Photo/IllutrationComedian Taro Yabe, right, talks on stage in Jiyu Gakuen Myonichikan in Tokyo’s Toshima Ward on Aug. 12. (Mitsuyoshi Amata)

In the final months of World War II, hundreds of kamikaze suicide missions were launched from the Imperial Japanese Army's airbase in Chiran, Kagoshima Prefecture.

Today, the Chiran Peace Museum for Kamikaze Pilots marks the site.

When comedian Taro Yabe, 41, visited the museum, he went neither with his mother nor grandmother. He was accompanying his 80-year-old landlady, who had confided in him, "I want to visit Chiran one last time before I die."

In his published manga, titled "Oya-san to Boku" (My landlady and I), Yabe gives a dispassionate account of their relationship.

The landlady was 17 when the war ended. She would often recount her wartime memories to Yabe, such as the food shortage that affected her as an evacuated teenager away from home. And during the Allied occupation of Japan, the landlady recalled, Gen. Douglas MacArthur became her hero.

Yabe was an eager listener.

The landlady died recently, and Yabe's tribute is touching: "She used to say August was her favorite month, and her reason was that there were many war-related programs on TV. And she also told me she would never want to lose someone dear in war. August has become a special month for me, too."

Late in her life, the landlady kept decluttering her possessions, so as not to inconvenience anyone upon her demise. She wrote down the names of people to whom she wanted to bequeath her clothes and paintings, and selected a photo to be displayed at her funeral. And she told Yabe quite simply that she also had made her own funeral arrangements.

According to a health ministry survey, less than 40 percent of respondents have ever discussed with anyone the sort of end-of-life care they would like to receive.

It appears that many of us are still strongly conditioned to hesitate to speak openly about our own deaths.

But Yabe's manga convinces me that there are ways to prepare for one's death without making a big deal of it.

If we know the places we want to visit one last time, or how we want to dispose of our worldly possessions, and if we have someone we truly trust and with whom we can talk about such matters, I believe we should be able to bow out of life surprisingly smoothly.

--The Asahi Shimbun, Aug. 28

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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.