Saburo Toyoda was born in Japan in 1908. He has been a painter since childhood. Graduating from high school, he went from his small village to the big city to follow an art career, but no one liked his paintings, so he became a junior high school teacher, and continued his painting on the side, marrying and raising four children along the way. At age 68 his wife became ill, and he spent the next four and a half years caring for her. And then be became a full-time painter of pictures. A portrait of his wife hangs on a wall of his home. At nearly 101, he lives alone, paints and teaches painting to his neighbors in his small rural town. All of his landscape paintings, of the mountains and trees among which he lives, are done outside. Several times a week he slings a big canvas over his shoulder and, with his cane, paints and brushes, heads out into the countryside. It is hard for an old man nearly 101, but it is his life calling, and he keeps at it.
The evening before last, Japan’s public television network, NHK, ran a special on him on one of their education channels. Saburo Toyoda is my kind of hero because of his love for the land and its trees, his connection to its spirit and his ancestors, and his lifelong pursuit of his calling as a painter. Once a month, he puts on his best suit and heads off to teach his class. Every day he follows his routine: exercise to stay limber and maintain his strength, prepare his meals, eat, tidy up his house, then head off into the countryside to commune with the trees and work on a painting.
Our communities, neighborhoods and countryside are full of people like Saburo Toyoda. If we would but let them, they would enrich our lives and our land. It’s way past time that we begin seeing them as our heroes, the “unordinary, unsung ones” who, through their persistence, insight, depth and wisdom, have much to teach us in their quiet way.
I wish I had a photo to show you what Saburo Toyoda looks like, but I don’t. So instead I present to you this verbal portrait of a seer and wise elder, my kind of hero and, if you will, “superhero”.
All for this post,