Hidemi’s Rambling by Hidemi Woods

Singer, Songwriter and Author from Kyoto, Japan.

The Dream Super Express hr642

I was born and grew up in a small village of Kyoto, Japan. My family made a living by farming, which contributed to my even more old-fashioned childhood than usual that was nothing like a current ordinary life.
Food on the table was almost self-sufficient that came form our fields or the front yard and the chicken coops of the house. We had only one tiny refrigerator without a freezer that was more than enough as beer or watermelons were chilled by pumping well water. The bathtub was round and made of wood. Its floor was a round iron plate on which a round wooden board was put in to sit. Beneath the iron plate was a small furnace that my grandmother put wood, straw or used paper in the fire to heat water in the bathtub. Our toilet was a wooden bucket placed in the garage. My grandfather would carry it on a wooden pole to our fields as manure. Not only the way of living was old-fashioned, but also the way of thinking was. All the family members obeyed submissively my grandfather who was a patriarch of my family. Women were deemed to be inferior to men and treated unfairly. Families were giving and receiving them through marriage as if they were commodities.
But the changes of the world can’t be stopped. In the year I was born, a bullet train started running between two major cities in Japan, Tokyo and Osaka. It was dubbed ‘a dream super express’ because of a high speed. The city of Kyoto where I lived was close to Osaka and on the line of the bullet train. A new special railroad and its platforms were built above the existing ones. The railway near my home accordingly had the new overhead railroad above it. When I was an elementary school student, I crossed the local train railroad and the big, tall, splendid bullet train railroad by an underpass beneath the tracks on my way to school on foot every day. In the middle of the passage, when a local train or a freight train passed above my head, I would cringe at an enormously thunderous noise. But the bullet train sounded like a whistling wind, almost soothing.


The number of children had been increasing as the economy was picking up. The elementary school I went to burst with students and a new school was built when I was in the fifth grade. I was sent to the new one that stood right next to the railroad. Out of the windows, the bullet train was running. From a brand new school building, I had never get bored to see the bullet train zipping past at incredibly high speed through the countryside where time went by so slowly. Thanks to the bullet train, my new school had the air conditioner since the building had soundproofing windows that can’t be opened because of train noises. My former four years in the old school with wooden buildings and coal stoves were felt like ancient.
I loved the bullet train so much. To me, it seemed alive with a soul like Thomas the Tank Engine as its headlights looked like eyes and its coupler cover looked like a nose. Since I had difficulty in getting along with others back then, I felt more attached and closer to the bullet train than other human beings. Every time I saw it passing by, I sensed it glanced at me and was running toward the future, carrying hope and dreams. Years later, I left home of an old village and moved to Tokyo by bullet train to become a musician.
Sometimes there is a day when we feel that this world has come to an impasse and been headed just for destruction. But if we adapt ourselves to new ways of living or thinking, we may be able to see more of something bright and exciting. In 2027, Japan is going to have a new railway on which magnetic levitation bullet trains called Linear Bullet Trains run at the highest speed of 320 miles per hour. I wonder how their faces look like. I can’t wait to see them.

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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.

Photo by Teddy Yang on Pexels.com


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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New Paperback/Kindle book was published! ‘My School Days in Kyoto: A Japanese Girl Found Her Own Way / Hidemi Woods’

My School Days in Kyoto: A Japanese Girl Found Her Own Way

We all face decisions every day, big or small. It may be as trifling as what to eat for lunch, but sometimes it is as important as what decides a course of our life. And the big one often comes abruptly like a surprise attack when we least expect it, unguarded. I faced the first crucial decision unexpectedly on my 20th birthday.My School Days in Kyoto

