Hisajo in the light of English Haikai Movement
Chapter 2: Glass Ceilings of Hisajo Renaissance
It has been 62 years since Hisajo died alone on a hospital bed.
It has been nearly 50 years since Takahama Kyoshi died at the
age of 85. Masako Ishi, the elder daughter of Hisajo passed away
on January 29, 2007. She was 95 years old. The time has arrived to discuss Hisajo issues strictly in terms of literature apart from the
entangled chemistry of human relationships that have blurred and
bent the truth.
I was happily surprised that the book written in
1975 by Masuda Ren, the former student of Hisajo’s husband,
published by a company his friend founded for the purpose of
sending his book to the world, is now priced more than double
the original price in the marketplace. Another happy surprise is
that Sugita Hisajo, the academic book written by
Sakamoto Miyao in 2003 was republished this year as one included
in a series of Kadokawa Selected Series. And this fall, Tanabe
Seiko, the novelist who, in 1986, wrote the long story on Hisajo
with the subtitle: Hisajo, my love, received the
Cultural Medal from the Emperor for her numerous writings
including Hisajo story.
Now let me pick up the comparison task of two Hisajo citings
that I translated last time in the order of itemized topics.
1. Who was Hisajo?
In the older dictionary she was described as a “passionate and
outgoing” haijin woman who did not go along well with her
“sincere and disciplined educator husband”.
In the newer dictionary, Unai, her husband, was described as
“the eldest son of the old family” who was so conservative and
disciplined that he stayed in the same job all his working life.
Unai appeared three times in the citing; the second citation
relates to a reason for Hisajo’s abrupt decision to terminate
her own haiku magazine: “The social restriction imposed on the
wife of a high school teacher was not negligible in those days”.
The third citation: “her haiku having been the jewel sublimated
into art through her immense talent and through her conflicts
with her husband and with people surrounding her.”
Even though the newer dictionary has carefully chosen words
compared to the crude and insensitive character description in
the older dictionary, all these descriptions bring forth an
impression of a rather unhappy marriage, a problematic wife, not
fulfilling housewifely duties, or a brilliant poetess not having
been able to grow to her god-given capacities, a husband having
been a victim in the older dictionary, a square oppressor from
the semi-feministic view of the newer dictionary.
We have to go back to their encounter. Unai was a diligent
student of Western Arts in a top Art College in Tokyo.
His graduate drawing won the first prize and he was admitted to
the graduate school attached to the college. He could have
observed a good many examples of graduates having a hard time
supporting their families. The Japanese society then was not modern enough to support socio-economic existence of
Western-style painters. Unai was too proud to pursue art under
the umbrella of some rich art lover. He might have his own
reasons that restricted him to ask for financial support from
his estate owner father. He had to take the teaching job if he
wanted to get married with Hisajo. His grand-father having been
a prominent public figure in the region, Unai might well have
liked the idea of going into the respectable teaching profession
All Hisajo stories describe the details of the couple’s
fightings and conflicts that included Hisajo’s wish to divorce
him but I would like to place the plight of this couple in a
broader context. At first Hisajo wanted her husband to become an
artist. That wish not within her control, she desired feverishly
to express herself through the art of haiku. It is true that she
had immense talent, but that explains only a part of her
success. She was extremely studious all through her life. She
was one of the very few haijin who read pre-Meiji books and
learned the long tradition of haikai no renga. Kyoshi was very
impressed with her academic help when he compiled his first kigo
collection. She was also well-versed in Japanese classical
literature including the Tales of Genji, especially superb in
acquiring the language of Manyo shu, the oldest anthology of
tanka compiled in the 8th century. She also
read Western literature that was newly translated into Japanese
in her time.
Not only studious. She was most determined to learn from nature
itself too. I have been amazed to know that she took one day
trips to Mt. Ehiko many times before she wrote that
award-winning haiku on mountain cuckoos. In her kimono and zori-slippers
she took a train and dared to climb the countless steps to get
to the summit of the religious mountain which shugendo
used to climb to train themselves.
Having understood the synthesis amongst haiku, haiga, haibun and
calligraphy, she pursued all these disciplines and what
achievement does she show us today. All her remaining tanzaku are
most beautiful and she well deserves being called a professional
calligrapher on today’s high standard.
Yet she was hardly arrogant. According to Masuda’s book, her
nick name was Humble Hisa! As a coordinator of her first small
haiku group of housewives in
island, she herself did all the secretarial jobs for them.
Why then did she have to be described as an “outgoing haijin
woman”? Why did she have to be described as someone who
Tanabe Seiko spent so many pages in conveying her interpretation
on Hisajo’s communication skill. Tanabe states Hisajo might not
have tuned to meet the expectations of regular Kansai (1) people
like herself in how to respond in conversations. Sakamoto Miyao
is more to the point. She notes that Hisajo was one of the first
examples of Kikokushijo, a returnee student who had experienced non-Japanese culture. She
spent her vulnerable years in Okinawa and Taiwan, the new territory of
It must be noted though that she used the standard Japanese
language both at the local school and at home and
that she later received the best available education for girls
those days in Ochanomizu Girls school in
I can’t help but remember my first day at the University of
Minnesota. A French professor asked me, “Is it true that Japanese
people do not accept those who were educated outside of Japan?"
