Hidemi’s Rambling by Hidemi Woods

Singer, Songwriter and Author from Kyoto, Japan.

Radio Days hr652

During my school years in the late 70s and the early 80s, many teenagers in Japan where I grew up were hooked on late-night radio shows. It was the time when SNS didn’t exist and video games just emerged, and I myself also used to be excited to turn on the radio every night. I was fascinated by the feeling that radio personalities such as comedians and musicians were talking right beside me about what had happened to them in daily life or something funny. Listening to the show let me visit the blithesome world of celebrities and forget the reality of my hopelessly boring rural school days.

I was not satisfied with just listening, but regularly sent messages on postcards to the show. Not email or texting, but a postcard by mail. I would hold a pen in my hand and write down a message, a comment, or a request for a song by my own made-up radio name with a pun. Then I would edge the card with a coloring pen to make it distinguished, attach a stamp that I sneaked from my father’s collection, and go out on my bike to drop it in a mailbox. That was one of my daily routines. Sometimes the local station picked up my message or a request and introduced it on the show, which made me explode with joy feeling as though I had become a celebrity. I would patiently wait to experience such an ecstatic moment again while listening to the radio in bed almost until dawn. Because of that, I used to lack sleep on weekdays and was always sleepy. I would sleep in class at school and sleep on the local bus that I rode home from school for 50 minutes. I often slept too tight on the bus to miss my stop and woke up riding far past.

I still listen to radio shows of U.S. online with my smartphone. Now, I have finally started my Podcast program. There, I read one episode from the books I wrote and talk about it. As I set up the instruments for that in my home studio, it looked awfully like a radio show. I was thrilled. Although I also felt nervous and couldn’t sleep well the night before recording, I was excited again to see me sitting in front of the microphone like a radio personality and pushed the record button.

I recorded an opening message for the show that I had prepared and read an episode from my book without problems. When I was about to talk freely next, suddenly and unexpectedly, I froze. Nothing came out of my mouth. I couldn’t figure out what to talk about and inside my head was completely blank. As I tried to squeeze out something, only sweat spewed out instead of words. I was speechless. After a few minutes of silence in which I writhed in agony without a single word, I gave up and pushed the stop button.

I had overestimated myself as a person who could speak fluently as long as circumstances allow. But things weren’t so easy as I had expected. In the end, I made a list of what to talk, and then did the recording over again from the top. The finished take disappointed me with my extremely nervous, faltering talk although it was redone. However, I strangely felt good, having a sense of fulfillment somehow. Before I knew it, I already looked forward to the next show and began to prepare some ideas for it.

Come to think of it, I have managed to realize what I had wanted to become. I’m a singer-songwriter and a recording engineer both of which I have wished to be since I was a teenager. This time, I have become a radio personality that was my answer to the graduation questionnaire of what you dream to become in the future when I finished the elementary school. But only few people know any of what I have accomplished. Needless to say, none of them have brought me money of course. I may have wasted so much time and effort all these years for the totally meaningless. One thing is for sure, though. I have spent a remarkably enjoyable time throughout. 

