My new Kindle has been published! ‘The Family in Kyoto: One Japanese Girl Got Freedom / Hidemi Woods’

As long as I could remember, my family members had told me that I was a successor of the family and I was to live with my family all my life as my father, my grandfather, my great-grandfather and on and on and on did, by taking a husband into our family to bear our family name. They kept saying that as a usual chant so repeatedly that I was sort of under the spell that I would be stuck in the house as a successor until the day I die.
 So, I was an outsider when other girls chatted giggly about what last name they would bear after their marriage or where they would live in the future. I knew what my last name and what my future address would be because they wouldn’t be changed. My whole life was so predictable for that matter. Since I knew my future, I had no interest in my life, and days were so boring.
 I changed my future completely by abandoning my family, my friends, my hometown and the old tradition. Now, I’m free from my once-arranged future. Instead, I dread my uncertain future everyday…

The Doll’s Festival

The Doll’s Festival in Japan is for celebrating
girls and they decorate old style dolls on
stepped shelves. The festival I had when I was
12 years old coincided with the day to know
whether I passed or failed the entrance
examination for the best private junior high
school in the city. In Japan, each candidate is
given an applicant number and a school
releases the numbers of the passed ones on
big boards put up in a school.
After excruciating two years that I attended
the supplementary private school for the exam
additionally after finishing a whole day at the
elementary school, I was reasonably confident.
I went to see the announcement boards with
my parents and my younger sister. It was a
big day for my family, as the result would more
or less decide my future.
In front of the boards, I was astounded. My
number wasn’t there. I failed. On our way
home, we stopped at a bakery for cake for the
Doll’s Festival. While my mother and my sister
went in the bakery, I was waiting in the car
with my father. It started to snow. I still can
vividly picture those snowflakes falling and
melting on the windshield. I had never felt so
devastated before.
In the evening, my mother took a bath with
me and she wailed saying “I’m so
disappointed!” again and again. Because I
wasn’t used to seeing her crying, my despair
turned fear. The fear that I made a fatal,
catastrophic error. Since then, every year on
the Doll’s Festival, I remember that year’s
festival…

Episode From An Old Tree in Kyoto /Hodemi Woods

Audiobook : Japanese Dream by Hidemi Woods On Sale at online stores or apps. Apple, Audible, Google Play, Nook Audiobooks,  43 available distributors in total

pick up my family’s ancestors

In mid-August, Japanese people get a few
days’ holiday for the ‘Bon’ Festival that is a
Buddhist event to ease the suffering of their
ancestors in the life after death. It’s believed
that their ancestors’ spirits return to their
home during ‘Bon’ and the family and relatives
get together to hold a memorial service and
have a feast.
When I was little, I used to go to pick up my
family’s ancestors with my grandmother at the
beginning of the ‘Bon’ period. The pick-up spot
was a small, ordinary vacant lot on the edge of
the hamlet. Our neighbors would also pick up
their ancestors there. At dusk, we lit incense
sticks there and carried them home, on which
smoke our ancestors were supposed to ride to
our house. Once we arrived home, the incense
sticks were put on the Buddhist altar, and that
meant our ancestors came in there. We
welcomed them with many plates of food on
the altar.
Although it had been an annual sacred event
for my grandmother and me, it was stopped
abruptly one year for good. When I asked what
happened to the pick-up, my grandmother said
that our ancestors had decided to come home
by themselves from now on. In hindsight, I
assume the real reason was because my
grandmother’s bad leg had gotten worse and
she became unwilling to walk to the pick-up
spot, or simply the vacant lot was replaced
with a new house and there was no pick-up
spot available. But back then, it didn’t make
sense even to a child that our ancestors
suddenly considered their descendants’
convenience and stopped requiring a pick-up.
What about an old custom we had observed for
a long time…?

