In the summer of my fourth grade, I was in the hospital. It started as cold-like symptoms with a high fever. But I was left unattended because summer was the peak season for farming and my parents were extremely busy as farmers. To make things worse, my family had been rebuilding our house at the time and extra attention of my parents was paid to that.
About a week later, I vomited blood and fainted. That at last captured my parents’ attention and they realized the seriousness. When I became conscious, they had called a nurse who lived in the neighborhood and she was attending me. She suggested taking me to a hospital. After examination, I was diagnosed with nephritis. As the summer break for school was just around the corner, I was admitted to the hospital on the day the break began. Although I had been longing for the summer break as the precious time of my freedom, I was locked up in the hospital instead.
I shared the room with five other girl patients. Except for a very small or very sick child, parents weren’t permitted to stay overnight with the patients. They came during the visiting hours. I was nine years old and had never stayed outside home for such a long time before. I suffered from homesickness rather than from nephritis. My parents were too busy working seven days a week as farmers and only my mother visited me everyday. But she only made it less than one hour before the visiting hour ended although I was waiting for her all day long. No matter how desperately I begged her to come earlier, she prioritized her work and I got to see her merely forty minutes or so a day.
Sometimes my father also came to see me, taking my younger sister with him. In that case, when the visiting hour was over, I would see my parents and my sister off. They went into the elevator together and the door shut before me, excluding me alone. That was the thickest door I’d ever felt it was. I went back to my bed and lay down hiding tears from other girls and nurses. Maybe it hinted my future relationship with my family. The three of them still live together in their house that I left after I struggled and couldn’t quite fit in…
Episode From An Old Tree in Kyoto /Hodemi Woods
When I did online shopping the other day, I found out that my credit card had been cancelled.
It was what I feared most in this world and had dreaded for my entire adult life. Now, it has happened. The credit card was to use money that my grandfather had left for me, which was the biggest resource of my income. It was stopped by my parents.
Being entitled to inherit the family’s money was the root cause why my mother had hated me since I was born. My parents continued to harass and attack me after I left home in order to make me give up the money. And they have finally succeeded to do what they had wanted for such a long time. Closing the account.
On that night, I couldn’t sleep until morning because of flaring anger. I thought of leaving a note to my partner, jumping on the bullet train to move 450 miles to my parents’ apartment, bursting into there with a knife, stubbing and killing them, and then turning myself in to go to the prison. That would settle my anger and I would no longer have to worry about money for the rest of my life.
I had repressed that urge so hard all night long and managed to make it to the breakfast table. My partner suggested that I should call my parents to clear the situation. I didn’t like the idea. There was no point of talking to them since I had known their intention so well. Besides, if I had called them, my anger would have erupted and I would have spewed out cursed words along with fierce threats. And as my sister has been doing, I would have kept yelling, “Go to hell! Die right now!”
I called them after all not to curse them though, but to squeeze some money from them anyhow. I had turned into a devil all the same. I was holding my phone with a hand that was trembling with anger. My mother answered.
She sounded weak and old as if a snake’s slough or a mere shadow had been talking. The minute I heard that voice, my about-to-explode anger subsided for some reason. Then oddly, I felt pity for her and even fond of her. I also exchanged greetings and made small talk with my father. We didn’t bring up even a single word about money. Instead, we talked rather friendly and considerately as if a source of hatred ran out. And I hung up by saying “Good-bye,” that was really meant this time.
We had had hostile relations with each other and quarreled for decades. The only connection between us had been my grandfather’s money. Now that it was cut, our ties disappeared likewise. Only what my parents had done to me remained. After all those years, they never loved me to the end. I had longed to be loved by them, which was never realized. Our relationship had been long ruined and now our problems that were the only things we had shared were gone too. Everything was over and we have become strangers.
I felt lonely because I would never see them again. On the other hand, I was released from unquenchable anger that had dwelt in me for an eternity. Then I couldn’t sleep that night again from anxiety about how to pay living expenses from now on.
Next day my partner and I went to Coco’s for which we had mobile coupons. The coupons had been received for free desserts on our birthdays that were long passed. As they had remained unused, we ordered a free dessert for each of us there.
