I spent my schooldays from junior high to college at a Catholic school not for religious reasons but for my mother’s vanity. She wanted me to attend the most prestigious school in Kyoto in order to brag about it. With no religious background, I encountered quite a few unfamiliar events at school that held Catholic ceremonies regularly. The school often celebrated the Mass, which was an entirely new and different culture to me and I hadn’t the slightest idea what they were doing. Christian students sat in the front row with white lace veils on their heads at the assembly hall. The priest gave them something that looked like a soft snack and they ate it. I regarded it as the believers’ benefits to have a snack during the Mass. The school held the annual Candle Service near Christmas. Before my first-ever Candle Service at junior high, a Catholic sister told us to bring something from home as a donation for the Candle Service. She added for those who couldn’t think of what to bring, that bars of soap would do. I had no clue what the Candle Service was. All I could imagine was I would receive some sort of service from sisters. I looked forward to it because I thought sisters would serve cake or tea like a Christmas party, and I could get it just with a bar of soap. But as it turned out, we just stood in line holding a candle at the dark assembly hall and sang several hymns endlessly to the poor accompaniment of the orchestra club students. While singing, we got on the stage one by one and put a bar of soap or other donations into a cardboard box. When all the students finished putting their donations into the box, the service was over without any cake. The school had a big, tall fir tree across from the entrance gate. It stood by the side of one of the school buildings like a wall decoration. Its top reached as high as the third floor of the building. Judging from its size, it was planted there when two sisters came from U.S. after WWII and opened the school. Around Christmastime, the tree was decorated with ornaments and made the school look beautiful. I was a member of the student board when I was a sophomore. Until then, I hadn’t known that the decoration was a student board’s task. I felt exhilarating for the first time as a student board member. The boring board revived and every member had so much fun decorating the tree together. The tree was too tall to decorate the upper part from outside by a ladder. We got inside the building, put an ornament on the tip of a broomstick and stretched it out of the window of the third floor. Gold tinsel garlands were thrown toward the tree from the forth floor window. It was the biggest Christmas tree I had ever decorated. I had had all those Christian events and classes in the Bible for years until college and yet I never really understood the meaning. I left school, got out into the world, and worked as a musician. Through the years of making music that hasn’t been paying, I feel I finally know why I continue and have spent so much time and energy to create a good song, which hasn’t brought me money or fame. It took a long time to understand, but better late than never, I suppose…
When my role in a drama club at junior high was still lower backstage work, I was assigned to give the cast members a cue on one school play. I needed to cue them in the dressing room when the show before us was about to end. I counted down from forty minutes before the cue to make their preparation easier by watching the current show in the wings. The stage was far from the dressing room and I had to go back and forth between them to tell them the time left.
For that play, the heroin put on makeup and got dressed so slowly, and I felt sure our play couldn’t start on time. I rushed her while reporting the progress of the show before us by running laps between the stage and the dressing room. But as I had feared, she couldn’t make it. The previous show had ended, the audience was waiting, and she remained wigless. Those who helped her dress got hysterical and began to take it out on me who kept on cueing. Back in the wings, the teacher in charge of the school event stormed at me. We had to start without her and I asked other cast members to prolong the opening scene by improvising. They got panicky and complained to me. Eventually, everyone yelled at me who was just a cue person. While they were desperately improvising the play on the stage, I took her from the dressing room plowing through the people on the crowded hallway for her.
Then I had gradually promoted to the higher backstage work play by play. As the curtain drawer, I needed to learn how to draw the heavy main curtain smoothly by tugging a thick twined rope. If it opened or closed in several separate movements according to my tugging, I would get reproved. The curtain was used frequently to shift scenes and drawing it seamlessly was such a tough job. As a prompter, I was pointed out that my prompts were too loud. Then as the stage lighting, I needed to get the knack to create a blackout on the stage by turning numerous switches off in one quick sweep by my hands. The switches were too many and big, so I had to hold my breath and put my whole weight on my stretched hands to slide them all.
