Wednesday, April 24, 2002

Grandmother's Writing Tablets

I've come to the Seicho-No-Ie Main Temple in Nagasaki to attend the 14th Year Memorial Service for my grandmother. The four of us--my parents, wife and I--stayed at the Seicho-No-Ie official residence where she spent her later years. The room next to the Japanese style room on the first floor is the one my grandmother used to write her manuscripts or letters. There is still a small writing table there--about 1.2 meters wide and 60 centimeters deep--and, although its owner has long gone, it looks as though it is resting rather quietly and peacefully. There's a built-in household Shinto shrine in the same room. Whenever we stay here, we make it a practice to recite the Amatsu Norito, a Shinto prayer, and read the Holy Sutra before breakfast. After doing so today, I happened to walk over and sit at the writing table and opened the drawer on the right side. Because it's been over ten years since my grandmother died, I thought that it would be empty, but, not so--all the things that she'd used when she was alive had been left as is.

In the top drawer, there were several tablets mixed in with her writing materials. They were the tear-off kind of pads, a little smaller than the ones you can get at a bank as a gift, and it had the name of the local bank on it. I opened one and saw that it was full of some sort of writings, written in blue-black ink in very small letters. It was my grandmother's writing, and it brought back such memories. There were no blank pages at all--each page was completely filled. Counting, I found that there were 20 pages in total. The other tablets were also filled with my grandmother's writing. Each letter was about 2-5 millimeters in size, so, since my eyesight is slowly deteriorating, it was difficult for me to read the sentences. My wife and mother, too, looking at the writing said, "Oh, my, how small!" and tried to decipher what was written.

At first, I thought they were drafts of the articles that my grandmother used to write for monthly magazines. The reason for this was that the part that I read dealt with conversations she'd had during a trip abroad. Grandmother would, of course, take her writing paper whenever she traveled, but the first time she went abroad was in 1963 when she was gone for seven months, so there was a possibility that she had run out of her writing paper. It made sense that she'd use the memo pads in the hotels, but judging from the fact that the one I was looking at was from a local bank, the basis for this theory was shaky. Furthermore, there was a 2-year calendar printed on the back cover, and it was for 1978 and 1979. Grandmother had not gone abroad during that time.

My wife guessed that the writings were notes for the lectures grandmother had given in Nagasaki. The proof seemed to be in on the front cover where she had written "(1)Completed" or "Finished" in pen. My wife thought that it meant, "These contents have already been used in a lecture." Yes, that made sense. However, when I prepare for a lecture, I may, at times, jot things down on a small piece of paper, but those are only "bullet points" or an "outline" of what I'm going to be talking about. Grandmother's tablets, though, were just like manuscript copy for a magazine, with full, complete sentences. The content was about her first lecture trip abroad in 1963. Why would she write about it 15 years later, in a small memo tablet from a local bank? The answer to that could only be that it was something she'd written for a lecture. 1978 was the year in which Ryugu Sumiyoshi Hongu was dedicated at the Seicho-No-Ie Main Temple.

I'd listened to my grandmother speak on a number of occasions , and at the time she impressed me as "being able to speak freely and flowingly." This impression was probably due in part to the fact that she used to tell "folk stories" to all the grandchildren. Anyway, I'd always thought of grandmother as having no problem talking to others, so this "preparing for a lecture by writing copious detailed notes in a note pad" was refreshingly surprising to me. And, on top of that, my mother told us that, before a lecture, grandmother preferred to stay quietly in a room alone, and disliked having people around her. I found this aspect of grandmother quite surprising.

At the same time, though, I also felt a special closeness to her. That part of her was similar to my own situation as well. My own feelings and nervousness before a lecture, and grandmother's writing detailed notes before hers, overlapped into one. I, myself, don't take notes, but rehearse my lecture using my computer. The tools may differ, but the feelings going through us both are not so very different. With this new affinity in my heart, I was happy we were able to visit grandmother's grave.

Today, I tried to draw the dendrobium that was in the room in which we stayed.

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