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The Turning Point hr648

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I was nervously looking at a passing view of houses and factories from the window of the express train that ran between Kyoto and Osaka in Japan. On that day, I headed for Osaka to meet for the first time the person who had posted a recruitment ad for the band in a music magazine. I was tense not only because I wasn’t good at meeting people, but also because my demo tape to be exchanged at the meeting had sounded terrible. When I recorded it, I couldn’t manage to make it as I hoped it to be. In the end, I was so frustrated that I aborted recording in the middle of one of my songs. And I was carrying that tape as the finished product for the first meeting. I was easily able to imagine the dumbfounded expression of the person who would have listened to this tape.
It had been three months since I started college life that had turned out to be a waste of time and I began to look for a band. Although I had determined to pursue music as my lifelong career, my band searching hadn’t been going well. I had felt I was at a deadlock. If I had failed to form a band again with this meeting, futile days would have gone on. I couldn’t stand it any longer. The train arrived at Osaka and I came to the meeting place 10 minutes late.
The young man was standing where the railway track ended as Osaka was the terminus. When I passed him by on purpose, he called me to stop though he didn’t know my face. We greeted and entered the cafe. He introduced himself along with his music career so far. Although he was younger than I was and still a high school student, he had a wealth of experience in music under his belt. He had formed several bands with which he had won quite a few competitions and awards. I wondered why he hadn’t mentioned them in his recruitment ad on the magazine. He of course had written much more songs than I had. Compared to his experience, a few gigs and my own songs were nothing. Inevitably however, he asked about me and my turn to talk about myself came.
After I heard about his glorious career, I didn’t feel like telling him mine. I just gave him snippets of information such as I started to play the piano when I was four years old since I had applied to his ad as a keyboardist/singer. And instead of my experience, I ranted and raved about my passion. I didn’t have anything else for self-promotion but showing how committed I was to make a career as a musician. I did so also because I had my poor demo tape waiting to appear. As I remembered the last line of his ad was ‘A band member with passion wanted’, I thought my passion was the best defense as well as selling point. I even told him how hurriedly I had pedaled my bicycle when I went to get a double postcard to contact him prior to this meeting. After he listened to me half amusedly, he told me that his band would start with me as the keyboardist.
As it turned out, we exchanged demo tapes not to listen there but just to make sure later. All he needed to find out at the meeting was passion for music. Through his rich experience in forming a band, he had been sick of Japanese musicians’ common attitudes that they wanted to be professional only if they were lucky. They would play in a band until they got a steady job at the office and quit. No matter how skillful they were, they would decisively lack intention to become a professional musician whatever it took. I happened to have that kind of intention more than anybody and got to show him. I joined a band and the meeting was over. When we were about to leave the cafe, I said to him “Don’t bother about my coffee,” because it was still a common practice back then in Japan that a man should pay for a woman. He answered, “I wouldn’t do such a thing.” He was a rare progressive person for a Japanese of those days. Along with the cool cafe in the big city and the new band, I felt like I opened the door to the future at the meeting.
I was relieved to have found the band and have broken a deadlock finally when I headed home. I took the train back to Kyoto again, which was running toward the future this time. In the train, I listened to his demo tape on my Walkman. On the tape were three songs he wrote and sang with his own guitar playing. I was astounded. His songs, singing, playing were all excellent. Even the recording quality sounded as if it were of a professional musician. I couldn’t believe what I had just found. I was convinced I had hit the jackpot. With this talent, the band would become professional and be a big hit in no time. Success was assured. For the first time in my life, I felt hope enormous enough to tremble. All at once, everything I saw looked different. The same somber houses and factories that I had seen out of the train window the way there were beautiful now. The regular train was gorgeous and all the passengers seemed happy. Among those happy passengers, a shaft of sunlight beamed only on me and shone me. I saw my wretched life with too many failures ending at last. A successful life that I should have was about to start instead.
I listened to the tape repeatedly on my way home feeling literally over the moon. The thing I couldn’t see was that this was the entrance to my adult life filled with sufferings and miseries that I would have endured as a musician to this day.

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Early 80s – The Beginning of My Music Career hr641

I started to think about becoming a singer-songwriter in the beginning of 1980’s when I still lived in my hometown of Japan where I was born and grew up. By the end of the first month as a college student, I had lost interest in a college life since I didn’t care about getting a degree or being hired by a renowned company after graduation. A college had turned into an unnecessary place for me because of music. Only I tried to follow the footsteps of a Japanese band that I had admired most. Before they became professional, they started their careers by forming bands at universities and colleges where they were enrolled. I tried to do the same. As I had easily known, I found nobody in my college all of which students were women and most of which students attended as preparations for homemaking and marrying a doctor. I searched other universities for band members, for which I used my otherwise wasteful college life.
At that time, PCs or smartphones were yet to come. Even CDs didn’t exist. To listen to music, you needed to buy a record, put it on a turn table of a stereo carefully and gingerly not to scar the record surface, put down a record needle softly onto the start groove, and wait for music to begin while watching the record turning fast. The moment music started, the space shifted in a flash from where you had been. That was the essence I used to feel with a record. The sound of an analog record is different from the digitalized CD’s one. I feel the former round and deep that vibrates and seeps into the heart. Both Western and Japanese rock music I had listened to back then conveyed something to inspire like a struggle for life or for freedom. I’ve seen quite a few people whose life was actually changed by music.

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A record has been given way to a CD, and then to download and streaming. On the making side, recording on a tape by physical instruments has turned more and more into entering data on a computer by software. The sound has become mechanical with copying and pasting. Having an impact is valued more than being dramatic. I hadn’t the slightest idea this kind of music scene would arrive in the future when I lived the beginning of 80’s. I simply had believed that music could change the world and save someone by healing a sore heart just as it did to me. While the music scene did change, my belief remains unchanged. I’ve been striving to make music by taking advantage of the digital side into inspiring songs.

Back in the eighties, I was trying to form a band to have my songs heard as soon as I started a college. I came across a bulletin board of a band circle at one university that was recruiting new members. I went to the meeting where many freshmen gathered. The circle leaders were matching a new member to an existent band according to which part the new comer played and which part the band needed. Because I intended to join a professional-aiming, high-grade band, I pitched earnestly my skills of writing songs, singing, playing the keyboard and the guitar, and most especially, my passion for music. The person who interviewed me said outright that there was no available band for me to join. While I was preparing to leave, I noticed that other freshmen got assigned to a band one after another. They all said they had no skills or had never played an instrument, except that they all were cute and had a flirty smile. Again, my passionate, serious attitude backfired there too, as if it foretold my subsequent music career. I learned that bands at Japanese universities and colleges in 80’s were for those who just wanted to enjoy a campus life not for those who sought a music career.
I was excluded from campus musicians and couldn’t use my college life for member hunting. As a college has become useless to me more than ever, I was sent outside the campus to look for a member in the real world.

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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.

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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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