Sunday, January 29, 2006


Farmer, Yokaichiba City, Japan, April 1998, by Michael

A life spent stooped
over a vegetable field
pulling weeds
forever bound to the land
years since her husband died
backbone twisted into a question mark
cranes her neck just to look straight ahead
54 but looks decades older
farming can't pay the bills
shack falling apart around her
TV set, kotatsu, kerosene heater, toaster oven, ancient clock
her only luxuries
finds comfort in tea and cigarettes
and the cats that prowl outside

(*A kotatsu is a small table that stands about a foot off the ground. Underneath the table are heat coils. In wintertime, you stick your legs under the kotatsu, and a blanket keeps the heat in.)


g said...

I had to zoom in to see the face, but I realize you wanted to show as much of the setting as you could.

This combination of words and image is very powerful.

Almost unsettling. After the Koyoshi post, when I realized you could take one image and join it to another description, I have been playing with the notion of alternate realities.

i.e. Here is the image - what possible descriptions might apply.

I want the story of the farmer to include some peace. Some satisfaction. Some contentment. But I am stymied.

Michael said...

Hi g,

I met this woman on one of my many drives through the very rural part of Japan where I once lived. She was a very nice woman. People in the West are surprised to learn that poverty exists in Japan. It's not something you see in the U.S. media (which does a very poor job of covering Asia, and the rest of the world in general). Japanese travel brochures certainly don't present this side of their culture. I extrapolated her life circumstances through looking at her surroundings, and may have taken quite a bit of poetic license in doing so. But, poor she indeed was. Still, she was a lot happier, and a lot nicer, than many people I know who live in comparative luxury (not that I'm trying to "glamorize" her meager existence; she was in her 50s at the time and had the wizened, worn features of a woman in her 70s. I can't gloss that over, nor would I even try).

Green said...

In fact I've never imagined this kind of poverty still exist in Japan. Thank you for reopening my eyes.
She has so many calenders!

Michael said...

Hi Greensleeves,

I didn't see much poverty during my years in Japan, but it was certainly to be found in the rural area in which I lived. I don't know the circumstances behind each example that I saw, so it's difficult if not impossible for me to voice an opinion.
I know, too, that the Burakumin also have a difficult time in reaping the rewards of Japan's economy. I remember the junior high school in which I taught devoting at least one day per year in promoting awareness of the plight of the Burakumin, but I found that this was a topic that was very difficult to talk about in Japan.

Justin said...

These are great little portraits - in words and pictures. What a cool blog!

Michael said...

Thanks, Justin! I truly appreciate your feedback, and I'm glad you take the time to visit me here.

LBseahag said...

What a double and words...
seldom can true artists do this. its priceless ;)

Michael said...

Sweet LB,

Thank you, thank you, thank you!!