How to say this? I want to have a chapter in Those Women Writing Haiku to honor the advances made by women in Japan in this century, but it has been very difficult for me to obtain the information due to the barrier of the language. I feel that what I have learned from the questionnaires and the translation of the answers given there, is so small, so minuscule, and perhaps so warped that I tremble to pass along any information. Still, I have a little I have found out, and until there is more, and until it is more accurate than what I have learned, this will have to do.
In 1986, when he was Director of the International Division of the Modern Haiku Museum of Tokyo, Kazuo Sato stated, "Over 70% of the membership in all the haiku coterie in Japan are women." Endnote1 Yet, when I look at the haiku books in English of contemporary Japanese haiku, there are only three inches of shelf holding books authored or edited by women.
A few very vocal women in Japan have been active in women's rights for most of this century. I have read that women in Japan have had the right to join and appear at political meetings only since 1920 and it was in 1945 they received the right to vote.
From the few women I have met personally who spoke a halting English, I have gotten the impression that in many ways men still have the upper hand in running the haiku world.
Kenneth Rexroth, in his book Women Poets of Japan published in 1977, states, "Haiku was almost exclusively a masculine literature." Endnote2 And his statement seems to be true if one calculates only the amount of published haiku by women. Most of the magazines, which controlled the poetry clubs, were run by males and thus, the anthologies were compiled by men and tended to include mostly the poems by men even though they may have had more women in their memberships.
Yet in this century there were some 'breakthroughs' made by women poets, but this occurred when their work rippled out beyond the poetry clubs by being accepted and sold to a wider reading audience. In this century this was done by Akiko Yosano (1878 - 1942) but first she had to jump through some hoops. Her first tanka teacher, the publisher of Myoojoo [Morning Star] was Yosano Hiroshi whom she met in Tokyo. Shortly thereafter she became his lover. This was not easy to accomplish because he was already married to another woman and at the same time having an affair with Yamakawa Tomiko with whom Akiko also became best friends and lovers. Due to enough situations for a romance novel, Akiko did finally marry Yosano, did get her book Midaregami [Tangled Hair] published and was whisked to the top of the poetry hierarchy on its success. Endnote3 Her poems had such a freshness, youth and femininity that people immediately forgot her husband had been the champion of having more masculinity in tanka. His magazine soon folded. Akiko, however, went on to write many collections of tanka, stories, essays and translation while at the same time having 11 children. She truly brought the woman's perspective to tanka. She was admired for her understanding of the classic Japanese literature and her ability to use these images in her poetry of modern feelings. Kenneth Rexroth states that Akiko Yosano "is one of the world's greatest women poets, comparable to Christina Rossetti, Gapara Stampa, Louise Labe and Li Ch'ing Chao." Endnote4
But the times were against her. As Japan increasingly became embroiled in wars, the tanka genre was used a vehicle for nationalist poetry which was mostly written by men. Still at the beginning of the Second World War, in a quiet womanly way there was Fumi Saito publishing such poems as:
like this is beautiful
living in the world
all day long I sing
my nursery songs
yo ni sumi te
waga komori uta Endnote5
In 1997, and after having written ten more books of tanka, Fumi Saito was declared Japan' Poet Laureate along with many other honors. At the age of 89 she continues to write her own poems, publish, teach and edit a tanka magazine. While she, too, was greatly admired for the sass and pizzazz of her early poetry, she has remained Japan's feminine tanka voice while she has recorded her life's moments as wife and mother, caretaker for a (later) paralyzed husband and her blind mother, her grief and loneliness after their deaths and her own keenly observed spirit as she advances into old age. And through it all, her tanka have ever raised the standards of tanka excellence.
With her distinction in not only tanka but also yookyoku (poetry of the Noh plays) Akiko Baba has been very influential in the scholarship of classical Japanese literature. Through her tanka poetry and her continued efforts in tanka education she is also considered one of the best contemporary women writers of tanka. Endnote6
Yet it was another young woman who rocked the publishing world in Japan. In 1987, Machi Tawara, just out of teaching college and in her first job, had published her book titled Salad Anniversary. It literally took the country by storm selling over ten million copies with two English translations. Following her commercial success, which seemed to have come out of nowhere, she was given the prestigious tanka honors. Being a woman of these times, Tawara went on to become a television star and worked to enlarge the populations appreciation of tanka. Endnote7
One of the 'problems' of Japanese tanka had been the restrictions on the list of appropriate subject matter and word usage and grammar. Though many men had championed radical changes in these matters, their own tanka seemed unable to follow their theories. Tawara, perhaps because of her youth and belief in herself, wrote in the simplier everyday language that touched so easily the hearts of people who did not think they liked tanka poetry. To further this revolution, Tawara has recently 'retranslated' Akiko Yosano's Midaregami into a modern tanka poetry idiom which she has termed 'chocolate language'.
