Eiko Yachimoto, JP




Hisajo in the Light of English Haikai Movement


 Chapter 4   Is a haijin a poet?  Is a haiku art?


 One Angle to get the feel of Japanese Haiku World in 2009

 I have just finished reading a new “haiku” book from Iwanami Book Company: Like a Rolling Stone. The title is written in kata-kana. The book was reviewed in a Sunday paper: it is written by the man who awarded me a beautiful trophy nine years ago. It was not a prestigious contest and I did not pay attention to who was assigned as a judge. I was presently surprised when I received a letter from the organizer. I attended the ceremony and saw and heard the judge. Vividly, I remember a light and young tone with which he talked “down” Basho and Kyoshi!  I liked him and acknowledged his name—Imai Sei (1950), the author of Like a rolling stone.

 Unlike many books that fall into the genre of haiku, this book is fresh just as his speech at the award ceremony was nine years ago. There are quite a few honest episodes on his bumpy student days. The afterglow of the student power movement lingered and he was involved. I was touched by the chemistry of his family members, from whom he wanted to escape, also by sweet Kanae-chan, a girl who helped and dated him. Way before university days his haiku life had started when he successively won prizes as a junior high student. He has been writing haiku, the products of “genius” as the young boy believed back then. This haiku book stands out for its connection with the reality of life today.

The highlight of the book for me was his real-life sketch of and actual interaction with much, much older haijin and kajin, some well-known such as Terayama Shuji, Yamaguchi Seishi, Kato Shuson and Hirayama Shobin. I wish he could have met Hisajo who died four years before his birth

I confirm that Imai identifies himself as haijin.


Japanese Haiku World in 1946

 Let us zip and zoom into the year of 1946 when Hisajo died by describing the impact of Kuwabara Takeo.

 Kuwabara Takeo (1904 - 1988), Professor of French Literature who achieved a lot in his field, is still associated most readily with his very short thesis on haiku titled The Second Art. written in 1946. He could be a representative of those who say No to the question in the subject line of this chapter—“Is a haijin a poet?  Is a haiku art?”

 Here is my translation of one paragraph of Kuwabara’s thesis:

I would assume there was, from the beginning, some recklessness in disconnecting a starting verse from renku and calling it haiku, a new genre. At any rate, today, it is difficult to evaluate a haiku writer based on a haiku that he writes. So the significance of a haiku writer is to be decided not by his art but by something that has to do with his social position. Because no open literary criticism is possible for haiku, what counts as yardsticks are the number of disciples, the number of distribution of his haiku magazine or some social power of the leader haijin. Therefore, making his partisan group becomes mandatory for a haijin. Furthermore, since the purpose of making a group is to gain power, it is inevitable that a disciple who becomes powerful spins out to make his own group (from Sekai or World, November 1946 issue).

 Response to Yamaguchi Seishi,
Osaka Mainichi Newspaper dated 6 January, 1947)

I have received a great number of letters on my humble thesis on the magazine. Most people who are not haijin agreed with my opinion. On the other hand many haijin asked me to write my opinion more in detail for their own haiku magazines. I do take responsibility for what I wrote, but I responded to everyone that I would accept any verdict based solely on that article in Sekai. I am not studying haiku as my professional goal and my time is limited. Alas, however, a journalist working for Osaka Mainichi  came to see me all the way to Sendai city hand-carrying the galley proof of Yamaguchi Seishi’s text responding to me. Seeing his tired face after long hours in train in this post-war confusion, I took up a pen.

Mr. Yamaguchi was my senior in the high school I went to and the dormitory song we loved to sing was written by him. Having recognized and admired his poetic sense, I secretly regretted the fact that he did not choose Modern literature to make the most of his talent. But let me put my personal feelings away. I will be straightforward.

The reason why I, an outsider, wrote that article is because I believed we need to examine the mentality running through haikai tradition coming down from Basho if we are to construct the Culture of New Japan. Mr. Yamaguchi argued that the thing to do is not to recollect the past, but to modernize haiku. He speaks as an established haijin, but I stand on much more general ground bearing the Culture of Japan in mind.

