My Travel hr662

A trip can require an enormous effort. In my case, it starts by making time to plan in a hectic daily life which consumes me with work. Once I manage to find time for planning a trip, a long way to finish it awaits. I search all over the Internet for the best possible deal for a hotel and transportation that suits what I want to do during the trip. I narrow selections, choose the most saving plans, combine them into an itinerary, book everything, adjust my work schedule, and pack. The latest trip I took after that lengthy process was by plane. I could have taken the bullet train since the time that would be  taken to the destination was almost the same because the airport was much further than the train station from my home. But that particular airline carried a limited-time sale so that the fare was lower. My choice was decided on a plane for that reason.

No matter how many times I have flown, I feel nervous each time. Although I know that the chances of a car accident are much higher than a plane crash, that kind of logic doesn’t help me. I see many people drink alcohol before the flight and that shows I am not the only person who is nervous of flying. A long time ago, I took a flight to Dallas. Before landing, the plane was sucked into nasty turbulence. It repeated steep dives several times that gave some passengers screams and vomits. I was in a window seat and seeing the wing in the midst of a thick cloud that told me the plane tilted sharply. I heard something fall and break everywhere. Above all, I was most terrified when I saw the flight attendants panic, who were supposed to get used to and be trained for this situation. The plane finally got out of the thick cloud and I thought I would see out of the window broad highways or the edge of the runway that were common views after the plane descended that much. Instead, what came into my sight were tips of green trees. Because I had never seen trees so closely from the airplane, I was convinced that we were going to crash. I vaguely thought it was least expected that my end was Dallas. Then, the plane stopped descending and flew ahead horizontally. It made turns above trees with a move that was more like a bus’s rather than a plane’s. It seemed to spot the runway by doing so, and we landed safely.

For the latest trip I took, I checked in at the airport and was informed that my flight was delayed for two hours due to machine maintenance. I wasn’t sure if the airplane I was going on board would need further maintenance or a backup plane would fly in from somewhere, but either way, it made me uneasy since it came on top of the existing nervous factor that it was a low cost carrier. After I went through the security check and waited at the gate, the further delay was announced. I finally got on board a few hours behind schedule and the door of the plane was closed. Yet, it remained stationary, and wouldn’t move. The captain announced it was waiting for takeoff permission from the control tower. It sounded absurd because it was a small local airport where the runway was empty and only few flights a day came in and out. Forty minutes passed while many things crossed my mind. Why can’t a takeoff be permitted? Is there any problem? Is that the true reason? Does this plane still have some sort of machine troubles? The cabin was dead silent and tense as other passengers sat quiet and strained for the whole forty minutes. I thought this was the very time when we needed alcohol most. By the time the plane took off and safely finished its 90-minute flight, it was already night and I was exhausted. My elaborate travel itinerary got messed up on the first day though I had made it with full of leeway. The massive delay ate up the time for a meal at the restaurant. The express train I had booked from the airport to the city had long gone.

Flights are always accompanied with troubles. Other than delays, I have had my fair share of troubles regarding baggage, other passengers or attendants. Even so, I don’t hate flying. I don’t know why exactly, but I feel like I become a different person each time I take off and land on the destination. It is as if I jumped into a different dimension where a better version of my life exists. I like that feeling so much that I feel stuck circling at the same spot over and over without any changes when I haven’t flown for a long time. That’s why I need to take a plane to a different place once in a while in order to become a better self even if it’s nervous, risky and troublesome. I might as well stay home just to relax as to travel. It would be peaceful, calm and tranquil for me. But I know I couldn’t enjoy that because staying at the same place without traveling feels like being dead. Travel lets me keep changing so that I stay alive.

Tokyo hr659

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. 

snowed very heavily

After a quarter of my furniture arrived at my
new apartment, I returned to my old place. It
snowed very heavily on the day of my
departure. When I was about to leave the
apartment, it stopped snowing once, and I
walked to the nearest train station instead of
calling a cab. The moment I got to the station,
it started snowing again, even more heavily. I
was waiting for the local train at the platform,
seeing a surreal view. Everything was entirely
covered with snow and it seemed as if there
was nothing but mountains. Only a vast white
ground spread out between the mountains and
me.

