Eiko Yachimoto, JP




Hisajo in the light of English Haikai Movement


Chapter 6 Hisajo’s haiku at the second peak of her creativity


"The year 1926 was an important one for Agatha Christie. It saw the publication of her first hugely successful novel, in which the narrator (the character in whose voice the story is told) is the murderer. It was also a year of personal tragedy. Christie's mother died in 1926, and Christie discovered that her husband was in love with another woman. She suffered a mental breakdown and on December 6 she disappeared from her home, and her car was found abandoned in a quarry. Ten days later, acting on a tip, police found her in a hotel in Harrogate, England, where she had been staying the entire time, registered under the name of the woman with whom her husband was having his affair. Christie claimed to have had amnesia (severe memory loss), and the case was not pursued further. She divorced her first husband two years later."

Excerpt from encyclopedia biography of Agatha Christie:

Born in 1890, they were 36 years old in 1926, Hisajo and Agatha. They
were both highly imaginative and sensitive and both were in “buckets of
tears” missing their beloved, so much so that they became ill. Agatha’s
mother died and her husband had an affair in the same year.

I wrote in a former chapter that Hisajo suffered from kidney disease and was separated from two daughters and her husband for a whole year soon after her father’s death. Hisajo became ill again after losing her only sister in 1926. She was not able to carry out her motherly and housewifely duties and lived all by herself renting a room in Hakozaki, located near the bay of Hakata. It is said Yoshioka Zenjido helped her
find the place.

For Agatha Christie, whose books were to gain the biggest number of readers excluding the Bible, the year 1926 was certainly the watershed year. Hisajo too rose from her sadness and gradually geared into the second peak of her creativity. Unlike Agatha who was a detective story writer with her own trustworthy agent to protect her rights, Hisajo was a naive poetess who neither had solid socio-economic support, per say, nor a mentor who stood on her side to celebrate and promote her artistic potentials. Although Hisajo adored Kyoshi as her one and only master, he was a political figure even in his appreciating Hisajo’s talent convincingly and he always put a convenient distance between himself and her. Hasegawa Reiyoshi who seriously admired and encouraged Hisajo had only two more years before he would die of typhoid in 1928. At least Hisajo had Yoshioka Zenjido as a good friend.

During these autumn/winter months, she would take a walk through a pine forest to the seashore. Out of these walks she wrote an essay titled : "Brought back to Life via Haiku". I can’t help comparing this essay with Gift from the Sea, written by Anne Morrow Lindbergh. Anne compared the busy role of a wife and mother to a hub of the wheel.

Bear with me and read with me quotations form Anne’s book. I can’t help being amazed how relevant her line of thinking was with Hisajo’s, or Hisajo’s with Anne’s:

"…to be a woman is to have interests and duties, raying out in all
directions from the central mother-core, like spokes from the hub of a

...the bearing, rearing, feeding and educating of children; the running of a house with its thousand details: human relationships with their myriad pulls―woman’s normal occupation in general run counter to creative life, or contemplative life, or saintly life.

The problem is not merely one of Woman and Career, Woman and the Home, Woman and Independence. It is more basically: how to remain whole in the midst of the distractions of life...

I must find a balance somewhere, or an alternating rhythm between these two extremes; a swinging of the pendulum between solitude and communication, between retreat and return."

Only by getting ill did Hisajo obtain her retreat time from November 1926 to February 1927 and she contemplated her past life and the shape of her life to come. Hisajo focused solely on haiku. It was haiku that had given her the sense of being united to her own soul, of feeling gratified as a whole total woman. Hisajo’s line of thinking was transparent, logical, and void of twisted ambiguity or of political coquettishness often found in many Japanese women. And she vaguely saw the nonsense of her having been too anxious for Kyoshi’s judgment of her haiku submission.

At this time she became determined to study the buried long history of Edo period women haijin on her own. Hisajo was to write an amazingly scholarly thesis unsurpassed by none for many, many years. In fact every time I read her articles in her Hanagoromo magazine, I am impressed by the professional tone with which she criticized not just past haiku but her own.

Around 1930 she must have been aware of a sprouting new movement of Mizuhara Shuohshi who started to disagree with Takahama Kyoshi. Hisajo seemed to have committed herself to become the intellectual shield for Hototogisu School. Hisajo must have regarded most haijin surrounding Kyoshi as “singing frogs around the moon” who lacked the intelligence with which to defend Kyoshi from Shuohshi, who was a superbly learned and passionately lyrical haijin (Shuoshi was a young successful doctor in his professional life).

mending tabi-socks
a teacher’s wife
has not become the shield

If we can judge from her later edit above that she did during the wartime, she set such a high goal of becoming Kyoshi’s shield. I have to ask in my mind, “did you really mean to protect Kyoshi and lament not having achieved that? Why didn’t you give any thought to part with Kyoshi for good?“

In my opinion Hisajo was torn apart: an unusually intellectual woman-writer vs a vulnerable person with an inner child attached to a fatherly figure.

