I was an outcast in my family

My mother used to take lessons in Japanese
dancing. A woman in the neighborhood taught
it in the evening to the neighbor housewives at
her house. They held an annual public
performance and my mother would practice
earnestly at home when it came closer. My
sister and I used to imitate her and dance
alongside her.
I liked it and danced quite well. I was in
junior high school and my sister was still in
elementary school. Since my sister came home
from school much earlier than I did, my
mother would take her to the lessons and let
her wait and watch there. My father gave my
mother a ride for every lesson. So, my parents
and my sister would go out together once a
week while I was left in the house with my
strict grandparents.
Soon, my sister began to take lessons as
well. I felt it extremely unfair because it was I
who danced well and should take lessons. I
complained to my mother as hard as I could,
but she never paid attention. The junior high I
attended was so far from my home and I
couldn’t come home by the time they left for
lessons. My mother made no effort for me to
ask for a late lesson to the teacher. It seemed
she simply wanted to go out with just three of
them once a week. Even in an instance of
Japanese dancing, I was again an outcast in
my family. I wonder why it kept happening to
me all the time…

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

My new Kindle has been published! ‘Living in Kyoto: My Early Life with Japanese Traditions / Hidemi Woods’

In voice mail, there was a message from my father that said he needed to be called back immediately. I was chilled to the bone. I have never received a single phone call from him that’s not disturbing. When he calls me, he does it to vent his spleen about his daily life and about my career as a musician. What comes out from the receiver is his lengthy verbal abuse. Nevertheless, I mostly return his call because things get worse if I don’t. This time was no exception and I called him back fearfully with trembling hands. Instead of a spurt of anger, he told me to come home as soon as possible and stay for a few days. I asked him what happened and he didn’t answer that. As his request sounded urgent, I repeatedly asked for the reason. He just dodged and kept saying that he wanted me to come home right away. I hung up and felt alarmed. Something must have happened. Since he had never given me good news, that something was most certainly a bad thing.

My parents’ home is located in Kyoto that is 500 miles away from where I live. It takes me over five hours to get there by bullet train. I don’t have so much free time to take that long trip without the reason. Besides, such an unusual request requires extra caution. I called my mother’s cell phone and asked her what was all about. She told me that they had decided to sell their house and move out. They were looking for a condominium to buy and moving in as soon as the house was sold. The house could be sold next month at the fastest, and they wanted me to sort out my stuff and spend time together under this house’s roof for the last time.

The house was built when I was nine years old at the place where our old house was torn down because it was too old to live in. That old house was built about 100 years ago. My ancestors lived at exactly the same spot generation after generation for over 1000 years since my family used to be a landlord of the area. We are here for around 63 generations. My father succeeded the family from my grandfather, and I would have been the next successor if I hadn’t left home to be a musician. Because my father failed the family business and didn’t have the next successor for help, he had sold pieces of our ancestor’s land one by one. Now his money has finally dried up and he can’t afford to keep the last land where the house stands.

When my grandfather passed away nine years ago, he complained to me again about financial help I wouldn’t lend. I promptly suggested that he should sell the house and its land. He got furious at my suggestion. He shouted, “How could you say something like that? Do you really think it’s possible? All ancestors of ours lived here! I live to continue our lineage right here for my entire life! Selling the house means ending our family lineage! It’s impossible!!” He bawled me out like a crazy man while banging the floor repeatedly with a DVD that I had brought for him as a Father’s Day gift.

But nine years later, the time inevitably came. Considering his mad fury about selling the house back then, it was easy for me to imagine that he planned to set fire on the house during the night I would stay and kill my mother and me along with himself. That seemed the true reason why he wanted me to come back. Those murder-suicide cases sometimes happen in Japan, especially among families with long history.

But the first thing that I felt at the news was not fear but relief. As I had known my father wouldn’t sell the house, I had thought that I would end up reaping the harvest of his mistakes as his daughter even though I didn’t succeed the family. I would have to liquidate everything in the house to pay his debts and sell the house and the land by myself after I would argue with all my relatives in the family’s branches who would most certainly oppose strongly. That picture of my dismal future had been long hanging low in my mind. But now, completely out of the blue, my father was taking up everything and I was discharged…

Living in Kyoto: My Early Life with Japanese Traditions / Hidemi Woods

always tinged with disappointment

The house where I spent my childhood was very old. Half the floor in it was bare earth and my family lived like in the way of the Wild West. With our shoes on, we walked around the house and ate meals. It was all right to throw away the rest of a drink from a cup directly onto the floor.

 My father used to smoke. When he smoked, he would light a cigarette with a match and toss the match to the dirt floor. It burned itself out. That is probably my earliest memory. I remember a thrown match was burning out on the floor and I said “Ah…” According to my parents, I uttered “Ah…” every time my father threw away a match as if I didn’t approve it. And my tone was always tinged with disappointment. I guess I was already cheap as a child and couldn’t bear a thing to be thrown away after just one-time use. I was nagging at my parents about everything all my childhood, and even my earliest memory is something critical about my parents. No wonder we’ve been on bad terms for such a long time…

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

It’s no good!

