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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New Kindle ebook published! ‘Cats, Dogs and Kyoto, Japan / Hidemi Woods’

Cats, Dogs and Kyoto, Japan

Cats, Dogs and Kyoto, Japan / Hidemi Woods

 

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A Call from Hell hr620

I’ve got voice mail from my mother. Her dismal voice made me creep all over. Since her calls almost always aim to hurt me, I’m used to receiving bad messages. But her tone was new low this time and I had to brace myself.
I guessed it was either she conceived a new bitter idea to strike a blow at me or she turned the brunt of her daily anger toward me. Nevertheless, there was a slight possibility that the call was about some emergency, such as my father was taken to the hospital or something. I didn’t want to spend any more nervous minutes worrying what was that all about as much as I didn’t want to return a call. I decided to face the fear and called her back with sweaty palms.
She started with trivial social chattering and suddenly burst into wailing. I couldn’t believe my ear that was hearing my mother crying hard on the other side of the line. I had seen her crying only twice before. The first time was when I was too little to understand the matter. A relative of ours was driving us home from my mother’s parents’ home. While she was talking to him in the car, she burst into tears and he consoled her. The second time was when I failed the entrance examination of a renowned junior high school. She suggested that we took a bath together and started crying in a bath tub, saying, “I’m so disappointed!” again and again. Even as a 12-years-old, I realized how hugely I blew it and I was terrified at my failure. And this was the third time. I was astonished as much.

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I asked her what happened, and she confessed that my younger sister had begun to live with my parents. I have no idea why, but she had concealed it from me for about a year. My sister had been my mother’s favorite. Unlike me, she did everything as my mother told her to do. She was the pride of my mother who always bragged about her to me as if it had been a proof that doing as she told was the key to success. That pride of hers had worked abroad in a managing position at one of major hotel chains. But she quit the job and returned to Japan a year ago. Soon after she started living with my parents, the relationship between them got atrocious. My sister blamed my mother harshly for having parted with the land and the house that had been inherited for generations, and for messing up her life by telling her to do the wrong way. That wasn’t surprised me because those things are the norm for a person like my mother whose lifework is to make people around her unhappy by telling a lie on an every possible occasion she gets. I was rather surprised that my sister had gotten along well with her for such a long time until now without noticing her malice. Then, new surprises easily topped it.
My sister’s constant rebukes to my mother didn’t stop just there. According to her, my sister had made her cook, wash, clean, shop, do all chores with authoritative commands. She also had piled up the trash inside my parents’ condo, making it eat up almost all the rooms so that my parents barely had space to sleep. They hadn’t have enough time to sleep either because she demanded that they be up and wait until she came home in the middle of the night. When my sister found anything that wasn’t as she liked, she would throw things or abusive words at my parents. My mother admitted on the phone, crying, “I’m in hell.”

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Her countless evil tactics have only led herself to a horrible life so far. Although she married for my father’s money, she failed the family business and lost everything. She sold the family’s big house and moved into a small condo that she had despised all her life. When I met her two years ago, she said, “This is what means ‘as a man sows, so shall he reap.’” in an unusually regrettable tone. I had never imagined her life would have any room left to get even worse than that like this. I wonder when she is ever forgiven. I know she has done too much evil and has been burned by unquenchable fire, but I feel compassion for her for the first time in my life. It’s so pitiful for her if the day she is forgiven will really never come.
But wait. It’s my mother with whom I’ve been dealing here. Don’t forget she’s a world-class liar. No one can tell which part of her story is true and which part is an act. It’s even possible that everything is bogus and simply her new scheme to bog me down in some way. It took me some time after I hung up the phone to come to myself and remind myself of the facts above. I might have fallen for it at least for a while…

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Bruises hr615

The reason I am excessively self-conscious is apparently because my mother hammered in my childhood how I should look and behave.
Appearance is the most essential thing in my mother’s life. She always puts face-saving first among other things. That inevitably leads to her daughter’s reputation. For it, she doesn’t care how her daughter feels or what she wants. People’s opinions are everything to her.
When I was in junior high school, the local public transportation bus I took everyday to school slammed on the brakes suddenly one day and threw me out of the multiple seat at the back. I hit my shin against a metal bar. After I got off the bus at the nearest bus stop from my home, I did my usual 15-minute walk to my house limping. My parents happened to pass by in their car on that particular day. I thought how lucky I was to get a ride when I had a sore leg of all occasions. As soon as I got in the car, my mother bawled me out for limping without asking what had happened to me. “You’re walking like a vagabond. How embarrassing!”, she scolded. She ignored my say that I had a small accident on the bus and my leg hurt as if it wasn’t the point at all. She kept lashing out with her mantra, “What would others think if they saw!?” It must have been so shocking to her that she had grabbed every chance to bring up the way of my walking and nagged at me about that one-time-only limping for years. Now, the sight of my limping has haunted her strongly enough for her to believe I have a slight limp by nature.

two woman wearing kimono dress walking beside sidewalk

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Walk while eating used to be regarded as bad manners in Japanese society. My mother made me go to the cram school to prepare for an entrance exam of a renowned junior high when I was an elementary school pupil. The classes were three days a week after regular school hours and the cram school was far from home, which it took 40 minutes by train. It was usually close to 7 p.m. when the class was over, and we were all hungry. My fellow students would buy chocolate and eat at the platform while waiting for the train home. I had never done that as I didn’t have extra money and was forbidden to eat standing in public by my mother. One of them gave me a piece one evening. I stashed it to have it back home. But I became very hungry in that particular evening when I transferred to another train at the terminal station. I had put a piece of chocolate in my mouth when I arrived at the nearest station from my house. My mother happened to be there to pick me up for once. She almost screamed, “You’re chewing gum in public!” She ignored my say that I had never done this before and the thing was chocolate not gum. She kept wailing, “You chew gum in public! How embarrassing! What would others think if they saw!?” To this day, when she meets me, she still nags at me about how disappointed she was when she saw me chewing gum that evening.
Those instances could go on endlessly. She didn’t allow me to go to the school nurse’s room no matter how sick I felt at school because it looked bad in front of other kids. When we had our house robbed, she stopped me from calling the police because it looked bad to our neighbors. She made me wear the class president pin wherever I went during my term for show. I was raised by a lump of vanity like my mother and have become a vain person myself who cares too much about looks and behavior unconsciously.

two people walking in a alley

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My family took a trip by train early in my teens and I missed a step of the stairs at the station with my new unaccustomed high-heeled boots. I fell and rolled down the stairs over a dozen steps. I stood up at the bottom of the stairs despite pain. My mother walked down the stairs calmly and indifferently instead of rushing over to help me, and said, “I didn’t think it was you. I thought it was a stranger.” Not one ‘Are you all right?’ came out of her mouth that day. After we checked in a hotel, I saw my body in the bathroom. The half side of my body was covered with dark bruises. I imagine how wonderful it would be that someday the bruises on my mind finally healed and disappeared along with my massive self-consciousness…

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