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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Locked up in The Hospital hr630

Nephritis confined me in the hospital during the summer break when I was in the fourth grade living in Kyoto, Japan. Although I didn’t feel so sick, the doctor ordered me to be inactive all the time. Inside a six-bed pediatric ward and a hallway between the nurse station and the hospital kitchen was the allowed portion for me to move around. When I needed to go beyond it, a nurse put me in a wheelchair. Within a couple of days, I thought I would be bored to death, not from nephritis. I walked back and forth along my restricted stretch on the hallway many times a day, which also bored me quickly. One of my daily routines was to go take a tray meal of an unseasoned diet three times a day from the hospital kitchen on the furthest end of the allowed stretch. Next to the kitchen was a small recreation room that was carpeted and had a television. Watching TV was banned for some reason, and I used the room to blow bubbles. My mother brought me a bubble blower on one of her visits and I played with it out of the ward window. One day, I found out that bubbles remained for some time on the carpeted surface and that fascinated me. I blew as many bubbles as I could on the carpet in the recreation room and got me surrounded by glittering bubbles. I was obsessed with it as the room looked like a dreamland or heaven. That became my main pastime during my lockup and made the carpet so soggy and drenched that nobody could sit on it anymore.
One night in those hospital days, I woke up to the disturbing noise in the small hours. Doctors and nurses were hastily coming in and going out of my ward. They gathered around a girl whose bed was right across mine. She uttered in a faint voice, “It hurts, it hurts.” repeatedly. The curtains had been drawn around her bed and I had no idea what was going on, but at least I sensed something bad was happening to the girl. Next morning, I found her and her bed gone somewhere. I asked a nurse where she went, and she told me that the girl moved to a two-bed ward on the same floor. I understood that the number of beds in a ward corresponded with the patient’s condition. The fewer the beds were, the worse the condition was. A chart was made in my head. If a patient in a six-bed ward recovered, the one would be released from the hospital. But if a patient got worse, the one would be sent to a two-bed ward. And if a patient moved to a private room, the one would be close to death.

architecture daylight door entrance

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Out of boredom and curiosity, I decided to explore the further back of the pediatric floor. I sneaked into the banned area beyond my allowed stretch of the hallway. I turned the corner over the hospital kitchen for the first time. There was also a long hallway with wards on both sides, but it was a lot different from the one in front of my ward. Probably because it was far from the nurse station or the kitchen, this hallway was oddly quiet. It was completely empty with nobody walking and as still as a picture. Tense air filled the stretch like down the hallway in that hotel in ‘The Shining’. A room number and the name of the occupant were put up beside each ward door. I slowly walked along the two-bed wards and further down to the section with the private rooms. Although I was just walking down the hallway, a strange fear had gradually grown inside me that I was walking toward death, closer and closer. Then, a name tag on one private room caught my eyes and I froze on the spot. It was my name written on it. I gasped with surprise, confusion, and horror. I couldn’t grasp what it was. Had my private room been already prepared secretly? Was I being moved here soon? Had my condition turned so bad? I peered at the name tag with my heart thumping hard, and noticed one of the Chinese characters used for the name was different from mine while the pronunciation was the same. The patient had the same name as mine with one different Chinese character. Instead of relief though, I felt I saw what I shouldn’t have seen. I turned back hurriedly, almost running, feeling dreadfully scared of being chased by death. Back on my bed in my ward, I tried to figure out what it meant. Could it be a sign that my condition would worsen and I would die? Could it be a punishment for my exploration of the banned area? Could it be a warning that I would end up there unless I stayed inactive? Or would the person with the same name die in place of me? For a child, it was an uncomprehending, frightening, shocking experience.
A few weeks later, at the end of the summer break, the doctor decided my release from the hospital, possibly because of my shift to a more obedient, inactive patient. On the day of release, my mother brought me a pink summer dress into which I finally got rid of pajamas. The nurses told me about a hospital’s custom. A patient should visit a shrine on the rooftop of the hospital to thank for the release. I didn’t know there was a shrine in the hospital and felt strange. It didn’t make sense to me. At the center of medical science like a hospital, a place to count on unseen power existed. I wondered if the hospital conceded that everything here depended on God in the end. The hospital was big with many tall buildings, one of which had a shrine on the rooftop. It was far from my ward but now I walked throughout not in a wheelchair. Opening the door to the roof top, I went outside. The sunshine, the sky, the breeze, all of those things outside looked new to me. Numerous washed bandages that were hung from the rods to be dried outside were swayed by the gentle breeze like some sort of festive decorations. I plowed through the long pieces of white bandages and the small orange gateway to the shrine appeared on the back. From up there, I saw the building in which my ward was across the courtyard. I counted the floors and windows and spotted my ward. My ward mate’s mother was sitting by the window as usual. She had been staying at the hospital with her daughter because she was little and the hospital was too far from her home to visit, which made my hospital days as if living with her as well. I waved at her for a long time until she noticed me. Finally she waved me back. We waved at each other frantically for a while. Then I put my hands together to pray at the small shrine that was visited only by those who survived, thinking that it was God who decided life and death after all and what the hospital could do was limited compared to that.
That long summer in my childhood is unforgettable to me. And I can tell, it must have a great influence on my life thereafter.