I felt like I was in the movie ‘ Fargo’.
The train didn’t come after the arrival time
had passed. The station was unmanned as it
was too remote, and no announcement was
available. I thought it was delayed by heavy
snow. Time went on. I began to feel uneasy
because I had a bullet train to catch at the
terminal station. There was a man who was
also waiting for the train, and he used the
station’s emergency phone to call the terminal.
He kindly came back to me and let me know
that the local train service was suspended due
to snow. I called a cab with my cell phone, got
to the terminal and barely caught the bullet
train for which I had the reserved ticket. I had
never been in such heavy snow in my life. Can
I really move in and live in the place where it
snows hard enough to stop the train…?

Episode From Surviving in Japan / Hidemi 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

Passion hr656

Photo by Elina Sazonova on Pexels.com

What I had been doing before I decided to become a musician was studying to enter one of Japanese first-rate universities, which was ostensibly believed so. That was when I was a high school student in the early 80’s.

To tell you the truth, I had in fact, not been studying in those days, which I had never told anyone. I just had been pretending to study every day. While I had acted in front of my family and friends as if I had been preparing for fiercely competitive entrance examinations and studying desperately to succeed in them, I hadn’t been able to find any sort of motivation to study once I sat at my desk in my room. To stimulate myself, I would listen to the records of my favorite band, but then gaze blankly at empty space or take a nap instead of being stimulated. I had tried to study in the middle of the night, which was supposed to be quieter and easier to concentrate, but I would listen to late night radio shows at which I would laugh until dawn.

After I had spent months in those routines while arrogantly declaring to people around me that I would get in the leading university, I came to my senses and began to wonder how I could succeed without studying. Now I had trembled every day with a fear that I would have failed the entrance examination of all first-rate universities. Even though I was grasped with the fear, I still couldn’t feel like studying. And in the end, that fear did materialize.

Am I a born sluggard? Am I a loser? In the depths of despair, I made up my mind to be a musician. Then in an instant my attitude changed completely. I earnestly searched for and joined a professional-oriented band, spent all the savings I had on a synthesizer, and practiced every day at the far-off rental studio to which I took a train and brought the synthesizer weighing fifty pounds and carried by me who is merely five feet. I would sweat all over even in winter just carrying it from and to the platform at the train station.

On one occasion at the station, as though he couldn’t stand to watch me struggling with the synthesizer any more, a man approached me silently and lifted it on his shoulder. He went down the stairs from the platform carrying it for me. While he staggered along the way and slowed down  probably because it was heavier than he had thought, he brought it to the bottom of the stairs and disappeared without a word. I felt like a hero came to rescue me.

But a villain also appeared as well. On another occasion, I was walking over the bridge carrying it in addition to other instruments. Because it was impossible for me to walk continuously with all that heavy stuff, I posed and put down all the instruments every few yards. And a vulgar man yelled at me from behind, “Get out of my way, you slow-walking ugly!” I snapped at the word ‘ugly’, put down the instruments, and stopped him by saying, “What did you say?” Then I seized him by the neck, squeezed it and pushed him to the bridge-rail. I was wringing his neck seriously and intended to push him down to the river. The man gasped for air and screamed “Call the police! Please, someone!” By that time, passersby had gathered, and a woman untangled my hands on his neck and broke us up. It seemed I turned into a villain there.

When I wasn’t in the studio, I had practiced playing the keyboard at home and worked at a part-time job to pay for the rental studio. Although my new routine had totally exhausted me, I was willing to take the ordeal. I never lost my passion as if I were possessed by something. And I haven’t lost it to this day after decades have passed.

To keep going can lead to many setbacks. Sometimes there are those nights when I want to give up and throw everything away. Still, when it dawns, I get motivated again gradually. Not vanity nor prosperity but passion keeps me alive. I don’t want to quit staying alive just yet.

residents is wanted for murder

As I’ve been constantly looking for an apartment online, I found a pretty good one again. It’s located by a lake near Mt. Fuji and it’s spacious, furnished and Western-style. Usually, this kind of property is far above my price range, but this one is discounted considerably so that it dove into my range.

The catch is that the building is very old by Japanese standards. It’s 36 years old. Still, it’s the most gorgeous place I could possibly afford. I gathered information about the area, such as the climate, restaurants, shops and most importantly, the train and bus schedules because I don’t have a car. I decided to go to look at the room and sent an e-mail to the real estate company for an appointment. Meanwhile, I bought a train schedule book and made a precise plan to go there as a weekend trip.

