Hidemi’s Rambling by Hidemi Woods

Singer, Songwriter and Author from Kyoto, Japan.

Hidemi’s Rambling No.354

When I was a child, learning to use an abacus was common practice for kids nationwide in Japan. An abacus is a wooden calculator with many beads inside a rectangular frame. We used to attend a small private school twice a week in the evening. The teacher was a next-door neighbor who happened to be skillful with his abacus and live in a house my family rented. He ran the private abacus school at his home that was actually located inside our front yard. Although the house was small, learning an abacus was so popular that it was packed with students. Almost all the kids in the neighborhood practiced there. It was like the norm for a child who began the third grade to learn it. Even an elementary school officially spent some classes to teach an abacus for the fourth-graders. As an inevitable custom, I began to learn it at the next-door neighbor’s house when I was in the third grade. Six third-graders including me joined the school that year. Everyone touched an abacus for the first time but for some reason, I was very good at it from the word go. Practicing there twice a week with other kids, I had gotten cleverer and cleverer with my abacus and became the best student in less than two years. I was able to move the beads on the abacus with my fingertips faster than any other kids and count on the abacus most accurately in the school. Unfortunately, the world had been already in the electronic calculator age. Even in a rural area like my hometown, people seldom used an abacus anymore. My talent was obviously obsolete. It’s a mystery why I’m always good at something totally useless or decisively unprofitable…

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Hidemi’s Rambling No.353

In my hometown, the hamlet where I grew up mainly consists of old families of the place. Since each family has lived there generation after generation, my childhood friend’s father is my father’s childhood friend, my childhood friend’s grandfather is my grandfather’s childhood friend, and on and on. My closest childhood friend lived four houses away from us. We were both of an age and played together every day. Her mother and my father were both of an age too, and they had known each other since they were little. When her mother was a child, her grandfather had a boy outside marriage. He took the little boy over and began to raise him in his family. Because he had three daughters, it can easily be imagined that he wanted the boy to be a successor of the family. Of course, his wife, my friend’s grandmother, wasn’t happy about it at all. She was cruel to the boy and treated him harshly all the time. In the height of summer, she ignored the boy’s constant begging for water. He was too little and thirsty to distinguish between water and benzine. He died from drinking the latter. My friend’s grandmother suffered from Alzheimer’s in her later years and often ran barefoot around the neighborhood. She sometimes came into our house and begged for water, saying she was extremely thirsty. In other cases, she claimed she was chased by the little boy and asked for help. She was running from him until the end…

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Hidemi’s Rambling No.352

I was born at the small hospital in a rural area. Although not many expectant mothers checked in there, two baby girls were born on the same day, one of whom was I. We shared the newborn room, sleeping in a bed side by side. Before the birth, I’d had a possibility to have severe jaundice of the newborn. My mother was told it would have either left a brain defect if I’d had it, or made me extremely intelligent if I hadn’t. Instead of jaundice, I was born with a hip joint dislocation. My right leg had been regularly dislocated and hung loosely until I was one or two years old and my mother had taken me to the hospital each time. About the time when my leg finally stopped getting dislocated, there was a piece of news in a local newspaper that a little girl was thrown into the river and killed by her parent. The victim was the baby who was born on the same day as I was and slept in the next bed to me at the hospital. Since both the town and the hospital were small, my mother and my grandmother remembered the name of the baby and the area she lived in. I was luckier and I outlived her without any more dislocation or jaundice. The latter should have resulted in me being extremely intelligent but my parents consider me simply crazy…

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Hidemi’s Rambling No.351

The elders of old families in the hamlet where I grew up had regularly practiced a Buddhist chant when I was little. My grandfather was one of them. He didn’t come home from the practice one night by the time he was supposed to. When we were worried and about to go look for him, he turned up at our doorstep sweating and getting muddy. He was shaken by fear and said, “It was a fox! A fox got me!” Usually, he would come home by passing through the narrow unpaved alley that led to a wider street near our house. According to him, he was walking home on the familiar dirt alley as usual after he left the elder’s house where the chanting practice was held. But on that particular night, the alley he had walked a thousand times didn’t come to the wider street. It didn’t end. When he reached the end of the alley, the entrance of the same alley started again instead of the street. The alley continued endlessly and he couldn’t get out of it. He began to panic, ran, tumbled, repeated countless trips through the alley and finally landed onto the street. In my hometown, people believed that an inexplicable incident like this was caused by a fox that bewitched them. A fox sometimes pulled mischief around us, and my mother had a similar experience. Because it had been a common knowledge throughout the neighborhood, everybody in my family was fully convinced that my grandfather’s story was true – except I inwardly suspected that a fox might mean drunkenness. By the way, we call a shower when the sun is shining a fox’s wedding…

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Hidemi’s Rambling No.350

The time for scary tales and ghosts is Halloween in the U.S. but in Japan, it’s summer. In my hometown, there used to be a night for a test of courage for kids in summer when I was a child. It was a small neighborhood event that an adult volunteer set up a sign saying ‘A Test of Courage’ at the entrance to a narrow lane between the neighbor houses. Except for the entrance, the rest of the lane was left as it was, without any special scary decorations or surprising effects. Enough nature still remained in my neighborhood back then though, and a ditch, bushes and shrubs along the lane had sufficient effects in darkness to scare kids. One summer dusk, I heard my grandmother call me urgently when I was playing in the yard. She grabbed me and ran into the house, escaping from something. It was a ball of fire drifting above us. That was the first time I’d ever seen a will-o’-the-wisp, and I haven’t seen one since. But to my family, seeing a will-o’-the-wisp wasn’t so rare. My grandmother once saw it perch on a side mirror of a parked car in front of our house. Scientifically, it’s said that a will-o’-the-wisp is some phosphorus-related phenomenon. Near our house, there was a graveyard where we had buried the deceased from generation to generation, which is now banned by law requiring cremation, and we believed it had to do with a will-o’-the-wisp. I had plenty of natural scary materials in my childhood…

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