Hidemi’s Rambling by Hidemi Woods

Singer, Songwriter and Author from Kyoto, Japan.

Marriage in Japan hr634

I went out for lunch with my partner at a cafe the other day that stood across the train station in a Japanese desolate rural town where I live. To call it a cafe is a bit too fancy. It’s not the likes of Starbucks but rather a small old mom-and-pop diner that was built well over 30 years ago and remained as it was, which perfectly matched this old town itself.
We sat at the table and overheard a conversation from the table next to us. Three old women in their eighties sat around the table by the window. “She has passed away, too.” “This could be the last time we get together.” Although they were exchanging a downright sad conversation, they were talking in a matter-of-fact way and their chats were lively.
While we were eating a salad with watermelon that came with our main dishes of curry and rice with a fried pork cutlet, a family of three came in. A boy about ten years old and his parents in their thirties sat at the table near ours. As soon as their orders were taken, the boy started reading one of comic books that the diner placed for customers, and his father went outside to smoke. His mother was staring into space.The father came back in when their dishes arrived on the table but they didn’t talk while they were eating. Except that the parents occasionally said something to the boy separately, there was no conversation between the parents. After they finished eating, the father went out again to make a phone call, the boy played with diner’s puzzle toys, and the mother stared into space again. I saw through the window the father talk with someone over his phone pleasantly while smoking and laughing. He came back in and also began to play with a puzzle toy. I thought it was much more fun for him to have lunch with a person on his phone.

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Quite too often, I see a married couple having almost no conversation at a restaurant. I wonder if people stop talking each other when they get married. While they must have clicked each other enough to get married in the first place, what makes them fall silent? Since I have never been married, I have no idea whether it’s because they have changed or they have lost interest in each other after marriage. The closest married couple I know is my parents, which means my knowledge about marriage is a generation old. My parents are from farming villages in Kyoto that is the oldest city in Japan. According to the old custom, their marriage was arranged by their families’ intention not their own. Inevitably, they were strangers with no affection whatsoever. In my childhood, my mother used to say, “I wouldn’t have married such an ugly guy like your father unless he had money.” Times have changed, and people get married by their own will in Japan. Nevertheless, if a couple who liked each other finds it difficult to talk once they marry, I don’t understand what marriage is for. The mystery deepens still more.
The family of three left hastily after they were done with the toys and staring. The party of three old women ordered refills of their soft drinks repeatedly and lingered at the table with their conversations, as if they were reluctant to leave the diner.

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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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Magic of Friday the 13th’s Full Moon hr624

The day was planned for my partner and me to go to the city that takes us a 90-minute train ride from home. It was Friday the 13th with a full moon. As a superstitious person, it gave me a slightly uneasy feeling. I tried to shake it off and went out anyway. And here are spooky things that happened on that day.
I had lunch at an all-you-can-eat buffet restaurant. The buffet included Asian foods as their limited-time specialty menu. Even for a Japanese, they were novel to me. I tried them for the first time and quite enjoyed them. The lunch time was coming to an end and the customers were leaving. The large restaurant with many tables had gotten near empty. Then out of nowhere, tow young men appeared with plates filled with food and sat at the table next to ours. It was weird.

astronomy cloud clouds cosmos

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A new customer is usually ushered to a table by a server at this restaurant. The server asks if there are any additional orders beside the buffet, such as free refill soft drinks or alcoholic beverages, and puts down a check and a wet towel – a pack of a wet tissue is provided at almost all the restaurants in Japan – on the table, then leaves. The wet tissue and the piece of paper for a check are the mark telling the table is taken by customers while they are off to get food at the buffet. The table next to us had no wet tissues or check. The two men didn’t show up with a server but had already gotten food. And they sat right next to us among all those empty tables in a huge restaurant. I suspected that they sneaked in and tried to eat without paying by using us as some sort of camouflage.
While my suspicious eyes observed them eating merrily, one of them suddenly started looking around, uttered “What? What?”, and left the table hurriedly. I thought there he ran away. But he returned right away and said to the other man, “My bag is gone.” They began to look for it around and under other tables. When I was convinced that they finally ran away, they returned with a server and told her that his bag was missing. The server replied, “This table wasn’t your table. Yours was over there.” She brought their wet towels and check along with his bag from the far table. They were surprised, and said to each other, “This table wasn’t ours? I thought we were ushered here!”
It was my turn to be surprised. Didn’t they notice the wet towels? Weirder yet, were my partner and I invisible? Weren’t we the distinguishable mark for the table in the empty restaurant? They must have been tricked by some magic of Friday the 13th’s full moon. That seemed the only explanation. By the way, my partner himself had walked toward the wrong tables several times there by the same magic, which he kept from me and reluctantly confessed me later.

