Hidemi’s Rambling by Hidemi Woods

Singer, Songwriter and Author from Kyoto, Japan.

Tokyo hr659

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.

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Kanji hr655

I came across a website on which custom-made T-shirts, caps and tote bags are made and sold worldwide. Since I have been in a financial crunch lately, I could make and sell T-shirts with my poor drawing on them there. I browsed others’ merchandise which designs looked professional and like works of art. Looking at them, it was obvious that my daub had no part to play there. I tried to look for some other possible designs of my own.

It was when the idea of kanji struck me. Kanji means Chinese characters in Japanese and one of three character sets used for Japanese. That character set is prevalent in Japan and most Japanese names contain it. My name also consists of three kanji characters. When I lived in the U.S. and Canada and my signature was required at shops or other businesses, the salesclerk who looked at it curiously often expressed how cool it was. I sometimes saw a person wearing a T-shirt that had kanji on it, but mostly it didn’t make sense or it had an awkward meaning. That was probably because someone who didn’t have enough knowledge about kanji made the shirt easily. While I understood that the person wearing it didn’t know her or his shirt was telling an absurd thing to the public, I couldn’t help giggling secretly. I even spotted those who tattooed that weird kind of kanji. As a native of Japan, I thought I could make kanji merchandise with proper meanings and decided to give it a try.

Every kanji has its meaning. For instance, my first name is comprised of two kanji characters one of which means ‘excellent’ and the other means ‘beautiful’, and they are read ‘Hidemi’ together. Because of the character’s meaning, my name is embarrassing, I admit. Japanese parents put their expectations and wishes into a name when they name their child. A child’s name reflects their parents’ taste and personality. They wish her or him to be gentle, or to be kind, and they choose the corresponding kanji for their child’s name in most cases. Sometimes a name seems destined specifically for a politician, or a name aims to endure life. As for my partner’s name, its meaning is to be dutiful to one’s parents. Both his parents have already deceased and whether he fulfilled their wish or not is uncertain. Japanese people have to live with carrying bittersweet names on their shoulders.

When I was little, I asked my grandmother on my mother’s side what kanji characters were used for her name Fuki. She told me that Fuki was her nickname and her real name was Fukiko by three kanji characters with the meaning of ‘wealthy’, ‘noble’ and ‘child’ respectively. I had sent her a New Year card or a Christmas card every year by that name with those kanji characters for decades until she passed away. When I attended her funeral, I saw a placard hung at the entrance of a small shabby prefabricated funeral home. It showed whose funeral this was. Although the funeral took place according to officially registered documents, my grandmother’s name on the placard wasn’t what she had told me. Her name was actually Fuki, not Fukiko, and kanji wasn’t used for it. There is a different character set in Japan called katakana, which represents only sound without meaning like the alphabet. Her real name was in those characters, not in kanji. I asked my mother if she had known that. My mother said she also had thought her name was Fukiko in kanji since she was a child. I wondered how many family members of hers had known her real name. At least her own child and grandchild hadn’t. I suppose that she wanted to be wealthy and noble, for which she chose the kanji characters, and named herself.

I chose kanji for my first custom-made T-shirt. They mean ‘hope’.

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Time to Let Go of the Attached hr653

Living in Japan, I have been recently selling what I have in my apartment through a Japanese online service that is similar to eBay.

Japanese people had basically prioritized anything new and hadn’t been accustomed to buying and using what was used. They had believed what they got should be new and unused whether it was a house or a car. Needless to say, there had been no way that they put on or used what a stranger wore or possessed. It could have had something to do with their social customs of not shaking hands nor hugging. Or, they were just simply too hygienic.

However, as the Japanese economy has steadily worsened, the used market has finally grown larger. I myself struggle to make both ends meet, and I started selling my stock of clothes and cosmetics in order to make up for living expenses. I had had a tendency to get extreme bargain items even if they weren’t strictly necessary because I loved bargain hunting. That contributed too much unused stuff all over my small apartment. Selling it is a good idea that helps give my apartment space and also give me some money.

At the same time though, I feel a little sad as I remember how much fun I had when I shopped for the item or how excited I was when I wondered where to go with those clothes on. The higher my stuff’s selling price can be expected, the harder I say good-by to that one as I like it better and have a happier memory of my purchase.

My sister used to live alone abroad in an apartment provided by her company that included a housekeeping service. She had gradually been unable to throw away empty cans or wrappers after she consumed the contents because each one carried some kind of memory to her. She had kept them until her apartment was filled with her mementos that were commonly called piles of garbage. That made the housekeeper’s work incredibly difficult and they complained to my sister’s company repeatedly. My sister got fired for that although she had held a management job and her own secretary. While I don’t think I am as extremely attached to my stuff as she is, I can understand to some extent how she feels. Does DNA work here, I wonder.

During my daily parting with my attached things and memories, my mother called me the other day. She was going to rent an apartment and asked me to be a surety which was required for the contract. I gaped at her audacity to ask me a favor after she has deceived and tormented me mentally and financially so many times. I refused her request outright. As always, she couldn’t think of anything but using me in any possible way. My adamant refusal seemed to put an end to our relationship at long last. As for this matter, I felt relieved and free rather than sad. 

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Overflowing Endless Whys hr651

Photo by Magda Ehlers on Pexels.com

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.

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My first hardcover has been published! “Kyoto: The Last Successor to One Japanese Family / Hidemi Woods”

“The Best Book of Hidemi Woods”

made me free
A long time ago, when Japan had the feudal system, my family was a landlord of the area. It has come to a complete downfall over the years, but my family still clings to its past glory. For them, to succeed the family is critical. I’m firstborn and have no brother which meant that I was a successor and destined to spend the whole life in my hometown.

But music changed everything. To pursue a career in music, my hometown was too rural and I had to move out. Back then I was a college student and moving to a city meant dropping out of school. My parents fiercely opposed but as usual, they left the matter to my grandfather who controlled the family. Considering his way to keep a tight rein, everybody including myself thought he might kill me.

I could have run away, but I wanted to tell him for once what I want to do for my life. He answered right away “You can go.” He added, “You earned it by yourself. I’ve watched you all your life and I know you. That’s why I let you do what you want.” Although I had always looked for a way to get rid of him, it was him who made me free and what I am now…

Kyoto: The Last Successor to One Japanese Family / Hidemi Woods”

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