When I was little and took a bath with my mother, she said in the bathtub, “Never marry someone with whom you fall in love.” In her theory, marriage for love is a ticket to unhappiness because love burns out quickly. She insisted that I should have an arranged marriage as she did. She and my father would find a man for me and do all the necessary background checks so that I’d be better off.
She also once said to me in the bathtub, “I married your father because he was wealthy. Do you think I would choose such an ugly man like him if he didn’t have money?” When I grew up, I learned that she had been seeing someone before she met my father at an arranged meeting, but she chose my father because he was richer and had better lineage.
I think she dealt with the devil and sold herself at that moment. Since then, she has been unhappy and that made her a person filled with vanity and malice. When it comes to decision making, I always imagine what my mother would do and do the exact opposite. Since I adapted this rule, my life has been easier and better…
One summer in my childhood, my grandfather on my mother’s side invited my mother and me to lunch. The restaurant’s specialty was eels. An eel is an expensive treat in Japan. We arrived at an awfully old-fashioned Japanese restaurant where we took off our shoes and sat on the floor at the low table. Except for us, only one table was occupied by a woman with a small child, who was busily stuffing the leftovers into a tin box she had brought. Every time my grandfather needed a server to come to our table, he clapped his hands twice and called out, “Hey, sister!” It was an obsolete manner no longer practiced, which embarrassed my mother and me.
When our house was rebuilt, I had my own room for the first time. That time, my grandfather took my mother and me to a furniture store to buy me a bed and a wardrobe. After we chose the items, a young salesperson calculated the total. My grandfather naturally asked for a discount but the salesperson’s offer didn’t satisfy him at all. He was an old patron of the store and had bought every piece of furniture there for my mother when she got married. He was used to special treatment and assumed he would get one there. But the salesperson declined the further discount, as he was new and didn’t know my grandfather. Even so, my grandfather persisted and decided the total amount of his own. He handed bills to the salesperson, and told him how much the change to be brought back should be. My grandfather’s way apparently perplexed the salesperson. Standing next to my grandfather, I was so embarrassed again.
Eventually, a long tug-of-war was over and the salesperson brought back what my grandfather had told him. My bed and wardrobe were successfully discounted, but I learned my grandfather’s style was outdated in the modern world…
Episode From An Old Tree in Kyoto /Hodemi Woods
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
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
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 hometown is in Kyoto, which is a popular
tourist destination in Japan. There is a big
historic festival called Gion Festival in summer.
Because it attracts visitors all over the world
and the venue is too crowded, my family had
never gone out to see it.
When I was in high school, my friend
suggested hanging around the venue on the
eve of the festival. The evening of the eve is
also a popular attraction with the parade floats
parked on the street. To go there, it was
common to wear a yukata, which is a casual
kimono for the summer season. I didn’t have
one of those and asked my mother to get one.
Before the festival, she bought a yukata for me
so that I could go. I liked its design very much.
Usually, a yukata had a pattern of morning
glories or goldfish, but mine was unique and
fancy with a fireworks pattern. It became my
treasure as I wore it again a couple of years
later for the festival with my first boy friend.
Meanwhile, after my younger sister failed the
TV talent show audition, she hadn’t stopped
learning Japanese dancing against my wish. My
mother convinced her that she failed because
we were late for the audition that day.
According to my mother, the judges weren’t
taking enough time to see how talented my
sister was. So, she had still taken lessons in
Japanese dancing. It’s danced with wearing a
kimono and for practice, with a yukata. My
sister had some yukatas as her casual practice
wear for the lesson.
One evening, when I was left at home as
usual, my sister came home with my parents
from a lesson. She was wearing my yukata.
She used my treasured fireworks yukata as
her casual practice wear. I cried, “It’s mine!”
My mother explained she was out of fresh
yukatas and made her borrow mine for that
evening only. They were too insensitive to care
about my feelings toward her Japanese
dancing lessons and my yukata. I’ve never
worn it since then…
Episode From An Old Tree in Kyoto /Hodemi Woods
There’s an old Japanese custom called ‘Age of Thirteen Visit’. A child who reaches thirteen years old by the traditional system of age reckoning visits a specific local shrine to receive wisdom.
The important event has one critical rule. The thirteen-year-old visitor should never look back until they pass through the shrine’s gate after the visit. If it happens, wisdom they’ve just gotten is returned. Every time a topic of the visit was brought up by some chance in my childhood, my mother would strictly instruct me not to look back when my visit came. It had become a repeated threat for me. After those years, I reached eleven years old, which is thirteen by the traditional system, and the day for the visit arrived.
I was so tensed and nervous because of years of my mother’s threat. I got dressed up with kimono and my mother put a wig on my hair to make me look grown-up. While I was greedy enough to look forward to getting wisdom, I was anxious about looking back as much. From the moment we left home, my mother kept reminding me not to look back at the shrine. As the pressure had accumulated, a sense of panic had been built inside me. By the time we prayed at the altar in the shrine and started leaving, I was panicky. On the spot about only several yards to the exit gate, I couldn’t stop myself and looked over my shoulder. I blundered away my once-in-a-lifetime visit. My mother made sure I didn’t look back when we passed the gate. I lied and said no.
On our way home, we dropped by my aunt’s house. She noticed that I was wearing a wig. But when she pointed it out, my mother instantly denied it. I didn’t understand why she had to lie about such a small thing like a wig, but she just insisted it was my real hair. My aunt slipped beside me when we were about to leave and asked me if it was a wig. Although I said yes indifferently, she triumphantly uttered, “I knew it!” She sounded as if she had beaten me and I felt annoyed. I hated my mother’s totally unnecessary lie. And as for me, I went through a terrible teenage life with my own trifling lies. I believe that was because I had returned wisdom at the shrine on my Age of Thirteen Visit…