Whatever the motivation, studying Edo haikai in peace did her well. “She gradually acquired more lung capacity, so to speak”, wrote Tanabe Seiko, the novelist who wrote  Hisajo’s two volume biography. Let us see her growth through her haiku.


*Hisajo’s greeting-verses, often composed spontaneously

The tradition of haikai includes haiku as a social communication tool. Hisajo’s efforts to attain a balance between her aspiration as artist and her sense of gratitude as good citizen are represented in these social verses. I have put asterisk marks to those haiku which have high literary reputation. Be aware that some were composed in Taisho period (i.e. before 1926).

1. seidanya (5) nichiyo goto no (7) aki no hana (5) around 1923

the sacred altar―
autumn flowers arranged
fresh on each Sunday

--Hisajo’s mother was a master in Ikenobo flower arrangement school and her father’s serious hobby was gardening. Hisajo loved flowers and plants all her life.

2. miharukasu (5)too ni noboreba (7) kiku no umi (5) around 1923

climbing the church tower
I squint my eyes as far―
the sea of Kiku

--Hisajo worked hard to raise funds to have this church built. Kiku is an old Manyo place name for the region where the church was located.

3. jyouriku ya (5)waga natsu-tabi no (7) usuyogore (5) 1925

I see my summer tabi
a bit soiled

--Hisajo attended the Hototogisu Conference in Matsuyama, Shikoku. In meeting Kyoshi from Kamakura, she might have wanted her tabi-socks extra-white. She was in her kimono.

4. *kirishimeri omotaki kaya o tatamikeri 1926

I have folded
a mosquito net heavy
with wet fog

--Hisajo’s heart sank taking an overnight trip for her sister’s funeral.

5. *kaikyoo no (5) shio koku haeshi (7) nobori kana (5) 1927

in deep hues of the blue strait
ship banners

--Hisajo was active in inaugurating the Kokura division of the Amanogawa group and wrote this haiku to celebrate the occasion. Yoshioka Zenjido was the leader.

6. kakizomeya (5) urushi no gotoki (7) oo-suzuri (5)
(time of composition unknown)

new year calligraphy―
the sheen of an inkstone
as if lacquered

--This haiku was listed as his favorite on a web page of a present day member of Kokura City Assembly. The date of composition is unknown. Hisajo was an exceptional calligrapher.

7. oshinarau (5) sotsugyo shiki no (7) taikoban(5) around 1923

“Excellent!” I stamp
on each graduation-

--Hisajo was asked to teach Art and Sewing as a part-time instructor of a girls’ high school in the region. One of those girls, named Miyamoto Masako, who died very young, exerted influence over her boy friend named Ishikawa Keiro (1909~1975), who told later that he learned haiku from Hisajo through Masako. He showed sympathy to Hisajo in the storm of the cruel legend. Keiro became one of the important haijin in post-war Japan.

for reference:

hanabie ya (5) shimai ga ikotsu (7) mochi kauru (5) Keiro,1946

chill of the blossom―
sisters take turn
in holding the ashes

Keiro attended Hisajo’s formal funeral in the Sugitas in Aichi prefecture conducted many weeks after her death. He witnessed Masako and Mitsuko holding the white box containing the pot of remains.

8. doogan no (5) Gooya koocho (7) kigensetsu (5) around 1925

such boyish face
of Headmaster Gooya―
Imperial Foundation Day

--Mr. Goya met young Unai on his arrival tto Kokura; Kyushu, remained
a family friend and it was he that gave Hisajo a teaching position. He
was with Unai and the two kept a vigil for Hisajo in her hospital room in Dazaifu, Kyushu.

9. kuki takaku (5)houkesi tsuwani (7) tamotoori (5) 1931

tall and worn out
wild butterbur stalks
make me fold sleeves

--This Haiku was composed when Hisajo heard the sad news of Doctor Ohta’s death. He was instrumental in Hisajo’s decision to be baptized as a Christian. “To fold sleeves” is an old Manyo time expression meaning a shortcut.

10. sabishisawa (5) tsuyukusa shibomu (7) tsubo no hiru (5) 1932

what is loneliness
the noontime pot where
dew flowers languish

--Hisajo added this haiku to her letter to Museijo expressing her sadness in terminating her Hanagoromo magazine.

