Eiko Yachimoto, JP




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 himself.

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
monks (2) 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
Kyushu 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 caused ‘conflicts”?

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 Imperial Japan. 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 Tokyo.

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 Masuda’s Hisajo
(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 handful, 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 79.

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.

(3) Gengo: 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.



Read the Previous Installments by Eiko Yachimoto

Hisajo in the Light of English Haikai Movement


Installment 2: Chapter 1: Who Introduced Hisajo—November 2008 Sketchbook

Installment 1: Prologue: My Courtesy VisitOctober 2008 Sketchbook



Read Additional Poems by Eiko Yachimoto


Renku: Backs to the Wind









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