Simply Haiku: A Quarterly Journal of Japanese Short Form Poetry
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Spring 2006, vol 4 no 1

Translator's Note
by Mark Jewel

Kuwabara Takeo's "Modern Haiku: A Second-Class Art" ("Dai-ni geijutsu: gendai haiku ni tsuite") created quite a stir when it first appeared in the journal The World (Sekai) in November 1946. It was one of a number of essays by postwar critics who vigorously attacked the cultural chauvinism that had characterized Japanese society in the years leading up to the Second World War. The argument can best be followed in the translation itself, which is presented here with a minimum of interpretive comment. The notes are almost entirely factual in nature, and Western writers and other artists are not included among them, with two exceptions. Certain references have yet to be tracked down; it is hoped that the convenience of Web publication will allow them to be added later.

That the issues raised by Kuwabara's essay continue to be relevant 60 years after its original publication is suggested by a feature article that appeared in the May 2005 issue of Haiku World (Haiku-kai). Ten short-form poets and critics were asked to evaluate "Modern Haiku: A Second-Class Art" in retrospect. The brief responses ranged from the offended defiance of Kawauchi Seigyo and Iwata Tadashi, who would apparently prefer to both reject the argument and deny its historical influence, to the more diffident and even accepting reactions of Ôshima Fumihiro and and Tamai Kiyohiro. The critic Kawana Hajime writes what seems to me to be the most acute appraisal, pointing out Kuwabara's methodological failings and the narrow perspective that resulted from his ignorance of various movements within modern haiku itself, while at the same time acknowledging the fundamental validity of the essay as cultural criticism. The essay is clearly of its time, and yet it touches on certain fundamental concerns with a challenging brashness that seems as refreshing in its own way as was the criticism of Northrop Frye when I first read that as a university student.

The names of the ten famous poets whose verses form the bulk of Kuwabara's test poems appear in English as a footnote to Kuwabara's original note; other footnote references are inserted into the text at the appropriate spot. The postscript in which Kuwabara acknowledges having misquoted Nakamura Kusatao appears in the paperback version published by Kodansha in 1976 and in volume two of the 1980 collected works published by Iwanami Shoten, on which this translation is based. One scarcely need add that any translation of haiku that are held to be nearly incomprehensible by the person quoting them can only be considered tentative at best.

The following translation has been authorized by the estate of Kuwabara Takeo, which holds the original copyright, on the condition that the translation may not be transferred to another site or published in any other form without written permission to do so. This English translation is copyright 2006 by Mark Jewel.

Mark Jewel, Translator


Please see Mark Jewel's translation of Modern Haiku: A Second-Class Art by Kuwabara Takeo.

A graduate of Stanford University, Mark Jewel, PhD, is a noted translator and a teacher at the School of Political Science and Economics at Waseda University, Japan.