Episode From An Old Tree in Kyoto /Hodemi Woods

Audiobook : Japanese Dream by Hidemi Woods On Sale at online stores or apps. Apple, Audible, Google Play, Nook Audiobooks,  43 available distributors in total

still remains as a mystery

In place of my parents who were busy working
out in a field as farmers from dawn till late
night, I was raised by my grandmother.
Although I spent most of time at home with
her, we had a quite distant relationship. She
was rigid and quiet, and I had felt tense all the
time. She was friendly to my younger sister
but with me, she herself seemed strained. I
was regarded as a successor of the family back
then and she treated me like some sort of VIP.
She didn’t accept idle talk and didn’t
understand any joke. Whenever I was talking
casually, she stopped what she was doing right
away and fixed her eyes on me to listen.
So, it was impossible to have relaxed
conversation with her. Also, she was strict
about manners and chided me for my way of
eating, sitting at the table, or walking.
Consequently, our mealtimes were silent.
Sometimes, she would set my meal at the
table perfectly and retreat to her room like a
servant. She hardly talked about anything
personal, and even when I asked, she just
shrugged it off as if it was irrelevant. I had
lived with her for over 20 years but I never
knew her. Three years have passed since she
passed away, and she still remains as a
mystery to me…

Episode From An Old Tree in Kyoto /Hodemi Woods

Audiobook : Japanese Dream by Hidemi Woods On Sale at online stores or apps. Apple, Audible, Google Play, Nook Audiobooks,  43 available distributors in total

The Beginning of My Life hr638

After I was graduated from a Catholic high school in Kyoto, Japan, I went overseas for the first time in my life as a family trip around Europe during spring break right before starting college. The culture shock I experienced there seemed to alter my brain. It took control of me and began to inflict cracks everywhere on common practice of the small hamlet of Kyoto that I was born and grew up in.
One of the things I realized in Europe was that so many different people lived by so many different ways of their own. It had been always that way and not worth mentioning, but that kind of notion blurred in my home town where everybody knew everybody who lived in the same way. As a firstborn, I was destined to succeed my family that had lasted over 1000 years, which meant I should live with my family in the same house, on the same location, for my entire life until I die. Although that had been fixed according to the hamlet’s long-standing common practice, what I saw and felt in Europe told me that shouldn’t be the only way to live.
Another thing Europe showed me was better understanding of my parents. Through numerous happenings during the trip, I learned their true self. They weren’t wise, weren’t respectable and didn’t even love each other. It became questionable whether I should follow the fixed life that was demanded by my parents now that I found they didn’t deserve trust.
The first day of college came in only a couple of days after I returned from Europe. It was an orientation day on which we had a physical checkup. I didn’t understand why it was necessary in the first place. For a few-minute-long checkup, all the freshmen had to stand in line waiting for their turns. We waited for three to four hours doing nothing, just standing. I couldn’t leave the line for lunch. A friend from the same high school as I had been in spotted me and went to get a cookie. While I was munching it standing in an everlasting long line, I felt dreadful for my college life that had just started. I had been fed up with my school days that were inefficient, wasteful, full of totalitarian practice. I thought I finally got out of it but it turned out to be started all over again. Everybody did the same ineffective thing at the same time here in college too.
The college had a compulsory two year’s curriculum claimed ‘general education’ and one of the subjects was physical education. About 30 students of the same class gathered at the ground wearing the college gym uniform. We played catch in pairs in one class, and danced odd moves to music all together in another. To me, it wasn’t college at all. I was sent back to kindergarten.
I asked myself what I was doing day after day. The world was infinitely vast yet life was too short. There was no time for doing what I was told to like others did. Time had to be spent on what I wanted to do even though others didn’t do. Three months later, I stopped attending all the classes other than an English conversation class. I knew I would neither graduate college nor get a degree as a result, but I didn’t care. There, I chose what to do by myself, and my own life has begun.

