The Katsura River hr658

Back in those days of my childhood, a person who was going to commit suicide always took his or her shoes off and put them together neatly before jumping from the top of the building on Japanese TV dramas. It seemed Japanese people wanted to take off their shoes even when they tried to kill themselves just as they took them off at the entrance of the house. I somehow feel convinced.

There is a bridge called Katsura-ohashi Bridge over the Katsura River about a twenty-minute walk away from my family’s house that used to stand in Kyoto where I was born and grew up. The bridge is about 400-feet long as the river under it is quite big and wide. On one summer day in the fourth grade, I went to the bridge with seven or eight friends of mine to play by the Katsura River. Because it was probably the first time each of us played at the riverside without a grown-up chaperon, the outing was felt like an adventure and we were having so much fun by the river.

After a little while, one of my friends seemed to have enough spree to suggest we walk in the river along the bridge piers  toward the opposite bank. It was midsummer and the river banks had widened with less water. To us, the river looked shallow and easy to walk in and go further. Since we were all feeling adventurous, we persuaded ourselves that a fourth grader was a big, old kid for whom crossing the river on foot was a cinch. We started splashing across the current with a war cry.

In the beginning we were only ankle-deep in water, but soon water reached to our knees. Our walking speed dropped tremendously. By the time our thighs dipped in water, the stream got fast. It was hard just to stand still without holding onto a bridge pier although we had trod across merely one third of the river. The fast stream crushed against the bridge pier and my thighs, splashing big waves. Suddenly, fear sprang out from the bottom of my guts and yelled at me, “You’re in real trouble! You can’t possibly move ahead. What if you get swept away? Not to mention the opposite bank, you’ll drown to death right here!” Panic engulfed me. I looked back to return, but I was too scared to move, feeling that with this one step I was going to be carried away by the current. There was no way either to go forward or to go backward. I was stuck in the middle of the strong current. Thinking that wasn’t what was supposed to go, I looked around other kids. They also had stopped walking with a scared face just as I did. As if a tacit agreement, we slowly tried and managed to move backwards. When we finally returned to the riverbank where we had set off, our spree had thoroughly gone. Dejected in heart, without talking, we plodded our way home.

About ten years later, I was looking at the Katsura River again from the edge of Katsura-ohashi Bridge after taking off my shoes and putting them together neatly. It was when over a year had passed since I started my career as a musician despite dissent from my parents and friends. Although I had tried harder than I had ever done before, nothing had worked. On the other hand, I didn’t want to live doing what I didn’t want to do. I was stuck without either way to go forward or to go backward, again. I leaned over the parapet and stared at the surface of the river, seriously intending to jump into it. Then, something came into view. I saw three ducks swimming out from under the bridge. They stopped right down below me and just floated there. I vaguely thought I might strike and kill them when I jumped and hit the surface. All of a sudden, that thought drove me out of a daze. I came to my senses and pulled myself back away from the railing. Until that point, the world around me had been completely silent, but noises came back to my ears all at once. I noticed some cars honked at me while passing by. I hurriedly put back on my shoes.

You should challenge at the risk of your life if you wish to fulfill your dreams. Only after you brace yourself for death, can you live your own life. To attain that understanding, I had had to do a few more suicidal attempts in the course of my life. I understood after all and keep challenging, thankfully. 

ancient poem is written

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

Kanji hr655

Hope Kanji T-shirts by HW

I came across a website on which custom-made T-shirts, caps and tote bags are made and sold worldwide. Since I have been in a financial crunch lately, I could make and sell T-shirts with my poor drawing on them there. I browsed others’ merchandise which designs looked professional and like works of art. Looking at them, it was obvious that my daub had no part to play there. I tried to look for some other possible designs of my own.