A reply from the real estate company included the more detailed information about the apartment. Because it’s old, the water pipes may give out at any moment. The boiler is broken, too. To finish up, one of the residents is wanted for murder. It’s not the one again…or, is it…?

Episode From Surviving in Japan / Hidemi Woods

I’m a super weak person.

Photo by Shinobu on Pexels.com

I got up 1 p.m. and when I arrived at Costco after walking to the station and taking a train and a bus, it was already 7 p.m. By the time I finished shopping and started back home, I felt exhausted because of heat, humidity and the long trip.

Platforms of the train station were packed with commuters although it was 9 p.m. They were waiting for the train, standing squeezing each other and almost spilling over from the platform. I was sitting on a bench at the platform to take a rest and watching them get on the train, crammed and holding a strap.

I was impressed by their physical strength. They get up early in the morning, commute all the way, work all day long and still have this energy left, while I get up in the afternoon, go shopping and rest on a bench waiting for the less crowded train. To me, this is a once- or twice-a-month thing, but they are doing this every day! Are they human beings with mighty power? Or, I’m a super weak person. Can I withstand all summer like this…?

Episode From Surviving in Japan / Hidemi Woods

The Money Pit hr650

Photo by Min An on Pexels.com

I made up my mind to become a professional musician when I was eighteen living in Japan. I had imagined that the hardest thing to be one was to keep up better works by strengthening talent, which proved wrong. The hardest thing is money. Scraping up funds for activities as a musician without losing time and energy for music is most difficult. It’s equally the case for either an artist who has made a smash hit or the one who has been unsuccessful like me. And it has remained to be the case today after decades passed.
At the very beginning of my music career, I regularly rehearsed in a studio as a member of the band that strongly intended to become professional. It was the first serious band I had joined. I somehow managed to play well enough compared to other skillful members and didn’t get fired at the first session as I had feared. The band was based in Osaka that is a 45-minute ride by train from Kyoto where I lived. The studios the band used were all in Osaka, which meant I needed to pay the studio rental fee and the train fare each time. I was a college student back then, but barely went to class. Instead, I worked at the restaurant as a cashier and spent everything on the band. My time was dedicated to music and I came home just to sleep.
The studio was equipped with a synthesizer but I didn’t have my own although I constantly appealed my passion to become professional. It had gradually seemed odd that I used a rental synthesizer in every session while I tried to motivate other members to be professional as soon as possible. A thought that other members questioned my seriousness began to cross my mind as I continued to play with temporary sounds. Since we played our original songs, original sounds were necessary. On top of that, when I practiced back at home, I used the piano for a synthesizer that was quite ineffective as practice. I finally decided to get my own synthesizer. I chose the latest model at that time called Yamaha DX7 that was featured in almost all the pop songs and albums in the music business of 80s. It cost about 2500 dollars.
Before I joined the band, I had saved money out of my years’ allowances and was going to use that money to study English in England. The amount of my savings was about the same as the price of a DX7. I had put it in time deposit at the credit union bank for higher interest and for my friend just a few months before. That friend of mine had worked at the bank by giving up going to college because she needed to support her handicapped mother and two younger siblings when her father suddenly abandoned them. I wanted to help her in some way and set a time deposit through her with hope that it might raise her performance evaluation at the bank. Sadly, my rare good deed couldn’t last any longer. I went to the bank, apologized her a million times, and cancelled a time deposit. While she kept telling me with a smile “Don’t worry, don’t bother,” I was bathed in guilt, and yet I withdrew my savings and went on to get a DX7. I chose a DX7 over staying in England and being her friend.
After all, it was just the beginning of the long way that I have walked on until today. Since I decided to become a professional musician, I had lost my friends and my family not to mention a college degree as a dropout. What I gained instead are thousands of sleepless nights for worry about money. Even while I stay awake in the night yet again, I still believe that the happiest thing for a human is to fulfill one’s calling.

