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  • SketchesA Man and His Home
  • Takahashi Mutsuo (bio)
    Translated by Jeffrey Angles (bio)

家と私 My Home and I

I must have been in my late teenage years when I first watched the Italian director Vittorio De Sica's moving film Il tetto (The Roof). The story takes place soon after World War Two in Rome. A poor, young couple gets married, but because they both live in small places with many other family members, they find themselves without any space of their own. They come up with a plan. They decide to construct an illegal residence in the vacant land next to the railway tracks—land that probably belongs to the government. Their friends and brothers hear about the plan and decide to pitch in. In the course of a single night, they build walls, hang a door, and construct a roof. The finished house (perhaps the word shack might be more fitting) is just large enough to house the couple and the baby they're expecting. As I watched the film, I shared the joy of the ecstatic young couple looking at their new home.

When I was in elementary school, every time I picked up a pencil and paper, I'd make drawings of houses and gardens. I drew them, then erased them, then drew them again. The houses in my sketches were small, but the gardens were many times bigger. Now that I remember, it seems clear I was busily constructing homes and gardens in my youthful imagination. After World War Two, my mother and I lived in a series of cheap apartments. It was just the two of us, and we were poor. I was not necessarily dissatisfied with our lot in life, but those sketches allowed me to give shape to a desire—one I was not fully conscious of yet—to have my own house one day.

It's human nature to want a comfortable, relaxing space. That feeling is universal. In ancient Greece, the Roman world, and medieval Europe, poets described such spaces as locus amoenus, which literally means "a pleasant space" but was interpreted to mean a "restful, elegant space that encourages learning and the arts." Such places were probably not all that different from the shack in Il tetto or the houses in my clumsy, schoolboy sketches. That realization came to me fairly late in life. I'd been conditioned to believe I'd rent an apartment my whole life, but in my late forties, something came up, and I [End Page 113] found myself needing to leave the apartment where I'd been living for the last decade. I didn't have much of a choice, so I took out a mortgage, purchased the rights to rent a small plot of land, and bought the old building on top of it.

Although I only bought the rights to rent the land, it was significant to me that I was able to purchase the home on top of it. Thirty years have passed since then, and in the course of that time, I've found the ideal partner to develop it with me. My own tetto, my own locus amoenus, has grown to fit me. In fact, it has continued to grow over the years and now stands taller than I do. I haven't grown, but there have been corresponding changes in me as well. I can say this much with certainty—if this house wasn't growing, then the stacks of work I've completed since moving here wouldn't have grown either.

Even now, the house is still growing. And I'm still changing with it. I hope these poems will capture the changing expressions of the house and garden over the course of the year. I also hope they will reveal a little about me as I hide in the background, quietly concealing myself like a figure hidden inside an optical illusion. [End Page 115]

門 Mon (Gate)

The gate into the house involves passing beneath a box-leaved holly bush, which is only slightly taller than the head of a human being and remains green throughout the year. The door is a lattice of cast iron and...