It was when the idea of kanji struck me. Kanji means Chinese characters in Japanese and one of three character sets used for Japanese. That character set is prevalent in Japan and most Japanese names contain it. My name also consists of three kanji characters. When I lived  in the U.S. and Canada and my signature was required at shops or other businesses, the salesclerk who looked at it curiously often expressed how cool it was. I sometimes saw a person wearing a T-shirt that had kanji on it, but mostly it didn’t make sense or it had an awkward meaning. That was probably because someone who didn’t have enough knowledge about kanji made the shirt easily. While I understood that the person wearing it didn’t know her or his shirt was telling an absurd thing to the public, I couldn’t help giggling secretly. I even spotted those who tattooed that weird kind of kanji. As a native of Japan, I thought I could make kanji merchandise with proper meanings and decided to give it a try.

Every kanji has its meaning. For instance, my first name is comprised of two kanji characters one of which means ‘excellent’ and the other means ‘beautiful’, and they are read ‘Hidemi’ together. Because of the character’s meaning, my name is embarrassing, I admit. Japanese parents put their expectations and wishes into a name when they name their child. A child’s name reflects their parents’ taste and personality. They wish her or him to be gentle, or to be kind, and they choose the corresponding kanji for their child’s name in most cases. Sometimes a name seems destined specifically for a politician, or a name aims to endure life. As for my partner’s name, its meaning is to be dutiful to one’s parents. Both his parents have already deceased and whether he fulfilled their wish or not is uncertain. Japanese people have to live with carrying bittersweet names on their shoulders.

When I was little, I asked my grandmother on my mother’s side what kanji characters were used for her name Fuki. She told me that Fuki was her nickname and her real name was Fukiko by three kanji characters with the meaning of ‘wealthy’, ‘noble’ and ‘child’ respectively. I had sent her a New Year card or a Christmas card every year by that name with those kanji characters for decades until she passed away. When I attended her funeral, I saw a placard hung at the entrance of a small shabby prefabricated funeral home. It showed whose funeral this was. Although the funeral took place according to officially registered documents, my grandmother’s name on the placard wasn’t what she had told me. Her name was actually Fuki, not Fukiko, and kanji wasn’t used for it. There is a different character set in Japan called katakana, which represents only sound without meaning like the alphabet. Her real name was in those characters, not in kanji. I asked my mother if she had known that. My mother said she also had thought her name was Fukiko in kanji since she was a child. I wondered how many family members of hers had known her real name. At least her own child and grandchild hadn’t. I suppose that she wanted to be wealthy and noble, for which she chose the kanji characters, and named herself.

I chose kanji for my first custom-made T-shirt. They mean ‘hope’. 

Podcast: the thickest door

the thickest door

 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…

 

Audiobook: The Family in Kyoto: One Japanese Girl Got Freedom by Hidemi Woods On Sale at online stores or apps. Apple Books, Google Play, Audible 43 available distributors in total.

Audiobook  : Japanese Dream by Hidemi Woods On Sale at online stores or apps.
Apple Books, Audible, Google Play, Nook Audiobooks,  43 available distributors in total.

Overflowing Endless Whys hr651

Photo by Magda Ehlers on Pexels.com

I had constantly troubled my parents by asking reasons for about everything in the world when I was little.
“Why did that person say that?”
“Why does this go this way?”
Too many things in the world didn’t seem reasonable to me. Among them, the reason for people’s behavior was chiefly mysterious. My parents had been fed up with my unstoppable assault of questions and their answers had become stuck to “You’ll understand when you grow up.”
Now I’m grown-up, and yet I still don’t understand anything.

Why do many shoppers choose a list-price package on the shelf right next to ones with half-price stickers?
Why do they come to the supermarket without bringing their shopping bags but pay additionally for harmful plastic bags instead?
Why is driving a luxury car by paying outrageously a status symbol while accidents and natural disasters caused by environmental destruction kill people?
Why do people throw away clothes that are still wearable?
Why do people replace appliances that are perfectly working to new ones?
Why do people leave and discard food or drink that they pay for or order by themselves?

Why do I bring travel amenities like toothbrushes or combs from the hotel to my home where they have been stored in cardboard boxes to the amount of what I would never use them all up before I die?
Why don’t I feel like throwing away old receipts and tattered socks?
Why can’t I get up in the morning like most people do?
Why do I have every night dreams that are too vivid to distinguish from reality?
Why do I do everything slower than others although I do it in a great hurry each time with trembling hands?
Why do I always button my shirt one hole down?
Why don’t I have friends?
Why have I felt an urge to wash my hands each and every time when I touch something since long before the pandemic?
Why has the government kept giving so much money since the pandemic?

