lost over $1 million

This incident happened one New Year’s at the
end of the card game called ‘kabu’, in which
my uncle acted as dealer for the yearly family
casino at my grandparents’ house. He had lost
quite a lot to my cousin, who was his son, as
usual that night and my cousin had left the
table as the morning dawned.
My uncle, my mother and I were left at the
table and the game was about to close. My
mother asked for a few more deals because
she had also lost a large sum and wanted to
get it back. To recover her loss quickly, she bet
by the $100. The game was played for high
stakes every year, but I had never seen the
stakes this high. She lost in succession and her
loss swelled to $500 in a flash.
“This is the last bet,” she claimed in
desperation and put $500 on the table. She
tried to offset her total loss on the last deal of
the game. All at once the tension skyrocketed
and strange silence filled the room. I held my
breath and withdrew my usual small bet. The
cards were dealt tensely and my mother and
my uncle showed their hands of fate. Both
hands were ridiculously bad but my mother’s
was even worse. She lost $1000. Burying her
head in her hands, she repeatedly uttered, “It
can’t be! Can’t be true!” I saw tears in her
widely opened bloodshot eyes. Then she
repeated “Oh, my… Oh, my…” in a faint voice
for ten times and staggered away. I clearly
remember her state of stupor.
A couple of days later back in our home, I
enticed her into playing ‘kabu’ with me since I
learned how poorly she played it and I knew I
would win. I used to receive cash as a New
Year’s gift from my relatives during New Year’s
and it would amount to $1000. I dangled it in
front of her and said that it would be her
chance to get back her loss. She took it and we
played for $1000. As I had thought, she lost
another $1000 to me. She said she couldn’t
pay, and I offered her the installment plan. I
got $100 more to my monthly allowance of
$30 for the next ten months. That was the
richest year in my early teens.
Many years later, she failed in real estate
investment and lost most of our family fortune
that had been inherited for generations. The
amount she lost that time was well over $1
million. And that was the money I was
supposed to inherit…

Episode From The Girl in Kyoto / Hidemi 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

extraordinarily thrilling

The living room in my grandparents’ home was
used for a card game when the house turned
into a family casino during New Year’s. The
game was a blackjack-like one called ‘kabu’
and organized by my uncle. It used to be the
best treat of New Year’s for me in my
childhood and early in my teens.
Unlike ‘mortar roller’ I had introduced before,
this game was played seriously and intensely
because it was for high stakes. The players
usually bet a dollar or more, sometimes as
high as a hundred dollars. The deeper into the
night it got, the higher the bet went. The
family members would leave the table one by
one, as the higher bet would make them tense
and deprive them of pleasure. As for me, I
liked to see the game get heated so much and
would play throughout the night until the game
came to an end in the next morning.
The usual players who stayed at the table
near dawn would be my uncle who was a
dealer, my eldest cousin, my mother and I. My
uncle was a successor of the family by
marriage and so my grandparents were his in

laws. He was on terrible terms with my
grandmother who raised my eldest cousin in
place of him and his wife because they were
too busy working at the family farm.
Consequently, he didn’t get along well with his
own son either. New Year’s ‘kabu’ would
become an intense battle between my uncle
and my cousin by dawn.
My uncle couldn’t lose especially to his son
and that made the game extraordinarily
thrilling. My cousin would bet more than $10
on each deal and my heart would be pounding
by seeing bills on the table. My uncle would
concentrate on the cards dealt to him and his
son too deeply to care about my small bets.
Because he would forget to count me in and
settle my deal thoughtlessly each time, I would
end up winning quite a big amount of money in
total every year.
He would summon all his strength when he
saw the last card dealt to him. In spite of his
prayer-like chants “Come on! Come on!”, most
of the time the card would be the least one he
had wanted. Hand after hand, he drew the
worst card possible while my cousin was rolling
on the tatami floor to stifle his giggling.
As far as I remember, he had never won
against my cousin. He was manly and frank,
but I can still picture him going back to his
room after the game in the morning light with
unsteady steps, worn out, drooping, and on
the verge of tears. Three months after the
house was burned down, he died of cancer
without becoming the head of the family…

Episode From The Girl in Kyoto / Hidemi 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