In Japan, 20 years of age is regarded as the coming-of-age and there is a custom to celebrate it. When I was 20 years old, I lived in a big house with my family. My parents had a hefty fortune inherited by my ancestors as it was before they failed in their undertaking and lost every thing. For them, my coming-of-age was such a big event that they had bought an expensive sash of kimono for me months in advance for a municipal ceremony held in the first month of the year. Since I defied the custom and didn’t attend the ceremony for which the sash was wasted, my parents determined that my 20th birthday should be memorable at least and planned a party. I wasn’t told about the party because they wanted to surprise me.On my birthday, I was hanging around and having fun with my friend until night, not knowing that my parents and my sister waited for me with 20 red roses and expensive steaks cooked and delivered from a restaurant. As crazy as it sounds, my curfew was 9 p.m. back then. I had too much fun and broke it that particular day. I came home half an hour late bracing for a rebuke from my parents. What awaited me was beyond rebuke actually.I usually came in from the back door that was left unlocked, but it was locked that night. I went around to the front gate that was locked too. I thought my father had locked them by mistake and pushed an intercom button. My mother answered and I asked her to open the door. She said in a tearful voice, “I can’t. It’s no mistake. Your father shut you out of the house.” She started crying and continued, “We were preparing a party and waiting for you from this afternoon. We waited and waited until your father got furious. He said that he didn’t want you to come home because you never appreciated this important day and your family. I can’t open the door. Your father doesn’t want you in this house any more.” I was astounded at the deep trouble I suddenly got into.I could have apologized repeatedly and begged her to let me in. Instead, I was wondering if that was what I really wanted. I didn’t have anything but now it was a chance to leave the house. Totally out of the blue, the moment for a decision for life came up. If I lived in this house forever as a family’s successor like I had been told to, I would inherit family’s fortune. But if I threw it away, I could do whatever I want for my own life.In a matter of seconds, I decided. I chose freedom over money. I said, “That’s fine. I’m leaving.” I felt oddly refreshed and upbeat. My chained life came to an abrupt end through the intercom. My mother panicked and shouted, “What do you mean that’s fine? Wait! Don’t go! I’m coming to open the door! Stay there!” I saw her rushing out of the house and dashing toward the gate. She grabbed me in. On the dining table, there were two empty plates that were my father’s and my sister’s and two untouched steak plates that were my mother’s and mine. In the center was a big vase with 20 roses. I ate steak with my mother who was weeping through on my completely ruined 20th birthday.Shortly afterwards, I eventually left home and became a musician. My mother, my grandmother and my aunts were married unwillingly for money. My father and my grandfather gave up what they wanted to do in order to succeed the family. They all looked unhappy and I didn’t want to live like them. But I also didn’t know freedom didn’t come cheap and my decision would lead to trials and hardships that I had to endure as a consequence…

My School Days in Kyoto: A Japanese Girl Found Her Own Way

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Hidemi Woods, Author hr602

Over the various obstructs, I finally passed through the ticket gate and saw my former high school teacher at the train station. I recognized her right away and she did the same to me among the crowd of passengers getting on and off the train although we hadn’t seen each other in decades. Even before we exchanged greetings, our hands were squeezed in one another’s. We settled in a cafe in front of the station. The long gap dissipated instantly and we were talking as we had been in a high school classroom. We talked about what we had been doing all these years to catch up. As I listened to her, I realized why she was a rare teacher with whom I got along oddly well in my high school days and why I had kept in touch with her by Christmas cards. She was a person who was similar to me. When I talked about how I had turned my back on Japanese music industry and moved my business to US, she easily understood. She also once looked for a way to get out of Japan and live abroad. It didn’t happen because her work, teaching Japanese classic literature, wasn’t so global-oriented. Just as I’ve felt, she felt her way of thinking and living didn’t fit well into Japanese intolerant society. One example was that she wanted to keep and use her last name instead of her husband’s when she got married, but the Japanese law didn’t allow it. She had patiently waited for the new bill to be enacted, only to see it revoked every time. She wearied of Japanese inclination to disregard differences and couldn’t agree with implicit pressure to be the same as a Japanese. I wasn’t sure if it was the reason but she said most of her past students with whom she still got in touch lived abroad at one time or other like myself. Now I knew we were alike, and we had suffered from the same thing in the different field. She listened to me so joyfully while I was talking about myself, but that grave fact lingered on in my mind – I haven’t achieved anything. I had nothing to show off, and didn’t have audacity to forge stories. What I was telling her was all true in which there was no success. I couldn’t wipe off the thought that I might be disappointing her, in this very moment. I had brought my first physical book, ‘An Old Tree in Kyoto’ as a gift for her since she was my literature teacher. I only could do that much. When I handed it to her, she was very pleased. Actually, she was pleased so much that she asked me to inscribe the book for her. Up until the point to meet her, there were too many incidents I panicked at, but none of those was in this magnitude. I seriously panicked. I had never inscribed a book before, let alone I had never imagined that would happen to me. The day came without any warning, out of the utter blue. I couldn’t think of anything, and absolutely had no idea what to write. She said gleefully, “Write something.” I froze. I just couldn’t figure out how to do it. I tried to remember the scenes of a book signing in the movies and TV dramas. An autograph, that was what I came up with. Sadly, I didn’t have mine as I’m too obscure. In conclusion, I had nothing worthy to write. I said to her apologetically, “I don’t have an autograph because I’m not famous.” In contrast to my grave note, she replied frankly, “Oh, no, no, I’m not asking for your autograph. That’s okay.” I was cornered. An inscription is supposed to be meaningful because of someone’s achievements. In my concept, it’s not what an unimportant person gives. I noticed sweat slowly came down to my brow. I held a pen in my hand, my book before me, still as a stone. There was no escape. It was time to throw away all the remaining pride I had clung to and confess. “Teacher, neither my music nor my book sells. I’ve never inscribed a book. I’m completely nobody.” Although I uttered it on the verge of crying for embarrassment, she gave me a vacant look as if she didn’t get what I was talking about. “I don’t care,” she said. “I just want you to write something on your book to commemorate this incredibly happy day of mine.” Her eyes were twinkling with sheer joy. I made an inscription with my trembling hand. I was too tense and nervous to remember what I wrote. I can’t recall to date while I have a vague memory of scribbling her name, something about remembrance of a happy reunion, the date, and signing Hidemi Woods. What I remember vividly is the sensation I had when I finished writing. I felt as if I had officially become an author and that book signing was its ceremony. I handed back my book to my teacher, weirdly confident like a different person. We said goodbye at the ticket gate of the train station. When I was leaving, she said, “If I were your parent, I would be very proud of my daughter.” After the decades’ gap, she taught me something again…

