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…
I spent almost the whole first year at the private junior high school as an uncool geek. Every get-cool scheme of mine had failed. Neither breaching the school rules nor joining the drama club worked. I hadn’t come up with a new idea and had hung around with my not-so-cool friends. One day we were having a hilarious time at recess with tongue twisters I had devised. I had made a list of oddly sounded words on a piece of paper and read it out quickly in front of my friends. I seemed to sound so funny and they laughed hard. As we were making a racket, other students began to look at us curiously. Some cool girls from rich families approached us and asked what was going on. They never came near uncool girls but I drew their attention this time. I showed the list and demonstrated my tongue twisters, which didn’t appeal to them at all. They sneered and left. But I realized one thing: cool girls starved for laughter because they put on airs and kept their countenance every day. If I could make them laugh regularly, they might like me and include me in their circle.I commenced my assaults in earnest. Since then, I had behaved in a silly way whenever I passed by cool rich girls at school. I made funny faces, walked by dancing weirdly, or mimicked a TV comedian. At first they just looked at me in dismay, but they were gradually interested in me. They stopped and talked to me, “You’re so funny!” Then I would press an insurance laugh with haphazard puns or gags. Since I didn’t have a talent for making people laugh basically, I was out of comic materials so easily. I had to use the fact of a farmer’s daughter to make them laugh. This last resort of mine really succeeded. Soon one of the cool girls asked me to have lunch together, and I was invited to her circle. I officially joined the cool group at last. That acted like magic and other students stopped mocking me completely. In the end, after so many trials, to be the class clown was indeed the solution to be cool at school for me…The effect of being in the cool and rich group at junior high school was much bigger than I had expected and was almost magical. I was no longer a geek at school. Other students’ attitude toward me changed dramatically and they even respected me. I jumped into the whole new world.The girls in the group looked through a teen fashion magazine and chatted about its contents zealously at lunchtime. It looked like an adult life to me, as I had never been interested in fashion, let alone talked about it with my friends. After school, they would hang around the downtown area in the city, looking around the shops or having a snack at a fast food restaurant. I had seldom been downtown and I felt like I started a city life all of a sudden. Walking by elegant shops had never been my usual habit, and as for a fast food restaurant, I had never stepped into it before. On weekends, they would go to the movies together. My way of spending time outside school completely changed and it was almost like I began to live in America. On the other hand, there was a huge set back to be a part of the group. It was horribly costly. My scant monthly allowance didn’t last more than a week while other girls from the rich family didn’t have to care. A coin jar in the dining room in my house became empty quickly. My younger sister’s stash of money in her desk drawer had been shrinking steadily by my regular stealing.One of the girls in the group had a friend in a boys’ school and he invited us to his school’s homecoming. Since ours was a girls’ school, it was an exciting opportunity to meet boys. There, the boys asked us out after the homecoming, but I was the exclusion among the group. No one asked me out. While they were headed for a fast food restaurant, I went home, crying.I would do anything to stay in the cool circle, including acting a totally different person by giving up being myself…
After two and a half years of training and backstage work in the drama club at junior high, I was close to getting a role in a school play. Casting was done strictly by seniority, not by acting skill. A leading role automatically went to the club captain and the higher grade at school a member was in, the better role she got. The club was a joint activity of the high school and the junior high. I was already in the ninth grade and many senior members at high school either graduated or quit.
As a result, I rose to a candidate for the last bit part that had only two lines. The part was normally to go to Miss Fujiwara who was a freshman at high school and so one year senior to me. But since she joined the club at the same time as I did and our careers were equal, the bit part came down to either her, or me. It was put to a vote. Everyone knew my acting skill was much better than hers, and the choice was actually between seniority and skill. All members including she and I sat with a face hiding in the arms on the desk and eyes closed. The club captain stood in front of the blackboard on which our names were written. When she read out a name, we raised a hand for the name of our choice, and she counted the vote. Although I craved the role, I raised my hand when Miss Fujiwara’s name was called out for two reasons. While we wouldn’t know who voted whom, the club captain would know. I wanted her to recognize how much I respected seniority and I was thus a good member. And also, I had a trauma that my mother never allowed to vote someone else but myself and people laughed at me when I got one vote by myself in every election at elementary school.
The result was exactly tied. The captain declared the second vote, which meant the part would be mine if I voted for myself this time. Switching a vote seemed so shameless, though. I had never been in a tight corner like that. I raised my trembling hand for Miss Fujiwara. I heard one of the names being erased on the blackboard and when I opened my eyes, I saw my name gone. Miss Fujiwara got the role. Right away, an enormous feeling of regret came over me. I went home shivering, realizing I had made a huge, irretrievable mistake.
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…