Liberation from Money hr649

Photo by Laura Musikanski on Pexels.com

As I recall it, a ticket vending machine first appeared in the early 80’s at the nearest train station from my home in Japan where I grew up. There had been two ticket windows one of which was replaced with the machine. It was an exciting new gizmo especially for children that spewed out a train ticket by just pushing a button corresponded to the destination. The ticket gate was still operated by a clerk. The ticket examiner stood in an open booth with special clippers in his hand. Passengers would show the commuter pass to him, or have the ticket clipped by his clippers to get a hole or a nick on it. The examiner handled clippers skillfully, clipped tickets one after another so fast and rhythmically. When passengers broke off, he would turn clippers many times in his hand artfully as if he had been a juggler. Later on, the ticket booth was also replaced by the automatic ticket gate.
In those days, more and more vending machines had emerged here and there in Japan. They started with coffee and soft drinks, then cigarettes and beer. Soon pornographic magazines and condoms, hamburgers and noodle soup were all purchasable from the machine.
Nowadays, ordering at restaurants has been by a touch screen on the table, and check-out counters at the supermarket have been self-service registers. Either at a restaurant or a supermarket, I pay an incorrect total once in two or three visits when human servers and cashiers take care the payment and make a mistake. I know the odds because I look into the receipt very carefully right after the payment each and every time. Almost in every case I don’t gain but overpay, which is a mystery, so that I claim at once. I understand I myself induce their mistakes by using every possible coupon and discount promotion in one payment that makes my total so complicated. When a machine handles service in place of a human, it’s fast, convenient, clean and no mistakes. But on the other hand, no small talk or smiles are a little tasteless. Even so, machines may fit better for me since I often get annoyed with people too easily.
The day that machines take up most jobs of humans’ might arrive sooner than expected. If it happened, the government would pay the people a basic income by taxing companies. Is it possible that people don’t have to work? For the first time after the ancient times, humans would get liberated from money at long last. Everybody could live by doing what they want. I’m eagerly looking forward to seeing that day come. I’m strongly hoping. And I believe in a miracle as such.

The Turning Point hr648

Photo by Ingo Joseph on Pexels.com

I was nervously looking at a passing view of houses and factories from the window of the express train that ran between Kyoto and Osaka in Japan. On that day, I headed for Osaka to meet for the first time the person who had posted a recruitment ad for the band in a music magazine. I was tense not only because I wasn’t good at meeting people, but also because my demo tape to be exchanged at the meeting had sounded terrible. When I recorded it, I couldn’t manage to make it as I hoped it to be. In the end, I was so frustrated that I aborted recording in the middle of one of my songs. And I was carrying that tape as the finished product for the first meeting. I was easily able to imagine the dumbfounded expression of the person who would have listened to this tape.
It had been three months since I started college life that had turned out to be a waste of time and I began to look for a band. Although I had determined to pursue music as my lifelong career, my band searching hadn’t been going well. I had felt I was at a deadlock. If I had failed to form a band again with this meeting, futile days would have gone on. I couldn’t stand it any longer. The train arrived at Osaka and I came to the meeting place 10 minutes late.
The young man was standing where the railway track ended as Osaka was the terminus. When I passed him by on purpose, he called me to stop though he didn’t know my face. We greeted and entered the cafe. He introduced himself along with his music career so far. Although he was younger than I was and still a high school student, he had a wealth of experience in music under his belt. He had formed several bands with which he had won quite a few competitions and awards. I wondered why he hadn’t mentioned them in his recruitment ad on the magazine. He of course had written much more songs than I had. Compared to his experience, a few gigs and my own songs were nothing. Inevitably however, he asked about me and my turn to talk about myself came.
After I heard about his glorious career, I didn’t feel like telling him mine. I just gave him snippets of information such as I started to play the piano when I was four years old since I had applied to his ad as a keyboardist/singer. And instead of my experience, I ranted and raved about my passion. I didn’t have anything else for self-promotion but showing how committed I was to make a career as a musician. I did so also because I had my poor demo tape waiting to appear. As I remembered the last line of his ad was ‘A band member with passion wanted’, I thought my passion was the best defense as well as selling point. I even told him how hurriedly I had pedaled my bicycle when I went to get a double postcard to contact him prior to this meeting. After he listened to me half amusedly, he told me that his band would start with me as the keyboardist.
As it turned out, we exchanged demo tapes not to listen there but just to make sure later. All he needed to find out at the meeting was passion for music. Through his rich experience in forming a band, he had been sick of Japanese musicians’ common attitudes that they wanted to be professional only if they were lucky. They would play in a band until they got a steady job at the office and quit. No matter how skillful they were, they would decisively lack intention to become a professional musician whatever it took. I happened to have that kind of intention more than anybody and got to show him. I joined a band and the meeting was over. When we were about to leave the cafe, I said to him “Don’t bother about my coffee,” because it was still a common practice back then in Japan that a man should pay for a woman. He answered, “I wouldn’t do such a thing.” He was a rare progressive person for a Japanese of those days. Along with the cool cafe in the big city and the new band, I felt like I opened the door to the future at the meeting.
I was relieved to have found the band and have broken a deadlock finally when I headed home. I took the train back to Kyoto again, which was running toward the future this time. In the train, I listened to his demo tape on my Walkman. On the tape were three songs he wrote and sang with his own guitar playing. I was astounded. His songs, singing, playing were all excellent. Even the recording quality sounded as if it were of a professional musician. I couldn’t believe what I had just found. I was convinced I had hit the jackpot. With this talent, the band would become professional and be a big hit in no time. Success was assured. For the first time in my life, I felt hope enormous enough to tremble. All at once, everything I saw looked different. The same somber houses and factories that I had seen out of the train window the way there were beautiful now. The regular train was gorgeous and all the passengers seemed happy. Among those happy passengers, a shaft of sunlight beamed only on me and shone me. I saw my wretched life with too many failures ending at last. A successful life that I should have was about to start instead.
I listened to the tape repeatedly on my way home feeling literally over the moon. The thing I couldn’t see was that this was the entrance to my adult life filled with sufferings and miseries that I would have endured as a musician to this day.

