Eiko Yachimoto, JP




Hisajo in the Light of English Haikai Movement

Installment 2: Chapter 1: Who Introduced Hisajo

(Installment 1: Prologue: My Courtesy VisitOctober Sketchbook)

How Hisajo endeavored, but while she was alive, she could not embrace her ku-shu, or a published booklet of her best haiku. I am going into details and the why’s of this plight in my later chapters. However, it is most important to confirm that Hisajo had her haiku for ku-shu ready for publication, but that she thought her ku-shu had to start with Kyoshi’s introduction.

She had the completed manuscript ready for publication for some time and carried it with her every time she had to leave home—once to visit married Masako in Kamakura by taking a long distance train trip and many times to the shelter in her Kokura city to avoid air-raids. This manuscript in Hisajo’s awesome sumi-calligraphy is now in a shrine in Kokura where Hisajo composed her famous blossom haiku. If the Atomic bomb had been dropped on Kokura on August 9, 1945, as was originally planned, we could never have been able to fathom into Hisajo’s life through her haiku. The A-bomb was dropped on Nagasaki city, Kokura being too cloudy on that day…

Hisajo’s ku-shu, not in Hisajo’s edit, was published in 1952 with an introduction obtained from Takahama Kyoshi. He was known as an excellent introduction writer for a number of haijin who learned haiku under him. Yet, he had never compiled with Hisajo’s wishes and request for his introduction. As a special favor in response to the humblest request by a daughter of the late Hisajo, this Giant of the Japanese Haiku World finally wrote it. By then, Kyoshi was immensely influential even outside the haiku circles. In fact, Masako had her husband and Kawabata Yasunari, their neighbor, visit Kyoshi with her request. They all lived in small Kamakura city and as you might have recognized, Kawabata Yasunari, the novelist, turned out to be a Nobel Laureate later in his life. Masako was not at all in the position to protest some of the paragraphs in the introduction text. Kyoshi, on the other hand, was in the position to be able to cunningly mix the truth and “some” fiction.

This introduction along with Kyoshi’s novel titled “Kuniko’s letters” triggered a sensational interest. Other writers including Yoshiya Nobuko and Matsumoto Seicho, both of whom were so-called best-seller writers, wrote another “Hisajo-based stories” and another even wrote and performed a drama on the theme, all of which made Hisajo’s case a social phenomenon. Even today some call it Hisajo legend. It hurts to imagine what pain and sorrow Unai, Masako and all other bereaved family members had to go through over the years. (Let’s say from 1952 when her ku-syu was published to 1975 when a former student of Unai published a sensible book titled Hisajo Notes).

Now let me translate citings on Hisajo from two Dictionaries of Japanese Literature. Both are from the most respected publishers and the editors of both dictionaries include those with highest authority. One was published in 1968, the other in 1995.


Shincho Nihon Bungaku Sho-Jiten: *first published in 1968. The eighth edition that I possess was published in 1979.

(the text on Hisajo was written by Inoue Muneo)

Sugita Hisajo (1890~1946)

Haijin. Maiden Name; Akabori Hisako
She was born in Kagoshima prefecture where her parents lived since the government transfered her father, a high-ranking government officer. She graduated from Ochanomizu Girls’ High School in Tokyo and married with Sugita Unai, the painter. Unai took the job of art teacher in Kokura city, Kyushu Island. Hisajo followed him. She started writing haiku in 1916. Takahama Kyoshi, the editor of Hototogisu, admired several haiku she sent. In a few years, she became known as an excellent woman haijin along with Hasegawa Kanajo. Hisajo with her passionate and outgoing character did not make peace with her educator husband, who was sincere and disciplined. She stopped writing haiku because of domestic conflicts as well as of her illness, but came back to Hototogisu in 1927 and also started her own haiku magazine named ‘Hanagoromo.” (which was terminated in the 5th issue). She was admitted to Hototogisu as an honored full member in 1932 but was expelled in 1936 as her individuality and strong attachment to haiku caused her to behave in an eccentric way. She showed symptoms of schizophrenia later and died in the detached quarter of Kyushu University Hospital. Her poetry is supported by the Romantic Spirit and her haiku has got grand and spirit-inspiring qualities. Her passionate haiku stands out from those called “Kitchen Haiku”. Her kushu was published in 1952. Three haiku of hers:

kodamashite yamahototogisu hoshii mama Hisajo 1930
(one of the first prize winners out of more than 100,000 submissions)

over these mountains
cuckoos’ trill echoes
as free as it wishes

(translated by ey in 2008)

hanagoromo nuguya matsuwaru himo iroiro Hisajo 1919

blossoom kimono—
on untying the obi
assorted strings now cling

(translated by ey in 2008)

tabi tsuguya Nora tomo narazu kyoshi tsuma Hisajo 1922

mending tabi socks
a teacher’s wife who
has not become a Nora       

(translated by ey in 2005)

Hai Bungaku Dai-Jiten: published by Kadokawa Gakujutsu Shuppan; *first published in 1995. The paper-back edition that I possess was published in 2008.

