Whenever a book speaks to me in a special way, I long for the opportunity to interview the author some day.

That wish may come true at times, but I often regret coming unexpectedly across news of the author's death.

That was the case with Hatsume Sato of Hirosaki, Aomori Prefecture, who died four years ago at age 94.

Her profound observations are unforgettable. Here is one example: “When you are stuck in a hopeless personal relationship, you stop struggling and simply rest your heart, just like you would rest a pot of stew to let it mellow.”

Active in her Catholic church’s outreach programs, Sato counseled people in emotional distress.

After she began to receive a growing number of late-night emergency phone calls, as well as sudden visitors to her home, she accommodated their needs by expanding her residence and eventually building a mountain cottage, which she named “Mori no Isukia” (Ischia in the forest) after the island of Ischia off Naples in Italy.

Those who sought Sato’s help were burdened by a range of issues, such as familial or marital discord, health concerns and loneliness.

“She took in even men, total strangers, who knocked on her door late at night. That’s not something everyone would do,” said Junko Sakanakura, 71, who collaborated with Sato as a fellow alumna of Aomori Akenohoshi Senior High School.

Sato had a unique sense of interpersonal relations. Sticking strictly to listening and never preaching, her primary focus was on eating.

She once explained her pet theory to this effect: “Eating with someone means sharing your existence with that person. This enables you to communicate on a deeper level than trying to express yourself in words.”

Sato grew, harvested and cooked vegetables with her guests and shared them on the table. They enjoyed the whole process together at leisure.

There were ups and downs in her life. She suffered from tuberculosis in her youth, became a widow in her 50s, and lost her son in her 80s. Such personal experiences must have shaped her persona that spoke directly to people who bore painful emotional burdens.

Here are yet more words of wisdom: “All I do is just watch over people until they come to their own awakening. Those who found their answer to their true satisfaction will undergo a transformation that takes everyone by surprise.”

Feb. 1 is the fourth anniversary of Sato’s death.

--The Asahi Shimbun, Feb. 1

* * *

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.