The Katsura River hr658

Back in those days of my childhood, a person who was going to commit suicide always took his or her shoes off and put them together neatly before jumping from the top of the building on Japanese TV dramas. It seemed Japanese people wanted to take off their shoes even when they tried to kill themselves just as they took them off at the entrance of the house. I somehow feel convinced.

There is a bridge called Katsura-ohashi Bridge over the Katsura River about a twenty-minute walk away from my family’s house that used to stand in Kyoto where I was born and grew up. The bridge is about 400-feet long as the river under it is quite big and wide. On one summer day in the fourth grade, I went to the bridge with seven or eight friends of mine to play by the Katsura River. Because it was probably the first time each of us played at the riverside without a grown-up chaperon, the outing was felt like an adventure and we were having so much fun by the river.

After a little while, one of my friends seemed to have enough spree to suggest we walk in the river along the bridge piers  toward the opposite bank. It was midsummer and the river banks had widened with less water. To us, the river looked shallow and easy to walk in and go further. Since we were all feeling adventurous, we persuaded ourselves that a fourth grader was a big, old kid for whom crossing the river on foot was a cinch. We started splashing across the current with a war cry.

In the beginning we were only ankle-deep in water, but soon water reached to our knees. Our walking speed dropped tremendously. By the time our thighs dipped in water, the stream got fast. It was hard just to stand still without holding onto a bridge pier although we had trod across merely one third of the river. The fast stream crushed against the bridge pier and my thighs, splashing big waves. Suddenly, fear sprang out from the bottom of my guts and yelled at me, “You’re in real trouble! You can’t possibly move ahead. What if you get swept away? Not to mention the opposite bank, you’ll drown to death right here!” Panic engulfed me. I looked back to return, but I was too scared to move, feeling that with this one step I was going to be carried away by the current. There was no way either to go forward or to go backward. I was stuck in the middle of the strong current. Thinking that wasn’t what was supposed to go, I looked around other kids. They also had stopped walking with a scared face just as I did. As if a tacit agreement, we slowly tried and managed to move backwards. When we finally returned to the riverbank where we had set off, our spree had thoroughly gone. Dejected in heart, without talking, we plodded our way home.

About ten years later, I was looking at the Katsura River again from the edge of Katsura-ohashi Bridge after taking off my shoes and putting them together neatly. It was when over a year had passed since I started my career as a musician despite dissent from my parents and friends. Although I had tried harder than I had ever done before, nothing had worked. On the other hand, I didn’t want to live doing what I didn’t want to do. I was stuck without either way to go forward or to go backward, again. I leaned over the parapet and stared at the surface of the river, seriously intending to jump into it. Then, something came into view. I saw three ducks swimming out from under the bridge. They stopped right down below me and just floated there. I vaguely thought I might strike and kill them when I jumped and hit the surface. All of a sudden, that thought drove me out of a daze. I came to my senses and pulled myself back away from the railing. Until that point, the world around me had been completely silent, but noises came back to my ears all at once. I noticed some cars honked at me while passing by. I hurriedly put back on my shoes.

You should challenge at the risk of your life if you wish to fulfill your dreams. Only after you brace yourself for death, can you live your own life. To attain that understanding, I had had to do a few more suicidal attempts in the course of my life. I understood after all and keep challenging, thankfully. 

it was simply a bad omen

Photo by Tara Winstead on

Most of the stuffed animals and the toys I had in my childhood came from my uncle. He bought something for me every chance he got. When he got married, he left our house and moved into his new house that my grandfather built for him. But he frequently dropped by our place, mostly to have lunch cooked by my grandmother.

 One day, he came into the house cheerfully calling out my name. He took me to his car and told me to get in. I hesitated because I’d never gone out with him. I asked him where we were going and he proudly declared that he would buy me any toy I wanted today. I felt extremely nervous right away. Although I had been surrounded by the toys he gave me, I had never shopped with him. Also, I had never been in his car before. Above all, his offer sounded desperate since I knew he had started drifting jobs again.

 In his car, I was even sure that we weren’t headed for a toy store but somewhere else. So, I was confused when we arrived at a small toyshop actually. He told me to choose whatever I wanted in the shop. It would be a dream moment for an ordinary kid, but for me who had known my uncle, it was simply a bad omen. I reluctantly looked around the shop and found the toy I’d wanted for a long time. It was a shoe shop of Rika’s mom. Rika was a Japanese version of Barbie Doll and I used to play with the doll all the time. Rika’s mother was set to run a shoe shop and the toy had a shoe display case filled with fancy shoes for Rika.

 Seeing my pick, my uncle said, “That’s it? I said whatever and you didn’t choose an expensive one! You’re a fool!” Since it was exactly what I wanted, I didn’t change my pick and he bought it for me. On our way home, I was still certain something bad would follow, but nothing happened. He came to buy me a toy and that was all. And that was the last time he gave me a toy, as he became a father of two shortly afterward. I wasted a golden opportunity to shop around toys for my negative mindset…

Episode From An Old Tree in Kyoto /Hodemi Woods

Audiobook 1 : Japanese Dream by Hidemi Woods On Sale at online stores or apps. 
Audiobook 2 : My Social Distancing and Naked Spa in Japan by Hidemi Woods On Sale at online stores or apps. 
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