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A Long Journey hr600

I have been estranged from my friends for a long time. There are only three people with whom I keep in touch by a Christmas card once a year. They are my kindergarten teacher and two high school teachers. I feel a lifelong obligation to those three for each reason. I came across one of the two high school teachers when I was a senior. She had just graduated from a university and started teaching at my school as a new teacher. She taught Japanese classics and I was one of her first students. The Japanese classics class consisted of a mere dozen students who selected the subject to prepare for the entrance examination of a university or a college. As the class was unusually small and the new teacher was young and friendly, it soon became like a big family. It was as if we had a weekly family gathering that happened to have a specific topic of Japanese classics, rather than a school class. In my dismal and miserable high school life, the class was a chink of light. It was the only place at school where I could breathe and came to life. I took the initiative in having fun. Mostly my target was the new teacher. I pulled various pranks on her at every class, such as all students hid in the cupboards and she walked in the empty classroom, perplexed. On a perfect sunny day, I suggested having the class outside and she taught us in the schoolyard like a picnic. I tried what hadn’t been done at my school before and she just cracked up every time. It seemed I was really good at making her laugh. The whole class eventually laughed all the time, and the old strict teacher who had her class next room often came in to tell us to shut up. She sometimes called my teacher out to the hallway and reprimanded her. Nevertheless, my teacher never hushed us, and continued laughing at my jokes and having fun together. She helped me with those bright hours in my dark last year of high school and I’m thankful for that forever. She quit and moved to the other school when I graduated. We have exchanged New Year cards or Christmas cards ever since. While I write simple season’s greetings on them, she somehow knows and writes what I want to hear most. For instance, toward the end of the year in which I’d had a hard time and felt discouraged, her Christmas card said ‘Hang in there! Things are turning better!’ and made me wonder how she could ever know. We somewhat have a lot in common with the way of living, too. In those years, most Japanese women got married and quit working when they did. While I work and stay single, she also continued teaching at school and didn’t change her last name to her husband’s when she got married as the Japanese tradition goes. Without seeing her in decades, I’ve felt strange bond with her. Last year, my parents moved and their new address startled me. By pure coincidence, it’s weirdly close to the teacher’s. I mentioned about it on the Christmas card to her and then things developed quickly. During my latest trip for a visit to my parents’, we had a chance to meet each other for the first time since I was a teenager. The hotel I stayed in on the trip was located in Osaka because I flew in this time instead of using a train. From Osaka to the station we would meet though, it was a two-hour train ride with several transfers. It would be a long trip but we would bridge a decades’ gap in two hours. I thought of the gap, and suddenly came to myself. Shouldn’t a reunion with one’s former teacher be an opportunity to show some achievement for gratitude? I had forgotten about it because the process to this meeting had strangely gone smoothly as if it had been happening automatically out of my will. I had tried and worked hard all those years, but achieved nothing, no money, no fame. I recalled I had said to her that I would become a musician when I last spoke to her. During the course of life, I did. But that’s it. I haven’t gotten anything to show to her. I wondered if our reunion might be an embarrassment where a teacher would see her student’s unfruitful result of many years…

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