Saturday, February 10, 2018

Club Lounge hr603

A Japanese high-class hotel chain has one property in my small town that situates in a mountainous region. The hotel looks uncommonly luxurious for a rather obsolete town like this. It operates to attract rich customers who visit for skiing. I had never stepped into that hotel although I had lived in this town for seven years now. Since my apartment is here, I don’t need to stay at a hotel. Also the restaurants in the hotel are all too expensive and out of my reach. I had just imagined that the most gorgeous space in this town existed inside it. I took a trip to the Tokyo metropolitan area a few years ago, and happened to choose a hotel of the same chain there to stay. When I booked it, I joined its loyalty membership program to get a discount for the room because the membership fee was free. The chain has a club lounge at selected locations that a loyalty program’s member can use for free of charge. Lately, the lounge was newly added to the hotel of my town. As a free bus to the hotel circulates around my town in the skiing season, it was a good opportunity to take a look at the hotel for free. I visited there for the first time after seven years in this town, wearing better clothes among what I have, with my partner. The hotel was lively with many skiers. A menu board stood at the entrance of its luxurious lobby lounge. The prices were depressingly high and my partner was on the verge of fainting by looking at them. I was confirmed that the only affordable place for us in this hotel was the free club lounge. I told a clerk who stood smiling at the entrance that I was a member of the loyalty club and wanted to use its lounge. She ushered us right away treating us as if we were VIPs. She opened the lounge door and let us in without requiring my membership card. “Enjoy”, she said bowing and left. The club lounge was small but empty. It had a Keurig coffee machine and a heap of its cartridges beside it. There was an abundance of clean expensive coffee cups and saucers. Packs of a well-known specialty cookie were laid out neatly. An array of chocolates in gold and silver wrappers was in a glass case like jewelry. We had all these to ourselves, and they were free! I sat in one of the soft quality easy chairs beside a sofa, looking at the blue sky and the snow-covered mountains out of the large windows. While I was pouring mineral water into a flute glass and smelling fresh brewed coffee, I felt a sense of happiness filled my brain. “Is all of this really free? It’s too incredible!” I doubt I could feel this kind of happiness if I were rich and afforded expensive foods at an exclusive place. It’s natural that things are gorgeous when you pay a lot. But experiencing luxury without paying anything doubles happiness because I feel luck is on my side. It was that feeling above all that made me fall for this club lounge. I wanted to come here every day if I could, but a monthly visit would be at best. After I had two cups of coffee, two cups of tea, a bottle of mineral water and five pieces of sweets, the time to catch a free bus came and I left the lounge. I got out of the gorgeous hotel through its elegant entrance and got on the shabby, ramshackle free bus like magic on Cinderella finished working...

Saturday, January 13, 2018

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...

