It was my birthday yesterday and my parents sent me presents. The gifts from my mother were exactly the same necklace as the one she had sent me a couple of years ago, a vinyl bag which she apparently had got as a freebie, and some towels she didn’t use anymore. She also enclosed a bag of rice crackers. My hometown is in Kyoto that is a Japanese historic city with a lot of old temples and shrines. Many stores there take advantage of the location and use the historic sites and events as their signature designs for wrapping.
The store my mother bought rice crackers used a Japanese classic card game. It’s played with 100 cards on each of which an ancient poem is written. For some reason, I was very good at the game when I was a teenager. I haven’t played it for a long time. Some of the 100 poems were printed on the wrapping of the rice crackers and I remembered how good I was. The best present from my mother this year was a wrapper of a snack…
Episode From Surviving in Japan / Hidemi Woods
I went out for lunch with my partner at a cafe the other day that stood across the train station in a Japanese desolate rural town where I live. To call it a cafe is a bit too fancy. It’s not the likes of Starbucks but rather a small old mom-and-pop diner that was built well over 30 years ago and remained as it was, which perfectly matched this old town itself.
We sat at the table and overheard a conversation from the table next to us. Three old women in their eighties sat around the table by the window. “She has passed away, too.” “This could be the last time we get together.” Although they were exchanging a downright sad conversation, they were talking in a matter-of-fact way and their chats were lively.
While we were eating a salad with watermelon that came with our main dishes of curry and rice with a fried pork cutlet, a family of three came in. A boy about ten years old and his parents in their thirties sat at the table near ours. As soon as their orders were taken, the boy started reading one of comic books that the diner placed for customers, and his father went outside to smoke. His mother was staring into space.The father came back in when their dishes arrived on the table but they didn’t talk while they were eating. Except that the parents occasionally said something to the boy separately, there was no conversation between the parents. After they finished eating, the father went out again to make a phone call, the boy played with diner’s puzzle toys, and the mother stared into space again. I saw through the window the father talk with someone over his phone pleasantly while smoking and laughing. He came back in and also began to play with a puzzle toy. I thought it was much more fun for him to have lunch with a person on his phone.
Quite too often, I see a married couple having almost no conversation at a restaurant. I wonder if people stop talking each other when they get married. While they must have clicked each other enough to get married in the first place, what makes them fall silent? Since I have never been married, I have no idea whether it’s because they have changed or they have lost interest in each other after marriage. The closest married couple I know is my parents, which means my knowledge about marriage is a generation old. My parents are from farming villages in Kyoto that is the oldest city in Japan. According to the old custom, their marriage was arranged by their families’ intention not their own. Inevitably, they were strangers with no affection whatsoever. In my childhood, my mother used to say, “I wouldn’t have married such an ugly guy like your father unless he had money.” Times have changed, and people get married by their own will in Japan. Nevertheless, if a couple who liked each other finds it difficult to talk once they marry, I don’t understand what marriage is for. The mystery deepens still more.
The family of three left hastily after they were done with the toys and staring. The party of three old women ordered refills of their soft drinks repeatedly and lingered at the table with their conversations, as if they were reluctant to leave the diner.
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It seems that people look back and judge themselves when they are nearing their ends. Not long before his death, my grandfather suddenly told my parents that he wanted to go to the department store where he once worked vigorously but had to leave to succeed the family.