All those years, I didn’t quit because I really wanted to be cast and play on the stage some day. It must have been a strong aspiration as I spent full three years just training and working backstage…
The drama club to which I belonged when I was a junior high school student had two school plays a year, for the homecoming entertainment and for the welcoming-new-students assembly. The casting would be done by a seniority system. A handful of senior members appeared on the stage and other members worked backstage.
New members usually started from the stage props staff, then were promoted to the scene shifter, the spotlighting, the curtain drawer/prompter, the stage lighting, and finally, the cast member. My fellow five new comers had quit within a year because they couldn’t take this slow promotion toward cast members, and I was the only one left among those who joined that year. Since there were so many members who were one year my senior, it seemed the day I would be cast in a play would never come in this seniority system. But once I begin something, I don’t quit easily.
When the twice-a-year school play came near, I would work eagerly backstage while seeing some senior cast members whose acting were much worse than mine rehearse on the stage. I started as the stage props staff. The first play I took part in was a Japanese drama. Some cast members had trouble putting on Japanese sandals very quickly when they stormed out of the room in one scene and complained to us. From then on I had stretched their sandals carefully before the scene for the cast members to put them on quickly. As the spotlighting, I learned to move a spotlight just as the cast member moved on stage and to keep the light above her chest all the time. Every once in a while in rehearsal, I made a mistake to follow the cast’s quick movement and my light missed the position slightly. In that case, the play would come to an instant halt and everyone turned to me. I would stand straight beside the spotlight and yell “I’m so sorry!” to the whole production.
I was a member of the drama club at junior high school. There were almost 100 new comers when I first joined it in the seventh grade, but only six remained including me after a month because of sober training that was far from the stage glamor. We did voice and physical exercises every day to develop our abdominal muscles.
In the end of the exercises, the members would stand side by side and utter a loud and long tone one by one in front of the club captain. While we were squeezing ‘Ahhhh’, a senior member would put a hand on our shoulder to see if it rose. If we were doing abdominal breathing, our shoulders didn’t rise. The club captain would time the length of the tone and check whether it wavered or not. A loud, long, steady voice was good and I was the one who always uttered the loudest, longest, steadiest ‘Ahhhh’ without raising my shoulders. While the club captain corrected each member, in my turn she would say “Nothing to be corrected” to me. That made me so happy and I practiced diligently back at home too, to hear her say that every time.
Gradually, I had tougher training at the club such as tongue twisters, short dialogues and pantomime. For some reason, I was good at those and had a good word from the captain each time. I began to think I might have a talent for acting. Secretly I took pleasure in picturing myself on the stage of a school play. A sad fact was, I was a fat and short girl. Even with the ability to act well, things wouldn’t go so smoothly for an ugly girl like me in the theater. But back then, I was too young and innocent to realize that. I just kept on striving and improving only my acting without caring about my bad looks…
I was a fan of a local country band called Bugs Bunny when I was in junior high school and they were going to give a performance at an open-air municipal auditorium. Their performance was one of the series of the local traditional musical event. It would start at 6:30 p.m. while my curfew was 7:00 p.m., which meant I needed an exceptional permission from my parents. My father readily gave it, telling me that he used to go to the event himself when he was young. He guaranteed it would be so much fun. I was changing my clothes before leaving for the auditorium on that day when my mother asked what I was doing. I told her about the event, and she said madly, “ Are you out of your mind? Your curfew is seven o’clock!” I explained that my father had allowed me to go, but she kept saying, “No way! You can’t go!” I called out to my father for help and she demanded to him angrily, “Did you allow this? Did you, really?” He said yes in a faint voice and got under her fiery anger. I begged him to persuade her, but her definite noes drowned out his “It’s rather an educational event.”