Saturday, December 16, 2017

A Heavy Gate hr601

On the day that I would meet my former high school teacher for the first time in decades, I commenced a journey by train from the hotel I stayed to the station of our rendezvous. I had made a detailed plan beforehand for this train trip since quite a few transfers were involved along the way and the area was unfamiliar to me. I took the first train and repeatedly looked over the note I had taken for which train of what time at which station to catch. The plan was perfect. Now that I got on the first train right on schedule, all I needed to do was just moving the rest of the way according to the note. The train arrived at the station where I was to make the first transfer. I was standing in front of the car door to get off when the train stopped. Oddly, the automatic door wouldn’t open. I was waiting for a while until I heard the departure bell ring and noticed a sign saying ‘This Door Doesn’t Open. Use One at Opposite End of Car’ I panicked instantly. The train was about to depart and I had to reach the opposite end of this long car. I dashed down the aisle like a sprinter while all the passengers were startled at my frenzied run. I was barely in time to get off. As I passed a close call of the day, I transferred to the other train line with a relief. Then, the bigger trial assaulted me on the platform of that line. An electric board that shows the upcoming trains in the green light had turned all red. It indicated that all the trains were delayed severely by heavy rain and the next train was cancelled. My jaw dropped. I didn’t see that coming as it wasn’t raining at all here. Plus, the next train that had been cancelled was the very train I was going to take. What are odds that the exact train I was taking is the only train cancelled among all? Taking that train was crucial because I had more transfers to make on the way ahead. Missing that train would disrupt the whole connections. A big piece to complete my journey fell off and my perfect plan came to naught unexpectedly quickly. Now I was officially in a panic mode. I tried to come up with an alternative, thinking hard about which train to take instead and where to transfer to get to my destination. When I frantically looked through information boards on the platform, a delayed, out-of-schedule train came in. Its destination was a big famous terminal that I thought would take me somewhere from. I hopped on it, and found out that the train to which  I was going to transfer later would also stop at the terminal. If I had caught it there, I still could have made it on time for the planned appointment. As soon as the train arrived at the terminal, I was a dashing sprinter again, rolling down and up the stairs to move between the platforms like a cartoon character. When I zipped by a businessman in a flash in the middle of a flight, my bag somehow caught his umbrella. I found myself running dangling an umbrella. I ran down to him who gaped at me, returned his umbrella, ran up again, reached the platform and jumped in the train. Inside, I realized that the train wasn’t what I had planned to take but the one happened to be there after a few hours’ delay. It didn’t depart on schedule, which meant I didn’t have to dash around the terminal like a maniac. This unknown train turned out to go straight to my destination without transfer. In a very weird way, I made up for the disruptive schedule with each delayed train and arrived almost on time. I stepped out of the train, completely exhausted. I wondered why I had to endure great hardship like this in order just to reunite with my former teacher. It wasn’t such a long distance. I simply wanted to see my teacher and bridge the decades’ gap. It was supposed to be easy, but it wasn’t. I saw the reason why I had never tried to see her up until now. I wasn’t brave enough to show myself to her. I had believed I ought to be successful when I met her again. I hadn’t had the courage to admit that I haven’t achieved anything and I was still nothing. To see her, I needed to verify what I’ve done in my life so far and get over my foolish pride that I had held onto for a long time. In this trip, I challenged it. This trying journey to see her signified a long difficult way to accept who I am. I struggled around, but reached after all in an accidental way. Over the ticket gate at the station, I spotted her waiting for me smiling...

Saturday, November 18, 2017

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…

Saturday, October 21, 2017

Challenge and Disappointment hr599

A lottery promotion is occasionally held at 7-Eleven stores in Japan. A customer draws a card from a box by every six dollars purchase. If a winning card is drawn, the customer can get merchandise that the card shows for free. The prize merchandise varies in what is sold at about one dollar, such as an ice cream, a snack, and a soft drink. In my experience, one in every three cards is a winning card, which is a low-risk-low-returns lottery. As a greedy person, though, I face heavy pressure to draw despite the cheap prize. When the cashier holds out the draw box in front of me at the counter, I take a deep breath, close my eyes, concentrate and pray for a wining card just to get a one-dollar prize. I push my hand in through a hole of the box and my hand rummages and searches for the right card by touch in the box until the cashier gives me a dubious look. Right before the cashier decides to ask me what is going on, I pull my hand out of the box with a card. If I win, I repress hard an urge to jump and scream, and instead put a weird grin that stretches across my face. If I lose, I desperately bear not to drop to my knees, and instead simply droop over the counter. I know the cashier is wondering what is a big deal, but I can’t afford to keep my composure. For the rest of the day, I’m tortured by disappointment and remorse. I ponder about why I drew a blank and the meaning of that. Was it because I had done something wrong before I drew the lottery, or was it a sign telling me something hereafter? Since the matter is too trivial, the answer usually can’t be found. A small lottery causes such a commotion in me, regardless. Although I really hate this pitiful struggle, I’m willing to wage a fight at 7-Eleven whenever it carries the lottery promotion. At the store, I put goods into the basket doing a sum in my head to get the total amounted to six dollars that qualifies for the drawing. To challenge the lottery, I even get something I don’t need and play into the hands of 7-Eleven. This unwise challenge of mine somewhat resembles my career as a musician. It is the source of my trials and tribulations, and yet I can’t stop. The difference between the two is that I’ve won several times at 7-Eleven while I’ve never won as a musician. But my challenge continues all the same…

