until he died, a framed photograph of the crown prince at the meet had hung on the wall of his room…
Nearly four months have passed since I moved in my new apartment. While I’m still unpacking countless cardboard boxes, I’d been working for handmade soundproof walls in my bedroom/studio that borders on the neighboring apartment with my partner’s help. Since I overestimated reinforced concrete of which my apartment building was made, my life in a quiet environment solely depends on our handmade walls of flattened cardboard boxes, soundproof polyurethane and soundproof vinyl sheets.
We’ve finished the whole four walls and the floor. To my disappointment, our soundproofing couldn’t resolve the clanging noise that came from some pipe. The source is still unknown but it’s a weekly thing that wakes me up every Thursday. Also the footsteps and other noises form the room above easily disturb my sleep. And a new comer has arrived. A flush noise in a drainpipe has begun to be heard since mid-August. Those seem to come from the ceiling of my room that is a weak spot for handmade soundproofing. Now I have to resort to the last measure.
Putting my bed into a big container made of many drapes and boards and sleeping in it, which I used to do in my old apartment before I moved out. It’s like Dracula sleeping in a little larger coffin. Although to sleep inaquietroomout of that coffin-like thing was one of my main purposes of moving in here, I’m about to end up being no better than before. All my enormous amount of effort and time to move didn’t pay to get a quiet life. It’s so hard to secure a good night’s sleep…
My grandfather liked a party so much. He threw it almost every week at home when I lived with him in my hometown. As he had held the chair of a local senior citizen society and a local chrysanthemum association after he retired, those parties weren’t so small with about 20 old people gathering each time. They weren’t official parties but his home parties solely for his own fun.
He made my grandmother order catering and serve sake and beer, all with our family’s money. It was a big nuisance to other members of our family, but no one complained to him who was a dictator in the family. I used to feel disgusted when I came home from school and saw revelries in my home. One good thing about it was there was an occasional absentee or two if I was lucky. In that case, my grandmother would let me have a surplus dish and I got an unexpected feast. Sometimes though, an absentee turned out to be just a latecomer and my feast had to be aborted after only one bite.
At one party, a man who was quite old drank too much and became unconscious in a chair. My grandfather called an ambulance and the man died at the hospital. Although my grandparents insisted he didn’t die in our house but died a natural death at the hospital, a big stain of his urine on the chair didn’t come off. The chair had been my grandmother’s favorite chair that she used when she did some sewing, but she never sat in it again.
Also, my grandfather’s home party days were over. He never had a party for his clubs at home again. We retrieved quiet days to our house in a weird way. But I missed the delicious excess dish once in a while…