Though, until recently it has been mostly the men who have had the education (in English) and the money to pay for the publication of their tanka, there are glimmers of hope as the first women step onstage with their own works. One of the first was Sumiko Koganei with her book, Three Quarter Time, and now, just recently her collection Three Trees - both beautifully made books with her own poems translated by herself.
The Kajin Club of Tokyo started in 1991 publishing an English version of their coterie's magazine called The Tanka Journal. The present editor, Hatsue Kawamura, brings her excellent English as well as her own tanka experience (she has taught tanka at the university level for many years) in addition to her tanka poems which has gained here acceptance in the Karin and Ibaraki Kajin groups, as well as the Gendai Kajin Kyokai. Her latest book of tanka is titled Peacock Blue (Piikokku Buruu).
Though there remains a disparity between the number of male's with their tanka published and those of women, I noticed that in the Imperial New Year's Poetry Party which the tanka of ten Japanese are chanted, the selection committee of judges seemed to be aware of the situation by picking as many woman for the honor as men. This is a very encouraging sign when the Imperial Family makes such an effort to change the pattern in which, only a few years ago, very few women were given the honor. Still, it was to be noticed that at the actual event there were many more tuxedos than gowns and kimono.
In Japan, the gulf between tanka and haiku is much wider; in fact it is practically unbridgeable. Rarely does one poet write in both genres. So to study the complete short-form poetry scene, one must shift into a different drama with another set of players. While the haiku writers have never enjoyed the commercial publishing success of Yosano, Saito and Tawara, an increasing number of woman are taking over the prime haiku positions as leaders and editors of magazine of haiku coteries.
The first woman to do this was Tatsuko, the wife of Takahama Kyoshi. She took over the Tamamo [Seaweed] group at the encouragement of her husband in 1931. Upon her death, the position was passed on to her daughter, Hoshino Tsubaki. Endnote8
In 1986 when I took my survey, I only found eight women who attained the role of teacher and editor of a group. In the most recent book of haiku translations - A Hidden Pond - Anthology of Modern Haiku, translated by Kooko Katoo and David Burleigh there are 13 women leaders.
This brings me to the role Kooko Katoo has played in the bringing of haiku, from men and women, to English readers. In 1987 she began publishing her magazine Ko in English so she was able to bring forward many new haiku voices through her translations. In addition she undertook several very ambitious publishing adventures in pursuit of her goal to bring Japanese haiku to an English audience. In 1990 her saijiki, titled Four Seasons, brought the first complete list of season words with haiku in English with the list of authors circling the globe. And she did it in both Japanese and English. And now, her beautifully made hard cover book - A Hidden Pond - Anthology of Modern Haiku which serves as an elegant introduction for haiku of the leaders of the haiku movement in Japan.
I owe her a personal thanks for her efforts in aiding my survey in 1986. She encouraged women to respond even though they had no idea of who I was and it was the result of her esteem and encouragement that I have been able to reach as many haiku writers as I did.
In 1987 (what a year that was for so many women to enter publishing haiku!) I met Yoshiko Yoshino at the Japan - USA Haiku Conference in the Hotel Nikki in San Francisco. She was the only woman speaker in the long day's lineup and the only one who's enthusiasm and vigor made us sit up in our seats with delight and attention. She was and is totally dedicated to bringing the message of haiku to English readers with the firm hope that a sharing of cultures would lead to a lasting peace. She was and is President of the Hoshi Haiku Association and publisher of the Hoshi magazine as well as a member of the Board of Directors of the Haiku International Association. Her book, Sakura [Cherry Blossoms], in kanji and English, brings a collection of her haiku from 1949 - 1990.
One of her poems which is my favorite is:
night cherry blossoms
calculating the best time
Personal correspondence from Kazuo Sato, August 18th, 1986.
Women Poets of Japan. Kenneth Rexroth and Ikuko Atsumi. New Directions: 1977. pp. 162.
Akiko Yosano's Tangled Hair - Selected Tanka from Midaregami. Translated by Sanford Goldstein and Seishi Shinoda. Charles E. Tuttle: 1987.
Ibid. pp. 176.
White Letter Poems by Fumi Saito. Translated by Hatsue Kawamure and Jane Reichhold. AHA Books:1998. pp. 12.
Women Poets of Japan. Kenneth Rexroth and Ikuko Atsumi. New Directions: 1977. pp. 152.
There are two English translations from Tawara's Salad Anniversary. In Salad Anniversary, Kawade Bunko, 1989, Jack Stamm translated about 2/3 of the poems into five-line approximations of English tanka. Juliet Winters Carpenter, Kodansha: 1989, did all the poems into three-line haiku approximations.
A Hidden Pond - Anthology of Modern Haiku. Edited by Kooko Katoo, Translated with commentary by Kooko Katoo and David Burleigh. Kadokawa Shoten:1997. pp. 85.
Copyright © Jane Reichhold 1998.
Poems Copyright © Designated Authors.
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