Saturday, September 16, 2017

The New Song Completed, Again hr598

After a one-year-long struggle with mastering, I completed my new song and got to open Moet Chandon. I took a long summer vacation for the first time since I became a musician. Then I got down to post production, starting with mastering the instrumental track of the new song. The instrumental track isn’t important, it’s a kind of an incidental that is prepared just in case. I was going to take it easy and get it over quickly. That approach of mine led casual settings for the effects and their readings. I tried an experimental setting that I had never applied on the master track since I knew it would go overboard. While it was easy to imagine that the resultant track would be bad, I just did it for some sort of fun. The most difficult part of mastering is to boost volume. To get the song to its adequate volume, I spent an unbelievable amount of time sending the master track into the effects repeatedly by which the volume got bigger little by little. But as for this instrumental track, the volume got magically big on the first try of my experimental setting. I couldn’t believe my eyes when I saw the track’s fat audio wave. In a case like this, I knew too well that its sound would be crushed and terrible. I listened to the track and I couldn’t believe my ears either. The new instrumental track sounded better than the finished master track. I tried to grasp what was going on. The only explanation I could find was that this was the instrumental track without main vocals. The track with main vocals can be another matter altogether because vocals tend to complicate effects’ settings. The settings that work for the instrumental track don’t necessarily work for the one with vocals. The problem here was though, that I was assaulted by an urge to try these settings on the master track. I battled with the urge by asking to myself: Haven’t I declared the song’s completion? Am I redoing all over again? What if I bog down into that notorious endless mastering loop again? Am I really willing to repeat that struggle? Do I prolong this project even more? Although I did my best and tried the limits of my abilities for the new song, I couldn’t deny that there were some aspects I had to give in. It sounded slightly different from what I really wanted, but I couldn’t find the way no matter how many times I tried. What if these new settings were the solution? If I wanted the song to be perfect, wouldn’t it be worth a try? The urge prevailed. I redid the mastering with the settings that happened to be found for the instrumental track. It worked. On one try, the song turned into exactly what I had been searching for. I had no other way than replacing the version I had completed with a one-year-long struggle with this new version completed in a few minutes. I felt rather chilled than happy. I experienced the inexplicable. The very thing I had struggled to get over one year was found totally accidentally, ridiculously easily. It was as if the date for the song’s completion had been fixed long since. The song has been completed surely this time, but I had already finished Moet and had nothing to celebrate with. I was too embarrassed to tell my partner who works as the producer this course of events. I didn’t have the nerve to tell someone who had waited for the song with enormous patience during the one-year-long mastering that I changed the master track to the one I just finished in a matter of minutes. I hesitated but eventually confessed. Sometimes, taking time doesn’t mean the best result. I still feel that someone else was mastering the song in place of me while I was taking a summer vacation as a reward for having done my best for one year. Music can be after all what is given, not what one makes…

Saturday, August 12, 2017

The New Song Completed hr597

At long last, my new song is finally complete. It took about five years to finish it, which seemed too long, but my previous song took more. That previous song of mine was my everything. I had always craved just one song that I could think I was born to write, that represented myself, my life. The song was exactly what I had been after. Since I put everything I had into the song, I was almost going to retire when I finished it. I said all things I had wanted to say to the world and summoned up all skills I had to the maximum in the song. I thought I had nothing left in me. But once I tried to retire, I found myself at a loss. Nothing except for music interested me. I also realized I couldn’t do anything well other than music. I decided to continue writing songs and singing, by way of retirement. I set about my new song with an easy mindset intending to make light work of it because I considered my chief song done. However, it didn’t go that way. As I went on, I couldn’t help working seriously. My easy attitude toward the new song quickly vanished. The more I worked on the song, the deeper I was in it. The concept of retirement was simply pushed away. I even revised the words and the song became profound. I was as focused and eagerly desired perfection as for the previous song. As a result, it took five years while at first I had meant to finish it in a week. I put everything I had again in the end, and I was filled with rapture that I didn’t feel in my everyday life when the new song was completed. The feeling lingered for several days and I didn’t feel like doing anything. It was like all energy was drained out of me and I was absent-minded all the time. It seemed I lost my concentration as a whole. I knocked off a glass and wasted my drink that I never do, though I’m clumsy and a regular dropper. Even my bowels were loose. The completion of a song doesn’t necessarily mean all the work is over. I need to make a backup of all data, store them, convert to several different formats, release publicly, arrange distribution, and so on. Although those mountainous tasks of post production await me, I still have a thick head and haven’t gotten down to it for a few weeks now. I noticed that I was less anxious to release and promote my new song than before. I used to get down to post production right after a new song was completed so as to make it public quickly. But I don’t have zest for it as I did before. It’s probably because I don’t expect the world so much any more and my trust in human beings has decreased over the years. I’ve learned that songs in which I do my best and with which I’m satisfied completely don’t have to do with the market. My previous song proved it. The song was fruition in which I got a real sense of fulfillment. Yet, it was totally disregarded by this world. I get used to seeing my songs ignored and my expectations failed. Big sales or admiration are no longer such a big deal to me. I just wish my new song would reach someone and help her or him in some way when it’s released a few months later. I hope my songs are heard by those who need them, and play an important role in their lives. I believe it will happen, somehow…