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.
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.
Heaps of old jackets, skirts, shirts and dresses that I no longer wear are sitting in the back of my wardrobe. All of them are bargains and out-of-date. Even though it’s said fashion recurs in a cycle, they are too old and worn to be put on again. And yet, I can’t throw them away.
In addition to a memory that each one of them holds, I feel guilty to throw away what is still somehow usable by keeping its original form. That sort of my own rule applies not only to clothes but to everything, from food to a cardboard box. I just can’t waste anything. Recently, I have often seen a notice on the table in a restaurant, which says ‘Clear your plate for the earth.’ or ‘Remember again the old don’t-waste-food spirit.’ As a person who is too cheap to leave food on a plate, I always wonder since when Japanese people stopped clearing their plates and forgot the don’t-waste spirit. I’ve practiced it all my life as a habit. A bus person might mistake my finished plates and cups for clean ones because not a bit or a drop remains there when I leave the table.
I attribute it to my grandfather’s DNA. I lived with my grandparents when I was a child and I used to go out with my grandfather. His black leather shoes were totally worn-out. They were not as bad as Chaplin’s but a tip of the shoe had a hole. No matter how often my grandmother asked if he should get a new pair, he was adamant that he could still walk in his shoes. For him, it didn’t matter how he looked in them but whether they were usable or not. Since he kept putting on those shoes with a hole, my grandmother had no choice but to polish them for him. As a result, a weird item as shiny worn-out shoes came into existence. My grandfather would take me to a department store in the city in those shoes and strolled around grandly. Even as a small child, I was embarrassed by his shoes and hated to go out with him.
It wasn’t about money. He had enough money to buy new shoes. On the contrary, he was a rich man who had quite a few properties. That meant his shiny worn-out shoes weren’t necessity. Whether wearing them was his hobby or his principle is still a mystery.
It’s more than a decade since my grandfather passed away. I wonder how the world would be like if people around the world put on worn-out shoes as a common practice. Goods wouldn’t be consumed so much, the number of factories would be less, and more forests would remain. There would be less CO2 emissions, climate change would be delayed, and wildfire and a new virus would be sporadic. All it takes is us wearing worn-out shoes. The problems are solved.
Regrettably, I don’t have the courage to do so. I’m too self-conscious about how I look to others. I don’t want to be looked down on by my looks. Even if my actions led to the destruction of the world, I would like to stroll about a tinseled city and show off by dieting and dressing myself in fashionable clothing. Am I a senseless person? I wonder how my grandfather feels looking at me from above.
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.
A black shape of a bear is drawn on a yellow background with big capital letters of ‘Beware of Bears!’. That is a poster I see everyday out of my apartment window lately. Not just one. It’s on the fence along a stream and at the little bridge over it so that I spot it everywhere sitting at my table. It has multiplied rapidly this year. On a bench at the nearby park, on the public bathroom wall in my neighborhood, at scattered vacant lots, the posters are rampant here and there that I’d never seen before in my town. Those are not just for warning. Those indicate the spots where bear’s foot prints were left or a bear was actually witnessed. From morning till night, patrol cars with loudspeakers drive around blaring out “Bears are spotted! Be careful when going out!” all day long. The car stops on the little bridge beneath my window and sets off firecrackers to scare off bears. Some members of the local hunting association fired blank shots there. It’s said that the reason why bears come down to a residential area from the mountains so often has to do with the climate change that causes a shortage of food for them.
About ten years have passed since I moved in this snowy town enclosed by the mountains. It’s been warmer and snowed less year after year compared to when I began to live here. That has helped make my winter days easier that I used to suffer from claustrophobia by the deep snow coverage.
Added to the climate change that affects my daily life, I also sense my own mind changes. I had feared if a monotonous country life rusted me away when I decided to move in here. It didn’t happen. Rather, the quiet life increased my concentration and contributed more productivity for my lifework than the time when I lived in the metropolitan area. I have a serener mindset than before and it gives me more understanding toward myself and the world I live in.
