Hidemi’s Rambling by Hidemi Woods

Singer, Songwriter and Author from Kyoto, Japan.

Vegetables, Yogurt, and Pizza hr632

My childhood diet was very healthy. That may be the reason why I was such a skinny kid, contrary to how I am today.
I was born in a farmer’s family in Kyoto, an old city in Japan. My family used to be almost self-sufficient. We mainly ate the leftover vegetables of eggplant and spinach that weren’t fit to be sold at the market because of flaws. We also planted rice and other vegetables such as onions, potatoes, carrots, radishes, burdocks and green peppers, not for sale but exclusively for our daily meals. We kept barnyard fowls that provided fresh eggs every morning. Our breakfasts and lunches were almost always row egg mixed with rice and soy sauce, pickled vegetables and too-weak miso soup.
A natural life may sound beautiful and relaxing, but it’s not in reality. Our fowls would holler screaming crows at dawn every day which would induce the clamorous barking of dogs in the neighborhood. Sometimes, one of our fowls that I named and fed every day like my pets was missing, and we had chicken on the table at dinner that evening. It took time for me to realize I was eating my pet fowl while I was worried about its whereabouts. Sometimes, I did witness my grandfather choked and plucked our fowl.
Since we didn’t have to buy vegetables, we had large servings at meals. Unfortunately, all vegetable meals of ours tasted horrible because we had to pay for seasonings or cooking oil and we were stingy enough to refrain them. Everything on our table was flavorless and bland. It never stimulated my appetite and I stayed skinny. As time passed, shops had been appearing in the rural area around our house. Also, my grandfather began to loosen his tight reign of the household and my mother had been able to have some discretion to go shopping and spend money. Our self-sufficiency was rapidly falling. Foods from outside tasted awesome. My appetite finally came out of its long hibernation. I was hooked by ham and mayonnaise in particular, and became chubby in no time.

sliced red strawberry fruit

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Of all the terribly-tasted foods that my grandfather had long eaten, he picked yogurt as the worst. When he saw my sister eat it everyday, he asked for one out of curiosity. He said he had never had such an awful food in his life. After I left home for my music career and started living by myself in Tokyo, he often asked my father to take him to my apartment that was far from Kyoto. He wanted to see what was like to live alone there. My father didn’t feel like taking on such a bother for him and used a clever repelling. He told my grandfather that I was eating pizza everyday in Tokyo.
Of course he knew both that I wasn’t and that my grandfather didn’t know what pizza was. He explained to my grandfather that a food called pizza was oily round bread covered with sour sticky substance called cheese that was stringy and trailed threads to a mouth at every bite. And he added a threat, “You would eat that thing in her small apartment. Can you do that?” My grandfather replied in horror, “Why should I eat such a thing rotten enough to pull threads? I can’t ever go to Tokyo.” That pizza description cleanly stopped my grandfather’s repetitive request.
When I returned home for a visit once, my grandfather asked me a question at dinner time. Pointing the four corners of the dining room and drawing invisible lines in the air with his chopsticks, he said, “Your entire apartment is merely about this size, isn’t it?” As I replied it was about right, he asked, “How come you chose to do all what is necessary to live in such a small space and eat stringy rotten foods with threads although you have a spacious house and nice foods here? Is music worth that much? I don’t understand at all.” He looked unconvinced. As for me, while I had a certain amount of hardship, I had a far better life with tasty foods and freedom compared to the one that I had had in this house. Nevertheless, I didn’t utter those words. I said nothing and pour sake for him into his small empty cup, instead.