New Year’s family casino

I ask you to keep what you are about to read
in here to yourself since it concerns an illegal
activity I was once engaged in.
Until I was about sixteen years old, my
parents, my younger sister and I had visited
my grandparents’ home every year during the
New Year’s. Limited for that time of the year, a
quiet countryside house of my grandparents’
would turn into a family casino. It consisted of
three different areas. In the card game area,
which was the living room, a card game called
‘kabu’ that is similar to blackjack would be
played. In the coin game area, which was my
grandparents’ room, would be for a game
called ‘mortar roller’. And the break area,
which was the dining room, would be for those
who didn’t like gambling or who needed food
and drink. It would be open for 24 hours but
only the family members could play.
The coin game was organized by my
grandmother. She set up a huge china mortar
for sesame on the tatami floor and the players
would sit around it on the floor. They would
take turns and roll a 10-yen coin, which is
worth about ten cents, inside the mortar. The
coin rolled along the side of the round mortar,
descending gradually toward the bottom. If it
landed on other coins at the bottom, the player
could get them. Although the game was
simple, we would be absorbed in playing and
our heads and eyes were rolling above the
mortar with a coin inside. My cousin was good
at it with her own devised technique to throw
in a coin. I would also win snugly with my
fixation on money.
Beside the excited circle, my grandfather and
my father, who were not interested in
gambling, would talk over Japanese tea that
my grandfather would make.
My grandmother would start fretting after
midnight and tell us to be quiet because she
had believed that the military policemen could
bust in with bayonets. We laughed at her
anachronism while seeing her try to mute the
mortar and still live in the WWII era. She
upgraded the mortar one year by putting a
round piece of cardboard near the bottom. The
mortar’s floor was raised and became wider
and flatter so that it was harder to make the
coin lie on top of the other. More coins to take
would be left at the bottom and the game got
more exciting. Those were such fond memories
and I can still hear the sound of a rolling coin
inside a mortar during New Year’s. Later on,
the joyful grandparents’ house was burned
down by my grandmother’s carelessness with a
candle. It’s gone forever…

Episode From The Girl in Kyoto / Hidemi 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

my last pride

I usually get prepared foods at half price at a
supermarket after they give up on selling them
at the list prices as the store’s closing time
draws near. I know very well the exact times
when they put half-off stickers on the leftover
items for several supermarkets near my
apartment.
As I’ve been shopping this way for years,
some of the shoppers have become familiar to
me. At several different supermarkets, the
people jostling for half-off items are usually the
same line-up, including me. They sometimes
get acquainted with each other and exchange
information. Although I am, without doubt, one
of them, I don’t feel like joining the half-off
circle. When I find familiar faces, I always
pretend not to notice and try to look away
from them. It seems my last pride while
enjoying shopping at half price more than
anybody else.
I saw one of familiar half-off shoppers at a
supermarket the other day. She’s the one I see
almost every time I shop during the half-off
time. That evening, she was returning some
half-off items to the shelf, looking into her
wallet carefully. I thought I saw what I should
not see because it was one of the saddest
sights to me that someone was calculating the
rest of money for what they wanted to buy. As
soon as she left the shelf though, I picked the
items she had unwillingly returned and put
them into my basket, as they were goodies.
While buying them was completely legal and
nothing unethical, I couldn’t help feeling guilty
somehow…

Episode From Surviving in Japan / Hidemi 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

My junk

I can’t throw things away. Because I’m easily
attached to my belongings and also I’m thrifty,
I keep things for a possible future use, just in
case. As a result, my tiny apartment has
become even smaller with junk such as wornout

clothes, cracked shoes and sundries that I
don’t know what they are for anymore.
As I’ve started moving to my new place, I
realized how time-consuming packing all the
junk was. Packing one cardboard box a day is a
maximum addition to my daily life. So, my
moving process is horribly slow. With this
speed, I can’t even imagine the day I finish
packing everything into boxes will ever come. I
feel like it lasts forever. But the longer it takes,
the more money I end up spending, because
I’ll have to keep paying the rent for my old
apartment. My junk, which I’ve kept to save
money in the first place, took advantage of my
weakness and began to take money away from
me…

Episode From Surviving in Japan / Hidemi Woods

the happiest time in my life

An artist who has a contract with a major record company generally has a deadline for work. Due to the cost of studio use and the promotion schedule, they often need to finish recording in a couple of weeks. Sometimes, it requires compromise and the work results in what they didn’t want.

I, on the other hand, have no contract, no obligation, no bind. I’ve been working on the current song for seven years now, including two years of recording. These years have been the happiest time in my life, with contentment from work. I’m in an ideal position to pursue my music as much as I want, so to speak. I always wonder why people don’t live like this.

Of course, if they do, fame and money is almost certainly hopeless as is my case. I have no contract, no fame, no money, and call it ideal. Maybe I’m beginning to become a nutcase…

Episode From Surviving in Japan / Hidemi Woods

casino in Japan

There is no formal casino in Japan. Instead, there are innumerable pachinko parlors all over Japan. A pachinko is a very popular Japanese gambling game that is partly like pinball and partly like slot. They buy small silver balls to play with, and the machine brings out the balls if they win. They exchange the balls for money or items like cigarettes and chocolates. For some reason, it’s not allowed to exchange directly for money. They get a certain strange item with their balls once, and exchange it for money at a small dark hut behind the building. A pachinko parlor is sort of a mix of a casino and a game arcade. It has a large number of pachinko machines side by side in aisles and exists around almost everywhere people live.

