Photo/Illutration A woman wears a protective mask to help curb the spread of the novel coronavirus on Dec. 8 in Tokyo. (AP Photo)

A collection of tanka poems by Machi Tawara, published this past autumn, contains this piece that may translate as follows: "No more appointments and work-related obligations to keep/ Peaceful March, April and next month."  

As I kept reading her 31-syllable verse, memories came rushing back of the days that were dominated by the novel coronavirus.

Here's another piece: "A crowd waits for the supermarket to open/ Not wanting to be a cheat/ I join the line." 

As I recall, every shopping trip in early spring felt like an expedition. Face masks were sold out and toilet paper disappeared from stores. During that period of massive shared insecurity, I learned how consumers were driven to irrational behavior.

Tawara herself said she practically remained holed up in her home in Miyazaki.

"Not being able to go shopping whenever I wanted or to go out with friends for casual get-togethers, I realized how truly precious that sort of daily routine really was."

Her work situation also changed drastically, with no more meetings and lecture engagements.

"Not quite an outing as such/ But I apply makeup and take off my glasses/ In front of my personal computer." 

Unable to visit her parents living far away, she wrote: "In these days of not seeing my parents, being my best gesture of daughterly love/ I send them newspaper clippings of Sota Fujii."

Her father is a "shogi" (Japanese chess) fan and Fujii is a young pro shogi player. 

The novel coronavirus is the subject of 59 of her poems in this collection. Those pieces read like diary entries or personal letters and remind me anew of the abnormality of 2020 that plagued the public with shared anxiety.  

Indeed, there have been too many situations where I could not avoid writing about the pandemic in this column, albeit reluctantly. 

Japan on Dec. 10 reported a record-breaking number of new confirmed infections.

Normally, December brings a unique atmosphere as the last month of the year. But that is not the case at all this year.

With the entire world feeling lost now, I wonder how Tawara would capture the sentiment in 31 syllables.

--The Asahi Shimbun, Dec. 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.