Recently, people have stayed home and worked remotely in Japan too. They have left big cities and moved to rural areas. More and more people from Tokyo have moved into my small town that I had expected nothing but to become desolate every year. There are many unfamiliar new residents in the apartment building where I live. The building used to look like a ghost house with dark windows, but it has almost no available room now. I had never imagined that would happen mere one year before. The unthinkable things occurred at the unthinkable speed. In this trend, we can’t tell what happens next. In three years, bears might be chasing after me. Not bears but people might start chasing people and killing each other. Or human race might extinct because of viruses. There might be days of a panic, or moments of danger for life. Even so, it could turn to be better. These unprecedented years have shown how much human imagination is limited. I myself have learned that a superficially dire thing can turn out to be a good thing in the end. Besides, I saw unthinkable things happen, so why not unthinkably good ones? I believe they could happen as well. They should.
On the morning of a day off, I had a long, relaxed breakfast with my partner at home. He told me that he had just seen an interesting dream the previous night. His “interesting” dreams usually bore me, but I reluctantly agreed to hear it out of habit.
In his dream, it was my birthday. We had a party by ourselves in a fictional shabby apartment with half-price deli foods from the clearance shelves of a supermarket. A leftover of three-day-old dessert was converted into my birthday cake and waiting on the kitchen counter. A door bell rang although we didn’t invite anyone and nobody was supposed to come.
My partner opened the door and two Japanese couples showed up. Each couple was fictional, rich old friends of mine in the dream. They were prim in luxury brand clothes and bringing expensive sweets as gifts. They had apparently expected a glamorous home party in a gorgeous apartment. At the sight of them, I shouted to my partner, “Let them in and keep company!” and stormed into my room for a change and makeup because I was wearing worn-out clothes and no makeup. My characteristic wasn’t fictional and I was a vain person even in his dream. He showed them into the living room. They looked disappointed and regretful that they came to where they didn’t belong while he hurriedly cleared the table and fixed drinks for them. Then, there was the second door bell.
This time, a modest woman was standing at the foot of the stairs that led to the outside of the building. She had something handmade as a gift and looked up nervously. “Another guest showed up!” my partner yelled toward me. I rushed out, ran down the stairs, tripped, and dived into a big puddle beside the woman. He saw me sprawling in mud, with my best dress ruined and red and blue from my makeup spread on the surface of muddy water. This part of his dream was familiar to me. In reality, about a month ago, I was walking with my partner looking upward somehow and fell over a big rock. I landed onto hard asphalt and hit my cheek. My palms got grazed badly and covered with blood. That clumsily shocking sight must have remained in his brain.
At this point of his dream, he was resigned to a ruined birthday and his motivation gave out. He went back inside and said to the couples of preceding visitors, “Hidemi dived into a puddle. Would you mind leaving now?” They seemed relieved to be released from a wretched place like this and hurried away.
Just after they had left, strangers appeared one after another. An American man with a camera, a Chinese family and a group of Southeast Asian women came in, all asking “Is this Hidemi’s apartment?” They were looking around curiously and taking photographs. Other people of various races kept coming and the apartment that began to expand was packed with them. He saw more people from the world heading toward my apartment. He became worried that everyone would be disappointed at this place that had nothing to see, nothing interesting. On the contrary, all of those who came seemed content, talking each other at ease or just sitting in a relaxed mood. Looking at them, he realized that what people seek was healing. And he woke up.
Little by little, the number of people around the world who visit my website has been growing since last year. Some visitors leave a comment or a like, some follow me. Those kind actions may have contributed to his dream.
In the meantime, I also had a dream on the same night. I was with Will Smith and a world-famous dancer in my apartment. A box was delivered for me, that was a secret award for the most distinguished person of each fields. Both Will and the dancer had received it before. “You got it!”, they exclaimed. I opened the box excitedly, and there came out a pink hippopotamus headgear. I put it onto my head with profound reverence, felt a sense of achievement, and woke up. In Japanese, ‘hippopotamus’ means ‘Kaba’. If you read it backwards, it is pronounced ‘Baka’, which means ‘fool’ in English.
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.