Last weekend, I went in my new apartment for
the first time since I looked at the room with a
real estate agent in September. Although the
building was 20 years old and I had expected
some fixtures would have been broken,
everything worked fine including a heater and
a boiler. Only, the room was dirty from the
former resident’s poor maintenance, meaning
an extensive cleanup awaited me.
The room was carpeted, and that carpet
was extremely dirty with countless stains. I
was talking with my partner how careless the
former resident must have been, and at
dinnertime, it was my partner who
inadvertently spilled soy sauce on it. Already a
new stain has been registered.
My biggest concern about living in that
room had been whether claustrophobia would
fall on me or not. One of my ways to lessen the
phobia is turn on the TV. My cell phone is
capable of receiving TV and I carried it around
as the most important emergency item for the
phobia in the room. Thankfully, I didn’t feel the
phobia but tried to turn on the TV for fun
before going to sleep. Then, my cell phone told
me that it couldn’t receive it. As the building
stood surrounded by high mountains, the wave
was too weak to be received. Once I realized
the TV wouldn’t be on, I felt a touch of
claustrophobia all of a sudden. I shouldn’t have
Episode From Surviving in Japan / Hidemi Woods
I’m not good at being with people by nature. I always like to being alone and stay inside my room. Basically, any contact with others is uncomfortable. Not to mention phone calls, public places are dreadful for me unless they are near empty with few people. I hate to have a person standing right behind me at the checkout counter in a supermarket. Whenever I take a train, I search for a car that has the least passengers. My so-called ‘body bubble’ seems excessively large. I often almost utter a scream when a person bumps into or even slightly brushes me. Needless to say, chattering with others is excruciating. My apartment building has a communal spa for the residents and I use it everyday. The residents are inevitably acquainted with each other and small talk between them is rampant in the spa. I’m often caught up in it and desperately try to find closure of the conversation by sweating all over. To avoid an ordeal, I’m usually careful not to share time together with familiar residents as much as possible. When I see them, I practically run away. My partner calls me a robot because of my behavior.
The time of recent social distancing shouldn’t bother a person like me. Social distancing has been already my thing for a long time. At least I had believed so. I had thought it wouldn’t hurt a natural ‘social-distancer’ as myself. But I found I was wrong.
One of my favorite Japanese comedians from my childhood was infected with Corona virus and was killed by it in a matter of days. Until just recently, he had appeared on various TV shows and his funny face had been the norm for TV. The daily TV time in a Japanese living room has changed suddenly, completely. He was a nationally popular comedian who earned the monstrous TV rating. When I was a child, my family gathered in front of TV for his show at 8 p.m. every Saturday and laughed so hard together. Kids at school would talk about the show next Monday and laugh again together. When I was in my early teens, I danced his signature gig called ‘Mustache Dance’ so frantically in the dining room that my foot slipped and I fell hitting my face on the dining table. Those memories made me feel as if part of me was lost with him by his death.
Among my familiar residents in my apartment building are a mother and her daughter. They are athletes and rough, thudding around restlessly and talking loudly in a vulgar tongue all the time. I heard that they were moving out soon. Since I was bothered with their noisy manner and pushy conversations toward me at the communal spa, I felt relieved that I could reclaim the quiet bath time. One evening during the days I had waited for them to move out, I saw them at the spa. They left for the locker room while I was still in the bath and I intentionally took time in there to avoid meeting them at the locker room, as usual. After giving them enough time to clothe and go home, I stepped out to the locker room, assuming they were already gone. On the contrary, they were still there, standing side by side courteously toward me. They had been waiting for me. The mother told me that they were moving out tomorrow and this would be the last time to see each other. She said politely, “Thank you so much for all these years. You helped us in various ways.”
I had known them since I moved in nine years ago. The daughter was still a small child back then, who was running and shrieking around the locker room. She is to be a freshman in high school this spring. She occasionally talked to me about her school days or her passion for skiing. The mother once broke her foot at her workplace and she had been on crutches in the spa. I got out of the tub to open and hold the door to the locker room for her every time until she stopped limping. When we were late together at the locker room that went black after the spa’s closing time, we would clothe together under the light of my pocket LED lamp. Those memories flooded back to me all of a sudden at the last time I saw them although I had thought it would evoke nothing as I had been looking forward to getting rid of them. While I was looking at the daughter’s liquid eyes that were staring straight at me, I was overwhelmed by inexplicable sadness and my eyes began to be filled with tears in spite of myself. I clumsily said goodbye and returned to my apartment. A robot couldn’t say goodbye well.
The finals of the Japanese ‘manzai’ tournament was held yesterday. ‘Manzai’ is one of Japanese comedy styles, which is a stand-up comedy by two or more comedians as a team. The tournament for both professionals and amateurs is held annually and decides the best comedy team in Japan. The finals is broadcast live nationwide and the winner takes one hundred thousand dollars. It’s a big annual event for me, as I adore Japanese comedians. I wait for this event for the whole year like Christmas, wondering who will win each year. Prior to this year’s finals though, I heard the shocking news. The tournament would be discontinued and it was going to be the last one this year. To me, it’s like Super Bowl isn’t held anymore. They cooked up various reasons for the termination but it’s obviously due to lack of sponsorship and the ratings. I can’t believe that more people watched a figure skating this year that was aired on a different channel. While watching the last ‘manzai’ competition on TV, clenching my hands for excitement as usual, I knew how much I would miss this event. Now, my favorite comedy tournament is over, so is Christmas. Our new song is completed and come new year, the move to my new place will be in full swing. When change happens, many things come to an end simultaneously. It’s a little sad, but that’s what moving forward is all about…
When I was in kindergarten, I was always pushed away and ignored by my fellow kindergartners.