(text on Hisajo was written by Ueno Sachiko)

Sugita Hisajo (1890~1946)

Haijin: regular name: Hisako Maiden Family Name: Akabori Died at 57 years old.

She spent her childhood in Okinawa and in Formosa where her father, a government official was transferred. She went up to Tokyo to enter Ochanomizu Girls High School which was attached to the Women’s Education College of Tokyo. In 1909 she got married to Sugita Unai, a graduate of The Art College in Ueno, Tokyo. With her husband who became an art teacher at Kokura High school, she started to live in Kokura. Hisajo was dreaming of the day when Unai would become a professional artist, but Unai, the eldest son of the old family in a county in Aichi prefecture, was so conservative and disciplined that he stayed with the same position all his life. Gessen, elder brother of Hisajo, was a haijin first affiliated with Kyoshi, then with Watanabe Mizuha.

In 1916, Hisajo started to read Hototogisu brought to her by Gessen. Influenced, she started not only making haiku but also writing essays, and some time later both got included in Hototogisu.

In 1919 her short novel titled ‘Living by the River’ received an honorable mention in a novel contest run by Osaka-Mainichi Newspaper Company. She, however, stopped trying to become a novelist. In the same year her haiku on blossom kimono (hanagoromo nuguya matsuwaru himo iroiro) won the highest praise from Kyoshi and since that time her finely chisled haiku that emit pure brilliance kept on appearing on Hototogisu.

In 1930 she entered her haiku in The Haiku Contest on New Scenic Places of Japan, which was run by both Osaka-Mainichi & Tokyo Nichichi Newspaper companies and was judged by Kyoshi Takahama. Her haiku on Mount Ehiko (kodamashite yamahototogisu hoshiimama) won the most honored Prize of Landscape Institute.

In 1932, she started to edit and publish “Hanagoromo”, a haiku magazine for women, to which women haijin such as Abe Midorijo, Takeshita Shizunojo, Nakamura Teijo, and Hashimoto Takako contributed. Hisajo herself painted cover pictures. In spite of her vigor and enthusiasm Hanagoromo was terminated in the 5th issue. The social restriction imposed on the wife of a high school teacher was not negligiable in those days. In the same year when Hanagoromo was terminated, i.e, in 1936 Hisajo was expelled from Hototogisu along with Hino Sojo and Yoshioka Zenjido. The impact of Kyoshi’s sudden announcement of expulsion shocked Hisajo a great deal. Kyoshoi being her one and only absolute teacher, she could not consider entering another kessha, thus, she wrote less and less haiku. However, the brilliance emitted from this forerunner of modern women’s haiku is still striking; 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.

*Sugita Hisajo Ku-shu

(text also by Ueno Sachiko)

Published by Kadokawa in 1952. 175 pages. 180 yen. Including 1388 haiku composed from 1918 to 1946. On the first page are Kyoshi’s haiku to mourn Hisajo and his introduction. Postscript and Hisajo’s abbreviated personal history by Ishi Masako, Hisajo’s daughter. Her haiku are dignified as well as elegant. The whole text of this kushu was later included in the grand series of Modern Haiku Anthology. In 1969 a new Hisajo Ku-shu, 325 pages, that included 1626 haiku was published by Kadokawa.

Her Haiku: kaze ni otsu youkihi-sakura fusanomama

dropped in the wind
a yan-gui-fei sakura
still just as full             /ey


I believe careful comparison of the above can help us find and clarify what must be addressed as issues. In other words, in my next installment I will have to give how the re-evaluation of Hisajo was materialized and yet why Masako was still not content.

The reason why I desire to introduce Hisajo in the light of English Haikai Movement must also be explained. I write the following paragraph as a preview to my next installment.

Haiku was born from the tradition of renga, a unique poetry genre in which composing with collaborators is most cardinal. Today, many Japanese haijin who hardly write renku belong to a kessha, or poets’ club with codes and hierarchy that are rarely explained. In Japan Renku and Haiku are called Literature of “Za”, or togetherness in one sitting. How do English language haiku poets find a living balance between Japanese tradition of Za and Western tradition of Indivudual Voice? Didn't Hisajo suffer from this dilemma many years before you and me even though she may not have seen the nature of her plight in this light.....









to the top



Copyright © 2006-2008 Sketchbook and  All rights reserved