Photo/IllutrationTazuko Akiyama holds “The diary of Anne Frank,” the very first book she bought herself, in front of the Donguri Bunko library in Okawa, Kochi Prefecture. (Mayumi Ueda)

OKAWA, Kochi Prefecture--The tiny mountain village of Okawa has no public library nor a bookshop. But a bookworm who was born here 83 years ago has ensured that the villagers will always have reading materials.

Tazuko Akiyama has donated more than 1,400 books that are now located at the privately funded Donguri Bunko (acorn library). She wants young people to enjoy books just as she did as a child.

The former mining town near the border with Ehime Prefecture on Shikoku island was home to 404 people at the end of July, the smallest population among municipalities in Japan, excluding communities on remote islands.

Donguri Bunko is located in the lobby of Shirataki no Sato, a complex that includes a community center, gym, camping ground and lodging at the old site of the Shirataki mine.

The shelves at the library carry such titles as “All the works of Natsume Soseki,” “Tono Monogatari” by Kunio Yanagita, and “The complete works of Takehiko Fukunaga.”

Many of the books there are Japanese literature or illustrated reference books about plants.

People staying at the lodging and young villagers often drop by to look for something interesting to read. All they have to do is write down their names and the date in a log book.

Akiyama still buys new books to add to the collection. She sometimes pops in to rearrange the books and give prominence to certain titles that may reflect the season or current events.

When Akiyama was in the fifth grade or so, she learned that an elderly man who lived next door had some children’s books. She borrowed them and fell in love with reading.

His collection included translated editions of classics, including fairy tales by Hans Christian Andersen, stories from the Brothers Grimm, and “One Thousand and One Nights.”

After World War II ended, Akiyama married a man who worked at the Shirataki mine.

The mine was closed in 1972, and the couple moved to the city of Kochi, where she landed her dream job as a bookshop employee.

She worked there for about 20 years, and her tasks included preparing books for sales to public libraries. She also kept buying books to build up her personal collection.

In 1997, the couple returned to Okawa and lived in municipality-run housing.

Akiyama knew that books were hard to come by in the remote village, so she donated her collection to the Okawa government. But she kept some titles that fit in one bookcase at their home.

Her husband was later diagnosed with terminal pancreatic cancer. They decided to stay at a hospice together, and she donated her remaining books to the village.

Her husband died soon thereafter.

Three years ago, the village government realized the value of the donated collection and decided to place them all in one place. The citizen-run library was then set up in the lobby of the Shirataki no Sato.

Craftsmen in the village built the bookshelves from cedar collected through forest thinning.

The sign on the library was created by a 26-year-old man who recently settled in Okawa. Akiyama’s grandchild designed the ex-libris mark placed on the back cover of the books.

There are no shops in Okawa within walking distance for Akiyama. She now lives alone and fears she may one day have to leave the village.

But for now, the library gives her a good reason to stay.

Eleven elementary and junior high school students who study away from their parents stay at a boarding house next to Shirataki no Sato, and they always take advantage of the library.

When Akiyama visits the library, some of the students ask for her recommendations or make requests for books they want to read.

Watching the children become absorbed in reading brings back memories of Akiyama’s childhood.

“If there were no books, my life would have been completely different,” she said. “I want to grow some bookworms here.”