Photo/IllutrationNovelist Seiko Tanabe at a museum dedicated to her works in Higashi-Osaka in Osaka Prefecture in 2007. Tanabe died at a Kobe hospital on June 6 at age 91. (Asahi Shimbun file photo)

Author Seiko Tanabe, who died on June 6 at age 91, was 37 when she married a general practitioner in his 40s with four children.

Her friends were highly skeptical of this union and made bets on how long it would last. Topping the odds was for its one-year survival, followed by six months, while someone chanced a long shot at "three years max."

They were all off.

Tanabe remained happily married to her husband, Sumio Kawano, until his death in 2002.

Their mutual terms of affection were "occhan" and "anta"--the former a friendly and casual appellation for a middle-aged man, and the latter for "you." Devoted to each other through thick and thin, the couple drank together a lot and talked a lot.

Kawano appeared in a number of Tanabe's essays as a character named Kamoka no Occhan. I understand that in Kansai dialect, which the couple spoke in their private lives, a "kamoka" denotes some scary being, like a goblin or monster.

Tanabe has left us with numerous wise sayings about romance and marriage. For instance: “The secret to a happy marriage is to pretend you didn't see what you don't want to see in your partner." Another: "Marriage is diplomacy. It's all about bargaining and conniving."

These pithy comments resonate deep in one's heart.

Her collection of essays, titled "Jinsei wa Damashi-damashi" (Life is about making do with what you've got) and published the year after Kawano's death, contains this observation: "To reach a state of total marital harmony, the one and only word that ultimately does the trick is 'soyana' (something like 'yeah, I get it'). It makes life go all right, never mind which partner says it."

This is the sort of practical wisdom learned through marriage--that there are many instances where you want to mouth off or complain to your spouse, but you just keep your thoughts to yourself.

Tanabe is also credited with reviving, in this contemporary era, masterpieces of classical Japanese literature such as "Genji Monogatari" ("The Tale of Genji") and "Ise Monogatari" ("The Tales of Ise").

Typically, she focused on the stories' romantic elements, including lovers' anguish. It is an amazing feat that Tanabe's renditions turn the aristocratic heroes and heroines, who inhabited the ancient imperial court, into readily relatable colleagues or classmates in our daily lives.

"I wanted to write love stories that are fun to read," Tanabe said in an interview with The Asahi Shimbun. "Many love stories are sad and poignant. What a shame. Romance is the thing that's fun and fascinating to read."

Throughout her career, Tanabe taught readers the timeless subtleties that are peculiar to marital life.

--The Asahi Shimbun, June 11

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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.