In my thesis I think I proved that haiku could never be Modern literature however hard a haijin tries giving his all. If he wants to express, say, a workers’ strike, a black market or the atomic bomb, a haiku, the shortest form of 17 syllables, cannot fathom into intricate issues involved in such present-day topics and you only end up lamenting or sketching each only as a new scene.

Matsurigoto (5) ashiki yo ni ari (7)  kingyo miru (5)   Takashi

politics exist
in the world that is bad
I see goldfish

Haiku is destined to settle into such a sentiment as expressed above. If one desires to modernize it, one may end up throwing it away, which does not bother me. What bothers me, I emphasized, is the intention to place haiku in the center of public education.

Mr. Yamaguchi insists, rather aristocratically, to limit the scope of argument to the work of established haijin, because the public who write haiku never worry if their haiku is art or not. Do the pubic agree to this?  More importantly it is not easy to tell an important haijin from an ordinary haiku writer judging from a haiku he writes. The goldfish haiku above could have been written by an ordinary haiku lover. (Takashi is considered one of the important haijin).

Mr. Yamaguchi admitted the pettiness of those haiku that I chose to discuss in my thesis. He wrote, “there is no excuse-making.” I feel relieved to hear that, but this situation is grave. However fatigued important haijin are, (who is not fatigued nowadays…), how can they publish in a general magazine of broad readership those haiku whose worthlessness is guaranteed by a man like Mr. Yamaguchi? He says he is not disappointed at these haijin even though he was disappointed at their haiku chosen by me. I wonder what an artist is without his art. Here lies the weakness of haiku. The fact that he avoided responding to my point that today’s haiku world has still got feudal aspects is significant.

I am grateful that my rather hasty writing in Sekai now has got a lining of Mr. Yamaguchi’s response.  But I cannot possibly watch the growth of modern haiku with sympathy to meet Mr. Yamaguchi‘s wish and expectation. What I will do is only to cast my cold eyes to “modern haiku” once in a while.  Bear with me.

What a transparent letter! How pleasantly young the writer’s spirit is! Sixty plus years passed and Kuwabara’s voice still reverberates if you try to answer why so few young people write haiku in Japan. 

However, most haijin today seem to think that The Second Art  was an accident in the post-war cultural identity crisis. Some of them think the enormous haiku population in and outside of Japan these days is a good proof that Professor Kuwabara was mistaken.


What happened to Hisajo during the ten years before her death

 Even after Hisajo had to put an end to Hanagoromo, her own haiku magazine in 1932, the haiku magazine that she edited and published, she was the leader of Shiragiku-kai, a local women’s haiku club. In October, 1936 Kyoshi used one full page of Hototogisu  to announce the purge of Hino Sojo, Yoshioka Zenjido and Sugita Hisajo from the dojin list.

Hisajo was surprised but the immediate effect was that she completely lost her face. The inclusion of Hisajo to the list was unexpected because unlike the other two who dared to write haiku with no season words, she did not deviate from Kyoshi’s teachings. Her haiku-students had a respect and faith in Hisajo. Disgraced, she just could not continue teaching. Strong-willed she continued to send her haiku to Hototogisu as an ordinary reader of Hototogisu, but hers were rarely chosen after the purge from the dojin list. 

Kyoshi might have assumed that she would join Mizuhara Shuoshi* (introduced later in this installment) when he purged her from the dojin list of Hototogisu. However, like those who never left Catholicism in the storm of Protestantism, Hisajo did not move. In response to requests from editors, who were her old friends oftentimes, she did contribute her haiku and essays to their magazines such as Karitago, Amanogawa, Kareno, Kirara and Ashibi before and after the purge, but she never considered leaving Kyoshi.

It is said that Hisajo in her isolation eventually expressed her despair and concern over ambiguous criteria for a good haiku.