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Frantic Washing hr628

I am a germphobic. I never go out without packs of wet wipes and always carry a small spray bottle of sanitizer. Whenever I touch anything that shares contact with others, I wipe my hand right away. It’s especially cumbersome when I go on a trip. My routine after check-in is to spray sanitizer to tissues with which I wipe the door knobs, switches, handles of the wardrobe and the refrigerator, hangers, remote controls, faucets, toilet seat, toilet cover, flush handle. If the hotel doesn’t have a duvet style bed for its rooms, I bring clothespins and wrap the cover with the sheet by fastening them together so that any part of my body doesn’t touch the cover that isn’t washed each time. Then I place two pairs of slippers that I bring from home, one for pre-shower and one for post-shower. As you can imagine, it’s so much fuss for me to stay at a hotel. I just can’t help it.

I took a short trip the other day to a neighboring prefecture. For this trip, I was extra nervous because of that Corona virus turmoil. The local train I got on was near empty and most of the sparse passengers were wearing a medical mask. A 2-hour somewhat tense train ride later, I arrived at the hotel. A big spray bottle of sanitizer was put at the entrance and all the hotel staff at the front desk were wearing a mask. I went out for lunch at a family restaurant and it was also empty despite lunchtime. The shopping mall I visited afterwards had only few shoppers around. Since I hate crowds and a jam, all places turned in my favor. It seemed I bought comfort with nervousness. Back in the hotel room, I worked through my room-cleaning routine and had dinner with my partner in the room with deli foods I had gotten at the supermarket, not because I was worried about Corona virus at a restaurant but because I am cheap.

side table near bead frame

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Next morning, I used the elevator to have a free breakfast at a small eat-in space inside the hotel. I was off guard and didn’t wear a mask although the small elevator was unexpectedly packed with guests. Nobody was talking and I unconsciously held my breath. After an awkward silence, I was released to the designated floor. The breakfast was a buffet style. I took food with tongs that many guests used, out of plates that they slowly walked by and looked into. Everyone pushed buttons on the dispenser of coffee and juice. Wet wipes didn’t give me usual assurance for this particular trip. I went back to my room and washed my hands frantically.

I have once read an article that says excessive hygiene is counterproductive. It means that being exposed usually to germs builds resistance and thus makes people hard to get sick. If so, my germphobia is not only self-complacent unction but also simply a bad habit. That may be true, but I can’t, just can’t stop for the life of me.

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A Fear of Aging hr619

Before pains from my fall at the communal spa have gone completely, I accidentally got my foot caught in the heavy sauna door the other day. I felt an electric shock in my foot that was swelling in an instant. The pain was so severe that I could hardly breathe. I dreaded to think that I had a broken bone. While thankfully it didn’t seem broken, I bruised again, the arch and both sides of my right foot this time. I have been living in pain so far, putting poultices on my foot and walking in large shoes with a loosened shoelace. What shocked me more than injuries was my recent careless behavior. I have seen myself become a blunderer and lose my edge. Simply, I felt old.
Between the two injuries, there was another happening. I got a pin that commemorated Disneyland’s 60th anniversary when I visited there a few years ago. The limited-edition pin was sparkling and super cool. I loved it so much that I hadn’t worn it because I couldn’t imagine how devastated it might be if I dropped and lost it. I had displayed it on the shelf for years but one day, I summoned courage and put it on my sweater when I went out.
As I had thought, my courage had worn out by the time I headed home. I just couldn’t bear the fear of dropping it any longer. I took it off and put it in my bag. A couple of days later, I noticed it was missing. I knew I had been a little drunk when I put it in my bag, but I couldn’t remember exactly where I put it. I rummaged the entire bag through pockets and pouches but it disappeared. I haven’t seen it since.

clothes clothes hanger dress fashion

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It has lingered on my chest and I’ve launched a closet-wide search once in a while with no luck. Similar to the two accidents in the spa, my behavior shocked me more than a loss of the pin. I was upset over my mess incurred by a woeful lack of attention and my wretched state of concentration. I feared that my brain activity has begun to deteriorate.
I confided my fear to my partner. While I conceded that I had become old, he dismissed it easily. According to him, I had been like this since he first met me in my teens. Because he has seen my blunders so many, such as slipping on the wet sidewalk and opening the KFC’s automatic doors by doing ‘Home Alone’ which startled the salesperson, or, tripping on one of the stairs and rolling all the way down to the platform of a train station, he thinks my mess is better than in my twenties. He said that I was much more careless, messier and older in my youth than now.
His comment reminded me of a box of my scarves that I lost about six years ago. It was a cardboard box in which I stowed all my scarves that I had gotten through sales and outlets. The treasure box for me was kept in my closet. But one day, I found it missing. I had searched for years all around my apartment but couldn’t find it. The box was too big to be obscured by other stuff or to just disappear. I had developed numerous theories about the mystery during those years, for example, a thief exclusively for scarves took it, or my partner hid it out of spite, or it was sucked into a black hole of my apartment and gone to the galaxy far, far away. And then, it came out very unexpectedly, very casually. When I straightened up the closet, I put a label to each box. I mislabeled one box that was for scarves. All the while of my vigorous search, it had sit right in front of my eyes with a false label on it.
Like my scarves, I hope that my pin also appears out of somewhere, someday. It might as well though, I would have really grown dim by then and forgotten about that I had it and lost it to begin with…

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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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