Hidemi’s Rambling by Hidemi Woods

Singer, Songwriter and Author from Kyoto, Japan.

Regret and Decision hr639

If I could go back in time by a time machine, I would most certainly choose one summer day in my senior year of high school and redo that day.
In the summer of my senior year, I had been in the final stage of study for the entrance exam to the leading university in Japan. My love for music was the biggest obstacle for study and I tended to lapse into listening to rock and pop records on the stereo easily. Since I spent too much time in music instead of study, I determined to stop listening music until the entrance exam was over. I pulled the plug of my stereo off the outlet, paste it on the wall of my room along with a handmade poster that said ‘Patience!’ in capital letters. I tried to devote everything for a life at the best university in Japan.
I was an avid fan of a Japanese band called Tulip. Most albums and tapes I had were theirs. I frequently went to their concert that would give me a heavenly time. I had had to stop going there as well in that summer. So ironically, or almost fatefully I should say, Tulip was having the 1000th concert that coincided that particular summer of that particular year, of all summers and years in the calendar. It was a milestone big enough for them and their fans to be held at an amusement park that was reserved specifically for the event for the whole day. The amusement park was operated as ‘Tulip Land’ for the day, where paper cups and plates donned Tulip Land’s special logos and designs that were available on that day only, commemorative goods were sold, games and events connected with Tulip were held during the daytime, and the 1000th special open-air concert was held in the evening. As you can imagine, it was a dream event in which fans would drool all over. For me, it would be the day with Woodstock, Comic-Con and Disneyland combined all together at one place. It would be actually a dream. There was no way to miss it.
Back then in Japan, it was an era of so-called ‘Entrance Exam War’. Students with four-hour sleep pass, and with five-hour fail, that was a general rule for the war. Not individual ability but a name of the school one was graduated from decided later income and social rank in Japan. It still does. I think a social structure like that has brought this long economic decline to today’s Japan. In a whirlpool of the relentless era, I was an immature, foolish high school senior who was willingly sucked into the war to get a name of the university. In the depth of it, I had looked for any possible way to spare time for the dream event. It would be held in Tokyo that was over 300 miles away from Kyoto where I lived. It couldn’t be a matter of a couple of hours but a two-day trip. It would be crazy to waste two days in the middle of fierce competition like ‘Entrance Exam War’. I reached a heartbroken decision. I chose to study in my room instead of going to Tulip Land.

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I had had gloomy days for a few months until the day of the event came. My dismal feeling culminated on the day. For the entire day, all I thought of was what was going on in Tulip Land. I glanced at the clock every hour and imagined what game was held by now. Is it a trivia quiz about Tulip? Or a lottery game for Tulip goods? Are fans sipping soda out of a paper cup that has ‘Tulip Land’ printed on the side? Has the concert started? By which song is it kicked off? Which song are they playing now? Are the fireworks showing? Is it done? Is it over now? I couldn’t focus on anything all day long. I spent the whole day in my room without studying at all.
At the end of the day, I realized I could have been there. I just might as well have gone to Tulip Land as wasted the whole day. I intensely regretted it and literally gnashed my teeth. I blamed myself for my stupidity. The size of regret appalled me so that I sincerely hoped never to feel this way.
I hopefully expected time would heal the regret. On the contrary, it had tortured me at length for months. The regret hadn’t been eased but deepened. It continued to ask me what I was doing, and the question had evolved gradually into why I was studying for the entrance exam, what going to the best university meant, whether it would bring happiness, and eventually, it began to ask me what I lived for. As I had grappled with those questions, I studied less and less. By the time of the entrance exam, I had lost interest in the university. Instead, I got a grip on what I really wanted to do.
I failed the exam not only to the leading university but to all the other famed ones I had chosen as a safety measure. Only one college of my worst-case scenario accepted me but I didn’t feel like going there. I decided to do what I want however society works or whatever people say because I simply didn’t want to experience that kind of regret again. All what I went through in that six-month period after one regret of Tulip Land set the course to take. I chose to live as a singer-songwriter.
Decades have passed, and yet Tulip’s 1000th concert pops up in my mind every time I think about regret. Tulip Land had never been held again. Since the band broke up and the guitarist passed away, it never will. I passed up the once in a lifetime event for sure. Time neither solved the problem nor eased the pain. I still agonize over how foolish I was not to go. In me, a word ‘regret’ stands for Tulip Land.

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The Beginning of My Life hr638

After I was graduated from a Catholic high school in Kyoto, Japan, I went overseas for the first time in my life as a family trip around Europe during spring break right before starting college. The culture shock I experienced there seemed to alter my brain. It took control of me and began to inflict cracks everywhere on common practice of the small hamlet of Kyoto that I was born and grew up in.
One of the things I realized in Europe was that so many different people lived by so many different ways of their own. It had been always that way and not worth mentioning, but that kind of notion blurred in my home town where everybody knew everybody who lived in the same way. As a firstborn, I was destined to succeed my family that had lasted over 1000 years, which meant I should live with my family in the same house, on the same location, for my entire life until I die. Although that had been fixed according to the hamlet’s long-standing common practice, what I saw and felt in Europe told me that shouldn’t be the only way to live.
Another thing Europe showed me was better understanding of my parents. Through numerous happenings during the trip, I learned their true self. They weren’t wise, weren’t respectable and didn’t even love each other. It became questionable whether I should follow the fixed life that was demanded by my parents now that I found they didn’t deserve trust.

