The house where I was born and raised did not have a bath, so we went to our next-door neighbor’s house at bath time.

Tending the neighbor’s wood-fired tub was an elderly woman wearing an apron. Sparks flew when she added wood to the fire.

I can still remember her sitting in front of the boiler, her hands tiny and wrinkled.

These old memories came back to me as I visited the home where the poet Kiyoko Nagase (1906-1995) was born.

A farmhouse in the city of Akaiwa in Okayama Prefecture that is now open to the public, it was once close to falling apart when some people decided to repair and restore it.

The house’s “Goemonburo”-style bath has been revived, too, and visitors can try it out.

Born during the Meiji Era (1868-1912), Nagase lived in big cities such as Osaka and Tokyo for years. Immediately after the end of World War II,when she returned to her place of birth at the age of 39.

“I was left with 2-tan (approximately 2,000 square meters) of rice paddies and a fountain pen that’s 5-sun (about 15 centimeters) long,” starts one of her poems.

It goes on, “With the money I earned writing poems/ I bought a threshing machine and a cart/ Now, I can no longer survive without either.”

Nagase was a poet who lived in the countryside as a farmer and a mother. She planted rice seedlings, the bath and did other household chores.

I understand that it was only after completing all those tasks around midnight that she would clear the “chabudai” (folding dining table) of cups and other tableware and start composing poems as if there was no tomorrow.

“This house catches really nice breezes,” said Toshiko Yokota, 58, a member of the preservation society that manages the house.

Yokota noted that she came to appreciate Nagase’s poems more deeply after she saw the color of the pre-dawn mountain, smelled the fragrance of winds and heard the rustle of leaves, all of which had left deep impressions on Nagase.

I tried out the Goemonburo bath. The glowing ember beneath the tub warmed me gradually and most pleasantly. A plume of white smoke swam in the blue sky.

Another poem goes, “Winds from the past blew all day long, disturbing me/ Where have I been roaming until now?/ Probably, I have been drifting to the edge of the world.”

I suddenly missed my hometown terribly.

—The Asahi Shimbun, June 13

* * *

Vox Populi, Vox Dei is a popular daily column that takes up a wide range of topics, including culture, arts and social trends and developments. Written by veteran Asahi Shimbun writers, the column provides useful perspectives on and insights into contemporary Japan and its culture.

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VOX POPULI: Visiting a poet’s birthplace filled me with pangs of nostalgia

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13.06.2024

The house where I was born and raised did not have a bath, so we went to our next-door neighbor’s house at bath time.

Tending the neighbor’s wood-fired tub was an elderly woman wearing an apron. Sparks flew when she added wood to the fire.

I can still remember her sitting in front of the boiler, her hands tiny and wrinkled.

These old memories came back to me as I visited the home where the poet Kiyoko Nagase (1906-1995) was born.

A farmhouse in the city of Akaiwa in Okayama Prefecture that is now open to the public, it was once close to falling apart when some people decided to repair and restore it.

The house’s “Goemonburo”-style bath........

© The Asahi Shimbun


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