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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Montreal hr637

I wish I could live in Montreal. That’s the thought which frequently enters my mind. Yet I don’t know why it should be Montreal for myself. As a person who was born and grew up in Japan, I had had only a little vague knowledge of it as an Olympic venue of ancient before until I first visited it. I even didn’t choose it as my travel destination for the city itself. I’m an avid Formula One race fan and had been looking for an alternative race to go to see other than the one held in Japan that was too costly and poorly managed. The circuit with the most convenient access from a downtown hotel was located in Montreal, that was the simple reason I chose to go there and a start of my love for the city.
Twenty hours later after I left my apartment in Tokyo, I got off the airport bus in downtown Montreal past midnight. I was headed with my partner for the hotel I had booked that was a 10-minute walk away. My Japanese acquaintance has once told me that he got mugged in downtown Los Angeles and was robbed of his wallet, shoes, and even a tooth capped with gold. I recalled it and thought I was doing the stupidest thing to walk pulling my big suitcase in a strange city, in the witching hour of night. Then I saw someone while I was waiting for the traffic lights at a quiet crossing. A teen-age girl wearing a mini skirt appeared from nowhere and crossed the street humming merrily and dancing ballet. The sight of her gave me a sense that Montreal might be a safe, relaxing and enjoyable city. And it proved true.
I had lived in Southern California for four years before and I imagined that Montreal was quite alike since it was also in North America. But actually, it turned out to be a totally different place. Virtually everything – people’s appearances, values, the way of living and a cityscape – was far from alike. When I lived in California, I believed that life is a competition and that a happy life can’t be attained without success. I had been all worn up with that belief. My work as a singer-songwriter didn’t go well accordingly and I ended up moving back to Japan for a financial difficulty, broken-heartedly. But Montreal’s beautiful cityscape and its fashionable locals who enjoy life not with caring about money but with a laid-back attitude healed me. I fell in love in this city deeply enough to stay for a long period of time repeatedly.

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Of course familiar flaws and problems existed since it’s not heaven. I too much often received a wrong change when shopping. One shop clerk surprised me when he gave me a handful of change without counting. He saw my dubious face and added one more handful of coins. I was also surprised that ordinary-looking people begged for small change. A young woman who seemed to be an ordinary house wife asked me to spare change while she was pushing a stroller with a baby in it. Or a bunch of young decent boys asked for change casually while they were having fun talking and laughing on the street. I glared at them for caution when I passed by, and they apologized to me. It seemed like it was their custom or routine to ask for money in passing. I wondered why they would do so in the city that didn’t look jobless nor degenerate. Come to think of it, I had spotted people idling and just sitting on the steps to an apartment in the daytime so many times. Commute traffic jammed at as early as 4 p.m. which looked so odd to a Japanese in whose country the train around midnight is running full with commuters. While I appreciated the city’s peacefulness with no tension of racism or success, its too-easy-going atmosphere sometimes irritated me. But it was probably too much of a luxury to ask for more. Before I was aware, I wished to settle in Montreal and work on my music there. My wish was to be crushed afterwards however, because reality was harsh.
I remember my happy days in Montreal every time I watch Canadian GP on TV. The city’s skyscrapers over the circuit ask me through the TV screen if I can come back someday. I desperately cheer myself up, telling myself that I can, I want to, I’m supposed to. On one Canada Day in the future, while I’m watching the mega-sized fireworks at the head of the Old Montreal pier with my partner, my eyes will be filled with light and shed tears of joy.

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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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Despair and Hope hr631

It happened a long time ago when I lived in Tokyo. My partner and I had dinner at a restaurant one night after we hung around the mall. We came back to our apartment that we had rented on the top floor of the building as our home and the office for our record label.
When I tried to turn my key on the front door, I noticed the door had remained unlocked. It was weird. I may have forgotten to lock the door when I left, which was highly unlikely since I was fussy about locking and couldn’t leave without making sure that the door wouldn’t open by trying the knob for a couple of times. I got in feeling dubious, but our apartment didn’t look unusual. Then my partner suddenly said, “Why is the cabinet open?” My heart began to beat fast with overwhelming uneasiness and I hurried into the bedroom that had a balcony. The tall window to the balcony had been smashed broken. It was a burglary.
I called the police right away while my partner was gingerly looking into the bathroom, the closet, and behind the drapes to see if the burglar wasn’t still hiding. Those minutes were the scariest as too many movie scenes flashed back to me. Thankfully, there was nobody. The police arrived quickly since the station was ironically only a block away from my apartment. Such a location apparently wasn’t safe enough to prevent burglary.
The policemen came in and looked around. As they saw the messy rooms, they showed sympathy saying, “It’s played havoc, huh?” It was funny because my apartment had been messy as it was long before burglary. But probably thanks to it, the burglar didn’t notice an envelope that held a few thousand dollars for the bills and was mingled with scraps of paper on the table. Instead of cash, a dozen of Disney wrist watches that was my collection, a cheap wrist watch that was my partner’s memento of his late mother, an Omega wrist watch that I received from my grandparents as a souvenir of their trip to Europe decades ago, and one game software were missing. Actually, those items had been the only valuables in my office apartment. Other than those and litter, my apartment had been quite empty. The reason was simple. I was near bankrupt at that time.

