The tiny close community of a small village used to be the whole world for me who was born to a farming family living in a rural area of Japan. The sole window to the outside world was TV through which I had encountered what I had never seen in my daily life.
Back in those days, Japanese TV dramas were made and shot in the capital city of Japan, Tokyo. The city view and the people’s way of living in Tokyo looked so cool. Everything from fashion to lifestyle was completely different from things in Kyoto where I lived. On TV, Tokyo seemed like a future world decades ahead to me. I was hooked by one particular weekly crime drama which was shot on location all around Tokyo. Every location looked as if it had been in a Western country and the detectives in the drama were extremely stylish. I was absorbed in seeing that exotic world every week and had spent the other six days of the week waiting for the drama. As soon as I finished watching that show, I would rush into my room and write out the entire show in the notebook. I reproduced all the lines of characters and all the settings by depending on my memory. Since there was no way to record a TV program as a video cassette recorder was yet to come, I read my notebook over and over again to watch it inside my head until the next show was on air. In hindsight, the world of TV dramas was fictional which didn’t exist even in Tokyo, but I was too young to realize that.
Years went by and I became a musician. By the time two years have passed since I joined my first band, the band not only had played gigs around Kyoto but also had made guest appearances and had our songs played on local radio shows from time to time. We had made some connections with music producers who came down to the western part of Japan from Tokyo as judges for some live contests. However, our progress was limited because all the major music labels of Japan were based in Tokyo. My partner and I began to consider moving our base to Tokyo as we were geographically too far off to make a career in music.
Moving to Tokyo was a big deal to me. While I seldom attended, it meant I would quit college once and for all. As a much more serious matter, an old Japanese custom didn’t allow a successor of the family, that was me, to leave home. For me, leaving home meant abandoning my family and all the privileges. Although it seemed crazy to throw away everything when I had no idea how to live on as a musician in Tokyo, I felt living there would be better than staying in my family’s home for the rest of my life. I preferred eating hamburgers and french fries from McDonald’s to eating home-grown vegetables from my family’s fields every single day. I knew it wouldn’t be healthy, but at least I would be able to eat what I chose, when I wanted. To sum up, moving to Tokyo was all about freedom. I was more than willing to jump into the free world where I would make all choices by myself instead of the old fixed rules and customs.
Oddly enough, things went unexpectedly smoothly once I made up my mind to move to Tokyo. Various kinds of obstructions that had been seemingly difficult to be cleared resolved themselves almost magically. The moving day arrived sooner than I had imagined.
I was waiting for the bullet train bound for Tokyo on the platform in Kyoto Station. A friend of mine came to see me off. She was surprised that she was the only one for me there. “Even your parents don’t see you off?” she sounded bewildered. I wondered what awaited me in the outside world of my window. I was both looking forward to it and afraid.
Living in Japan, I have been recently selling what I have in my apartment through a Japanese online service that is similar to eBay.
Japanese people had basically prioritized anything new and hadn’t been accustomed to buying and using what was used. They had believed what they got should be new and unused whether it was a house or a car. Needless to say, there had been no way that they put on or used what a stranger wore or possessed. It could have had something to do with their social customs of not shaking hands nor hugging. Or, they were just simply too hygienic.
However, as the Japanese economy has steadily worsened, the used market has finally grown larger. I myself struggle to make both ends meet, and I started selling my stock of clothes and cosmetics in order to make up for living expenses. I had had a tendency to get extreme bargain items even if they weren’t strictly necessary because I loved bargain hunting. That contributed too much unused stuff all over my small apartment. Selling it is a good idea that helps give my apartment space and also give me some money.
At the same time though, I feel a little sad as I remember how much fun I had when I shopped for the item or how excited I was when I wondered where to go with those clothes on. The higher my stuff’s selling price can be expected, the harder I say good-by to that one as I like it better and have a happier memory of my purchase.
My sister used to live alone abroad in an apartment provided by her company that included a housekeeping service. She had gradually been unable to throw away empty cans or wrappers after she consumed the contents because each one carried some kind of memory to her. She had kept them until her apartment was filled with her mementos that were commonly called piles of garbage. That made the housekeeper’s work incredibly difficult and they complained to my sister’s company repeatedly. My sister got fired for that although she had held a management job and her own secretary. While I don’t think I am as extremely attached to my stuff as she is, I can understand to some extent how she feels. Does DNA work here, I wonder.
During my daily parting with my attached things and memories, my mother called me the other day. She was going to rent an apartment and asked me to be a surety which was required for the contract. I gaped at her audacity to ask me a favor after she has deceived and tormented me mentally and financially so many times. I refused her request outright. As always, she couldn’t think of anything but using me in any possible way. My adamant refusal seemed to put an end to our relationship at long last. As for this matter, I felt relieved and free rather than sad.
One day, when I visited my grandparents’ house, my grandmother on my mother’s side asked me to sing a song. I sang the then popular song with dancing in front of my grandparents and my parents. I was about seven or eight years old and it was just casual singing. While everybody was laughing, my grandmother alone seemed very impressed. She seriously said to me, “You should become a singer when you grow up.” And turning to my mother, she said, “You should make her a singer.” Although my mother shrugged it off as rubbish, there was no joke in her suggestion.
She herself loved singing. In her later years, she learned Japanese old traditional singing, which had a unique, slow melody on a Chinese old poem. She often told people around her, including me, that she wanted to be skilled at singing one particular song for celebration so that she could sing it at my wedding. Eventually, I became a singer, but she passed away without singing at my wedding because I still stay single…
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 classic card game is usually played during New Year’s in Japan.
There used to be a family gathering in New Year’s in my house every
year. On one New Year gathering after I won the tournament of the game
at school, I suggested to play it because I had become extremely good at
it. I played with my relatives and my grandfather. I won dominantly by
getting most of the cards. Then, my grandfather began to be angry with
me, saying I was unfair. In 100 poems the cards hold, a player often has
his or her favorite poem. It’s considered that person’s specialty,
called ‘my eighteenth’ in Japan. No player other than that person can
take the card on which his or her favorite poem is written, even if the
card is right in front of you. Other players concede it by letting the
person pick the card on purpose. They say it’s an unspoken rule of the
game. I ignored it and just kept taking as many cards as I could whether
it was somebody’s eighteenth or not, because to me, the game was a
matter of memory and speed. With my grandfather, my relatives also began
to complain. Although the game was one of very few things I was good
at, nobody had played it with me ever since…