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EDITORIAL: Life a half century ago

A mentally rich life is a thing of the past.

Elderly women are in high spirits these days, bucking conventional wisdom that women are adored only when they are young.

The paperback book ``Saga-no Gabai Bachan'' (Amazing grandma in Saga), published by Tokuma Shoten, has become a best-seller with 110,000 copies sold. It was written by stand-up comedian Yoshichi Shimada, who describes his life as a second-grader with his grandmother in Saga, his mother's hometown, 47 years ago.

Although they were poor, the grandmother told young Shimada, ``Have confidence in yourself, for we have been poor for generations.'' She told him to make use of even a deformed cucumber, saying, ``A deformed cucumber is no different from an ordinary cucumber if you slice them and rub it with salt.''

When her grandson hesitatingly showed her his school report card with scores of only 1 and 2, she proclaimed solemnly: ``Those points will make 5 if all scores are added up together. People compete with their comprehensive ability in their life.''

She was a gabai, or ``amazing'' in the dialect of Saga, woman.

Because they lived by themselves, in place of his grandmother, who went out to work at 4 a.m., young Yoshichi boiled rice and offered food to the family Buddhist altar. The author conveys something heartwarming by portraying the lives of himself and his neighbors and their relationship in those days in a tragicomedy fashion.

A museum featuring daily life in the Showa Era (1926-1989) in Tokyo's Ota Ward exhibits people's lifestyle before rapid economic growth started in Japan. The museum is a two-story house built in 1951 on leased land with a floor space of 60 square meters.

Kazuko Koizumi, a professor at Kyoto Women's University who was raised in this house, opened it to the public in her belief that it had historic value. As she had foreseen, it was registered as a cultural heritage by the central government in 2002.

Recently, an increasing number of such houses are being preserved and opened to the public. The conspicuous point about this house is that the furniture and other household items, as well as the house itself, are being preserved. They are sometimes actually used to train young housekeepers.

A middle-aged woman said she was surprised by the simplicity of life in this house whose kitchen had a space of only one and half tatami. ``So the family lived a satisfied life in his house,'' she said.

As the house was built with natural materials, young people can see what it was like to live in an environment-friendly life. And even small children express their precocious impressions: ``It's strangely comfortable to stay here.''

The front entrance has a sliding door, which rings a bell whenever it is opened or shut. An old radio set is placed on a chest of drawers besides a low dining table.

The ``three sacred treasures'' of a washing machine, a refrigerator and a TV set were still a dream for the family at that time. The number of visitors to this house has increased year after year, reaching 5,000 a year recently.

People tend to glorify the past. But many now seriously want to change a present-day society that is marked by a sumptuous and ``throwaway'' lifestyle and afflicted by corrupted hearts and minds.

We have endeavored to be affluent, but have we not gone astray somewhere along the way? We do not need to borrow Western ideas of ecology or simple life. Didn't the older generations have precisely such a lifestyle?

Fortunately, we live in a society in which we can choose what was best in past lifestyles. The pleasure of putting the washing out in the open air cannot be felt by using a dryer indoors. A poor but mentally rich life in the days gone by was brimming with treasures.

--The Asahi Shimbun, Jan. 3(IHT/Asahi: January 4,2005)


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