Haiku by leading modern poets appear in the pages of our postwar magazines just as they did in magazines before the war. But until recently I hardly ever bothered to read them, in the same way that I never paid much attention to the little block illustrations the magazines carry. I have already had occasion to observe elsewhere that one reason for the insipidness of post-Meiji Japanese fiction is a lack of intellectual and social self-awareness on the part of our novelists, and that the most likely model for this casual approach to the creative process is haikai poetry (see the February issue of Humanity [Ningen] and the September issue of New Currents of Thought [Shincho]).1 Whenever I make this point at one of the lectures I am invited to give, I am always taken to task afterward-at least with respect to haiku-giving me fresh cause to appreciate just how deeply rooted the influence of haikai has become. It seems to me that if we are going to devote serious attention to the problems facing Japanese culture, there is a need to reassess the spirit of haikai as it has come down to us from the time of Bashō. Despite having come to this conclusion, however, I have not had the time to undertake the task myself. Or it would probably be more honest to say that I have not been interested in doing so. Then, not long ago, my daughter came home from elementary school and asked me to explain the meaning of two haiku she had studied in Japanese class:
a single peak
on which snow lingers:
the provincial border
shiroi tsubaki to
along with white camellias
have fallen to the ground
She then asked me to correct the haiku he had been assigned to write as homework, which included the following:
natsu no michi
a cloud of dust
as a truck passes over
the summer road
sora ni wa tsuki ga
when I look closely,
I can see the moon floating
up in the sky
I therefore took it upon myself to look through some of the haiku in the magazines sitting beside my desk. Most healthy children show little interest in the elegant observation of nature, and as the "when I look closely" verse makes clear, one cannot expect much in the way of accomplishment when the process of writing a haiku inspires a child to notice for the first time that there is a moon in the sky. Still, I reasoned, some children do show a talent for stringing together seventeen syllables, and once a little praise prompts them to acquire a certain amount of skill, they probably go to the works of recognized modern masters for models to emulate.
Reading through the magazines caused me to think about the opposition aroused by my public lectures, and so I devised the following experiment. From the materials at hand, I chose ten haiku composed by poets who have reputations as modern masters. I then mixed them with five haiku by unknown or relatively unknown poets and removed all of the names. Perhaps if I had adopted the procedure followed by the British critic I.A. Richards in Practical Criticism (1930), the results might have proved interesting. Instead, I simply showed the haiku to a small number of educated readers-my colleagues, students, and the like-and asked for their opinions. I also ask the readers of this essay to pause here for a few minutes to read the same fifteen haiku, and then do the following: 1) rank the haiku in order of merit; 2) regardless of merit, try to guess which haiku were written by famous poets; and 3) consider whether a valid distinction can be made between the ten verses composed by professionals and the five written by ordinary people (the names of the famous poets will be found at the end of the essay).
megumu ka to
ōkina miki o
will it bud, I wonder,
as I run my hand over
the big tree trunk
ware o megurite
izuko ni ka
the first butterfly
circles me and then flits off,
but to where?
I cough up blood,
and strains of Beethoven
fill the morning air
hana no yama
a bowl of rice gruel
hardly makes for a hearty meal—
flowers on the mountain
the evening waves
start marking off the passage of
the evening cool
uneri no ue no
a shoal of sea bream—
and over the rolling waves,
koko ni nete
imashita to iu
aru ni tomari
spending the night
in a room with Japanese roses
arranged as if to say,
"I was sleeping here."