My parents thought his consciousness grew dim because they assumed that he meant shopping, which he was too frail to do. I know what he really meant. He realized that he should not have given up what he wanted to do for his life. On his deathbed, he pointed at my mother and said, “You’re next.” I wonder if she would end up like him. Surely she looks a strong candidate for that matter…
episode from An Old Tree in Kyoto / Hidemi Woods
Last night, I had a nightmare. In it, I got up and found myself alone. I was a child still living with my family in my hometown. My parents and my little sister came back from McDonald’s. They had breakfast there without me. I grabbed my mother’s arms and said, “Listen to me! Listen to me very carefully!! You must treat your kids equally! Whatever you do to my little sister, you should do the same to me! You can’t keep doing nice things only to her! Besides, how could you bring home nothing for me? It’s McDonald’s where you can get take-out!!” But, no matter how hard I tried, my voice didn’t come out. I repeated those words very hard again and again but only my mouth was moving. In the end, I shouted at the top of my throat, and awoke from the dream. I’m still exhausted. I dream a lot every night. And this one is one of the repeated dreams. Although the details are different, I am ignored by my parents and left alone each time. I’m fed up with this kind of dream but I know I will soon have it again. When am I released from this…?
The pianist’s house where I took piano lessons was about a 10-minute drive from my home. My parents took me there and sometimes I took the bus alone when they were busy working. I wasn’t allowed to come home by bus though, because I was still too little to get on the bus alone in the evening. So, my parents would pick me up on their way home from work when my lesson finished. The problem was they were usually late. I had to wait for them at the pianist’s house long after my lesson was over. He let me wait in the lesson room while watching other students’ lessons. But, my parents often didn’t show even after the last student’s lesson finished. In that case, the pianist felt pity and let me wait in the living room. That put me in the utmost awkward situation. As it was evening, his family was gathering for dinner. A good smell was wafting from the kitchen. They couldn’t start eating because I was still there. Everyone in the house had to wait for my parents. And I had experienced this torment not once, but several times. Once, I felt uncomfortable up to my limit and it became impossible to wait like that any longer. I called my grandparents at home and my grandfather came to pick me up with his motorbike. That night, my mother bawled me out for asking my grandfather to get me. She always acted like a perfect parent before my grandparents, but she said my phone call damaged her effort. While she was furious at me, I couldn’t understand why I was to blame not she, who left me waiting for hours in the choking discomfort…
I had a dream about my grandparents last night and couldn’t go back to sleep because I missed them so badly. Both of them have passed away, but they raised me when I was a child in place of my parents who were too busy working out in the field as farmers. When I lived with my grandparents, I didn’t appreciate being with them, as they were strict, quiet and boring, and I constantly missed my parents. But after I grew up and left my hometown, I realized how my grandparents regarded me and felt about me. Until they passed away, I had returned home once or twice a year. My grandfather would wait for me with an envelope that had some money for me inside, and my grandmother with my favorite food that she would have prepared and cooked from morning. She would wear particularly for the day something I had given to her before, to show me her gratitude. Those things were what I could never expect from my parents. My parents would be seldom at home when I returned although my homecoming was only yearly and informed well beforehand. That was not because they were working. They would be out for shopping or, at one time, they were even gone on a trip to Hawaii. They seemed to lack the sense of pining for and anticipating someone. Or, they may have simply avoided me. Parental affection doesn’t necessarily come from parents. In my case, it was my grandparents who gave it to me…
I checked out the hotel on the last day of my trip to the western region of Japan, flew from Kansai Airport and took an airport bus to the station where I would catch a bullet train heading home. When I finished a late lunch near the station, I noticed there had been voice mail from my mother on my cell phone. My parents had declined to meet me the day before when I was going to visit them who live in the western Japan. I thought the voice mail was about lame excuses to hide the fact that they didn’t want to see me, and called her back although my phone’s battery was extremely low.
I started sarcastically, “It was a pity that we couldn’t meet yesterday although it was a once-a-year opportunity, wasn’t it?” to hear her made-up excuse. Then, she replied, “Huh? Yesterday?” sounding like she had already forgotten about it. And she continued on as if it wasn’t important at all. What she wanted to tell me was why my parents had run away from their condo where my sister had begun to live with them, which I had learned also the day before as a surprise.
