Letters from doctor and poet Hiroshi Maruya arrived in mailboxes of his close acquaintances in the beginning of March, announcing his death at age 89 on Jan. 18.
Family members say that when they checked his computer around the end of last year, at which point he was in critical condition, they discovered a file titled "Funeral note" wherein he had written instructions to hold a small family memorial rather than a funeral service, and to announce his death one month after it had occurred, among other directives. He had also prepared the text for this purpose, and included a list of around 150 people to whom he asked that it be sent.
Writing poetry under the name Hiromi Misho, Maruya -- a physician -- simultaneously continued practicing on-the-ground clinical medicine. A true scientist until the very end of his life, he squarely faced up to his impending death.
He published an anthology of his previously unreleased poetry in December of last year titled "Tsubame no Uta" (Song of the swallow).
Recalling Maruya had contacted him for advice last year in autumn, saying that he "wished to leave behind a poetry book that would serve as a compilation" of his work, the Japan Poets Association's Chugoku/Shikoku branch director Takao Oka, 76, commented, "He likely sensed that his death was approaching."
Maruya's 89 years of life are etched deeply into his works of poetry: his hometown of Iwakuni, Yamaguchi Prefecture; his experience of the atomic bombing; issues such as Korean A-bomb survivors and damage from depleted uranium; and his connection with Michiko Kanba, who died during the 1960 student protests. His poems reflected the concerns to which he had dedicated his heart and soul.
"It was as if he used his entire body to write poetry," mused Oka, whom Maruya had promised when they spoke last autumn that he would endow his collection of books and diaries to a women's university near his home.
While Maruya retained an objective outlook with respect to his health, he also continued to live his life to the fullest until the very end.
"I drink beverages with the highest amount of Vitamin C possible," he once said. "When I stand up, I feel abdominal pressure and can then have a bowel movement -- after which time I am then able to eat."
Although Maruya experienced numbness in his legs and depended upon an oxygen inhaler, his appreciation for life was vigorous.
Having lived previously together with his wife, he moved into a care home last year in summer, and subsequently into the hospital. Meanwhile his wife -- the great love of his life -- moved in with their eldest son in the city of Kurashiki in Okayama Prefecture.
"I wanted to remain in Hiroshima until the end," Maruya had said, explaining his decision to stay behind.
In a sense, then, he had two hometowns: that where he was first given life -- and that which he himself had chosen.
Among the small amount of luggage that Maruya brought with him to the care home was a photograph of him taken together with people including Sankichi Toge -- another poet who wrote actively during the postwar period.
For Maruya, two days after the atomic bombing -- when he had spent time walking around the scorched earth -- represented the beginning of his second life. (By Sakiko Takahashi, Hiroshima Bureau)