Shizue Ogawa is so nervous it takes her an hour to stop trembling and another 30 minutes to take off her glasses. Then she can't stop talking, smiling and laughing. As she explains: "I'm from the countryside. I'm not used to the big city and places like this," and she indicates the lobby of the Imperial Hotel in central Tokyo, where we are drinking tea.

Yet Shizue is no country bumpkin. She is a poet, and when she speaks, the words often flow in unusual sequence, conveying a depth of observation and emotion that is rare and awesome. Even more unusually, she writes in Japanese and English.

Nor is she a natural housewife. "I have no interest in shopping, any more housework than is really necessary, or cooking." She has so many allergies that food is something to be approached with reservation. "That's why I have to live in the countryside. A city like Tokyo would be death to me."