"Grandma next door" poet a Japan bestseller at 99

Tue Jan 25, 2011 9:00am EST
Email This Article |
Share This Article
  • Facebook
  • LinkedIn
  • Twitter
| Print This Article | Single Page
[-] Text [+]

By Hyun Oh

TOKYO (Reuters Life!) - A 99-year-old woman writing about love, dreams and hanging on to hope has touched the hearts of Japanese worn out by years of a lagging economy, propelling her self-published poetry book onto bestseller lists.

Toyo Shibata's success with her first anthology, titled "Don't be Too Frustrated," is all the more surprising because she only picked up her pen at the age of 92.

"I'm alive to this age thanks to support from my families, friends, care-givers and doctors and am transforming my gratitude into poetry to tell them, 'Thank you. I'm really happy,'" said Shibata, who turns 100 in June, in written answers to questions.

Her collection of 42 poems, which include messages such as "Everyone is equally free to dream" and "Don't try too hard," has been the most popular book on the closely-watched Oricon charts for the last two weeks and was one of the top 10 sellers for 2010, according to Touhan, one of Japan's biggest publishers.

"Although 98, I still fall in love. I do have dreams; one like riding on a cloud," Shibata confesses in one poem with the title of "Secret."

Last week, helped by a late boost of publicity from a television documentary in December, the book hit 1.5 million copies in print, said publisher Asukashinsha. Printing 10,000 copies is often seen as a success for poetry books in Japan.

Shibata began her literary journey at 92 when she could no longer continue with her decades-long hobby of classical Japanese dance due to back pain. Her son Kenichi, currently in his mid-60s, recommended she try poetry writing.

"When my first poem was published in a newspaper, I was very, very happy. I sent them another one and that also got published. So I kept on writing," she said.   Continued...

<p>A handout photo released by Japanese publisher Asukashinsha shows Japanese poet Toyo Shibata smiling in Utsunomiya, north of Tokyo January 30, 2010. REUTERS/Asukashinsha/Handout</p>