Eiko Yachimoto, JP




Hisajo in the Light of English Haikai Movement


Chapter 3: Kyoshi and the Irony of Shiki’s Modern Haiku Movement


Is a sensei or one sole teacher, essential for a haiku poet?

 I have never belonged to any haiku kessha, or bonded organization, myself.  Being a member of AIR, the Association for International Renku, for more than ten years, I have written quite a few hokku, or a starting verse of renku that was renamed haiku by Shiki. I have learned and am still learning renku, a collaborative poetry that has been practiced for 1000 years, but I do not have any one fixed teacher with untouchable authority per se. We use both Japanese and English languages as we proceed to weave our poetry and at the end of each session we have two separate texts, one in Japanese, the other in English.

I have recently realized that the English language has been sending us such a transparent wind all these years that we have neither become authoritative nor turned stale or stuffy both in the way we write and in the way we run our group.

In the case of “haiku-jin”, or renkujin who write only in the Japanese language, it is expected that a poet belong to a kessha presided by a haijin of some importance. There is nothing wrong with this as long as open-minded discussion among members including the leader is comfortably ensured and by-laws work to protect each member. Unfortunately, however, this has not necessarily been the case in many kesssha in Japan. Most Japanese people shall nod to the following: “If you desire to survive in a haiku kessha, you are to learn its culture and conform to it.” It must take rather demanding efforts to avoid stuffy mannerism that can choke a poet with individual voice creeping into a kessha. At the same time a kessha can be a paradise where a leader and his/her followers keep confirming the hierarchical relationship in a lukewarm air. How can poets avoid that?


Basho and his fresh poetry

 When Basho (1644~1694) heightened haikai no renga, from the word-play or parody verses of the Teimon and Danrin schools, the sources of his fresh wind were Saigyo (1118~1190), the waka poet of medieval Japan and To-Hu, the Chinese poet who lived in the Tang Dynasty (618~907). All his life Basho managed to avoid becoming stereo-typed, due not only to his individual depth, determination and genius as a poet, but also because he would have to be forever creative in his understanding of Saigyo and To-Hu if he had wanted to transplant their poetry into haikai no renga, a completely different genre of literature. After Basho died, haikai no renga flourished all through the Edo period (1619 ~1868) in regard to the number of participants, but it is said that the poetic height attained in Sarumino, the best kasen anthology edited by Boncho and Kyorai of the Basho school, had hardly been exceeded even by Buson who meant to go back to Basho’s poetry.


Were all renku masters after Basho tsukinami (stale and conventional)?

 Even before Basho died, Enomoto Kikaku (also known as Takarai Kikaku) was a star haijin in the city of Edo, having many more followers than Basho. Some people say that Basho’s fame was established because Basho was the teacher of this brilliant Kikaku. His doctor father had a grand plan for educating his son and chose young and unknown Basho as one of his private teachers. Kikaku was 15 years old when he met Basho and learned fast. He was the very first disciple Basho had, but Kikaku clearly acquired his own poetic voice and style, which Basho never taught.

 In studying Kikaku I was impressed by one comment of his: “Compose a verse on your tongue, and you can blow away your doubts and pains. Know that you find yourself turn to a Buddha which you can dedicate to the world.” He had grasped renku composition as poetry therapy!

 A renku session that people shared was a magnetized field where rich imageries and good thoughts were in constant exchange among the participants. In feudal society where people were divided by the class they belonged to, renku provided a space where an individual could regain humanity. So many samurai and merchants composed renku together under their master. Even in a rural village a designated renga place was available and villagers composed there on a regular basis.

 It may be true that their poetry, if evaluated strictly from the literature point of view, was not as excellent as Basho’s, and some masters became rather stale and money-oriented…but that does not mean we could ignore these 200 years when haikai no renga or renku nurtured Japanese society…

 There were quite a few women haijin also, Chiyo-ni, Sutejo. Kikusha-ni, Taniguchi Denjo, Igarashi Hamamo, Enomoto Seijo come to my mind as the names of poetesses who composed most beautifully in renku sessions.  Regrettably not many modern scholars have explored the 200 years between Basho and Shiki and so few books on these years are readily available. It is amazing that Hisajo did read their poetry and left her analysis on them.