According to my mother, my parents had prepared an envelope that contained ten thousand dollars for me for a tax avoidance reason. They were going to hand it to me if I visited them because they didn’t know my bank account number to wire it. They had put the envelope on the Buddhist alter of their home. When my sister found it, she got into frenzy and began to hit my father, shouting, “Get out of this condo!” As her violence didn’t stop, they ran away with almost nothing but the clothes they wore. They had stayed at a hotel for a few days and moved in a short-term rental apartment that my sister later traced. As they wouldn’t let her in, she scratched my father’s car, broke his bicycle, torn window screens and put garbage at the door. They had been moving from one place to another for three weeks because she found them each time and repeated her harassment. They were still looking for another apartment to escape from my sister. As if to sum up, my mother said to me, “We couldn’t get back to our home where the envelope that had money we were going to give you sit. Your sister stole your money.”
I had heard about some abuse my parents have been inflicted from my sister when my mother called me a month ago and told me that she was in hell. But I hadn’t known things have gotten even worse like this. Although I just learned all her miseries, only one thing seized my mind – ten thousand dollars. It triggered something in me and my eyes turned dollar signs like a cartoon. I swiftly responded her that it happened because they had prepared it in cash and that I would give her my bank account number not to repeat this in the future. I was desperately trying to retrieve the ten thousand dollars. I thought they might wire it again once they got my bank account number. By then, my cell phone’s electrical voice had uttered ‘Low Battery’ and ‘Charge Now’ for several times over my mother’s lamenting. I told her to get a piece of paper and a pen immediately and started the names of my bank and its branch. She was getting them so awfully slowly that I suspected she did it intentionally. After a painful wait, I started the number. But right before the first digit came out of my mouth, my phone went dead.
I felt quite chilly because the timing was so precise that it didn’t seem coincident. I also felt ten thousand dollars were slipping through my fingers. I looked around for pay phones to finish the number, but couldn’t find one. I came home by bullet train, recharged my cell phone, and called back my parents. Both of them didn’t answer. I called them again the next day. My father answered this time with the same vacant voice as I heard on the phone during the trip. He told me that he couldn’t talk with me now as he was in the real estate agent’s office for another apartment hunting to hide from my sister. He sounded completely absent-minded and made me feel uncertain. My mother came up to the phone and told me their effort would be in vain anyway since my sister would eventually find out their new place somehow. I offered that I would find an apartment for them around where I live if they didn’t bother it would be 500 miles away from where they are now. It was when my mother burst into tears again. “Will YOU help me? Really?”, she bawled, as if she couldn’t believe my words.
After I hung up the phone without telling her my bank account number, I finally came to my senses. My dollar signs tumbled down from my eyes and my reason returned. My mother is, has always been, a liar. She tells any kind of lies from big to small to anyone. She also has set her mind to make me unhappy in every possible way. She has wielded countless tactics for that purpose. The marked example was when the music label my partner and I started finally got on track after strenuous years. When she noticed our beginning of success, she offered financial support to back me up. I foolishly trusted her because she was my mother. My partner and I moved to a bigger office and hired more staffs. Shortly after that, she tried to take over our business by threatening to stop financial aid unless we handed over the profit. I realized that she had offered money in the first place to crush our business, but it was too late. Our label suffered heavy losses and damage with her sudden finance withdrawal. Thinking back my bitter experiences of many years, it has been proven that she never does anything good for me and she never hopes my well-being. It’s totally a blue dahlia that she would give me any money. I almost took in her ‘ten thousand dollars’ this time and was stupid enough to be about to tell her my bank account number.
I wonder why I keep being fooled by my mother after all those years from childhood. My mother has never been forgiven for what she did and things have increasingly gotten worse around her year after year. I may wish somewhere in my mind that she is finally brought back to her sense and cleans up her act. Then she becomes a better person and someday she accepts me and loves me. Probably those vain hopes are my weakness on which my mother plays with her lies. Or more simply, like mother like daughter, I’m as greedy as my mother, that’s why I easily fall for her…