lost over $1 million

This incident happened one New Year’s at the
end of the card game called ‘kabu’, in which
my uncle acted as dealer for the yearly family
casino at my grandparents’ house. He had lost
quite a lot to my cousin, who was his son, as
usual that night and my cousin had left the
table as the morning dawned.
My uncle, my mother and I were left at the
table and the game was about to close. My
mother asked for a few more deals because
she had also lost a large sum and wanted to
get it back. To recover her loss quickly, she bet
by the $100. The game was played for high
stakes every year, but I had never seen the
stakes this high. She lost in succession and her
loss swelled to $500 in a flash.
“This is the last bet,” she claimed in
desperation and put $500 on the table. She
tried to offset her total loss on the last deal of
the game. All at once the tension skyrocketed
and strange silence filled the room. I held my
breath and withdrew my usual small bet. The
cards were dealt tensely and my mother and
my uncle showed their hands of fate. Both
hands were ridiculously bad but my mother’s
was even worse. She lost $1000. Burying her
head in her hands, she repeatedly uttered, “It
can’t be! Can’t be true!” I saw tears in her
widely opened bloodshot eyes. Then she
repeated “Oh, my… Oh, my…” in a faint voice
for ten times and staggered away. I clearly
remember her state of stupor.
A couple of days later back in our home, I
enticed her into playing ‘kabu’ with me since I
learned how poorly she played it and I knew I
would win. I used to receive cash as a New
Year’s gift from my relatives during New Year’s
and it would amount to $1000. I dangled it in
front of her and said that it would be her
chance to get back her loss. She took it and we
played for $1000. As I had thought, she lost
another $1000 to me. She said she couldn’t
pay, and I offered her the installment plan. I
got $100 more to my monthly allowance of
$30 for the next ten months. That was the
richest year in my early teens.
Many years later, she failed in real estate
investment and lost most of our family fortune
that had been inherited for generations. The
amount she lost that time was well over $1
million. And that was the money I was
supposed to inherit…

Episode From The Girl in Kyoto / 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

extraordinarily thrilling

The living room in my grandparents’ home was
used for a card game when the house turned
into a family casino during New Year’s. The
game was a blackjack-like one called ‘kabu’
and organized by my uncle. It used to be the
best treat of New Year’s for me in my
childhood and early in my teens.
Unlike ‘mortar roller’ I had introduced before,
this game was played seriously and intensely
because it was for high stakes. The players
usually bet a dollar or more, sometimes as
high as a hundred dollars. The deeper into the
night it got, the higher the bet went. The
family members would leave the table one by
one, as the higher bet would make them tense
and deprive them of pleasure. As for me, I
liked to see the game get heated so much and
would play throughout the night until the game
came to an end in the next morning.
The usual players who stayed at the table
near dawn would be my uncle who was a
dealer, my eldest cousin, my mother and I. My
uncle was a successor of the family by
marriage and so my grandparents were his in

laws. He was on terrible terms with my
grandmother who raised my eldest cousin in
place of him and his wife because they were
too busy working at the family farm.
Consequently, he didn’t get along well with his
own son either. New Year’s ‘kabu’ would
become an intense battle between my uncle
and my cousin by dawn.
My uncle couldn’t lose especially to his son
and that made the game extraordinarily
thrilling. My cousin would bet more than $10
on each deal and my heart would be pounding
by seeing bills on the table. My uncle would
concentrate on the cards dealt to him and his
son too deeply to care about my small bets.
Because he would forget to count me in and
settle my deal thoughtlessly each time, I would
end up winning quite a big amount of money in
total every year.
He would summon all his strength when he
saw the last card dealt to him. In spite of his
prayer-like chants “Come on! Come on!”, most
of the time the card would be the least one he
had wanted. Hand after hand, he drew the
worst card possible while my cousin was rolling
on the tatami floor to stifle his giggling.
As far as I remember, he had never won
against my cousin. He was manly and frank,
but I can still picture him going back to his
room after the game in the morning light with
unsteady steps, worn out, drooping, and on
the verge of tears. Three months after the
house was burned down, he died of cancer
without becoming the head of the family…

Episode From The Girl in Kyoto / 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

His wife was very careful about money.

When I was eight, my uncle got married and left our house. He had collected small change in big jars and gave all of them to me when he left. I had always wanted him to leave soon, but I found a lot of toys that he had given me in all those years besides the small change. About five years later, he also gave me my first guitar. It was a white classic guitar that he won as a prize for a golf game with his friends. Although it was a cheap model, I had played it for years until it got completely tattered and I bought a new one for my first gig. While my uncle was a giver, his wife was very careful about money. She came to sell her homemade bread to my parents, or reaped away with her neighbors most of persimmons that my parents grew in my family’s field. Long after I left home for music, she visited my parents’ house and asked about my first white guitar. According to my mother, she wanted it back now that I had left home and hadn’t used it anymore. I was purely surprised that she remembered the guitar. It must have been her longtime grudge that my uncle gave it to me. After 10 years, she retrieved the worn-out, battered guitar at long last…

why a grown-up like him sneaked a kid’s snack

It’s common in Japan that a child remains at a parents’ house after going on to college or starting to work at an office, or even after marrying. That had been my family’s tradition for a very long time and as a result, we lived in the exact spot where our ancestors had lived, without moving for hundreds of years, because a firstborn should have stayed in the parents’ house. That had lasted until one particular firstborn broke the tradition by leaving the house; that was me. So, my grandparents, my parents, my uncle, my younger sister and I had all lived together when I was little. This uncle of mine is my father’s younger brother and he was such a trouble some existence when we lived together. He constantly teased me and stole from me. My biggest pleasure back then was to get a snack at a nearby small candy shop after school with my scarce allowance. But the snack was often gone the moment I put the bag in the house and looked away from it. My uncle would eat it. I never understood why a grown-up like him sneaked a kid’s snack. He brought me a toy whenever he went on a trip or out for an errand. Even so, his daily plunder harmed goodwill, and I earnestly wished he would leave the house as soon as possible…

He’s an ice cream man!

When my uncle got married with my mother’s cousin by an arranged marriage, my grandfather paid for his new house. He was proud of having his own darkroom in the house. His hobby was photography and he used to have the latest models of a camera. He planned to enrich his hobby by developing pictures by himself. After he quit a job at a gas station, he found a job supplying ice cream to small candy stores. He finished drifting jobs, had two daughters and finally settled down. I visited his house with my parents one day, and found that his darkroom had been converted into a family closet. He explained he no longer spent so much time taking pictures as before, with a weak smile. Several years passed and I had become a student at a private Catholic school. The school was a prestigious girl’s school that included from the elementary school to the college. I had been there from the junior high and had acted as if I had been from a rich and noble family to fit in. By the time I advanced to the high school, I had been quite popular among the snobbish students. Most of their parents were rich, and they looked down some students whose parents weren’t so rich. One of those girls we looked down came to me and said, “I saw your uncle yesterday.” And she started talking about my uncle to my friends. “Do you know what her uncle is? He’s an ice cream man!” she giggled. Her parents ran a grocery store and my uncle went there to refill their ice cream case. He noticed her school uniform and told her I was his niece. Her point was that I was a niece of a funny, loud, rude ice cream supplier in spite of my snobbish attitude. She went on spreading her encounter with my uncle to other students and they all laughed at me. I was indignant rather than embarrassed…