Hidemi’s Rambling by Hidemi Woods

Singer, Songwriter and Author from Kyoto, Japan.

Hidemi’s Rambling No.469

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Besides small shrines in the neighborhood, there is a big tutelary shrine for the area where I grew up. My father pays homage there every month, and on New Year’s Day, which is the biggest holiday in Japan, all members of my family except for my grandmother used to go there every year. It also had a short stone pillar on which my grandfather’s full name carved because he was one of the biggest contributors. For him, it was the most important event of the year, as he believed my family was once a powerful landowner of the area and he was a parish representative. That pride would transform him into an excessively generous person from a miser. He would pay extra for a special ceremony. While others prayed outside the main building, the costly ceremony package led us inside and let us sit on the floor in front of the object of worship that the deity dwelt. A priest included my grandfather’s name and our address in his resonant prayer and swung a tuft of paper above our heads. Then, we would be led into a hall where low individual tables were set on the tatami floor. The chief priest of the shrine would wait for us there, and we sat in the pecking order. The closer to the chief priest you sat, the more important in the family you were. So the order was my grandfather, my father, me — the supposed successor, my mother and my sister. Sake offered to the shrine was served in a huge gold cup and we would sip by turns. My grandfather and the chief priest chatted and the priest would mention how much I had grown up and my family’s future was secure with me. Before leaving the shrine, my grandfather would buy a fortune slip for the new year’s luck. He shook a box of wooden sticks each of that had a number on. One stick came out from a hole of the box and the number decided the slip. One year, his slip turned out to be ‘Extremely Bad Luck’. He got furious and said to a salesperson, “It’s heartless to give me ‘Extremely Bad Luck’ on New Year’s Day!” While my father tried to calm him down, he insisted to directly tell the chief priest ‘Extremely Bad Luck’ wasn’t acceptable considering how much money he had spent for this shrine. My father persuaded him to leave the slip tied on a twig of a tree. Although he had a quiet year without mishap, he had complained about it to the chief priest every year since…

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Hidemi’s Rambling No.468

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There is a small shrine in a place that was probably once an entrance to the hamlet where I grew up. Although the shrine has merely one-car space, it’s called the Grand Shrine by the local folks. Around the shrine stand short stone pillars as a fence. The cost is covered by contributions from the old households in the hamlet. Almost nobody visits it regularly, except that the present heads of the old families gather to pray on New Year’s Day. When it was renovated, the old households, one of which my family was, were obligated to contribute to the cost. The amount of a contribution was left to the discretion of each household. My grandfather, my father and I are all stingy hereditarily. But on this particular occasion, my grandfather insisted to pay an excessive amount of money. It wasn’t a matter of a good deed, but a matter of his hunger for fame. A contributor’s name was to be carved on the stone pillar and the size of a pillar was decided according to the amount of a contribution. My grand father wanted his name to be carved on the biggest pillar that stood right beside the entrance of the shrine. The biggest pillar meant that his full name would be shown in the biggest letters. My father hated his idea and opposed it, but my grandfather wouldn’t listen and demanded the biggest pillar. No one could stop him as usual and his pillar stood at the entrance eventually. Since then, he had sometimes been there with a bucket and a dustcloth. He voluntarily cleaned the shrine while he never did any housework at home. Needless to say, it wasn’t his good deed either, but his cleaning focused on his pillar to keep his name from smudging. He often asked me if I saw his name at the shrine when I came home. Because the shrine is on a desolate street people seldom use, I’ve seen his pillar only twice in my life…

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Hidemi’s Rambling No.467

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A Japanese house has a doorplate at its entrance. Typically, the surname of a household is written on it. Some families also add the first names of each family member on it. When I lived in my hometown with my grandparents, our house had a big wooden board as a doorplate at the gate. It had looked strange to me because the full name of my grandfather was written on it instead of just our surname. As a child, I didn’t understand why other members’ names of my family weren’t on it. Our plate said as if he lived alone. It was hung high at the gate with his full name proudly written with a writing brush. I’d gradually felt like I was going in his kingdom instead of coming home. The board had been getting on my nerves and finally I asked my father why our house had an annoying doorplate like that. He didn’t seem to care because it had been there since his childhood. I summoned the courage to ask my grandfather directly why only his name was on the family plate. His answer was the same one that he gave me when I asked him why I couldn’t have a dog – because it was his house. His theory was always that he’s a landlord and other family members are tenants. The doorplate had become a symbol of my grandfather’s dictatorship to me. I even asked him once if he knew democracy, and his reply was “Take it outside. This is my house.” My father couldn’t stand my constant complaints about the doorplate and found the solution for me. He joyfully took me to the back door to show me something. On the small wooden back door, a piece of paper was scotch-taped. All names of my family were written in my father’s handwriting on it. It was his handmade doorplate. The back door faced an alley that was used mostly only by a mailman. He claimed that it was our new doorplate, which was no longer a plate nor a board and no one would see. While my grandfather’s name was grandly shown at the front gate, ours became illegible quickly because of rain. When our house was rebuilt, high-grade lumber was selected as the main pillar in the middle of the house. Inside the joint to the roof, though invisible from the outside, my grandfather’s name was deeply carved into the lumber…

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Hidemi’s Rambling No.466

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Two years have passed since I moved into this apartment. I’m having the second spring in a remote town in the mountains. There is still lingering snow on the surrounding mountains but cherry blossoms and daffodils bloom around the town. I hear the song of birds and of streams swollen by melting snows. In spring, people feel like starting something new, and I’m no exception. I began to ride an exercise bike every morning at the gym in this apartment building. The usual exercise bike is too high for me to reach the pedals because I’m short and I use the lower one that you ride with your legs a little elevated. Since I started the exercise, my legs have been tired and achy, but I’ve felt good. The only setback for my health is a pollen allergy. I first developed it last spring and can’t go outside without a mask during the pollen season. When I strolled the mall without it the other day, I almost got drowned by my own snivel. In addition to inconvenience of wearing a mask all the time, I’ve had an unusual symptom this spring. I have a rough skin on the lower half of my face. It began to appear when the pollen season arrived and I think it also has to do with a pollen allergy. It irritates and reddens my face and I look so uncool. On top of that, my left eyelid has often twitched lately. As it happens sometimes when I feel stress financially, the twitch isn’t pollen-related but rather money-related. Spring can bring a lot of new things after the long and harsh winter, but not all things are good…

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