Why do people keep getting married while marriage doesn’t make them happy?
Why do people have children who consume their money and aspirations?

Why did my mother lie to the doctor that she hurt her arm when she tried to get something heavy from the top shelf and it fell on her although in truth her injury was inflicted by a chair that my sister had thrown at her?
Why did my father suddenly send me a letter in which he lashed out at me severely and at the same time, enclose some money for me?
Why did my parents do so many terrible things to me who was their own child?

Why don’t I stop wondering why? It would be easy and at peace if I could swallow everything and accept it simply as the way it is.

the door shut before me

Photo by cottonbro on Pexels.com

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

Audiobook 1 : Japanese Dream by Hidemi Woods On Sale at online stores or apps. 
Audiobook 2 : My Social Distancing and Naked Spa in Japan by Hidemi Woods On Sale at online stores or apps. 
Apple Books, Audible, Google Play, Nook Audiobooks,  43 available distributors in total. 

Closure and Rebirth hr645

Photo by Karolina Grabowska on Pexels.com

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.

Podcast: Doll’s Festival

 
Audiobook 1 : Japanese Dream by Hidemi Woods On Sale at online stores or apps. 
Audiobook 2 : My Social Distancing and Naked Spa in Japan by Hidemi Woods On Sale at online stores or apps. 
Apple Books, Audible, Google Play, Nook Audiobooks,  43 available distributors in total.  
 
Doll’s Festival 
The Doll’s Festival in Japan is for celebrating girls and they decorate old style dolls on stepped shelves. The festival I had when I was 12 years old coincided with the day to know whether I passed or failed the entrance examination for the best private junior high school in the city. In Japan, each candidate is given an applicant number and a school releases the numbers of the passed ones on big boards put up in a school.
After excruciating two years that I attended the supplementary private school for the exam additionally after finishing a whole day at the elementary school, I was reasonably confident. I went to see the announcement boards with my parents and my younger sister. It was a big day for my family, as the result would more or less decide my future.
In front of the boards, I was astounded. My number wasn’t there. I failed. On our way home, we stopped at a bakery for cake for the Doll’s Festival. While my mother and my sister went in the bakery, I was waiting in the car with my father. It started to snow. I still can vividly picture those snowflakes falling and melting on the windshield. I had never felt so devastated before.
In the evening, my mother took a bath with me and she wailed saying “I’m so disappointed!” again and again. Because I wasn’t used to seeing her crying, my despair turned fear. The fear that I made a fatal, catastrophic error. Since then, every year on the Doll’s Festival, I remember that year’s festival…
 

My new Kindle has been published! “Leaving Kyoto: I felt as if I had officially become an author / Hidemi Woods”

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…

Leaving Kyoto: I felt as if I had officially become an author / Hidemi Woods

Podcast: no place to go

 
Audiobook 1 : Japanese Dream by Hidemi Woods On Sale at online stores or apps. 
Audiobook 2 : My Social Distancing and Naked Spa in Japan by Hidemi Woods On Sale at online stores or apps. 
Apple Books, Audible, Google Play, Nook Audiobooks,  43 available distributors in total. 
 
no place to go 
My parents married by an arranged marriage. Marriage used to be a knot between two families, not individuals in Japan. A mutual acquaintance introduced my parents to both families with their photographs. Although my parents didn’t like each other, the tie as the family seemed favorable to their parents. My mother agreed with the marriage very unwillingly after the fortuneteller said that she would handle money by the million if she married my father.
As for my father, he reluctantly obeyed his parents’ decision because he had never said ‘no’ to his father in his life. A month after the wedding, my mother decided to leave my father because she couldn’t stand to live with his parents any longer. She went back to her parents’ home but her father didn’t allow her to come back. She had no place to go and gave in to her dismal marriage. And I was born. I wasn’t the result of a happy marriage, but I embodied my mother’s resignation…