The Happiest Memory hr665
What I remember as the happiest memory in my childhood is the day that my parents took my younger sister and me to the confectionery factory for a guided tour when I was about seven or eight years old. Theme parks hadn’t arrived in Japan yet and even a factory tour was rare and unfamiliar back then while it has been popular and factories of many kinds have offered it nowadays. My father happened to find a major Japanese manufacturer offering a free tour at the factory that was a 40-minute drive from home. Since we didn’t go out much together because of my parents’ busy work, a factory tour sounded to me extra special and also to be something unimaginable. As we had made a reservation, the staff waited for and greeted us at the factory where we realized that we were the only group for the tour that day probably because it was a weekday.
A tour guide led just four of us around the huge factory and showed and explained each section in detail through the overwhelmingly big glass above the factory floor. Everywhere in the factory was thoroughly clean and all white. Walking along the long passage above the vast factory floor and looking down the machinery through the glass, I imagined that inside of a space station would be like this. I was amazed at automation. Everything was operated by automated equipment and few humans were around it, which was so futuristic. Cookies and snacks were flowing endlessly on the conveyors and hopping and wiggling as if they were dancing while they were seasoned. They looked to me some cute life-forms of another planet. My mother also looked so happy for this once. She said to me several times in excitement, “Look! That dough came out turning into these here! Look! Those pieces went in over there!” With an additional backdrop of my mother’s good mood, I was sticking to the glass, fascinated by the operation.
At the end of the tour, we were ushered to the large screening room. Many tables were set there and one of them had a big plate of confectionery on it. That was our table. The staff brought tea and told us to have as much confectionery as we liked. The short film that introduced the manufacturer’s history and business was shown on a big screen while I was munching freshly-baked, just-out -of-conveyor cookies and snacks. Since snacks were luxury for me who was raised by stingy grandparents, I had eaten neither so many of them nor the ones that were still warm at my fingertips before. We monopolized the whole thing as a single group and were treated like VIPs. I thought I was dreaming.
When we were leaving, they gave each of us a big bag filled with their confectionery as a souvenir. I was holding the bag to my chest in the back seat of our car as if it had been a treasure while the car was exiting the factory’s parking lot. I missed the place already and looked back to see it one last time from the rear window of the car. I saw the tour guide and a couple of other workers standing and bowing toward our car in front of the building. They waved to me, and I waved them back. We didn’t stop waving to each other until they became sizes of rice and finally disappeared from my sight when the car that my father drove slowly on purpose for me turned out the factory gate.
I had one more memory in which I felt the similar sense of that day. It happened at the theme park where the mouse works as a host. By then, I had already left home and begun to live on my own in Tokyo. It was a weekday in winter and the park was almost empty. When I was strolling about with my partner, the mascot of that mouse appeared with the space costume that matched the particular area’s theme. I greeted him with my partner and took a photograph together. I was chattering with him when my partner pointed at his shoe, saying, “Your shoe is tattered.” The mouse and I looked down with a surprise on it that was partly worn out indeed and he gestured embarrassment. I defended him by telling my partner that he had been traveling through space a lot, which relentless condition made his shoes worn off. Three of us laughed together. We said goodbye to the mouse and left him. I looked back a few steps away and saw him still waving to me. I waved him back. Other guests gathered around him, but he didn’t stop waving to me. I repeatedly looked back several times and saw him waving to me each time even while he was taking photographs with other guests. In the end, I reached the other foot of a bridge which arch hindered the sight of him. Yet, he kept waving to me while jumping so that I could see him. The scene of his big sweeping, waving hands toward me above his bobbing head over the asphalt arch had been burned into my brain.
Every time those two memories pop up in my mind, I feel heartwarming and yearning. I sometimes wonder why I have cherished those incidents in particular. I’m not a social character and not good at being with people. I hated people, especially when I was little. Somewhere in my deep subconsciousness, I assume that people don’t understand me and vice versa because they never treat me the way I think it should be. However, I proved wrong in those two memories. They treated me right with so much kindness, which was different from what I had believed as human behavior. I was betrayed by people in a good way and got connection instead. For a brief moment as it was, I sensed deeply connected to others and that gave me inexplicable happiness. It was totally unexpected, but extremely joyful enough to be the reason for my special, happiest memories.
name : Talking and Reading from Japan by Hidemi Woods
The tiny close community of a small village used to be the whole world for me who was born to a farming family living in a rural area of Japan. The sole window to the outside world was TV through which I had encountered what I had never seen in my daily life.
Back in those days, Japanese TV dramas were made and shot in the capital city of Japan, Tokyo. The city view and the people’s way of living in Tokyo looked so cool. Everything from fashion to lifestyle was completely different from things in Kyoto where I lived. On TV, Tokyo seemed like a future world decades ahead to me. I was hooked by one particular weekly crime drama which was shot on location all around Tokyo. Every location looked as if it had been in a Western country and the detectives in the drama were extremely stylish. I was absorbed in seeing that exotic world every week and had spent the other six days of the week waiting for the drama. As soon as I finished watching that show, I would rush into my room and write out the entire show in the notebook. I reproduced all the lines of characters and all the settings by depending on my memory. Since there was no way to record a TV program as a video cassette recorder was yet to come, I read my notebook over and over again to watch it inside my head until the next show was on air. In hindsight, the world of TV dramas was fictional which didn’t exist even in Tokyo, but I was too young to realize that.
Years went by and I became a musician. By the time two years have passed since I joined my first band, the band not only had played gigs around Kyoto but also had made guest appearances and had our songs played on local radio shows from time to time. We had made some connections with music producers who came down to the western part of Japan from Tokyo as judges for some live contests. However, our progress was limited because all the major music labels of Japan were based in Tokyo. My partner and I began to consider moving our base to Tokyo as we were geographically too far off to make a career in music.
Moving to Tokyo was a big deal to me. While I seldom attended, it meant I would quit college once and for all. As a much more serious matter, an old Japanese custom didn’t allow a successor of the family, that was me, to leave home. For me, leaving home meant abandoning my family and all the privileges. Although it seemed crazy to throw away everything when I had no idea how to live on as a musician in Tokyo, I felt living there would be better than staying in my family’s home for the rest of my life. I preferred eating hamburgers and french fries from McDonald’s to eating home-grown vegetables from my family’s fields every single day. I knew it wouldn’t be healthy, but at least I would be able to eat what I chose, when I wanted. To sum up, moving to Tokyo was all about freedom. I was more than willing to jump into the free world where I would make all choices by myself instead of the old fixed rules and customs.
Oddly enough, things went unexpectedly smoothly once I made up my mind to move to Tokyo. Various kinds of obstructions that had been seemingly difficult to be cleared resolved themselves almost magically. The moving day arrived sooner than I had imagined.
I was waiting for the bullet train bound for Tokyo on the platform in Kyoto Station. A friend of mine came to see me off. She was surprised that she was the only one for me there. “Even your parents don’t see you off?” she sounded bewildered. I wondered what awaited me in the outside world of my window. I was both looking forward to it and afraid.
parental affection : Talking and Reading from Japan by Hidemi Woods
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
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.
Overflowing Endless Whys hr651
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.