Sadly, it doesn’t make people a millionaire. By playing all day, they win a few hundred dollars at most. As for me, I’ve never played a pachinko in my life. My life itself is awfully like gambling and I’m bogged down with it completely…

Episode From Surviving in Japan / Hidemi Woods

Despair and Hope hr631

It happened a long time ago when I lived in Tokyo. My partner and I had dinner at a restaurant one night after we hung around the mall. We came back to our apartment that we had rented on the top floor of the building as our home and the office for our record label.
When I tried to turn my key on the front door, I noticed the door had remained unlocked. It was weird. I may have forgotten to lock the door when I left, which was highly unlikely since I was fussy about locking and couldn’t leave without making sure that the door wouldn’t open by trying the knob for a couple of times. I got in feeling dubious, but our apartment didn’t look unusual. Then my partner suddenly said, “Why is the cabinet open?” My heart began to beat fast with overwhelming uneasiness and I hurried into the bedroom that had a balcony. The tall window to the balcony had been smashed broken. It was a burglary.
I called the police right away while my partner was gingerly looking into the bathroom, the closet, and behind the drapes to see if the burglar wasn’t still hiding. Those minutes were the scariest as too many movie scenes flashed back to me. Thankfully, there was nobody. The police arrived quickly since the station was ironically only a block away from my apartment. Such a location apparently wasn’t safe enough to prevent burglary.
The policemen came in and looked around. As they saw the messy rooms, they showed sympathy saying, “It’s played havoc, huh?” It was funny because my apartment had been messy as it was long before burglary. But probably thanks to it, the burglar didn’t notice an envelope that held a few thousand dollars for the bills and was mingled with scraps of paper on the table. Instead of cash, a dozen of Disney wrist watches that was my collection, a cheap wrist watch that was my partner’s memento of his late mother, an Omega wrist watch that I received from my grandparents as a souvenir of their trip to Europe decades ago, and one game software were missing. Actually, those items had been the only valuables in my office apartment. Other than those and litter, my apartment had been quite empty. The reason was simple. I was near bankrupt at that time.
I had started up my music label with my partner and it had grown steadily as business. A person I had trusted offered substantial financial support and I took it. I rented this apartment and hired staff with that money. Then the financial supporter tried to take over my label and threatened to suspend further finance if I refused. Amid horrible disgusting negotiations, money stopped being wired into my account. The label came to a standstill for lack of funds. I laid off all staff and saw what took eight years for my partner and I to build from a scratch crumbling down. The blow was amplified by anger and self-loathing from the fact that I was deceived by a person I had trusted. Despair and emptiness led to apathy. I stopped doing or thinking anything and had played a game every day.
In hindsight, if there hadn’t been burglary, my partner and I would have kept paying the costly rent for the apartment and playing a game until we spent all the money that was left. But something clicked when I saw the very game software I had played every day picked among other many games to be stolen, and the glass window of my dream penthouse apartment smashed. It marked the point where I hit the bottom but also was a wake-up call. We moved out the luxurious apartment immediately and rented a cheap studio apartment in a small two-storied building.
That move left some money in my bank account. The deposit of the penthouse apartment was returned, too. Also, I received an unexpected insurance payout. The expensive rent of my former apartment included a damage insurance. The insurance company assessed the damage based on the report I submitted to the police. For some reason, they calculated the payout more than the total price of what were stolen. I discussed with my partner about what to do with the money. We decided to go to California. A new start form zero. And that was to be the beginning of all these, everything that I do at present. My works have been taken to the world by that decision, made by the burglary.

One of the worst dreams

Because I’m cheap, I’m always careful about money. So much so, it penetrates into my dreams. I had a dream about visiting NY the other night. I joined a bus tour for sightseeing. The bus stopped for a break and there was a drink vendor. It had freshly squeezed fruit juice along with soft drinks. Everyone from the tour enjoyed the juice. I was thirsty and tired, and the fresh juice seemed perfect. But it cost $3 more than soft drinks. I really wanted the juice, knowing that would be full of vitamins and good for health, but I also needed to save money for my uncertain future. I was torn by a mere $3. Eventually, I gave up the juice and ordered a soft drink, feeling envious of others who were having juice.

I woke up and found that I had missed a golden opportunity to spend money extravagantly. Being in a dream is the only time that I can spend as much money as I want. One of the worst dreams for me is to save money in it. I pounded my bed from regret. I could have had delicious juice…

Episode From Surviving in Japan / Hidemi Woods