Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Hidemi's Rambling No.354

When I was a child, learning to use an abacus was common practice for kids nationwide in Japan. An abacus is a wooden calculator with many beads inside a rectangular frame. We used to attend a small private school twice a week in the evening. The teacher was a next-door neighbor who happened to be skillful with his abacus and live in a house my family rented. He ran the private abacus school at his home that was actually located inside our front yard. Although the house was small, learning an abacus was so popular that it was packed with students. Almost all the kids in the neighborhood practiced there. It was like the norm for a child who began the third grade to learn it. Even an elementary school officially spent some classes to teach an abacus for the fourth-graders. As an inevitable custom, I began to learn it at the next-door neighbor’s house when I was in the third grade. Six third-graders including me joined the school that year. Everyone touched an abacus for the first time but for some reason, I was very good at it from the word go. Practicing there twice a week with other kids, I had gotten cleverer and cleverer with my abacus and became the best student in less than two years. I was able to move the beads on the abacus with my fingertips faster than any other kids and count on the abacus most accurately in the school. Unfortunately, the world had been already in the electronic calculator age. Even in a rural area like my hometown, people seldom used an abacus anymore. My talent was obviously obsolete. It’s a mystery why I’m always good at something totally useless or decisively unprofitable…

Friday, August 26, 2011

Hidemi's Rambling No.353

In my hometown, the hamlet where I grew up mainly consists of old families of the place. Since each family has lived there generation after generation, my childhood friend’s father is my father’s childhood friend, my childhood friend’s grandfather is my grandfather’s childhood friend, and on and on. My closest childhood friend lived four houses away from us. We were both of an age and played together every day. Her mother and my father were both of an age too, and they had known each other since they were little. When her mother was a child, her grandfather had a boy outside marriage. He took the little boy over and began to raise him in his family. Because he had three daughters, it can easily be imagined that he wanted the boy to be a successor of the family. Of course, his wife, my friend’s grandmother, wasn’t happy about it at all. She was cruel to the boy and treated him harshly all the time. In the height of summer, she ignored the boy’s constant begging for water. He was too little and thirsty to distinguish between water and benzine. He died from drinking the latter. My friend’s grandmother suffered from Alzheimer’s in her later years and often ran barefoot around the neighborhood. She sometimes came into our house and begged for water, saying she was extremely thirsty. In other cases, she claimed she was chased by the little boy and asked for help. She was running from him until the end…

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Hidemi's Rambling No.352

I was born at the small hospital in a rural area. Although not many expectant mothers checked in there, two baby girls were born on the same day, one of whom was I. We shared the newborn room, sleeping in a bed side by side. Before the birth, I’d had a possibility to have severe jaundice of the newborn. My mother was told it would have either left a brain defect if I’d had it, or made me extremely intelligent if I hadn’t. Instead of jaundice, I was born with a hip joint dislocation. My right leg had been regularly dislocated and hung loosely until I was one or two years old and my mother had taken me to the hospital each time. About the time when my leg finally stopped getting dislocated, there was a piece of news in a local newspaper that a little girl was thrown into the river and killed by her parent. The victim was the baby who was born on the same day as I was and slept in the next bed to me at the hospital. Since both the town and the hospital were small, my mother and my grandmother remembered the name of the baby and the area she lived in. I was luckier and I outlived her without any more dislocation or jaundice. The latter should have resulted in me being extremely intelligent but my parents consider me simply crazy…

Friday, August 19, 2011

Hidemi's Rambling No.351

The elders of old families in the hamlet where I grew up had regularly practiced a Buddhist chant when I was little. My grandfather was one of them. He didn’t come home from the practice one night by the time he was supposed to. When we were worried and about to go look for him, he turned up at our doorstep sweating and getting muddy. He was shaken by fear and said, “It was a fox! A fox got me!” Usually, he would come home by passing through the narrow unpaved alley that led to a wider street near our house. According to him, he was walking home on the familiar dirt alley as usual after he left the elder’s house where the chanting practice was held. But on that particular night, the alley he had walked a thousand times didn’t come to the wider street. It didn’t end. When he reached the end of the alley, the entrance of the same alley started again instead of the street. The alley continued endlessly and he couldn’t get out of it. He began to panic, ran, tumbled, repeated countless trips through the alley and finally landed onto the street. In my hometown, people believed that an inexplicable incident like this was caused by a fox that bewitched them. A fox sometimes pulled mischief around us, and my mother had a similar experience. Because it had been a common knowledge throughout the neighborhood, everybody in my family was fully convinced that my grandfather’s story was true - except I inwardly suspected that a fox might mean drunkenness. By the way, we call a shower when the sun is shining a fox’s wedding…