 Tsukinami literally means monthly average. Just like we schedule AIR sessions in advance, renku masters of the Edo period scheduled the session monthly. Verses composed “on desk” without fresh encounter with nature were labeled a tsukinami verse by Shiki.


Young Masaoka Shiki on and around 200th Death Anniversary of Basho

 In 1853 the Edo people were awakened from Japan’s seclusion by Commodore Perry and the U.S. frigate. The Tokugawa shogunate had to disappear from history in 1868. The society was in a gigantic turmoil for decades and a uniquely energetic young man, who was born in 1867 as the eldest son of a fallen samurai class, appeared on the stage of journalism and literature. We all know this charming man of peculiarly feverish interest in people and all sorts of objects: Masaoka Shiki (1867-1902). 

Shiki quit Tokyo University in March 1893 when he was 26 and started his career in a news paper company called Nippon. Kuga Katsunan, the owner, let Shiki, his mother and his sister live next to his house, didn’t say “No” when Shiki with health problems insisted on going to China as a war reporter, soothed Shiki gently when he was in utmost physical pain, let him write on the futon whatever he wanted to write, kept him on the company’s payroll until he died. All started in 1893. He began writing “Basho Zatsudan”, or things about Basho from Nov 13, to January 22, 1894. In July that year, before working for the news paper company, he had taken a trip tracing Basho’s famous trip: the narrow road to the deep north. What annoyed him a great deal and made him furious at the end was the attitude of quite a few tsukinami renku masters who were busy securing their businesses and social positions by building a Basho’s pavilion, a Basho’s haiku stone or the likes for his 200th death anniversary. Shiki deplored to see Basho turned into a religion that defied any criticism. He had to fight. His method was so practical that he dared to say: Basho wrote so many bad haiku, so few great haiku. He wanted to shock those who blindly followed the religion of Basho. His research into the long haikai history had the fruit of finding Buson, an established painter as well as a haijin. He wrote a superb thesis on Buson.


Shasei and modernization of traditional poetry

 Shiki was gravely ill by the time he clearly realized his mission to modernize Japanese traditional poetry. He was 29 years old then. When reading his announcements, argument, thesis and essay, readers have to bear in mind that he was writing with “death waiting for him at genkan, the entrance door,” if I borrow one researchers’ phrase.

What is most surprising is that Shiki took advantage of his situation instead of lamenting on his illness or becoming a believer of some religion. He was most eager to devour everything on the side of life. He was extremely open-minded and wrote with tremendous honesty and pleasant clarity.

Shiki learned a lot first from Buson, the Edo painter, and then from Nakamura Fusetsu, a painter of his time (Western style oil paintings). Shiki’s famous principle of shasei, or objective sketching, has a strong proof of success in his essay, brilliance in his tanka, but only rather occasional success in his haiku, which must have been inevitable because 17 syllables allowed for haiku that are often too tight if the poet depends on objective sketching only.

In his hasty declaration for Modern Haiku, Shiki stated that renku with a forever shifting theme in each link did not deserve to be called literature, but that a hokku with its independent value could be a modern poem. After his declaration he did try composing renku and what fun he had, what discovery he made! But he did not have time to fully appreciate the splendour of renku. He had to modernize tanka too! And he did it even more successfully than haiku modernization.

Who Shiki was and what he did was in synchronization with the times, the time of Japanese society’s modernization. He aspired for a new age with an individual allowed to have an individual voice like poets in Western society. He became a fighter. And when a fighter is gravely ill, how do his opponents feel? Those tsukimami renku masters who depended on a set of fixed traditions, in many cases by putting Basho on pedestal, were silenced.


Shiki loved Takahama Kyoshi

 Yet Shiki knew his haiku modernization could not be completed in his time alone and the fight must go on after his death. Takahama Kyoshi (1874-1959), who was younger than Shiki by seven years, looked up to Shiki, the Tokyo University student, whenever he returned to Matsuyama, their home town. There was another boy, Kyoshi’s best friend by the name of Kawahigashi Hekigotoh (1873-1937) who also looked up to Shiki and corresponded with him to learn haiku. The two boys moved to Tokyo before completing their high school courses in Sendai. One day Shiki summoned Kyoshi and asked him to become the successor of the haiku modernization movement. A young Kyoshi declined. He had a vague dream of becoming a novelist, a more legitimate genre of literature. Kyoshi as well as Hekigotoh remained close to Shiki all his life and they took turns in sitting by Shiki’s futon in his very final days.