mugi fumu ya
tsumetaki kaze no
hi no tsuzuku
I walk on the wheat—
a cold wind has been blowing
for several days now
yo no akeshiramu
dawn breaking on the night
after the war has ended—
the Milky Way
isu ni ari
fuyubi wa moete
sitting on a chair
as the winter sun burns
and then draws closer
shōdo no mugi ni
a harsh summer wind
blows over the scorched earth
where the wheat crouches
kaze sukoshi aru
the chirping of birds—
a soft breeze passes over
the road through the mountains
koko made suna ni
I have been told
that the sand covered everything
up to these glehnias
Dai Ibi no
kawamo o uchite
an icy rain
pelting the surface
of the mighty Ibi River
kyō no hitorii
kumo mo nashi
home alone today,
persimmons set out to dry,
not a cloud in the sky
I wonder what impression this short collection of verses has made upon my readers. As for me—unaccustomed to reading haiku on a regular basis and with no experience at all in composing them—the memory that comes to mind is having been taken to view the chrysanthemums at Hirakata as a middle-school student.2 Each of the various methods of displaying the chrysanthemums I saw there—the andon-zukuri style, the kengai-zukuri style, and so on—no doubt reflected a painstakingly developed set of aesthetic principles.3 But I felt no special urge to compare them, and instead simply felt bored. My experience with the above verses is similar in that I feel almost no spark of aesthetic interest. At the same time, I find myself unable to suppress a growing sense of irritation. Although I was not able to sympathize in the slightest with the psychological impulse behind cultivating chrysanthemums in the keigai-zukuri style, I could at least tell that I was looking at chrysanthemums—rather pretentious in appearance, it is true, but still reassuringly solid as individual objects. Some of these verses, by contrast, are impossible for me to understand, and as a result they take on no definite shape in my mind. To begin with, I do not even understand the meaning of numbers 3, 7, 10, 11, and 13 as Japanese. My small group of educated readers admitted that they also could not make sense of them. I doubt that anyone would even have the patience to try unless told beforehand that they were the work of famous poets (Kusatao, Seisensui, Takashi, Aro, and Kyoshi).
Now, being easy to understand is by no means the most important factor in determining artistic value. But art is meaningless unless the work makes it possible for the experience of the artist to be reproduced in the person who admires it. The clearest evidence for this artistic failing in modern haiku is the vast number of books and other writings meant to clarify or interpret the haiku of modern poets, including the explanations produced by the poets themselves. One can see the need for such guides when dealing with the customs and usage of an earlier and very different age. But it is decidedly strange when people living in the same country at the same time in history find them necessary, and also strange that the guides themselves should rely so heavily on paraphrase, the least artistic of interpretive techniques. The only explanation possible for this state of affairs is the incompleteness—the frailty, in other words—of haiku as works of art. (I trust that no one will object that Alain4 has published annotations to the poems of Valéry. Valéry's poems are perfectly realized objects in themselves, and as a result Alain is able to satisfy himself by confidently building his own ideological structures upon them. It is most emphatically not the case that Alain's commentary is necessary to complete the meaning of the poems. One might also point out that in France you will not find books filled with explanations of Baudelaire's poetry or those meant to help the reader interpret Verlaine.)
I am sure there will be those who, after reading this far, will attribute this attitude to my lack of experience in writing haiku. They will say, along with Mizuhara Shuoshi, that "one cannot understand haiku until one has tried one's own hand at composing them." (The Carpenter Bee [Kumabachi], vol. 2) That the person regarded as our most sincere haiku poet finds himself forced to say something like this seems to me to point to the decline of haiku as a modern art. Even among our insufficiently modernized Japanese novelists one never hears that "one cannot understand novels until one has tried one's own hand at writing them." Rodin never held that it was possible to discuss sculpture only after making a statue oneself. And imagine being told not to criticize a movie like Casablanca until one has made a film or two of one's own. Yet for haiku alone it seems possible to claim, "People who are not engaged in the creative struggle should not presume to offer advice to those who are" (Shūōshi, as above). A remark such as this clearly reveals haiku to be an artistic activity suited to a small circle of devotees interested in creating a special world all their own.