If it was true, it must change. To ridicule or to admire
unnaturally those people with different culture must stop.
2. Who was Unai ? The following paragraphs from Ren
Notes (published in 1978) touched me:
That was a hot day shortly after the start of the fall term. It
was my turn to clean the room for Art class. In fact the Art
class room was in a separate building and there was no trace of
people in there. None on the tennis court either. I saw the
court through the classroom windows with peeled off white paint.
I also remember seeing the gym’s long shadow on the ground.
I happened to find the always shut door to a preparation quarter
slightly open. Walking up to close it, I peeked into the space.
There placed easels, plaster figures and what-nots. Scattered on
the floor were some sheets of kent paper with sketches on them.
No trace of Sugita sensei but the faint smell of turpentine…..A
small desk was placed by the west window and the order and the
neatness was in its vicinity. Not even a pen-stand. A book with
black covers was left on the desk and I somehow felt as if it
pops up from the rest.
It has been thirty years since I saw this sepia-turned scene
that still haunts me. I am not even sure by now whether it was
an illusion or the reality. Thinking back I can’t help but feel
that this was the first moment I peeked into a soul of a man. At
that time I was a young school boy and could not verbalize what
that meant. A memory of myself standing still filled with faint
sense of guilt comes back alive to me…. I must have felt I saw
what I was not supposed to see.
This episode occurred only two years before Unai’s retirement.
On entering the high school, Masuda, the young boy was initiated
with the school legend that Sugita sensei carried his children
on his back and did grocery shopping. It was a legend because
Masako and Mitsuko had already left home for college when Masuda
entered the school. People in Kokura forever sympathized with
him. In fact after Hisajo passed away many former students took
the trouble of finding a new wife for him. He was adamant in his
declination to all match-making arrangements.
In spite of all his verbal complaints against Hisajo’s
activities, he did follow Hisajo when she became a Christian.
That was when she was 32 years old, and he 38 years old. Hisajo
left the congregation after only four years of an ardent
believer’s life and so did Unai. If we could judge from their
gravestones, they both sleep as Buddhist.
Even though he had taken sick Hisajo to a specialized hospital
in Dazaifu when she became a
he regretted doing so when she died only after three months of
hospitalization. It must be noted that he had the kindness to
console the soul of his wife by returning some of her bones to
her parents’ grave in Nagano prefecture. What stuck me is that
Unai chose not to explain anything in the flood of all versions
of Hisajo legends as long as 16 years till he died at the age of
Yet his respect for Hisajo is clear and evident in the fact that
he never disposed with any of her manuscripts.
In conclusion I think neither of the dictionaries gives a fair
description of the marriage of Unai and Hisajo during which
Hisajo’s great haiku were born. I would argue that their
marriage should not be cited as the cause of the Hisajo tragedy.
Such an irresponsible excuse as “restriction imposed on the wife
of a high school teacher was not negligible in those days” is
too insulting for Hisajo who struggled undauntedly to live up to
her soul’s callings.
In Chaper three I would like to discuss the real issues that
created the Hisajo tragedy as I try to answer questions
including but not limited to:
*Who was Takahama Kyoshi? Why did he have such enormous social
power that enabled him to disgrace Hisajo in 1936?
Readers, please accept my apology. I have made a mistake in
translating the chronology of the crucial event. Hanagoromo was
not terminated in 1936, but was terminated abruptly in
September, 1932, the same year it started. In translating I
mistakenly interpreted the word same to mean 1936, but the same
only meant Showa, the gengo
(3). Ms Ueno, the writer for the Hisajo article in the newer
dictionary did not include the fact that Hisajo was admitted to
Hototogisu as honored full member in October 1932, just one
month after she terminated her Hanagoromo magazine. Mr. Inoue,
the writer for the Hisajo article in the older dictionary did
include the year of her Hototogisu admittance, but did not
include the year when Hanagoromo was started and terminated.
(1) Kansai: The name of the region which
includes Nara, Kyoto, Osaka and Kobe. This region was the
cultural and political center of Japan all through the
Japanese history until the capital was moved to Tokyo in 1868.
(2) Shugendo: Shugendo combines
elements of Buddhism and Shitoism with ancient mountain worshi,
with adherents conducting ascetic exercises and esoteric
services in the mountains. The religion is said to have been
started by Enno Ozuno (Enno Gyoja) in the 7th or 8th century.
In Japan there is a special way of counting years in addition
to the western calendar style. At the accession of an emperor
a new era’s name is chosen from Chinese classic sources. This
is called gengo. It originated in China and was introduced to Japan in the seventh century. Japan is
the only country that employs gengo now.