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

became her new superstition

New Year is the biggest holiday in Japan. There is a traditional meal for it, which is called ‘osechi’. It’s assorted foods of beans, boiled vegetables, boiled fish, and steamed fish paste, boxed in layered containers. The kinds of an assortment are slightly different at each family according to the family tradition. My family’s traditional ‘osechi’ was absolutely terrible. The assortment consisted of only three kinds of food. Boiled carrots, boiled burdocks and black soybeans. That’s it. We even didn’t have to buy them except for black soybeans because they were grown in our family’s field. It was accompanied by miso soup that had sticky rice cake and big taro in it. Big taro was grown in our front yard and my family held a superstition that you would become a head of something by eating it in the New Year. Unfortunately, it’s huge and painfully tasteless. As a child, I always wondered how they could call them a New Year’s special feast since our daily meals were better. To conclude the ‘feast’, we drank special tea. A cup of Japanese tea with a pickled plum sunk in the bottom. As another superstition, my family believed that it would bring happiness, but it tasted horrible and made me unhappy right away. And then, what I thought couldn’t be any worse hit the new bottom. On one New Year’s Day, there was a new addition to our traditional meal. It was called ‘kuwai’ and looked like a chestnut with a sprout. My mother heard that eating it in New Year made you ‘sprout’ to the world. It became her new superstition and my father began to grow it in the front yard. It tasted utterly awful. If primitive people found it in the woods and tried it, they would certainly dismiss it as inedible. Although I had endured the terrible feast until I left home, I’m not a head of anything, nor don’t sprout to the world…

When change happens, many things come to an end simultaneously.

The finals of the Japanese ‘manzai’ tournament was held yesterday. ‘Manzai’ is one of Japanese comedy styles, which is a stand-up comedy by two or more comedians as a team. The tournament for both professionals and amateurs is held annually and decides the best comedy team in Japan. The finals is broadcast live nationwide and the winner takes one hundred thousand dollars. It’s a big annual event for me, as I adore Japanese comedians. I wait for this event for the whole year like Christmas, wondering who will win each year. Prior to this year’s finals though, I heard the shocking news. The tournament would be discontinued and it was going to be the last one this year. To me, it’s like Super Bowl isn’t held anymore. They cooked up various reasons for the termination but it’s obviously due to lack of sponsorship and the ratings. I can’t believe that more people watched a figure skating this year that was aired on a different channel. While watching the last ‘manzai’ competition on TV, clenching my hands for excitement as usual, I knew how much I would miss this event. Now, my favorite comedy tournament is over, so is Christmas. Our new song is completed and come new year, the move to my new place will be in full swing. When change happens, many things come to an end simultaneously. It’s a little sad, but that’s what moving forward is all about…