Let me introduce one haiku bedridden Shiki wrote in those days:

Sayoshigure/Ueno o Kyoshi no/kurunaran

 quiet winter drizzle—
Kyoshi must be scurrying Ueno
to come see me

After I walked the route from Ueno station to Shiki’s house a few years ago, this haiku and Shiki become close to my heart.

It was Kawahigashi Hekigotoh who succeeded Shiki’s haiku column in Nippon, the newspaper, after Shiki died. For about ten years Hekigotoh led the modern artistic haiku movement rather seriously taking lecture trips all over Japan. Eventually he went so far as to write free-form haiku, then wrote haiku without a kigo. I love some of his most impressionistic haiku, but he couldn’t go on breaking rules forever. He tended to write solely from his acute sensual senses of an artist, which brought about a tragic division in his group members, an eventual tragic end to his haiku. It was in 1933 that he finally admitted his retirement from haiku publicly. His endeavour was never in vain, though. There arose a few important haijin, including Santohka, who succeeded Hekigotoh’s aspiration. 


Hototogisu, the magazine

 Unlike Shiki who never had time for marriage, Kyoshi married young and had eight children in total. In 1899, in order to support his wife and the first-born daughter, he decided to undertake Hototogisu magazine from Yanagihara Gyokudoh, another hot-blooded Matsuyama man who was a political activist as well as Shiki’s admirer. While Shiki was alive, Kyoshi remained a dutiful publisher, not the leader of the Hototogisu group. After Shiki died in 1902, Kyoshi successfully transformed Hototogisu into a magazine of various literary texts including novels. Kyoshi realized at that point that he had no chance to prevail over Hekigotoh in writing haiku. 

Kyoshi successfully transformed an obscure haiku booklet published in Matsuyama city with the circulation of only some hundreds at the most into a substantial literary magazine of Tokyo that sold well (8000 copies in 1905). It was to Hototogisu in 1905 that Natsume Sohseki, Shiki’s best friend in Tokyo University, contributed his first novel: “I am a cat.” In 1907, when Soseki became employed by Asahi Shimbun newspaper company as their exclusive writer, the circulation started to decline.

Kyoshi, in his business effort to boost Hototogisu magazine again, decided to go back to haiku, partly because the magazine could not afford paying a manuscript fee to each contributor any longer. Needless to say Kyoshi had another reason too. He wanted to counter Hekigotoh’s free form haiku. He started writing articles in Hototogisu titled the path haiku should take in 1914. There he advocated yuki-teikei, i.e., the fixed form of 575 (five-seven-five syllables) and the inclusion of a kigo. He declared he “is a conservative who protects conventions”.  Let me write the haiku he composed on this occasion:

shunpuu  ya(5)  tohshi idakite (7)  oka ni tatsu (5)

spring breeze—
embracing my fight
I stand on the hill          (translated by ey)


Kyoshi’s social power and Hisajo

What would have Shiki responded had he been alive? Both Hekigotoh and Kyoshi, roommates in high school days, were so precious to Shiki, like real younger brothers…  The two boys who loved and respected Shiki together became stark rivals in their forties and it was Kyoshi who came forth as a glorious victor.

Kyoshi was a man of polished manners and finest demeanor which he acquired through his long years of practice in the Noh play, the discipline which could impress almost all decent Japanese. In fact Noh had been practiced through the line of Ikenouchi (Kyoshi’s family name when he was born) when they were samurai clans. Kyoshi also had the business talent of waiting for the best timing to do things. Kyoshi knew the importance of an office address too and moved the Hototogisu office to Marubiru, the most prestigious new building of the time, located right between the Emperor’s Palace and Tokyo Station of the National Rail Way Network.

More importantly Kyoshi knew the difference between uncompomising pursuit for art and the fun of being recognized through creative writing.