I played the bells wearing a headpiece of a dove on stage alongside other kindergartners at an annual presentation before the parents. I was told to stand at the edge of the stage close to the wings. As we were playing, the kids next to me continued to thrust me into the wings. I tried to fight the way back onto the stage as it had looked more and more that I didn’t participate the performance. No matter how hard I tried, they kept pushing me aside and the best I could do was to poke half of my face out of the wings.
It was the time of an Apollo-frenzy and the kindergarten held an exhibit of miniature rockets made by the children for the parents. The rockets were to be made out of empty soft drink bottles. Since the plan of the exhibit was introduced, I had diligently collected empty bottles. By the time the miniature rocket began to be built, I collected and brought the highest number of bottles to the class. But once we started making, the kids wouldn’t use my bottles. Although all of us brought similar bottles in the same shape and size, they were carefully excluding the ones I brought as their materials. Every time I glued one of mine to the rocket, some kid removed it. I glued, they removed. The rocket had gotten bigger only with other kids’ bottles as we repeated the glue-remove maneuver persistently. Finally other kids’ patience to keep removing my bottle ran out and they started throwing it away out of the window. I went outside to pick it up and as soon as I came back, another bottle of mine was thrown out. Now a new routine had been established. They threw out, I picked in. The rocket completed without one single bottle of mine. I brought home all the bottles intact and told my parents that those were surplus. My mother came to the exhibit and saw the rocket that I didn’t participate to make, but with my name among the builder’s list.
Come to think of it, those kindergarten days precisely represent my whole life. As a singer-songwriter, I have been pushed away and ignored in music circles. Nobody has noticed nor recognized me as if I were an invisible person. I had dreamed that my songs would be in the charts and I would become a celebrity. I would be on ‘Tonight Show’ as a guest and talk with the host. I would be loved by people and be on the top of the world. I had prepared for that day for a long time. I had been dieting and exercising. I had been nice to people and talking to them to improve social skills. I had fervently craved fame. Meanwhile though, the songs that I completed with all my effort and strength by sacrificing everything else had never been appreciated. I think it’s time to accept the reality. It’s about time to abandon confidence and expectation for this world and to admit that I had overestimated the world.
Since the end of the last year, strange things have happened to me as if some messages had been being sent. I had vaguely received and interpreted them. Then I came across one movie that defined the message and made me wide awake. I hadn’t been able to shake off the idea that I had been locked up in a prison or an institution since I was little. And I was right. I realized this world’s true self. Now I have, at long last, found the way to get out of it.
I can’t wake up in the morning. I can’t get along with others. I can’t do what I don’t like. I can’t notice transparent glass so that I bang into it. I can’t get a driver’s license. I can’t perceive people’s feelings. But everything is all right from now on. I am happy to be pushed away from the world because I am no longer part of it. By willingly stopping being part of it, I got out of this world and attained freedom. It’s so funny I had desperately tried all my life to belong to this society that I had known is crazy since my childhood. I will live as myself without conforming to the craziness. I will not care about this society’s value now that I’m out of it. Instead, I evaluate solely by my own value. I judge what is good. I decide what is successful. I’ve never felt free this much in my entire life. All of a sudden, everything reversed and people look locked up while I was released. Outside, my life itself is art because it exists to create music. My songs are supreme pieces and that means I’m totally successful. I’ve become a true artist standing center stage in a spotlight.
Last weekend, I went in my new apartment for the first time since I looked at the room with a real estate agent in September. Although the building was 20 years old and I had expected some fixtures would have been broken, everything worked fine including a heater and a boiler. Only, the room was dirty from the former resident’s poor maintenance, meaning an extensive cleanup awaited me. The room was carpeted, and that carpet was extremely dirty with countless stains. I was talking with my partner how careless the former resident must have been, and at dinnertime, it was my partner who inadvertently spilled soy sauce on it. Already a new stain has been registered.
My biggest concern about living in that room had been whether claustrophobia would fall on me or not. One of my ways to lessen the phobia is turn on the TV. My cell phone is capable of receiving TV and I carried it around as the most important emergency item for the phobia in the room. Thankfully, I didn’t feel the phobia but tried to turn on the TV for fun before going to sleep. Then, my cell phone told me that it couldn’t receive it. As the building stood surrounded by high mountains, the wave was too weak to be received. Once I realized the TV wouldn’t be on, I felt a touch of claustrophobia all of a sudden. I shouldn’t have tried TV…
Whereas Japanese recent movies and dramas are intolerable, Japanese comedy performances are brilliant. There is an annual event for a short situation comedy performance on TV, which is a contest for both professional and amateur comedians. The winner takes one hundred thousand dollars. I look forward to the event every year. It’s broadcast live on TV but this year, I set the timer to record the program on my computer, as I was busy. My plan was to watch it later by laying food and snacks as an annual party.
About one hour into the three-hour event, I glanced at the computer casually during chores, and was horrified at the sight. The computer had shut down for no apparent reason. That meant it had stopped recording the show that I’d been waiting for a whole year. I panicked completely, turned on TV and rebooted the computer right away. I wasn’t sure how long I had missed the event, but watched it live from that point on anyway, because I took it as a sign not to put off something you really want. By missing the former part of the event, my excitement was half ruined with my planned party all ruined. After it was over, I watched the recorded part on my computer. Miraculously, the time that the computer was off was during a commercial break. It shut down right at the moment when one of the performances got to its punch line and the stage was blacked out. When I turned on TV and resumed recording, it was at the start of the next performance. I didn’t miss a thing. When I panicked, I shouted a lot of whys to my computer almost crying. It must have heard a cry of a soul and adjusted the timing by itself…