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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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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The Main Attraction hr589

On the first day of my latest trip, I checked in the hotel after I left the shopping mall. The room had a big window looking out on Tokyo Bay. A night view of the jet-black sea and glittering skyscrapers of stylish condominiums was spread on it. Onto the gorgeous glass table, I laid out packs of deli foods that had a sticker telling ‘Half Price’ on each lid that I’d gotten at the grocery store in the mall. My chief delight of a trip is to enjoy drinking in a hotel room. I usually get food outside the hotel and bring a small plastic bottle that I refill with cheap brandy beforehand at home. Compared to the room service, the cost is digits lower in this way although the place to have it is the same. It feels like I order room service of a space as an elegant cocktail lounge by staying at a hotel instead of drinks and foods. Since I bring cheap liquor and snacks, I can enjoy drinking in a quiet, luxurious setting without worries of the bill or the closing time, which is somehow my main purpose of a trip. I was nibbling on half-off seafood looking out the view that I couldn’t possibly see out of my apartment window and wished this moment would last forever. Although I had feared the hotel might be crammed with Chinese tourists because of the Lunar New Year, it wasn’t the case here and I didn’t see many of them. But as the way the world goes, hotels are never quiet enough to sleep in well. I woke up next morning by noises from neighboring rooms without sleeping tight. Quite a few hotels stand together in this area and I walked to the different hotel for lunch. A restaurant in that hotel has a lunch buffet that is reasonably priced and served in a chic atmosphere. About 95 percent of the customers are women and the place is always full. I had no trouble to get a table though, as I had made an online reservation that gave me a discount. I enjoyed as much roasted beef and dessert as I wanted that was too expensive to have in my daily life. Then I moved to a nearby outlet mall. Because my apartment is about to be burst with cheap clothes already, I just strolled around as a window shopper. But when I found a bracelet at $5 that was marked down from $30, I couldn’t help jumping at it. I was staying at the same hotel that night, which meant my favorite drinking time would come again. I got a plastic bottle of wine at $4 and, as I was still more than full from the lunch buffet, some salad and light snacks for dinner at a convenience store and walked back to the hotel. Before going back to my room, I had an important thing to do – using the hotel’s premium member lounge as a nonmember, again. I repeated the extravaganza of the previous day there, having expensive coffee and tea for free as much as I liked. I didn’t know why free drinks tasted especially good, but I knew for sure that I was the one who made the most of the free use of the lounge as this hotel’s off-season promotion. It was early evening and there was still time until I opened my cost efficient bar by myself in my room. So I went to the fitness club of this hotel for the first time. The club requires an outrageously expensive membership fee and normally I just do nothing but ignoring its existence. Only, this off-season promotion stay came with preferential treatment at no extra cost that included the free use of the club. I was curious what an astronomically expensive fitness club looked like. As I walked through a glass corridor leading up to the club, I saw the whole new world unfold before my eyes. I had cherished drinking in a hotel room as the main attraction of a trip for years till then. Yet the experience I was about to have in this fitness club overturned and changed everything so easily…

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A Train Ride in Japan hr585

My main means of transportation is the train. As manners and common sense vary in countries, I introduce here what a train ride in Japan is like. In the Tokyo metropolitan area, it’s just atrocious especially during the rush hours. I had had a lot of trouble when I lived in the area. It’s almost impossible to get a ride since both the train and the platform are packed with people. The train is full, which means in Japan’s case that you can’t move as you’re pressed firmly against other passengers’ bodies around you. Because I’m short and feel claustrophobia only in a few minutes, I have to pass several trains to wait for a less crowded one. That results in a long, inefficient travel although the trains run every ten minutes or less. As the night deepens, the smell of alcohol fills the train car that has more drunken businessmen, some of whom are befuddled. It used to be common that men openly spread and read porn magazines and tabloids in the car, but thankfully they are replaced by smartphones now. There are women-only cars that men aren’t allowed to get in during the rush hours. Too many cases of being groped or molested in a crowded train car made railroad companies invent this crazy sexism solution. I myself can’t count how many times I was touched or saw a man expose himself in the train. When I once squeezed myself into a packed car on my way to school, I barely got my body inside the car but my bag couldn’t. The door closed on the handles of my bag and left the bag outside. I rode for three minutes with my bag dangling outside the train, swinging violently. In daytime, the murderous congestion subsides. Instead, enters a group of housewives with large strollers that block aisles. They ignore their children who are crying and shrieking. Some passengers eat snacks, rice balls or sandwiches in the train. Some eat cup noodles or lunch in a box called bento. Even drinking alcoholic beverages is okay. But, people dart an angry look at someone who is putting on makeup. One of major complains to railroad companies is making up in the train. I don’t have the slightest idea what that means. It’s acceptable no matter how drunken or how loud you are inside the train, but not that you’re putting up makeup. I heard on the radio show that an elderly woman complained about a young lady who was putting on mascara in the train. Her point was she couldn’t allow a woman to turn up the whites of her eyes in public. It doesn’t make sense and to me, it sounds clear sexism. I almost always put on makeup on the train for time efficiency and wage a quiet battle against other passengers’ angry glances. With good or bad manners aside, trains in Japan are generally safe and a murder or a robbery hardly happens. A pickpocket steals a wallet from a drunken passenger who has fallen asleep, or a drunk beats a conductor, that’s the maximum. If you have carelessly left your belongings in the train, they’re found and delivered to a station in most cases. It may be too extravagant to complain of Japan’s trains that are well maintained, so clean, and graffiti-free. While it’s sometimes uncomfortable to share a ride with people whose likes and dislikes are pretty different from mine, it’d be better to relish the difference and be surprised by it. That may help me grow leniency. Besides, there’s no such thing as the world going round solely by my own rules after all…

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