talisman

The house in which I grew up was about 100
years old. Pieces of the wall plaster were falling
off little by little and it was to be rebuilt when I
was ten. During the days of moving out, my
grandmother took out an old paper talisman
from her ancient drawers. It had a mysterious
picture on it. According to my grandmother,
the talisman drew clothes if it was kept in
drawers so that the drawers would be filled
with clothes. She gave it to me and told me
that I would never be short of clothes. I didn’t
say out loud but thought it wouldn’t work
because I knew how small her wardrobe was.
When our new house was completed, I had my
own room for the first time and kept the
talisman in my wardrobe. As I thought, I was
always short of clothes for years.
Although the talisman didn’t work, I brought
it with me when I left my hometown. Since
then, the number of my clothes has been
increasing and now, my closet is full of clothes.
The talisman does work after all, but it has an
awfully delayed effect. Another magic is, that
almost all of my clothes cost around $10…

Episode From An Old Tree in Kyoto /Hodemi Woods

Audiobook : Japanese Dream by Hidemi Woods On Sale at online stores or apps. Apple, Audible, Google Play, Nook Audiobooks,  43 available distributors in total

ancient poem is written

It was my birthday yesterday and my parents sent me presents. The gifts from my mother were exactly the same necklace as the one she had sent me a couple of years ago, a vinyl bag which she apparently had got as a freebie, and some towels she didn’t use anymore. She also enclosed a bag of rice crackers. My hometown is in Kyoto that is a Japanese historic city with a lot of old temples and shrines. Many stores there take advantage of the location and use the historic sites and events as their signature designs for wrapping.

The store my mother bought rice crackers used a Japanese classic card game. It’s played with 100 cards on each of which an ancient poem is written. For some reason, I was very good at the game when I was a teenager. I haven’t played it for a long time. Some of the 100 poems were printed on the wrapping of the rice crackers and I remembered how good I was. The best present from my mother this year was a wrapper of a snack…

Episode From Surviving in Japan / Hidemi Woods

Marriage in Japan hr634

I went out for lunch with my partner at a cafe the other day that stood across the train station in a Japanese desolate rural town where I live. To call it a cafe is a bit too fancy. It’s not the likes of Starbucks but rather a small old mom-and-pop diner that was built well over 30 years ago and remained as it was, which perfectly matched this old town itself.
We sat at the table and overheard a conversation from the table next to us. Three old women in their eighties sat around the table by the window. “She has passed away, too.” “This could be the last time we get together.” Although they were exchanging a downright sad conversation, they were talking in a matter-of-fact way and their chats were lively.
While we were eating a salad with watermelon that came with our main dishes of curry and rice with a fried pork cutlet, a family of three came in. A boy about ten years old and his parents in their thirties sat at the table near ours. As soon as their orders were taken, the boy started reading one of comic books that the diner placed for customers, and his father went outside to smoke. His mother was staring into space.The father came back in when their dishes arrived on the table but they didn’t talk while they were eating. Except that the parents occasionally said something to the boy separately, there was no conversation between the parents. After they finished eating, the father went out again to make a phone call, the boy played with diner’s puzzle toys, and the mother stared into space again. I saw through the window the father talk with someone over his phone pleasantly while smoking and laughing. He came back in and also began to play with a puzzle toy. I thought it was much more fun for him to have lunch with a person on his phone.
Quite too often, I see a married couple having almost no conversation at a restaurant. I wonder if people stop talking each other when they get married. While they must have clicked each other enough to get married in the first place, what makes them fall silent? Since I have never been married, I have no idea whether it’s because they have changed or they have lost interest in each other after marriage. The closest married couple I know is my parents, which means my knowledge about marriage is a generation old. My parents are from farming villages in Kyoto that is the oldest city in Japan. According to the old custom, their marriage was arranged by their families’ intention not their own. Inevitably, they were strangers with no affection whatsoever. In my childhood, my mother used to say, “I wouldn’t have married such an ugly guy like your father unless he had money.” Times have changed, and people get married by their own will in Japan. Nevertheless, if a couple who liked each other finds it difficult to talk once they marry, I don’t understand what marriage is for. The mystery deepens still more.
The family of three left hastily after they were done with the toys and staring. The party of three old women ordered refills of their soft drinks repeatedly and lingered at the table with their conversations, as if they were reluctant to leave the diner.