At last, he said to me, “You can’t go because your mother says so.” That was the last straw. I screamed at him, “You wimp! You can’t decide anything by yourself! I hate you!” I called my friend crying, to tell her that I couldn’t make it because my father was my mother’s servant, and stopped speaking to him. On the next evening, he came into my room hesitantly. As I ignored, he put a bag on my desk and said “Sorry.” After he left, I opened the bag and inside was a book of poems, which I had wanted for some time. I had talked about it casually at dinner and he remembered. He gave me a gift instead of confronting my mother. A few years later though, his character changed completely for an unexpected reason. It happened when I decided to be a musician after high school. Until then, he was a gentle father who liked music so much that he recorded my singing for practice when I was little and bought me records, a stereo and a guitar. But since I chose music as my career, he has been mean and spiteful to me and been opposed to my decision to date. Who would think one career choice reverses someone’s personality?…
That my mother wouldn’t want my father to do a nice thing to me meant that he constantly did what she didn’t like. The junior high school and the high school I attended were far from home and it took me an hour and a half to get there by bus. My parents were farmers and they would leave home at dawn in summer. But the wintertime was the low season and they didn’t have to leave so early in the morning. My father sometimes drove me to school so that I could have breakfast for which
I often didn’t have time and had to skip on a busy morning to catch the bus. My mother would keep nagging and saying, “You’re being spoiled!” all the while I enjoyed my breakfast. And to my father, “You’re spoiling her! She will come to no good!” until we got into the car. One morning, my father and I found quite a few bags of bean sprouts scattered on the road on our way to my school by his car. It was too early in the morning for other cars to run, and the bags seemed to have just fallen from a delivery truck. We got out of the car and picked up the fresh bean sprouts. We were so happy to get them for free. But it made my mother furious. When I came home from school, she was still in a bad temper and yelled at my father repeatedly all day long, “What should we do with so many bean sprouts? They will go bad quickly! Do we eat them for each meal everyday? Everything goes wrong when you drive her to school!” My father was so obedient to my grandfather and my mother, and basically did whatever they told him to do. What he did spontaneously for a change aroused their anger. He was a pushover for them and I’d never seen him decide anything by himself. When I saw ‘The Simpsons’ for the first time, Smithers looked awfully familiar to me. My father was exactly like him. I spent my childhood with Smithers in my house…
As all the people around me professed Buddhism and Shintoism, I had never been exposed to Christianity until I entered junior high school. The junior high I attended was a private Catholic convent school and most teachers were nuns. Since I had never had any contact with nuns before, they were nothing but mysterious to me. They lived together in a convent next to the school and wore a veil. They were called like Sister Catherine or Sister Patricia although they were Japanese. Until I got used to them, I had always wondered about the small basics. Do they have an ordinary Japanese name? Do they really stay single for life? Are they bold under a veil? Yes, yes, and no, I gradually learned the answers.
I had studied English quite hard to catch up with other students who came from the same convent’s elementary school that gave them a head start in English education. One teacher, called Sister Judith, happened to know that and kindly found a pen pal for me. While students mostly didn’t like sisters, she was an exception. She was popular because she was friendly and beautiful. Students also respected her since she graduated from one of the most renowned universities in Japan and was the smartest sister at school.
The school had the very rigid rules for uniform. If an irregular bag was spotted, it would be confiscated. I carried my personal small bag into school one day in addition to the big uniform bag, and Sister Judith caught me. She said she had to confiscate it and I begged her not to. I promised her I wouldn’t use it for school ever again. She decided to overlook my breach for once out of consideration for my emotional plea. As a stupid teenager, I was defiant to pretty much everything. I believed nothing good existed in this world. So I took my irregular bag out of my uniform bag again as soon as I passed through the school gate after school that day. I was walking toward the bus stop with the bag dangling. Someone called out my name from behind. It was Sister Judith. She didn’t return to the convent as usual and left for an errand on that particular day.