Here are four haiku Hisajo wrote and contributed to Heiku Kenyku or study of haiku, edited by Yamamoto Kenkichi in October, 1937:

tatetosu (5) otokogirai no (7) hitoeobi (5)

          persistent in….disliking men
          my rigid….summer obi


haritosu (5) onna no iji ya(7) aiyukata (5)

          the persistence….of a woman
          indigo dyed….kimono


oshitosu (5) haikugirai no (7) aotakaze (5)

persistant….in loathing haiku
the green… rice paddy wind


Kyoshi kirai (5) Kanajo kirai no (7) hitoeobi (5)

          Kyoshi, and Kanajo….disliked
          a rigid….summer obi

The minimalist poem, like language itself, necessitates the existence of others. When deprived of the stage on which to perform, of the kuyu (poem friends) to give critique to each other’s work, Hisajo gradually became weak. In 1939 she tried once again to contact Kyoshi to redeem her place in Hototogisu.

A bunch of red roses
From the true heart
Of the poor    

Hisajo, 1939

The above is the haiku when she visited Hototogisu office in front of Tokyo Station.  She was not able to see him.

According to Miyao Sakamoto, the author of the book: Sugita Hisajo, Hisajo made up her mind to terminate her haiku career shortly after this incident. In fact Hisajo started to examine all her haiku and created the manuscript for her future kushu in sumi calligraphy, which she carried with her wherever she went in difficult war-time days. 

Quite a few psychiatrists have studied Hisajo’s case during these 60 years and the consensus today is that Hisajo was not schizophrenic as Kyoshi wanted us to believe. She must have been suffering either from severe symptoms of menopause or chronic inflammation of the thyroid gland (Hashimoto disease) but it must be clearly noted that she became a handful many years after the purge.


Kyoshi in 1946 and post-war days

 In November 1946 Kyoshi wrote a strange essay in his Hototogisu. The essay was a cunning mixture of condolences for Hisajo and manipulated documentary, or lies if simply put, regarding Hisajo’s conduct before the purge. Kyoshi developed this strange essay into a strange novel titled Kuniko’s Letters and published it in September, 1948. It was strange because Kyoshi edited Hisajo’s letters he received over several years so cunningly that his interpretation text in between letters could “naturally” lead readers to believe Kuniko, or Hisajo, to be such an insane woman. Many haijin around Kyoshi, including Nakamura Teijo, followed Kyoshi in distorting Hisajo’s true person in their essays.

While Hisajo was alive, he disgraced her without any explanation and after she died, he took all the trouble of mixing fiction into fragments of facts. It is ironical that Hisajo legend got started in the same month when Professor Kuwabara’s  straightforward criticism of haiku appeared in Sekai. When asked to comment on Professor Kuwabara’s argument, Kyoshi gave a Kyoshilike.answer:: “ How nice! We never said haiku was art. Haiku is now promoted to art.” Here I would like to focus on what busied Kyoshi’s brain in those post-war years with the help of Ren Masuda’s book. 

Remember Kyoshi’s victory over Hekigotoh, the artist who advocated free new haiku. Kyoshi was a producer of Hototogisu and godfather of the Takahama family. In the nineteen thirties he was most annoyed and threatened by Mizuhara Shuoshi (1892 - 1981) and the new haiku movement. Shuoshi was a star haijin of Hototogisu with another 3S (star haijin whose first name initials were S including Yamaguchi Seishi) but he became skeptical about Kyoshi’s objective shasei method and believed in a more literary approach; he experimented writing a series of haiku and presenting them as one submission. Kyoshi did not like Rensaku, a series of haiku in one presentation. Many friends advised not to, but he gathered all his courage, confronted Kyoshi. and left Hototogisu in 1931.  Hisajo, who was respected broadly, was respected by Shuoshi as well and here comes R. Masuda’s assumption: Kyoshi might have assumed that she would join Shuoshi if he purged her from the dojin list. This alone does not explain why he had to purge her. I am going to report what Ishi Masako found regarding the incident in 1936 in a later chapter.

Kyoshi was mistaken in his assumption, if he did assume. She died as a Hototogisu haijin…  I support Ren Masuda’s assumption. Kyoshi, or his sense of guilt, might have felt a danger approaching from some democratic power based on the newly planted sense of human right.