Monday, August 15, 2011

Hidemi's Rambling No.350

The time for scary tales and ghosts is Halloween in the U.S. but in Japan, it’s summer. In my hometown, there used to be a night for a test of courage for kids in summer when I was a child. It was a small neighborhood event that an adult volunteer set up a sign saying ‘A Test of Courage’ at the entrance to a narrow lane between the neighbor houses. Except for the entrance, the rest of the lane was left as it was, without any special scary decorations or surprising effects. Enough nature still remained in my neighborhood back then though, and a ditch, bushes and shrubs along the lane had sufficient effects in darkness to scare kids. One summer dusk, I heard my grandmother call me urgently when I was playing in the yard. She grabbed me and ran into the house, escaping from something. It was a ball of fire drifting above us. That was the first time I’d ever seen a will-o'-the-wisp, and I haven’t seen one since. But to my family, seeing a will-o'-the-wisp wasn’t so rare. My grandmother once saw it perch on a side mirror of a parked car in front of our house. Scientifically, it’s said that a will-o'-the-wisp is some phosphorus-related phenomenon. Near our house, there was a graveyard where we had buried the deceased from generation to generation, which is now banned by law requiring cremation, and we believed it had to do with a will-o'-the-wisp. I had plenty of natural scary materials in my childhood…

Friday, August 12, 2011

Hidemi's Rambling No.349

The biggest holidays next to New Year’s have started in Japan. In mid-August, Japanese people get a few days’ holiday for the ‘Bon’ Festival that is a Buddhist event to ease the suffering of their ancestors in the life after death. It’s believed that their ancestors’ spirits return to their home during ‘Bon’ and the family and relatives get together to hold a memorial service and have a feast. When I was little, I used to go to pick up my family’s ancestors with my grandmother at the beginning of the ‘Bon’ period. The pick-up spot was a small, ordinary vacant lot on the edge of the hamlet. Our neighbors would also pick up their ancestors there. At dusk, we lit incense sticks there and carried them home, on which smoke our ancestors were supposed to ride to our house. Once we arrived home, the incense sticks were put on the Buddhist altar, and that meant our ancestors came in there. We welcomed them with many plates of food on the altar. Although it had been an annual sacred event for my grandmother and me, it was stopped abruptly one year for good. When I asked what happened to the pick-up, my grandmother said that our ancestors had decided to come home by themselves from now on. In hindsight, I assume the real reason was because my grandmother’s bad leg had gotten worse and she became unwilling to walk to the pick-up spot, or simply the vacant lot was replaced with a new house and there was no pick-up spot available. But back then, it didn’t make sense even to a child that our ancestors suddenly considered their descendants’ convenience and stopped requiring a pick-up. What about an old custom we had observed for a long time…?

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Hidemi's Rambling No.348

As the summer holidays began in Japan, an old vintage bus has been running for sightseeing spots in the area I moved in. Its one-day pass is $3 and I tried it for the first time the other day. What appeared at the bus stop was a cool hooded bus with the ‘50s or ‘60s style. A conductor was aboard, who collected money for the ticket and announced each stop. The bus’s interior remained of its old one and the unfamiliar cab and the dashboard excited me immensely. But once it got going, it jolted violently for old suspension and made my body jump in the seat up and down, right and left, although it was running on asphalt. The heat was also unbearable since the bus wasn’t equipped with air conditioning. I glimpsed how hard traveling was in the past. While I appreciated authenticity of the bus, I was tired from the uncomfortable ride. Maybe there are some kinds of vehicles that are suitable not to be gotten in, but to be looked at, like this bus or a Formula One car. Watching the quaint bus going through my new neighborhood, I couldn’t help feeling a little sad because it matched well with the town, which meant my new town looked as old as the bus itself…

Friday, August 5, 2011

Hidemi's Rambling No.347

I had never been an early riser. I liked to sleep so much and it wasn’t unusual for me to sleep for 10 to 12 hours. Sometimes I despised myself for that. But, since I moved in my new place, I’ve gotten up quite early in the morning. Especially this summer, I’ve slept for moderate hours and woken up early every day. The reason is obvious. The apartment building where I live now has a spa for the residents and it’s open in the morning for the summertime. Because I pay the monthly service charge for my apartment that includes the spa fee, I can’t afford the luxury not to use it. The sense of a possible loss wakes me up every day just before the morning spa hours are up. It’s like I gain an enormous appetite whenever I eat at an all-you-can-eat restaurant. The fear I may lose money if I don’t eat as much as possible makes me eat over my limit. My stinginess has finally gone over my mentality and started controlling my physical state. As I haven’t accustomed myself to my new habit of rising early, my condition hasn’t been so good, though. While a spa is supposed to be good for health, it can have a reverse effect to me…

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Hidemi's Rambling No.346

I found a steel shelf on sale at an online store for $10 off, for which I had been looking for some time. Its physical store was near my home and I had gift certificates that would give me 30% off to shop there. Adding up the discounts, the shelf would be the lowest price of the market. My strategy to get it for that price was ordering it online and paying with the gift certificates at the physical store. The middle-aged clerk who took care of my payment at the store wore a name tag that said he was a store manager. But he didn’t know the way to take the gift certificates for the online order and began to grapple with a cash register. He was trying hard for 15 minutes but just couldn’t do it. I gave up too, and decided unwillingly to pay with my credit card instead of the gift certificates since the $10-off for an online order still stood. Then, much to my surprise, he now couldn’t find the way to handle a credit card for the online order. He called a young salesclerk who immediately logged in the computer, retrieved some sort of a code number and nimbly made it available on a cash register to be paid with not only a credit card but also the gift certificates. While we have many choices for our actions as technology advances, it’s not easy to keep up with it. The store manager would be in a mess again if he didn’t learn from the young clerk how to handle a computer and a cash register for an online order. Because now that I know how to get the lowest price, I will shop in the same way soon…