A couple of occasions have seen in Scriblets thoughts on a contemporary Japanese poet-painter I have long admired, Tomihiro Hoshino. Born in 1946, he was only two months out of university when a catastrophic accident left him paralyzed from the neck down. Despite overwhelming odds the young man fought and struggled to raise himself from the depths of physical and mental despair, to find the joy in life that overcomes even the darkest conditions.
Hoshino was a newly hired twenty-four year-old gymnastics teacher when he severely injured his neck while demonstrating a double somersault to his junior high school students. In one afternoon he went from an active life of gymnastics and mountain climbing, to lying motionless in an orthopedic hospital, where he remained for the next nine years completely paralyzed from the neck down. Complications brought him close to death several times and there were also days when he wanted to die, but gradually his physical condition stabilized and with that his desire to live returned.
Two years after his accident a fellow patient was being transferred to a different hospital and asked those in the ward to sign his canvas beach hat as a memento. Paralyzed, Tomihiro was at a loss how to sign the hat, until he managed with the help of his mother to hold a pen in his mouth and painstakingly write “Tomo.” Those four written letters were the beginning of a new life.
Now long married and living with his wife in Japan’s Gunma Prefecture, Hoshino is still paralyzed yet continues to produce paintings by holding a brush in his mouth. He has produced hundreds of works, many of them published in illustrated books of poems and essays. Among a dozen or more of his books are: Love From the Depths (1981), Journey of the Wind (1984), Here so Close But I Didn’t Know (1988) and Road of the Tinkling Bell (1990).
Hoshino’s writing has a simplicity that is familiar in much of Japanese poetry, old and new. With only a few lines he brings the reader into an almost tactile closeness with his subject, at the same time illuminating some small wonder or quality connecting him (and the reader as well) to that subject. Here are two poems from his first book, Love From the Depths.
WRITING ABOUT CHERRY BLOSSOMS IN 1977…
My friend pushed my wheelchair outside
under a cherry tree
And bent down a branch in full bloom
burying my face in blossoms
Filled with irresistible joy
Munching on the flowers
blooming closest to my mouth.
ABOUT A BLOOM OF PEACH BLOSSOMS IN 1979 HE WROTE…
I lay face up
One person after another
Then, from the corner of my right eye
I saw some peach blossoms