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A Ribbon with A Bell hr626

One day in my childhood, a family of stray cats appeared in the front yard of our house in Kyoto, Japan where I was born and grew up.
I was raised by my grandparents and my grandfather had cherished several hundreds of chrysanthemum pots in the yard in those days. The yard was practically a sea of chrysanthemums. For that reason, the apparent house rule existed, which was not to keep a dog. I had never had a pet.
The cats family stood in the middle of the ragged path between the front door and the gate. There were four cats, one was big and others were very small kittens. I was about six years old and standing probably ten feet away from them when I found them that day. While I had constantly talked with my staffed animals, I was quite foreign to live animals. I walked toward them slowly and carefully with full of curiosity and a twinkle in my eye. As I got closer, a mother cat and two kittens quickly ran away. But one kitten didn’t move. He stayed where he was and just stared at me. I reached right in front of him and crouched before him. He was a tortoiseshell cat with gray and brown marks on his fur. He fixed his gaze upon me and never left. We looked into each others eyes for a while. I tentatively stretched my arm and touched him. He didn’t so much as flinch and kept looking at my eyes. I sensed that I was chosen as a friend by this kitten since I had no human friends back then. I held him with my both hands and felt surprising warmth of his body. I brought him inside the house.
I showed him to my grandmother and she promptly prepared a small dish of dried bonito. As I saw him nibbling it, I asked my grandmother if I could keep him with absolute certainty of no. Her unexpected reply was, “As long as it’s not a dog, your grandfather will allow if it’s kept inside.”

eyes cat coach sofa

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I got my first pet. I named him ‘Joe’ because he looked nothing else but ‘Joe’. I asked my grandmother for something like a collar now that he’s my pet. She scrambled and got me a bell and a red ribbon. I put them together and proudly presented to Joe’s neck. His quarters were decided at the entrance of the house, right behind the front door. I gave him some milk in the evening that day and talked to him into the night although I had been sometimes regarded as mute by others to whom I rarely spoke.
I thought Joe was as happy as I was. But after I went to bed, he began to cry. He didn’t call me though because he cried toward outside. Soon, I heard a cat meow outside too. It seemed his mother came to him. They meowed to each other with the front door between them. His fragile meows to the door continued till late at night. My grandmother suggested that I should release him because she couldn’t bear to see him miss his mother so much. I agreed that it was cruel to separate them. He wanted to be outside with his mother. I opened the front door and took him out. He swiftly scurried away. The time I had a pet lasted for less than 12 hours. The time I thought was liked by someone was laughably short.
A few days later, I felt I heard a bell ring. I went outside hurriedly and saw the yard. It was Joe. He huddled together with his family in the middle of the path, at the same spot where we first met. I called out, “Joe!” His mother and siblings ran away on my call, but Joe responded and turned to me. I was amazed that he had learned his name was Joe although our time together was so short. He remained there alone and gazed at me. This time, it looked to me as if he was smiling. At that moment I understood. He came back to see me. I felt an undoubtedly sure connection between us. I walked to him and held him in my arms. I took him into the house and told my grandmother that Joe came back. As she fixed a dish of dried bonito again, she told me not to repeat what we had done to him previously. While I was so happy to be reunited with him, I also knew I shouldn’t keep him. My happiness wasn’t the same as his. After I watched him eating his meal and talked with him briefly, I said goodbye to him. He left again.
In the next few weeks, I heard Joe’s bell on and off. I rushed outside every time, but didn’t see him. Since at least I was informed that he was around, I assumed that I could see him again sooner or later. Then, I made a finding one day at the foot of the bush beside the path in the yard. A red ribbon with a bell was laid on the ground. Joe had come to return it to me. The moment I saw it, I realized I would never see him again. And that was to be proved right. That was precisely how it ended.