After we left the restaurant, I shopped groceries at a supermarket. The supermarket had handed out QR code mobile coupons that I had acquired. There was a machine to convert the QR code into a paper coupon inside the store since the checkout counter takes only physical coupons. The machine had a screen that showed a step-by-step instruction. It looked so simple and easy that a customer only needed to scan the code on a smartphone. With the instruction telling ‘Scan Your Phone’ I scanned, but no coupon came out. No matter how closely I put my phone to the screen, no response. I tweaked the brightness, tried to place it horizontally or vertically, uttering unconsciously “What? What?”. About ten unsuccessful sweaty tries later, I noticed a red light was blinking under the machine. That was where the phone should be placed. Instead, I was holding the phone to the instruction screen.

Before going home, I dropped in a cafe at the train station. The cafe had the sink for customers to wash their hands next to the pick-up counter. I wiped my hands with paper towels and threw them away into the trash bin. Although I pushed the lid, it didn’t open. I thought something had jammed and I pushed several times more, of course uttering “What? What?” again. It wouldn’t open. I pushed really hard and almost sprained my fingers. And I saw a foot pedal beneath the bin. I sweated all over again with my cheeks brushing while the lid easily opened with the pedal.
I shouldn’t have underestimated Friday the 13th’s full moon. Its magic is dangerous…

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Sushi and Beef Bowl Restaurants hr613

I happened to come across information on the Internet about a sushi restaurant that is close enough to get on foot from the bus station. Since I don’t have a car, the access by public transportation or on foot is essential for me wherever I go. Combined with the rural area I live in that has sparse places to eat, finding an accessible restaurant is rare. I went for it right away.
I don’t like a regular sushi restaurant. It usually has a counter only, with a peevish master behind it. You order directly to him and eat in front of him. It’s impossible for me to relax and enjoy eating in that kind of strained setting. That’s why I eat out sushi exclusively at a conveyor belt sushi restaurant that has no master. It’s a very popular type of sushi restaurant in Japan and there are many major chains. It has both a counter and tables beside which a narrow, long belt conveyor is moving.

fish sushi

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On a conveyor, small plates of sushi are arrayed. Various kinds of sushi circulates inside a big restaurant like a toy train, coming and going in front of customers. You just pick up what you want to eat and the price is told by the color of the plate. Orders also can be placed via a tablet that is set at each table. You just tap what you want, and it comes on the conveyor in a special container. You can order or pick up a plate as many as you want, and leave and pile the empty plates on your table. When you finish eating and touch ‘Check Out’ on the tablet, a human server came to your table at last and count the stack of empty plates so that the total amount of your payment is written or bar-coded on a sheet of paper. You bring it to a cashier and pay.
My new finding was that conveyor type of sushi restaurant. The place seemed to have been remodeled recently and looked new and stylish. The tables were all booths, looking as if sushi was moving around inside Denny’s. Added to dozens of varieties of sushi, other items were abundant on the menu. Hamburger steak, fried potato, noodles, fried pot stickers, edamame, cakes, ice cream and parfait, not to mention beer, sake, and fresh coffee. They all came on the conveyor after you tap the tablet. And, above all, everything tasted good and the price was so low! Most plates carried two pieces of sushi at one dollar. As I avoided the lunch hour, the place was near empty and the atmosphere was superb.
Since I liked the restaurant so much, I returned there with my partner three days later. When I walked toward the place, I noticed a beef bowl restaurant next to the sushi place was totally empty without any customers. An empty place is my favorite, and I jumped in.
Beef bowl restaurants are also popular in Japan. They are fast restaurants mainly for Japanese business persons who don’t have enough time and money to eat lunch.