One winter day in 1946 he received a letter from Ishi Masako, the elder daughter of Hisajo, informing him of the death of his disciple. Masako wanted to be polite and apologized for any unpleasantness her mother had caused him. Masako was naïve and wrote that Hisajo died in the special quarter of a hospital.

Something must have clicked in Kyoshi’s brain then.

Kyoshi responded in return asking Masako’s permission to “use” her Mother’s letters. This letter of Kyoshi reached Masako even before the formal funeral in The Sugita’s ancestral estate in Aichi prefecture. Most naturally she was in utmost grief and in utter confusion. She naively answered Yes.

In hindsight it seems as if Kyoshi followed a scheme of presenting Hisajo to the world as insane and obsessed in three steps: first in the essay on Hototogisu, with limited readership, second in a novel with broader readership, finally in his introduction for Hisajo’s kushu published posthumously in 1952.

I cannot tell if he took these complicated measures including the purge  to guarantee Hototogisu the smooth transition from the new haiku movement and wartime chaos to post-war prosperity.  Hototogisu blossomed and Kyoshi received Bunka Kunsho, or the Cultural Medal, from the emperor in 1954. One of his grandchildren is the president of The Association for Traditional Haiku today.


Hashi Kaiseki, the renkujin

Fall 1946 is also the year when Hashi Kaiseki’s book with 500 pages: Lectures on Haiku History was published. He was a professor of English Literature, but Prof.Hashi was not an outsider, for he was a dedicated renkujin.of long years of practice. Haiku World should have asked him to respond to Prof. Kuwabara towards the redemption of haiku. For that matter if only Hisajo could have lived a little longer to witness that gigantic wave Prof. Kuwaraba created in a pond of haiku. I also wish Prof. Hashi could have covered the Taisho and Showa periods instead of putting down his pen at the Meiji era.

Prof. Hashi Wrote in the first page of his book:

Essentially speaking, haikai does not make sense unless renku is included in the genre. Having struggled all these years to revive and introduce the poetry of Basho with his school of renku composition, I find it most regrettable that I could hardly discuss renku to my heart’s content in this book. I, however, could save one chapter to explain the long history of Japanese collaborative poetry.

In his last chapter he writes:

Compared to strong-willed/intelligent/intellectual Shiki, Hekigotoh was a haijin richly talented with a detached/sensitive/sensual grasp of life and nature and thanks to him haiku was established as art, namely as poetry. Around then Kyoshi advocated to go back to “quiet and passive” Basho taking distance from Hekigotoh’s fresh, free and brilliant movement. Unfortunately Kyoshi, whose small subjectivity and dilettante-like attitude tend to have him idle about in his thoughts and writings, was limited in his understanding of Basho and he misinterpreted Basho’s relentless pursuit for poetry as “quiet and passive.” Kyoshi’s article on renku published in Hototogisu in September, 1904 reveals how shallow his understanding of renku was.

Hekigotoh proceeded with the conscience of an artist, and succeeded in grasping a moment -here and now- with psychological reality, but unless a poet can connect that moment to eternity, his poem remains there only

What was regrettable from today’s viewpoint is that Shiki was not able to understand Basho deeply enough to reach to the full appreciation of the art of renku. As a result the shape of haikai has been distorted long after Shiki’s death. The end of this war, however, is giving us a chance to rethink our tradition and the study on renku has taken off finally.

Let us see how things actually turned out during these 60 years. There are quite a few renkujin now as Prof. Hashi predicted. However, most haijin today have not yet been reunited to the tradition of collaborative poetry yet. There is a tremendous wall separating the haiku world with various social resources from the renku world depending on each indiviudual’s love of poetry. What is encouraging, though, is that many haiku poets in the English Haikai Movement compose  renku quite naturally and that is the reason I wanted to write these installments on Hisajo in the English language.


Is a haijin a poet?

 She pursued sheer poetry. She studied the long history of haikai and even though she did not have a chance to compose renku, she practiced hard to acquire the soul of traditional haikai through calligraphy and haiga.

