Honami Nagata. Photo Courtesy Kamiya Shoko

Recovering Voices From the Distant Past

That Spark of Soul Incarnate

Kaijin Akashi, Honami Nagata and Haruko Tsuda
Poets, Japan


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Books Written by People Who
Have Had Leprosy

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More than 1,000 books and 20,000 haikus and tankas have been written by individuals in Japan who were forcibly isolated from society until the abolition of the Leprosy Prevention Law in 1996.  The strict isolation policy, which denied people the right to have children, created a remarkable generation of poets, writers and artists, who used self-expression and creativity as a means of resistance against restrictive policies and attitudes that attempted to deny identity, individuality, dignity and feelings of self-worth.  Three of these poets were Kaijin Akashi (1901-1939), Honami Nagata (late 1800’s-early 1900’s) and Haruko Tsuda (1912-1963).

Kaijin Akashi

Leprosy fell upon me like a divine scourge.

As my afflictions mounted one after the other, I sobbed, I cried out, I moaned in agony, even as I groped through the dark days of my illness, searching for a ray of light to guide me.  But like those luminescent fish dwelling in the sunless depths of the sea, I would have no light until I illuminated myself from within . . . .

I was over 30 when I learned to write tanka and, as I reflected anew upon myself, other people, and the world, I felt in my heart the beauty and the grandeur of existence.  In poem after poem I released years of bitter hardship, sometimes weeping, sometimes dancing for joy as I celebrated that spark of soul incarnate in my body.  I gained such insight into the human condition that I became familiar with a love that exists apart from the bonds of flesh.  Only after I lost my sight did a vision of blue mountains and white clouds flare up within me.

Leprosy inspired a divine revelation.

Honami Nagata

“I entered the hospital in May, 1909, but my tears did not cease to flow.  Even among the flowers and under the moon, I grieved over my misfortune . . . . One night in Autumn I stood alone by the grave of a friend, watching the moon as the evening passed.  Time wore on, and it waxed more clear and mellow, while the sea grew dark.  It was calm, calm.  Not even a breeze whispered through the pines.  My heart and head were full of the mystery of human existence.  Especially in thinking of the friends gone before an inexpressible sadness came over me.”
Haruko Tsuda

“When I look back at my past, my soul is beckoned to the poems I wrote of my father. There are times when I think it would be more natural for me to write about my life as a leprosy sufferer, but my attitude of mind as a poet is inclined more to write about my existence as a ‘human being.’

“I want each line and each stanza that I create to be a reflection of the real me, my heart and soul . . .”

--Haruko Tsuda, poet, who contracted leprosy at the age of 18 and died in 1963 at the age of 55. These poems are reprinted in The Walls Crumble by Dr. Fujio Ohtani (1998).