beef bowl cooking cuisine

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They gobble up at a counter and dash out. That makes the place all efficiency and price, not atmosphere of the sort. I had hated it for that and never been a big fan, but this particular beef bowl place I found was different.
It was also recently remodeled and the interior was pretty and clean. It had quite a few tables besides the counter, looking like a family restaurant rather than a beef bowl place. I enjoyed the low-priced, big-volume beef bowl in a relaxing atmosphere there. Then we moved to the sushi place where I had sake and appetizers while my partner had coffee and parfait.
As for the payment, $12 at the beef bowl place and $15 at the sushi place for two people, tax included and tips unnecessary. It probably can happen only in Japan that eating delicious meals at low prices in an excellent atmosphere is possible. But not that everything is rosy. With these two eat-outs in a week, I hit a new high of my weight for this year…

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Japanese Millennials hr609

A big open-air rock festival is held annually every summer in the small town where I live that is enclosed by mountains. More than ten times as many people as the town’s population visit during the few days of the festival. People all over the country and even from overseas fill up the train station that is usually inactive and quiet. In front of it, an endlessly long line is formed in the heat for the shuttle bus to the concert venue. The attendance trend has changed in recent years. While a young attendance has been down, more and more men in their fifties and sixties come by their own. The reason mirrors characteristics of today’s Japanese youth. They have been getting poorer than the generation before and the tickets and the transportation for the festival cost too much for them. Also, they don’t like being dirty. It’s not appealing to them to watch concerts in the rain soaking wet and getting muddy in the open air. That attributes a less crowd on Japanese beaches, too. They opt for a pool where they don’t get covered with sand. I’ve seen young people’s behavior change everywhere. In restaurants, chairs and booths are disappearing and replaced by a Japanese-style space with tatami mats. They prefer sit directly on a tatami floor at a low table by taking off their shoes and folding their legs. In a restaurant that has a Western style without any tatami space, I sometimes see shameful people who take off their shoes and sit folding their legs on a chair as if a chair was a floor. Knives and forks are less available because they like to use chopsticks and suck pasta by making slithering noises. In a movie complex, less and less American movies are showing and Japanese movies are abundant instead. To make things worse,the majority of that small number of American movies is dubbed into Japanese, which spoils original actors’ performances completely. Up until a decade or so ago, almost all the foreign movies were subtitled. Since I exclusively see American movies with subtitles, which by the way I prefer without them but have no choice at a theater in Japan, the selection for the movie is excruciatingly limited nowadays. I sometimes see trailers of Japanese movies before the one I came to see and even a glimpse of it disgusts me. A main character is always a female high-school student or a child or an animal. Most are animated and a story is lukewarm and saccharine without any contention. I don’t understand what is the point to spend time and money to watch those. It seems that American movies, in which things are destroyed, people are killing each other, lives are at stake, emotions are exploding, are too intensive and strong for Japanese gentle millennials. Their taste for fashion is gentle, too. They choose somber, obscure colors with no patterns or accessories so that they look lowly. They seem peculiar to me especially because my taste is fancy and colorful. I like wearing clothes with bright colors and patterns and confusingly complex accessories. Although I’m not rich, I tend to have a glass of sparkling wine at a Western-style restaurant in a hotel. As my favorite restaurants and shops aren’t popular anymore and have been closed or remodeled into a cheap Japanese-style one by one, Japan has been getting an uncomfortable country to live in for me. Well, come to think of it, it has never been comfortable to me since my childhood. I had thought it would have been better by the time I became a grown-up, but it just didn’t happen. It was an illusion of a child and Japan has treated me the same way with different people…

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