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The first day of college came in only a couple of days after I returned from Europe. It was an orientation day on which we had a physical checkup. I didn’t understand why it was necessary in the first place. For a few-minute-long checkup, all the freshmen had to stand in line waiting for their turns. We waited for three to four hours doing nothing, just standing. I couldn’t leave the line for lunch. A friend from the same high school as I had been in spotted me and went to get a cookie. While I was munching it standing in an everlasting long line, I felt dreadful for my college life that had just started. I had been fed up with my school days that were inefficient, wasteful, full of totalitarian practice. I thought I finally got out of it but it turned out to be started all over again. Everybody did the same ineffective thing at the same time here in college too.
The college had a compulsory two year’s curriculum claimed ‘general education’ and one of the subjects was physical education. About 30 students of the same class gathered at the ground wearing the college gym uniform. We played catch in pairs in one class, and danced odd moves to music all together in another. To me, it wasn’t college at all. I was sent back to kindergarten.
I asked myself what I was doing day after day. The world was infinitely vast yet life was too short. There was no time for doing what I was told to like others did. Time had to be spent on what I wanted to do even though others didn’t do. Three months later, I stopped attending all the classes other than an English conversation class. I knew I would neither graduate college nor get a degree as a result, but I didn’t care. There, I chose what to do by myself, and my own life has begun.

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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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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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The Dog with An Eternal Life hr627

There was a small old cemetery near the house where I grew up. As the Japanese law hadn’t been changed to cremation until I left home, all of my ancestors were buried there when I was a child. A patch of land was allocated to each family in our hamlet of an old city Kyoto, and a family would divide the patch into individual graves for the deceased. Our family’s patch had about ten small graves each of which was marked with a few small insignificant stones. It was a very primitive burial site that young people nowadays wouldn’t believe.
My grandmother used to accompany me when she visited there twice a year. We would bring incense sticks, a box of matches, stale cookies and a tin kettle filled with water. She would stick lighted incense into the ground of each grave, put a cookie beside it and spilled some water from the kettle onto the ground. Since the stones didn’t bear names, who was, or were, under the particular grave depended on my grandmother’s memory and what she was told. After we finished praying to each grave, she always said, “Now, the dog,” sounding like the most important event remained. And she would stick the last incense and spill the rest of water along with the last cookie onto the foot of a weed-grown mound that was beside the narrow trail to our family graves. Under the mound was the place where our family dog had rested in peace.

short coated white dog on green field

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I had never kept a dog but my father had. My grandfather reigned harshly over his family members and never allowed me to keep a dog. But he hadn’t started his hobby of growing chrysanthemums when my father was a child. No chrysanthemums meant an approval for a dog. When my father told me that he had kept a dog, I couldn’t picture that a dog was running freely in the yard of our house.
From time to time, I visited the cemetery with my father. His main purpose there was to pull out the weed that easily gulped up the entire grave patch, rather than to pray. After clearing up the ground of our ancestors’ graves, he would pray to each grave shortly. And in the end, he prayed to the mound, for his dog. Although among our ancestors, there were his brothers who were twins and died shortly after birth, he prayed for his dog longer than for them. Seeing him do that every time, I knew how much he loved his dog. That also explained my grandmother’s ritual for the dog’s grave. He was an important member of the family back then.
According to my father, the family never decided or even talked about keeping the dog. He was a stray dog that showed up one day from nowhere, and kept coming. Soon he stopped leaving and just began to stay in the yard. My father fed him and he slept under the eaves of our house. That was how they got to keep a dog. He was a big dog with long fluffy white fur. My father named him Maru, that means ‘round’ or ‘circle’ in Japanese, because he looked like a big white hairy ball. In those days, keeping a pet was so easy and casual that Maru didn’t wear a collar and wasn’t on a leash. They had never taken him for a walk because it was unnecessary. He was strolling and running around the yard all day. Although he had died long before I was born and I had never seen him, it was one of my customs to pray to Maru on a visit of our family cemetery.
I had wanted to keep a dog all through my childhood but never been allowed because my grandfather filled the yard with his chrysanthemums. When I was a teenager, my first boy friend gave me a big white stuffed-animal dog for my birthday. My father looked at it affectionately and said, “It looked exactly like Maru.” Instead of to a live dog that I couldn’t have, I named that stuffed-animal dog Pon-maru by mixing my nickname ‘Hidepon’ and ‘Maru’. He became my official make-believe pet. A few years later, I left home. My grandparents passed away. The family house was demolished and the site was sold. The rest of my family moved out of Kyoto. The custom to visit the family cemetery was gone. Only, Pon-maru still lives with me in my apartment that is far from my hometown, in a shape of a big, a little-grayish fur ball.

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