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Mona Lisa hr618

It was about when I was eight years old and visited my grandparents’ for the first time since their house was rebuilt where their old one in which my mother was born and grew up had stood. I stepped into the living room of their brand-new house and my uncle welcomed me.
The house belonged to my grandparents on my mother’s side. As an old custom of Japan, the first-born child used to live with his or her parents after marriage. That’s why I had lived with my grandparents on my father’s side all the way until I left home. Accordingly, my mother’s elder sister took a husband into the family and had lived with her parents. Her husband was this uncle of mine. He was married to my aunt as an heir-to-be and related to me by marriage not by blood.

woman wearing kimono dress

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He has gotten the best seat in the new living room. It was placed at the top of the table and the closest to the TV. What caught my eyes was the painting hung on the wall behind him. It was a large copy of Mona Lisa.
I don’t think I recognized it as Mona Lisa back then, but I knew it was a Western painting and felt a decisively unsuitable, out-of-place sense. The house was located in a rural area in Kyoto, in typical countryside where Western paintings were hardly spotted. Though it was new, the house was Japanese-style. The living room had no chairs as they sat on the floor around the low table. Yet, above my uncle was a gorgeously framed, dignified Mona Lisa. I’m still not sure if someone gave it as a housewarming gift or he got it himself, but it was certainly the furthest thing from my uncle who was a lean, uncultured, gamble-inclined man. While I gaped at the painting thinking how opposite it was to my uncle, he said to me smiling, cheerfully and proudly, “Isn’t this painting nice? I like this. It’s nice, isn’t it? Nice, hah?”

Until mid-teen, I had often visited the house. Mona Lisa was always there as my uncle’s favorite. In every New Year’s holiday, my uncle acted as a dealer for our annual family gambling card game at the living room. It may sound peaceful, but it was a serious high-stakes battle between my uncle, my cousin, my mother and me. Although my uncle loved gambling and was buried into every bet, he would lose big every year. From above, Mona Lisa watched him losing to his son with tears in his eyes, with her archaic smile.

selective focus photo of group of people taking picture of mona lisa painting

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I went abroad for the first time when I finished high school. I visited France and saw the real Mona Lisa at the Louvre. I wasn’t interested in art so much then, and walked through rather than appreciated. But once I entered the big hall where Mona Lisa was displayed, I noticed something fundamentally different. Although there were quite a few visitors, the hall was almost completely silent. The air was strained and tense. It was as if everybody had been holding their breath. At first, I didn’t know what was happening. I walked forward and found Mona Lisa at the back of the hall. Since it was beyond security guards, tasseled ropes and the reinforced glass, there was still some distance from me when I stood in front. Nevertheless, the real one was surprisingly powerful and captivating. I clearly remember I felt like being gravitated to it and couldn’t help fix my eyes on it.
As for my uncle’s favorite copy of Mona Lisa, when my grandparents’ house was burned to the ground in after years by my grandmother’s carelessness in which she lit a candle too close to a sheet of Buddhism talisman paper on the alter one morning, Mona Lisa was burned away with the house. When the fire broke out, my uncle, who had been even thinner because of terminal cancer, carried in his arms my aunt, who had been fat and suffered from dementia and was asleep in the upstairs bedroom, ran down the stairs holding her, and saved her life. I thought I found out who his favorite lady really was, and who he really was…

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The Last Letter from My Mother hr608