The next discovery made by me and my friends when reading these fifteen haiku was that a single verse provides little basis for judging poetic talent, making it impossible to distinguish the first-rate poets from the amateurs. There is no reason to judge Kyoshi's "I have been told/that the sand covered everything/up to these glehnias" as superior to "I walk on the wheat—/a cold wind has been blowing/for several days now" or to the verse about chirping birds that I took from a railroad magazine. And both of the latter haiku struck us as being more poetic than Sōjō's "a bowl of rice gruel/hardly makes for a hearty meal—/flowers on the mountain." This surely cannot be the mark of a truly modern art form. Reading through the collected works of Tolstoy and Kikuchi Kan5 makes one all the more aware of who was the better novelist, but there can be no doubt on that score even when the stories are compared one by one. One would expect Shiga Naoya6 to be offended rather than pleased to be told that any of his works was superior to a story by a writer who had spent two or three years churning out works for coterie magazine. When I was in Paris, I saw a great many minor pieces of sculpture by Rodin and Bourdelle.7 But no matter how minor, each piece was clearly of a different order than the works singled out for praise at our own Imperial Art Exhibition.8 It is characteristic of haiku, however, that unless the name of the poet is attached, no one can tell the difference among them. Of course, it is true that no one except Seisensui would so deliberately break the formal conventions of haiku by writing "spending the night/in a room with Japanese roses/arranged as if to say,/'I was sleeping here.'" And the modern tone of desire in "I cough up blood,/and strains of Beethoven/fill the morning air" will probably not be found anywhere but in Kusatao. The readers of this essay were no doubt able to identify these two poets with ease. But that does not mean that aesthetic values are involved. It appears that in order to appreciate modern haiku, one must first look at the name of the poet and only then turn one's attention to the poem itself. Kinbara Seigo, in his article "The Seriousness of Haiku" ("Haiku no genshukusei," in Studies in Haiku [Haiku kenkyū], June), begins by quoting Shiga's famous passage:9
When I gaze at the statue of Kannon in the Yumedono, no thought of the identity of the sculptor enters my mind. This is because the statue has an existence completely divorced from that of the sculptor, and that is what makes the experience so special.
Now, this passage is not only very famous, it also easily invites misinterpretation—so much so that one suspects that Shiga himself, as a modern novelist, may have been laboring under some kind of misapprehension. Kinbara then goes on to develop his ideologically abstract argument by writing, "A work of art leaves behind space and time, and after it separates from its maker, what can be said to emerge from within? What emerges is that person's body." I can only say that this makes for a rather laughable kind of seriousness.
The problem with haiku as a genre can probably be traced to the way it established its independence by giving up its role as the first verse in a haikai sequence. Be that as it may, in modern haiku it is difficult to use the work itself (a single verse) as the basis for placing any given poet. The result is that a poet's place is necessarily determined by something other than aesthetic worth—namely, the poet's social standing. Since in haiku, unlike other modes of art, a poet's reputation does not rest upon aesthetic values, the standard necessarily becomes one of who has the largest number of followers, for example, or which magazine has the biggest circulation, together with the question of how much social influence the poet commands. In this way, a demand arises for the creation of new schools and factions. Moreover, given that greater authority is the goal of establishing a new school, it is only natural that once a poet acquires a certain amount of influence, the result is a split and the creation of yet another school. Thus it comes about that we have an assortment of egos large and small scattered throughout the country. There are now than thirty different magazines devoted to haiku (Studies in Haiku, June). Even Bashō created his own school, although few people regard him as belonging to one thanks to the quality of his haiku (even so, it should be noted that Kikaku, Bonchō, and Etsujin10 all parted ways with Bashō in his later years). The same demand mentioned above also gave rise to the popular practice of styling oneself the second, third, or later "master" of some designated "hut." Kyoshi and Arō, for instance, do not exist for us as independent artists. Instead, we think of the former as the head of the Cuckoo [Hototogisu] school, and the latter as the leader of the Rhododendron [Shakunage] group of poets. Novelists, too, were once said to belong to the Ken'yūsha, the Akamon school, or the Mito school.11 But now, of course, all of these schools have disappeared. I am quite certain that Ishikawa Jun and Sakaguchi Ango12 both have friends, but as novelists they work alone. Most haiku poets, on the other hand, are still members of some school or other. They may no longer refer to themselves as the most recent in a succession of hut owners, but the spirit remains the same. As a case in point, the August 23 edition of the Yomiuri Shinbun advertises a course on haiku taught by "Ikenochi Tomojirō (son of Kyoshi)." One can hardly imagine a course on writing novels being taught by "Hirotsu Kazuo (son of Ryūrō)."13
I am not using the word "school" here in the same sense that "party" is used in modern politics, but in a sense more appropriate to a medieval guild. An element of mystification therefore comes into play. The role of the leader may be clear enough, but mystification demands recourse to some ancient authority, much as the guilds of medieval Europe each avowed a particular tutelary saint. For haiku poets that saint is Bashō, and their scripture consists of terms such as sabi, shiori, and karumi. Bashō himself did not leave us with clear definitions of these terms, and as a result today's poets find themselves in the enviable position of being able to say things like "Haiku, myself, and the great spirit of nature are but three names for the same thing" (Arō).