She was very much like many of us, shufu, or housewives of Japan. Following her husband, she lived in Kokura, the rising Industrial town with major steel manufacturing. In the age without free-ways, air-planes or any bullet train, she was disconnected from all her family members and from the culture and aesthetics she breathed and grew up in. Unlike aristocratic literary women in the past she did not have any servant. Having been brought up by most decent and loving parents, Hisajo did not learn “social skills” to “swim through” bumpy human relationships. Her innate love of art kept living in her thanks to two lifelines: haiku and daughters. A fresh wind and a serene wave born from the poem she creates kept on nourishing her soul. She was an achiever in the strenuous life of the past without today’s appliances and with many secret obligations regarding hair-do and kimono codes to name just a few.

She was accused of being a bad wife who did not treat her husband as a supreme existence, but compared to most of us—housewives today—she would not stand out as especially “bad”.

To answer the question in the title of this chapter (Is a haijin a poet?  Is a haiku art?)— I say some are poets, some are not. And the tragedy of Hisajo was caused by her aspiration for sheer poetry through the genre of haiku which was so fragile as art, and through Kyoshi who was an archetypal haijin...a central figure of a religion-like organization.

In the next installment I shall translate rensaku haiku, or a series of haiku, (61 haiku in one presentation!) that Hisajo wrote in 1934 to prove that she was adamant in her pursuit of poetry that reaches her soul and resonates with eternity.




*1 Let me, at least, translate the content of Prof. Hashi’s book with key words for each lecture.

Lecture 1: What is haiku?

 17-ji, kireji, kidai, issues on season words, lingering effect

 Lecture 2: How was haiku born?

naming, haikai, renga, history of renga, history of haikai-no-renga, the starting verse became independent, Yamazaki Sohkan, Arakida Moritake

Lecture 3: Teimon period

 Matsunaga Teitoku, characteristics of Teimon, seven important haijin, Yasuhara Teishiitsu, Yamamoto Seibu, Takase Baisei

Lecture 4: Danrin Period

Nisiyama Soin, characteristics of Danrin, rivalry with Teimon,

Major haijin, Danrin in Osaka, Ihara Saikaku, forerunners that brings in Shofu (Basho style), Ito Shintoku, Ikemizu Gonsui, Konishi Raizan, Saimaro, Onitsura

Lecture 5: Shofu Period

Matsuo Basho, characteristics of Shofu, Major haijin, Kikaku, Ransetsu, Kyorai, Joso, Sanpu, Noba,Etsujin, Hokushi, Kyoroku, Shiko, Sodo, Boncho, Izen

Lecture 6:  Kyoho Period

Kikaku’s Edo school, Senryu, Mino-school, Chiyoni, Ise school Rogawa,

Kamigata, Matsuki Tantan, Kasazuke, money-oriented renku game

Lecture 7:  Chuko Period

Yosa Buson, Kuroyanagi Shoha, Takai Kitoh, Yoshiwake Tairo, Tan Taigi, Katoh Gyoudai, Hori Bakusui, Kaya Shirao, Ohsima Ryota, Fujian Jiryu, Miura Chora, Matsuoka Seira, Ohtomo Ohemaru, Takakuwa Rankoh

Lecture 8:  Kasei Period

Suzuki Michihiko, Takebe Socho, Chosui, Seifujo, Inoue Shiro, Tagami Kikushani, Kobayashi Issa, Natsume Seibi

Lecture 9:  Tempo Period

Takizawa Bakin, Sakurai Baishitsu, Tayojo, Houroh, Sohkyu

Lecture 10: Meiji Period

 Old schools, Tsukinami, Shiki’s analysis, Ozaki Koyo, Kakuta Chikurei, Ono Shuchiku, Masaoka Shiki, New Haiku, Shasei, Naito Meisetsu, Natsume Soseki, After Shiki, Hekigotoh, Kyoshi, No season word, Soun


*2 As I wrote in the previous installment, Hekigotoh admitted the retirement from haiku eventuallty









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