I had a dream about my sister last night. In
each and every dream about her, she takes
my parents away from me. She’s four years
younger than I am and I still remember the
time when she was born. Although everybody
told me that I must have been very happy to
become a big sister, I felt gloomy more and
more as my mother’s due date was drawing
near.
I strongly wished my sister would never be
born because I knew grown-ups’ attention
would leave me. And I was right. She was born
to be my parents’ favorite. My mother
especially stood by her all the time, both
physically and mentally. I was sent away to my
grandparents’ room to sleep with them. My
mother’s arms and lap were always occupied
by my sister and I was constantly driven away
to my father.
Only consolation for me was my
grandfather’s attitude. Because Japan was
excessively male-dominated – it still is, in my
opinion – he was bitterly disappointed that his
newly born grandchild was a girl again. He
kept complaining about it to his neighbor
friends, saying “It’s no good! A girl again! No
good!” For that matter, he had six
grandchildren in all and none of them was a
boy. I regard it as a curse.
My sister still gets along well with my parents
as their favorite, lives with them in my
hometown, and they brag about whatever she
does while they criticize for whatever I do. To
this day, they remain taken away from me by
my sister. It can be a good thing for me,
though…

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

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…

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

She had 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…

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

excellent and beautiful

My mother turns to a fortuneteller when it
comes to a big decision. Every big decision that
has fundamentally influenced her life was
made by a fortuneteller, including her
marriage. When my parents named their
children, they of course had a fortuneteller
choose the names. So, I was named by a total
stranger. My parents each had their own pick
for my name when they visited the
fortuneteller and they also had a few other
names as spares just in case. The fortuneteller
picked ‘Hidemi’ out of the spares, which was
neither of their picks. Most Japanese names
are written in Chinese characters. Each of the
characters has its inherent meaning. My name
is composed of two characters. The character
for ‘hide’ means ‘excellent’ and the one for ‘mi’
means ‘beautiful’.
In Japan, we are often asked the
corresponding characters to the name when
we give out our names. I always explain
“Hidemi as in excellent and beautiful.” And the
person who hears it almost always gives me a
wry smile. I know what they think…

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

grandparents who gave it to me

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…

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

My new Kindle has been published! ‘The Family in Kyoto: One Japanese Girl Got Freedom / Hidemi Woods’

As long as I could remember, my family members had told me that I was a successor of the family and I was to live with my family all my life as my father, my grandfather, my great-grandfather and on and on and on did, by taking a husband into our family to bear our family name. They kept saying that as a usual chant so repeatedly that I was sort of under the spell that I would be stuck in the house as a successor until the day I die.
 So, I was an outsider when other girls chatted giggly about what last name they would bear after their marriage or where they would live in the future. I knew what my last name and what my future address would be because they wouldn’t be changed. My whole life was so predictable for that matter. Since I knew my future, I had no interest in my life, and days were so boring.
 I changed my future completely by abandoning my family, my friends, my hometown and the old tradition. Now, I’m free from my once-arranged future. Instead, I dread my uncertain future everyday…

The Beginning of My Life hr638

After I was graduated from a Catholic high school in Kyoto, Japan, I went overseas for the first time in my life as a family trip around Europe during spring break right before starting college. The culture shock I experienced there seemed to alter my brain. It took control of me and began to inflict cracks everywhere on common practice of the small hamlet of Kyoto that I was born and grew up in.
One of the things I realized in Europe was that so many different people lived by so many different ways of their own. It had been always that way and not worth mentioning, but that kind of notion blurred in my home town where everybody knew everybody who lived in the same way. As a firstborn, I was destined to succeed my family that had lasted over 1000 years, which meant I should live with my family in the same house, on the same location, for my entire life until I die. Although that had been fixed according to the hamlet’s long-standing common practice, what I saw and felt in Europe told me that shouldn’t be the only way to live.
Another thing Europe showed me was better understanding of my parents. Through numerous happenings during the trip, I learned their true self. They weren’t wise, weren’t respectable and didn’t even love each other. It became questionable whether I should follow the fixed life that was demanded by my parents now that I found they didn’t deserve trust.
The first day of college came in only a couple of days after I returned from Europe. It was an orientation day on which we had a physical checkup. I didn’t understand why it was necessary in the first place. For a few-minute-long checkup, all the freshmen had to stand in line waiting for their turns. We waited for three to four hours doing nothing, just standing. I couldn’t leave the line for lunch. A friend from the same high school as I had been in spotted me and went to get a cookie. While I was munching it standing in an everlasting long line, I felt dreadful for my college life that had just started. I had been fed up with my school days that were inefficient, wasteful, full of totalitarian practice. I thought I finally got out of it but it turned out to be started all over again. Everybody did the same ineffective thing at the same time here in college too.
The college had a compulsory two year’s curriculum claimed ‘general education’ and one of the subjects was physical education. About 30 students of the same class gathered at the ground wearing the college gym uniform. We played catch in pairs in one class, and danced odd moves to music all together in another. To me, it wasn’t college at all. I was sent back to kindergarten.
I asked myself what I was doing day after day. The world was infinitely vast yet life was too short. There was no time for doing what I was told to like others did. Time had to be spent on what I wanted to do even though others didn’t do. Three months later, I stopped attending all the classes other than an English conversation class. I knew I would neither graduate college nor get a degree as a result, but I didn’t care. There, I chose what to do by myself, and my own life has begun.