11. umesamuku (5) joodo no tabi ni (7)tatarekeri (5) 1933

cold plum blossoms
Reverend has set out for
the Pure Land

*--Hisajo wrote this faced with the death of the monk whose temple yard was often used for haiku-ginko.


ume samuku (5) atago ni hoshi no (7) nioi kana Kikaku (17th C)

Atago hill
with the scent of stars
…cold plum blossoms

12. *nanzan ya (5) tsuru no sugomoru (7) yoki hiyori (5) around 1935

Mount Nanzan*―
so fair is the weather
a crane retreats to her nest

*refer to her chrysanthemum haiku, # 8 in the top 10 masterpiece haiku.

*  Hisajo loved Tsurunoko, the sweets photographed in the site above and repeatedly shopped in Fukudaya store in Kokura city. One day the owner asked the renowned haijin to compose a haiku. She cordially and promptly wrote this haiku with the offered calligraphy brush on offered shikishi. Tanabe Seiko writes: I love this calligraphy best of all. Hisajo is said to have sent Tsurunoko to Kyoshi as seasonal gifts. Fukudaya, the sweets patisserie who served the daimyo Ogasawaras through the Edo period, closed its business in 1976 and the store photographed succeeds making the sweets on permission.

13. Kyoshi tanoshi (5) hana no Paris eto (7) hizakurige (5) 1936

Kyoshi is happy
going for a voyage to
blooming Paris

--Kyoshi’s son was studying music in Paris and he accompanied his daughter Akiko to this grand visit to Europe much publicized on newspapers. The ocean liner dropped at Kokura harbor where Hisajo waited to wish him von voyage. Kyoshi did not see her and made up a cruel story about Hisajo’s behavior after he returned to Japan.


hoku tanoshi matsuba kuyurase danro moyu
kame tanoshi budoo no bishu no waki sumeru

Hisajo made two more haiku starting with the phrase “tanoshi”.

fun of haiku
pine needles smoke
as the fireplace is lit


this jar is a joy
gem wine springs up
and distilled clear


Hisajo’s ten masterpiece haiku written in her second peak

Hoshino Tatsuko, Hashimoto Takako and Nakamura Teijo have been stably popular as woman haijin for a long time. And some criticized Hisajo as being too emotive unlike those who steadily do their work regardless of how they are received. I stop and think though. Hisajo’s path was not smooth till to the end because of her quest of poetry and literature as the Way of life while most haijin settle into cosy position in a jacket for skilled haiku makers. Let me choose her best haiku she wrote in her second peak to prove her poetry in the order of my preference.

# 1 usumono ni (5) sotooru tsuki no (7) hadae kana (5) 1932

gauzy kimono
moonbeams are running through it
to reach my bare s

--I have already introduced this haiku in chapter 5: Hisajo’s passion and yearning, strongly romantic and very subtly erotic, are breathing nicely here.

# 2 yuugao no (5) hiraki kakarite (7) hida fukaku (5) 1927

…such a deep spiral
in her opening

Hisajo is accurate in catching the best time to convey the charm of the flower which has got the strong association with Yugao, the mysterious lady from the Tales of Genji.


hana fukaku (5) tsutsuji miru ho o (7) utsushikeri (5)

another step taken
to see the depth of
each azalea

#3 asagao ya (5) nigori sometaru (7) ichi no sora (5) 1927

morning glory―
the sky over the city
soon grows murky

--Hisajo lived in Kokura city where chimneys for steel manufacturing emit smoke when the factory begins its operation. First, I appreciate such pureness of the fresh morning glory that they seemingly bloom every morning solely for Hisajo. Then, my attention is directed to the sky that dawned beautifully yet gradually grows murky. Hisajo’s house was located in a residential area on the hill. Time before breakfast preparation must have been spent serenely for herself as well as for flowers she was growing. When we focus on the contrast between the pureness and the murkiness, don’t we feel the energy that Hisajo must have generated faced with the tension of her life.


ichi na ka wa (5) mono no nioiya (7) natsu no tsuki 1691

this inner city
plethora of smells--
the summer moon Boncho

( a hokku for Summer Moon, a Sarumino kasen translated by ey and jec)

menoshita no (5) ento wa kurashi (7) koinobori (5) Hisajo

under my eyes
the city is overcast―
carp streamers

tsuchi nurete(5) Hisajo no niwa ni (7) megumu mono (5) Hisajo

moistened soil
all that bud
in Hisajo’s garden

# 4 kodama shite (5) yama hototogisu (7) hoshiimama (5) 1931

echoing over
and over, an exuberance
of mountain cockoos

(retranslated by ey for this chapter)

--Hisajo’s soul yearned for an exuberance and she did whatever it took to feel and to express the exuberance of life which her heart genuinely appreciated. Hisajo climbed Mount Ehiko in her kimono many times before she was able to write this haiku, which won the nation-wide haiku contest judged by Kyoshi. With the prize money she bought Masako, the elder daughter, a beautiful haori (a half length kimono worn over a
full-length kimono).