In mystical organizations, it is considered obligatory for the higher ranking members to preach constantly to new initiates. This is how they maintain their authority. In fact, I know of no other individuals as fond of offering advice as haiku poets. Followers are encouraged to immerse themselves in haiku, or to pursue the truth of poetic art, or to learn about pine trees from the pine, or to perfect their humanity, and so forth. But even in feudal times, it was quite impossible for anyone but the most successful haiku masters to spend the entire day living in accord with the spirit of haikai. Those who are exhorted to do so today recognize the impossibility of the task, which has the opposite effect of inspiring even greater respect for the master. But is it really possible for those administering such precepts to practice what they preach?
Haikai is a popular art form that advocates the elegant ideal of "praising the moon, admiring the flowers, and allowing the spirit to roam free of the vulgar world," while at the same time promoting the use of everyday language. In other words, it contains within it two inherently contradictory tendencies. Since I am unfamiliar with Bashō's aesthetic theories, it is not possible for me to discuss how he attempted to sublate this contradiction. But I think it can be surmised that surrounded on all four sides by the iron walls of a feudal society and unable even to consider even the possibility of opening a hole in those walls, the only way for Bashō to pursue spiritual freedom was to become a poetic recluse. He ultimately came to the realization that the only thing he could change was himself, and so he tried to clothe his isolated yet fiercely ambitious spirit in the elegance of Saigyō and Du Fu.14
This is what I think Bashō meant when he said, "My art is like a fireplace in summer and a fan in winter."* But when the flowers that sprang from his heart lifted their heads in the hope of attaining the richness of full bloom, they encountered another iron wall overhead. The only alternative was for the blossoms to crawl along the ground. This is what I think accounts for the emphasis on everyday language and the lives of ordinary people. In this way, even the reclusive Bashō was forced to seek out a livelihood by soliciting support from commoners and townspeople (including wealthy men like Sanpū15). It is also worth noting in this context that Bashō—whose name is invariably accompanied by the adjective "severe"—was actually quite lenient even with the amateurs always out to win points in haikai contests, saying of them in "The Three Grades of Poetry" ("Santō no bun") that "although you might take them for people who have lost sight of poetic truth, they help fill the bellies of the judge's wife and children and put coins into the landlord's collection box, which is certainly better than committing a crime."
*Ebara Taizō regards "My art is like a fireplace in summer and a fan in winter" as evidence that Basho belongs to that category of poets for whom art is for life's sake rather than for art's sake (Bashō and Kyorai, page 120). Since the notion of art for art's sake is only possible in a modern world that acknowledges the importance of the individual, characterizing Bashō in this way is certainly accurate enough. But I feel the need for additional explanation before I am convinced that Basho's art was for life's sake. Perhaps it could be said that his art was for the sake of his own life. I look forward to receiving clarification on this point.
lived at a time when classical scholarship was on the rise, when the shogun himself
gave lectures on the Four Chinese Classics (setting aside for the moment the
fact that it was a period qualitatively different from, say, the Renaissance).16 This is not to say that townspeople engaged in scholarship, but they were
probably not indifferent to the shifting tide. Bashō, whose vision was keen from
the start, viewed nature through the lenses provided by the waka of Saigyō and the
poetry of Du Fu, enabling him to take advantage of this chance to rise above vulgarity
(Bashō did not look at nature in the same way we do today; and we, in turn,
with our knowledge of the natural sciences, will never be able to look at nature
in the same way he did). I would also venture to say that even if Bashō's journeys do not represent an attempt to sublate the contradiction I have pointed
out, they at least offered Bashō the means of effacing it by giving him the
chance to court physical danger. It is instructive in this respect to consider
the example of Shiki,17 who attempted to reform haiku while lying fatally ill.
