After leaving the city of Hagi, we went on a seaside route, heading towards the hot spring town of Nagatoyumoto. "Yumoto" (literally meaning the source of hot water) is a common denominator for many hot spring places in Japan. Our designated lodging for the evening was Otani Sanso, which has a reputation of wonderful service and food, combined with, needless to say, an excellent bathing experience in hot water.
On the way to the hot spring town, I was looking out of the car window with an idle heart. The impressions felt at the school under the pine tree was still very much alive within me. What are we going to do? In the flow of consciousness, in the aftermath of an intensive encounter, I was taking it somewhat easy, absorbing with interest the passing coastal scenery of the Sea of Japan.
At a turn, a roadside sign attracted my attention. "Misuzu Kaneko Memorial Museum", it said. Misuzu Kaneko is a household name in Japan, famous for her poems, which are poignant and vibrant, verging on being almost beyond belief, that such words could ever come out of a human mind.
"Everybody is different, everybody is good", she wrote in one of her well-known masterpieces. Thus to praise diversity is a politically correct cliche nowadays. Given the context and age in which these words were churned out, Misuzu's words are almost like miracles. Misuzu's poetry provides such a wonderful and gentle penetrator into the human soul, moving people, inducing them to be fundamentally better.
"I cannot spread my hands and fly. Birds are unable to run fast on the ground like me. When I shake my body, I don't make an enchanting sound. Bells do not know many songs as I do. Bells, birds, and me. Everybody is different, everybody is good."
Misuzu's works are in plain and simple Japanese, so that even a small child can understand and appreciate them. The philosophy expressed is deep. It resonates well with the traditional sensitivity of the Japanese for the changing and the perishing, including their own lives. The appreciation of the pathos of things ("mononoaware").
Reading her poems, one feels that Misuzu's heart is always with the suppressed and defeated. In one of her poems, Misuzu portrays the joys of fisherman at great harvest, contrasting it with the mourning processions of fish in the ocean weeping for the lost ones.
Misuzu was born in 1903, and her short life ended in 1930. She was only 26. Her marriage to an untruthful and profligate husband resulted in much misery and a prolonged battle over the custody of their only daughter. Finally, Misuzu could not take it any more. The poet took poison, escaping from the miseries of life.
Thus, from a practical point of view, Misuzu's life might have been a tragedy. However, the purifying effect of Misuzu's genius meant that the sufferings and torments had no trace in her works. Reading her lines, one would not suspect the ups and downs (mostly downs) of her personal life. Actually, it comes as a great shock for many of Misuzu's poem lovers, to get to know the actual history of her existence.
The very magic of Misuzu's poetry resides thus in the cleansing process. The secret of creativity is to hide its sources, said Albert Einstein. Misuzu's life and her works are great lessons for humanity, telling us that it is possible to remain mellow and pure after unspeakable afflictions. Turning sour as a reaction to hardships is not necessarily a natural course of things. People from children to mature adults simply adore Misuzu's lyrics. Perhaps we can all sense, without even knowing why, the existence of a deep, and embracing love in what Misuzu writes.
The roadside sign for "Misuzu Kaneko Memorial Museum" brought all these reflections within me. We were passing the seaside town of Senzaki, where the poet with a gentle heart was born and lived. It is probably fitting, I thought, that I remembered Misuzu Kaneko at this time of difficulty. Maybe we can learn a lot of things from the lovely poems of Misuzu. Perhaps we can all be like children again. Then we could derive strength from the audacity of youth.
The sun was inclined towards the west as our car arrived at Otani Sanso. There was one hour or so before supper. At such times, I always make a point of walking around, trying to get to know the area, acquainting myself with the ambience of the land. After casual conversations, I discovered that my editor and photographer preferred a dip in hot water to physical activities. I thus set out alone, exploring on my own the tranquil charms of the town of Nagatoyumoto.
There was a river just in front of the hotel, and a small path led gently to the riverbank. It was clearly a stroll designed to entertain the whimsical and easygoing hearts of people coming to relax in the hot spring. The route was flat and effortless, inducing one to go into deep thoughts.
It was only a few weeks after the earthquake and tsunami, and the connotations were inescapable. The town of Nagatoyumoto was far from the sea and there was no real danger of a tsunami. However, the river flow reminded me of the numerous towns in the ocean side exposed to and perished by the savage forces of the tidal waves. Suddenly I felt like crying.
How many people would you say there are, in this quiet and lovely town of Nagatoyumoto? One thousand? Maybe two thousand. It is such a small and beautiful town. The traces of history, the tiny workings of the everyday, are the building blocks for this community. The breathings and touches of people are recorded and expressed in every tiny nuance of the town. There is nothing more beautiful than the venerable, peaceful tranquility of a historical community.
And yet, in Tohoku, numerous communities were lost as the result of the earthquake. Houses where memories had been kept, tiny paths children hed been using to go to school over the years, pa and ma shops where laughter and opinions had been exchanged, were lost forever, in the brutal wave caused by the tremors of earth's crest.
There is no atonement for such a loss. It is, simply and precisely put, irreparable. I thought to myself, trying to come to terms with the unexpected surge of emotion.
Walking along the serene flow of the river, I cast my eyes on the loveliness of the town of Nagatoyumoto. After what we have experienced in the earthquake, appreciation has perhaps become deeper and more lasting. You learn to take pleasure in the smallest of things, like a pot of plant placed in a garden corner.
Everybody is different, everybody is good. I thought of Misuzu Kaneko again. Her creations have been inspiring and giving a lot of courage to people. Did she ever come to find solace in the hot water here, I wondered. Did she ever have a moment of tranquility, when comfort came her way, rather than she offering the world words of sunshine?
At that moment, I felt as if my personal happiness depended very much on the answer.
I sincerely hoped she did.
(This is a part of a series of essays written after the earthquake of 11th March, 2011, which brought devastations to eastern Japan. This essay is a sequel to "School under the pine tree".)