# 5 muyuuge no (5) kokage wa izuko (5) busshooe (4) 1932

pray tell where
the shady asoka blooms
Buddha’s birthday

--This haiku is based on the legend that Lady Maya gave birth to her son who would become Buddha without any pain under an asoka tree, which would be known also as sorrowless tree for the legend. The cadence is rather cheerful in spite of the subject matter and the haiku has got “a brushstroke of simple strength”. This is one of the five haiku that were chosen as kanto-ku, or the best haiku in a July, 1932 issue of Hototogisu. Yet Hisajo was thrown into the mixture of admiration, criticism and a hidden plot which led her to decide to terminate her Hanagoromo magazine launched in March, 1932. She was promoted to a dojin of the Hototogisu group in October, 1932.

# 6 sakimori no (5) tsumakou utaya (7) isona tsumu (5) 1934

missing his wife
a manyo soldier sings―
I gather grass on the shore

--Hisajo loved Manyo-shu, the ancient anthology of tanka compiled in 8th century. The north shore of Kyushu, where Hisajo lived, was the frontier where soldiers from the East of Japan had to be posted and one volume of Manyo-shu was dedicated to their simple but strong poems.


Western wind, when wilt thou blow,
The small rain down can rain?
Christ! if my love were in my arms,
And I in my bed again! Anonymous (c.1500)

# 7 isona tsumu (5) yukute iso gan (7) iza kodomo (5) 1934

gathering seagrass
hey, young ones, let us move on
towards our goal

--With five haiku including # 6 and # 7 Hisajo gained the honour of kanto, in May, 1934 issue of Hototogisu, for the third time. Kyoshi wrote a comment on another haiku from the five, which was not as assertive and clear as before, which seems to suggest his future conduct of purging Hisajo from Hototogisu.

--Hisajo’s high spirit and love for her haiku students shine through this haiku.

# 8 aogi miru (5) matsugane takashi (7) haru no yuki (5) 1934

I look up at
a revered pine root surfacing―
spring snow

Pine is the most respected tree for its eternal greenness and the surfacing roots suggest the pine Hisajo composed on is of respected longevity. On its deep green needles and gnarled roots land fluffy snow flakes of the springtime.


chichi yuku ya (5) myoojo shimo no (7) matsu ni nao (5) 1918

my father has gone―
the evening star touches
the pine of frost…still

# 9 komori i no (6) kadobe no kiku mo (7) shigure sabi (5)
after 1931

in seclusion
chrysanthemums at my gate
withered in drizzle

In March, 1931 Hisajo moved from Sakaimachi to Kiku-ga-oka, (hill of chrysanthemums) in the same Kokura city. She compared her new house to a hermitage of Tao Yuanming (陶淵明), one of the most influential pre-Tang Dynasty (618-907) Chinese poets and Mt. Kirigatake from her window to Nanzan in Tao Yuanming’s poem. She crafted a most romantic gift for Kyoshi, a pillow stuffed with white mum petals. Matsumoto Seicho, a best seller novelist, wrote a Hisajo story based on rumours and legendary episodes that he collected and titled it as “a chrysanthemum pillow”.

Hisajo wrote quite a few haiku on chrysanthemums all her life.


hi atarite (5) usumurasaki no(7) kiku mushiro (5)
shiroshiro to (5) hanabira sorinu (7) tsuki no kiku (5)
hi no kikuni (5) shizuku furi suku (7) nurege kana (5)

on the mat in the sun
white mum petals gain
a lavendor hue

white into white
a mum in the moonlight
whose petals warping

droplets showered
to mums in the sunlight--
I comb my wet hair

# 10 waga ayumu (5) ochiba no oto no (7) arubakari (5) before 1929

I keep on walking--
there’s nothing but
the sound of fallen leaves

--Hisajo’s tendency to end up being in solitude is well depicted here with a simple but lyrical verse.


Note: In Chapter 7 I am going to introduce haiku sequences Hisajo challenged to compose influenced by the New Haiku Movement.









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