A big plate was placed before each of us, on which were a small piece of chocolate cake, small macaroons and ice cream. It was a small portion for the huge plate so that the most part of the plate was empty as if the blank space had been a main purpose of it. On the blank space, there was a message written by big letters of stenciled chocolate powder, which said, ‘HAPPY BIRTHDAY’. The server said in a loud voice that could be heard throughout the restaurant, “Congratulations! Happy Birthday!” and left our table. My partner and I stared fixedly at the letters on the big plate and then at each other.
I had surely thought my life was finished, but I could be reborn into a new life in a way. That thought gave me a little relief. And a sense of freedom as well.
the new Kyoto
When I spent 40 minutes aboard the bullet train bound for Kyoto from Tokyo, an alarming notion popped into my head. “Did I miss Mt. Fuji?” It’s around this time that Mt. Fuji comes into view closely in the bullet train window. Somehow Mt. Fuji is a special mountain for Japanese people. It’s said that seeing the first sunrise of the year from the top of Mt. Fuji brings a happy new year. Many of them want to climb it once during their lifetime. They regard it as something holy and good luck. I myself try to see it every time I take a bullet train to Kyoto, and pray to it for a good trip. It was cloudy and rain looked imminent on that day of my latest trip to Kyoto. Whether the train already passed Mt. Fuji or it wasn’t visible because of thick clouds was uncertain. The outcome of the trip depended on Mt. Fuji. I felt that this trip might end terribly if I couldn’t see it, and I looked for it frantically. “There it is!” Above the dark clouds, its top section poked out clearly. “I see it! A nice trip is assured!” I was relieved and in high spirits. While I jinx it when I don’t see it, however, I’ve had horrible trips even when I saw a clear Mt. Fuji. Although I duly understand an outcome of a trip doesn’t have to do with whether I see it or not, there’s a reason why I’m nervous enough to pray to the mountain. A trip to Kyoto means homecoming and meeting my parents. Three out of every four visits, they give me a hard time. They insult me, deny me and complain everything about me. I sometimes feel my life is in danger when I’m with them because of their relentless attacks. Not to be strangled by them while I’m sleeping, I avoid spending the night at my parents’ home and stay at a hotel instead. I would rather not visit and see them, but I know it would make things worse. I couldn’t imagine how this particular trip would go especially as it was my first visit since my parents sold their house. They could no longer afford to keep their large house and its land inherited by our ancestors. Their financial crunch made them sell it where my family had lived for over 1000 years. They moved out to a small, old condominium outside Kyoto. Thinking about the situation they were now in, I couldn’t imagine their state of mind other than being nasty. The bullet train slid into Kyoto Station after two and a half hours. I stepped out on the platform for the first time as a complete tourist who didn’t have a house or a family there. To my surprise, Kyoto looked different. I couldn’t tell what and how, but it was decisively different from Kyoto I had known. It used to look grim and gloomy as if it was possessed by an evil spirit. But now it was filled with clean fresh air and looked bright. I would see all but mean people, but they also turned into nice people with smiles. I checked in a hotel and looked out the window. Rows of old gray houses were there. I used to think Kyoto was an ugly city with those somber houses, but I found myself looking at even them as a tasteful view. I’d never thought having the house I grew up in torn down and parting with my ancestor’s land would change the city itself altogether. Or maybe, it was me that changed…
I had an interesting dream the other night. In it, I was at my parents’ house in my hometown. My father set a bomb in my purse to blow up the house. I ran out to escape and found that the house was placed at the bottom of a deep pit. The only way to survive was to climb up a steep slope to the edge of the pit. While climbing it desperately with all my force, I saw a rainbow on the edge. Finally I reached to the edge. There was nobody else except me who was out of the pit. I looked up at the sky and saw a gigantic red dragon. When I was awed by the beautiful sight, fireworks began.
And I woke up. I thought something very good might happen to me because I saw several items which are regarded as of good omen, such as a rainbow, a dragon, and fireworks. But then again, I know nothing will happen from my experience. I once saw a dream of picking up a large coin of $10 million and yet nothing has happened…
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
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