No Other Choice hr647

I chose music as my lifelong carrier when I was a college student. The first thing I got down to was to form a band. After I realized I couldn’t find band members at nearby universities because students played music just for fun, I expanded my search to the general public. Until then, the whole world I had been familiar with was the small hamlet where I was born and grew up and the schools I went to. I was about to tread on to the unknown, new world.
It was early 80’s when neither the Internet nor SNS had existed yet. The common way to find band members back then was recruitment columns on dozens of pages in a monthly music magazine. When you found someone appealing to you, you would contact him or her by a double postcard to receive a reply. I narrowed down to two postings for a candidate band. As I couldn’t figure out which one was better, I asked my mother out of curiosity. She glanced at each posting and without much attention picked one which address indicated a good residential district. Neither she nor I ever imagined that casual pick would have changed the course of life of mine, my parents’ and of the one who posted the recruitment message. From that point, inexplicable passion moved me in fast forward mode. I jumped on my bike, rushed to the post office to get a double postcard on which I scribbled enthusiastic self promotion on the spot, and mailed it.
A few days later I received the reply card with the phone number on it. We talked over the phone and set up the meeting in Osaka where he lived. Osaka is the big city located next to Kyoto where I lived. It took me about a 15-minute bike ride to the train station plus s 45-minute ride on the express train, which was quite a travel for me who was a farmer’s daughter in the small village of Kyoto. Adding to that going to the big city alone was so nervous in itself, the one whom I was going to meet was a boy. I had hardly talked to boys of my generation since I went to girls’ school from junior high to college. That all felt like a start of my adult life.
Before I set out for Osaka though, there was a problem. I needed to make s demo tape of my songs for the meeting where we were to exchange demos. When he talked over the phone about the exchange of demo tapes, I said “Exchanging demos? Sure, it’s a matter of course!,” which I found myself in a cold sweat to be honest. I had only one song on a tape that I had made for an audition. All other songs of mine were on paper as it was before the era of hard disc recording by a computer. The gadgets for a demo I had were a radio cassette tape recorder, the piano and the guitar. I didn’t have a microphone or a mixer, which meant I had to record by singing to my own accompaniment in front of the tape recorder. Although I had done that before and even done a few gigs too, the demo I finished this time sounded so lame that I thought he would turn me down as his band member at the meeting.
To me, my demo tape sounded as if it made me a laughingstock since I had confidently declared myself to become a professional musician over the phone. He would either laugh at me or get angry for wasting his time when he listened to it. Rather, I may have had excessive self-esteem to think about becoming a musician with those poor songs in the first place. It seemed more and more like the recurrence of my mistake in which I failed the entrance examination of most universities after I had declared to everyone around me that I would go to the most prestigious university in Japan.
I felt hesitant to go to Osaka for the meeting. On the other hand, my sudden loss of confidence showed how much I committed this time. At that point of my life, joining a band was so important. An audition or a gig as a high school student was nothing compared to that. I didn’t have my purpose for living anywhere else. It was the only way left for me to go on. I had no other choice but to be heading for the meeting with my demo tape held in my hand.