sofa chair beside window

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I had started up my music label with my partner and it had grown steadily as business. A person I had trusted offered substantial financial support and I took it. I rented this apartment and hired staff with that money. Then the financial supporter tried to take over my label and threatened to suspend further finance if I refused. Amid horrible disgusting negotiations, money stopped being wired into my account. The label came to a standstill for lack of funds. I laid off all staff and saw what took eight years for my partner and I to build from a scratch crumbling down. The blow was amplified by anger and self-loathing from the fact that I was deceived by a person I had trusted. Despair and emptiness led to apathy. I stopped doing or thinking anything and had played a game every day.
In hindsight, if there hadn’t been burglary, my partner and I would have kept paying the costly rent for the apartment and playing a game until we spent all the money that was left. But something clicked when I saw the very game software I had played every day picked among other many games to be stolen, and the glass window of my dream penthouse apartment smashed. It marked the point where I hit the bottom but also was a wake-up call. We moved out the luxurious apartment immediately and rented a cheap studio apartment in a small two-storied building.
That move left some money in my bank account. The deposit of the penthouse apartment was returned, too. Also, I received an unexpected insurance payout. The expensive rent of my former apartment included a damage insurance. The insurance company assessed the damage based on the report I submitted to the police. For some reason, they calculated the payout more than the total price of what were stolen. I discussed with my partner about what to do with the money. We decided to go to California. A new start from zero. And that was to be the beginning of all these, everything that I do at present. My works have been taken to the world by that decision, made by the burglary.

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I Have Everything I Need hr606

The next morning, I hurried to the restaurant in the hotel to be in time for its breakfast serving time. I like to have breakfast especially at this restaurant. I can get a slight taste of an overseas travel here and a feeling that I were outside of Japan as most guests are from foreign countries. I glutted myself with the breakfast buffet, got back to the room, packed, and checked out. I transferred the hotel’s free bus at the airport to the express bus to Tokyo Disney Resort this time. I often visit there but don’t enter the parks that are too crowded all the time. Instead, I usually hang around the surrounding hotels and the shopping district. This visit was no exception and I went directly into the movie theater. The object was to see ‘Star Wars The Last Jedi’. It was the third time to see it in the theater and the film won glory as one of my best three movies in my lifetime so far. I had never been sold on any Star Wars movies until I saw this particular one. They were mere melodramas in the galaxy to me. But the one before ‘The Last Jedi’ turned the tide and this one blew me away completely. It has deepened my emotions every time I see it. It was too touching for me to stop crying at the very last scene, again. The story is very much like a film ‘Tomorrowland’ that is the best movie of my life. Both films tell about hope and if ‘Tomorrowland’ was made in a Star Wars setting, it would be ‘The Last Jedi’. I’m constantly afraid of not being recognized as a musician forever because my likings rarely agree with others. For the person like me, it’s a big relief when a favorite movie becomes a blockbuster. It literally gives me hope. Later on, I bought gadgets of R2-D2 and BB-8 that respond to my voice and talk back. I’ve enjoyed talking with them everyday. After the movie, I had a snack at a Mexican fast-food restaurant because it had happy hour that made margarita half price. A clerk there made a mistake for my order in a good way and gave me one more guacamole for free. Then I had a cafe latte at a bakery cafe in one of Disney hotels. Although the place was near empty, a cue of customers began to form outside. It was getting longer in a matter of minutes. It turned out that the sale time for freshly-baked croquette sandwiches was approaching and people were waiting to get them. Japanese people really love to stand in line for fresh food even though it’s expensive. Their strong zest for something hot from the oven is amazing, which I never understand. I saw the fireworks of the park from the same shopping district for free and headed for Tokyo Station by train to catch the bullet train home I’d booked at 35 percent off. At the station, I got croissants and a pork bowl both at half price by a closeout sale that were left unsold and old, and had dinner with them on the bullet train instead of at a restaurant. All in all, my trip cost so little for a luxury savor I could felt. Only, I was kind of blue as the exciting trip was coming to an end now while the train was sending me back to a sober, indifferent small town where my plain daily life exists…

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