My parents sold our farms, house, land that had been inherited from generation to generation and lost everything after they had failed their business. They moved out their hometown and started their new life in a small apartment in a strange city. It was a huge blow to them because my father had given up everything that he had wanted in order to inherit them, and my mother had married my father whom she didn’t love in order to get his family fortune. Although they had planned the similar life as theirs for me, I refused to inherit my family by sacrificing what I wanted to do. I chose a musician as my career and left home. That drove them to be eaten up with enmity against me and they had done everything they could think of to make me give up and come home. While I kept defying their attacks for a long period of time, they lost all the family fortune and had nothing left for me to inherit. Their battle against me was automatically terminated. Oddly, since they moved in their new apartment, they have become gentle to me as if they had been different persons. Their dramatic change of attitude toward me had often perplexed me. I had tried to explain that they became old, felt weak and had learned a little from their failure, which was why they mended their ways to treat me. As I hadn’t had a good relationship with them for decades, I slightly wished we were having a new starting point to build a better one. That was just about when I received an unexpected letter from my mother that crushed my wish so easily. To my great surprise, all that the letter contained was blame and reproach to me. She just kept on criticizing me at length, complaining how much I disappointed her, how much she bore a grudge against me, how much she felt chagrin at me being a musician, what a bad person I was. Although she had done innumerable cruel, heartless, thoughtless things to me over the years, she had the audacity not to mention one word about those. At the end of all slander, she concluded her letter by writing, “This is the last letter from me to you.” To summarize her long letter, what she wanted to tell me was that she didn’t want to see my face ever again and didn’t want me to send her birthday presents or Mother’s Day gifts ever again. She asked me not to stay in contact with her anymore. I had been treated unfairly by her for so many times but this letter exceeded all the spite that she had shot at me. The letter was out of blue and shocking enough for me to wonder if she was having some kind of brain disorder. Since I was little, she has had a strong tendency to tell an every sort of lie from grave to transparent, and to forget about anything inconvenient to her. For a person like her, it’s not so unpredicted that her old brain got murky. In any case, I was deeply shocked. I shouldn’t forget that things like sending this letter is the norm for her and I’ve gotten used to it already. She only did what she usually does again and I was the one who was fooled by her recent nice gestures. But I asked myself repeatedly if it’s impossible for human nature to be changed after all. My mother is a scorpion which ultimate goal is to make others unhappy regardless of its own profit. The fact that I have the same DNA in me horrifies me. A good thing is that I was mostly raised by my late grandparents. I may have grown up to be a decent person not to be like my mother. I will, and should, prove it by myself with the way I live…

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A 1000-Year Life Expectancy hr594

I’ve heard some scientists and science-fiction writers say the average life expectancy of humans will get even longer fast and we could soon live up to 1000 years old. If it’s true, it’s a huge game changer. Supposing I live until 1000 years old, the shape of my life will be entirely different as of today. First of all, the pace of living will get slower. I won’t have to hasten anything since I’ve still got more than 900 years left. I won’t fuss over the quick completion of my new song for which I’ve been deep into mastering. When I complete it without hurry, I will move on to another song and take plentiful time to finish it again. Even such a slow worker like me can stock ample songs in over 900 years. With that duration of time and the number of songs, the odds can be better that one of my songs could be found by some chance and be a smash hit, which will make me a celebrity and lead me to Monaco to live in. Secondly, I will be freed from fear of aging. I seriously resist getting old, sometimes quite hysterically. Of course no one likes to see their skin sagging and all wrinkled. But when I see my deteriorating looks, I feel a deadline for making my dreams come true. Getting older means getting closer to the deadline for whatever we haven’t yet achieved. The sense that we might not make it is dreadful if we have something to accomplish. Now that the deadline is well over 900 years away, how peaceful I can feel for the moment! I don’t have to pronounce my dreams dead just yet. The day could come when I see people all around the world listen to and hum my songs. If I moved in Monaco at the age of 300, I could live there for almost 700 years. In the course of 1000 years, it could become a common practice that a human body is replaced by a cyborg. Aging could be extinct. I could be a ballerina as I dreamed of when I was a child. Or, I would be the president of the united world when I’m 500 years old. As a simpler alternative, I could win the lottery before I die, since the odds turn good with the innumerable lotto strips I will get in over 900 years. That could give me a come-from-behind fortune. By making a smart investment of it, I could end my life as a team owner of Formula One. It seems anything is possible once I have 1000 years. This rapture is weirdly familiar to me. My grandfather. He had the habit of saying he would live until 100 years old when I was little. Back then, not so many people lived so long and everyone of my family used to scoff at him. Although he couldn’t reach 100 but died at 96 years old, it was close enough to his fantasy goal. In that respect, I could go as far as 900. But I noticed a long life expectancy is not necessarily all good. Life requires money. I’ve made ends meet with bare life so far in my life. As anything is possible, it’s also possible this state continues as long as I live. 1000 years of financial worries? It definitely sounds like a living hell…

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