Being a good student of Shiki, he learned the teaching method which is not just for the gifted few but effective especially for ordinary people at large.

Like Shiki, he was a capable teacher and emphasized the importance of  “shasei” or objective sketching. I believe English haijin associates this with lesson one of haiku: show don’t tell. 

Many of his disciples were important citizens such as doctors and high-ranking government officials. In later years those disciples gave him a VIP welcome everywhere he visited. And often his adult daughter, or son accompanied their father. In a way Kyoshi in his middle to old age could have looked like a high-handed feudal existence if Shiki had been there to make observations…And it must have been Kyoshi himself who knew this in his bones. Unlike Shiki, Kyoshi wrote sophisticatedly but inconclusively.  He must have known the convenience and the power of silence. When he wrote, his text reads often very ambiguously, and even impudently at times due to rarely used lexicon that deter naïve beginners. Kiyoshi (his real name) takes one kanji meaning clean and Kyoshi takes two kanji, the first meaning falsehood, the second child. Here is one haiku Kyoshi wrote in 1918:

 Hatsusora ya (5) dai akunin Kyoshi no(7) toojoo ni (5)

first sky
over his head 
Kyoshi, the monster                (translated by ey)

I must add that Kyoshi did write quite a few haiku that many people still memorize, respect and love. Yet he himself boasted of his haiku appreciating ability and called that his art. On his return to the haiku world he succeeded in bringing in such brilliant haijin under the Hototogisu umbrella as Murakami Kijoh, Hara Sekitei, Iida Dakotsu, Watanabe Mizuha, and Maeda Fura with the power of his kanso, or his text describing how he appreciated their haiku. In other words Kyoshi managed to become the center of haiku forces.

As Hototogisu editor he must have read hundreds or even thousands of haiku every year. It became an almost unspeakable honor for anyone if his was chosen by Kyoshi to be printed on the first page of Hototogisu.

I wrote “his”.  In those days haiku was meant for men, in comparison with tanka that was taught in girls’ schools and many women wrote in their adult life. Kyoshi, the father of daughters, realized anew that half the population belonged to another sex and they could become Hototogisu subscribers/contributors just as well. After some trial teaching to close family member females, in 1916 a call appeared in Hototogisu asking for Kitchen Haiku from women readers.

That was the year Hisajo started writing haiku.


The core of the Hisajo Tragedy

When I created a pamphlet, “What is Renku?” for AIR in 2000, I had to start explaining the difficulty of using the English word: poet.

several words frequently used in Japan all translate into “poet.” Kajin is a poet who composes tanka, an elegant short poem with 1500 years of tradition. Millions of haijin of present day Japan are poets who compose the shortest poem, haiku. There are shijin who are proud of their lofty spirit and they write as they wish. We Are renkujin and we seem to keep the lowest profile today. (phamphlet, "What is Renku?")

Ohka Makoto, a contemporary poet /critic once wrote: I even think like this:

If Shiki and Yosano Tekkan were one and Shiki had lived 40 more years, Japanese tanka, haiku, and shintaishi (western style free form poetry) could have found a certain way to come under a general flag. It was a pity that Shiki had to die so young and that Tekkan was weak in his theories (Kokubungaku (Japanese Literature) October, 1986 issue).

Kyoshi does not seem to have shared this concern around the division of poetry genres. In later chapters I will have to examine how Kyoshi grasped haiku in relation to poetry.

I would also like to examine how Hisajo identified herself as a writer of small haiku poems and how Hisajo defined haiku. In so doing I will have to examine the shasei method in haiku writing. How did Hisajo digest this teaching? Wasn’t this also one of those arguments only gravely-ill Shiki was justified to make? The reason why Kyoshi was so adamant in his refusal of writing his introduction for the first kushu of Hisajo’s must be addressed too.

For now, readers, let me conclude this chapter by quoting Stanford Forrester, editor of my favorite English haiku magazine, bottle rockets.

It’s my belief that the only way that a publication can avoid becoming stale is by welcoming and celebrating new voices of poets who have the courage to follow their inner voice instead of following and imitating someone else’s. My first wish, though, is that bottle rockets acts as a vehicle to create art, make the reader think, and touch his or her soul.

(from bottle rockets issue #20)









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