She didn’t confiscate my bag, though. Instead, she was crying. “I trusted you and that was why I let you go. But you betrayed my trust. I’m bitterly disappointed in you,” she said quietly and walked away. I felt it was much better that she yelled at me and took away my bag…
My mother used to take lessons in Japanese dancing. A woman in the neighborhood taught it in the evening to the neighbor housewives at her house. They held an annual public performance and my mother would practice earnestly at home when it came closer. My sister and I used to imitate her and dance alongside her. I liked it and danced quite well. I was in junior high school and my sister was still in elementary school. Since my sister came home from school much earlier than I did, my mother would take her to the lessons and let her wait and watch there. My father gave my mother a ride for every lesson. So, my parents and my sister would go out together once a week while I was left in the house with my strict grandparents. Soon, my sister began to take lessons as well. I felt it extremely unfair because it was I who danced well and should take lessons. I complained to my mother as hard as I could, but she never paid attention. The junior high I attended was so far from my home and I couldn’t come home by the time they left for lessons. My mother made no effort for me to ask for a late lesson to the teacher. It seemed she simply wanted to go out with just three of them once a week. Even in an instance of Japanese dancing, I was again an outcast in my family. I wonder why it kept happening to me all the time…
One day in my early teens, I heard a scream from my younger sister’s room. My mother and I went in and my sister was crying over the open drawer of her desk. She said her money was gone. She had stashed all her money in an envelope there by saving her allowances and money as New Year’s gifts from relatives. She had thought the total amounted to well over $1000 and had decided to count for the first time in a long time. But there was less than $500 and she was devastated. My mother lulled her by explaining that was how money was gone. While spending a small amount of money on candies and snacks at a time, it accumulated a big amount in total. “That’s why we say money has wings,” my mother said to her. But my sister insisted she had never bought candies that much and never wasted her money like that because she loved to save. My mother’s theory wouldn’t change though, and she kept telling her that money disappeared slyly while we were unaware. She said, “You learned an important lesson today. Now you know what is money.” Quietly seeing my sister cry hard and say repeatedly that was impossible, I had a clear idea what had happened to her money really. It was I who had regularly stolen her stashed money. I was in junior high school and my allowance was always short for what I wanted. I was constantly in a battle with my mother for a raise and denied. While there were countless things in the world that I wanted to buy, my sister wasn’t interested in buying at all. So, her money was useless and I did a favor by spending it instead of her. My sister’s money had wings all right, and brought me a lot of records, posters, concert tickets and accessories. Neither my mother nor my sister had the slightest idea what I had been doing. And they still don’t know about this…
When my uncle got married with my mother’s cousin by an arranged
marriage, my grandfather paid for his new house. He was proud of having
his own darkroom in the house. His hobby was photography and he used to
have the latest models of a camera. He planned to enrich his hobby by
developing pictures by himself. After he quit a job at a gas station, he
found a job supplying ice cream to small candy stores. He finished
drifting jobs, had two daughters and finally settled down. I visited his
house with my parents one day, and found that his darkroom had been
converted into a family closet. He explained he no longer spent so much
time taking pictures as before, with a weak smile. Several years passed
and I had become a student at a private Catholic school. The school was a
prestigious girl’s school that included from the elementary school to
the college. I had been there from the junior high and had acted as if I
had been from a rich and noble family to fit in. By the time I advanced
to the high school, I had been quite popular among the snobbish
students. Most of their parents were rich, and they looked down some
students whose parents weren’t so rich. One of those girls we looked
down came to me and said, “I saw your uncle yesterday.” And she started
talking about my uncle to my friends. “Do you know what her uncle is?
He’s an ice cream man!” she giggled. Her parents ran a grocery store and
my uncle went there to refill their ice cream case. He noticed her
school uniform and told her I was his niece. Her point was that I was a
niece of a funny, loud, rude ice cream supplier in spite of my snobbish
attitude. She went on spreading her encounter with my uncle to other
students and they all laughed at me. I was indignant rather than