after Bashō became increasingly popular, and with the growing stability of the
tightly regulated feudal regime under the Tokugawa shogunate—a phenomenon
unprecedented in world history—it was perhaps only to be expected that haiku
poets would become decadent. It would not be correct to say that this was
because later poets neglected the spirit of Bashō, or that they stopped seeking
out the same things he did. We should instead recognize that this decadence followed
directly from the continued adulation of Bashō. It was not simply that Bashō's words
underwent a process of mystification at the hands of his followers and later
commentators. The cause lies rather in the failure to abandon Bashō. Art does
not permit both artistic genius and artistic form to be studied at the same
time. When the attempt is made, the spirit of genius is taken to be conveyed
through form, leading inescapably to the formalization of the spirit itself.
The result is called academicism or mannerism. Bashō studied Saigyō and Du Fu
through the very different forms of waka and Chinese verse, so he had no choice
but to extract and absorb only their genius. This would seem to account for Bashō's ability to escape mannerism while still absorbing the spirit of the past. But since
later haikai poets studied only haiku and called constantly for a "return to
Bashō," mediocrity was the unavoidable result.
an artistic form like haiku was able to exist unchanged for some 300 years
would seem to tell us something about the stability—or stagnation—of Japanese
society during that time. Beginning in the Meiji period, Japan's military
acquired modern arms and equipment, but its spirit remained that of the feudal
samurai. In the same way, modern haiku organizations published thousands of
magazines and operated out of Western-style offices, but the spirit of haiku remained
unchanged. Even so, as society continued to advance, the inherent contradictions
of haiku became increasingly exposed to view. On the one hand, haiku poets
continued out of long habit to emphasize the need for transcendent precepts like sabi and shiori. On the other, to survive in the new social milieu they were forced to make even better use of their characteristic talent for securing a livelihood. They may have made pronouncements like "Loneliness is the ultimate condition of human life," but when the powerful wind of external authority came along, they somehow contrived to bend with it. Then, once the gale passed, they resumed their former aloofness. As the saying goes, a willow's branches do not break under the weight of the snow (generally speaking, this is a trait common to both transcendentalist art and traditional Japanese artistic pursuits; the tea ceremony during the war offers a case in point). I recall that when the Japanese Literature Patriotic Association18was formed, the haiku section received an unusually large number of applications, making it the only one for which Association headquarters had to actively limit membership.
Such opportunism was to be found among novelists, too, but today those writers are unable to publish anything of note. The novel's status as a modern genre does not allow for that possibility, and therein lies its strength. But those haiku masters who, for instance, so adroitly produced wonderful advertising copy for the national silver-collection campaign are still the leading figures in their field. Haiku is a genre in which any effort the artist makes to influence society leaves no trace upon the work itself (this was the reason, I think, that young people fond of literature who took positions in business or with the government were regarded favorably by their superiors if they expressed a taste for haiku, yet left a bad impression if they said they wrote novels).
being what it is, moreover, poets must take care to avoid the vulgar. Bashō
accomplished this through his use of the classical literary tradition as represented
by Saigyō and Du Fu. But the general populace these days has forgotten the
classical tradition, or at least no longer takes much interest in it. Their taste
runs instead to modern Western art, whether or not they really understand it.
It would seem a wise choice to try to incorporate this spirit into haiku. But,
of course, that would never succeed. For although Saigyō and Du Fu may have
been separated from Bashō in time, they were, like him, flowers that crawled
along the ground instead of reaching up to the sky. Modern Western art, in
contrast, while rooted in the earth, is a great tree bearing its flowers high
into the lofty sky of ideals. Both plants produce beautiful flowers, but the
difference is that between a flowering grass and a tree. For the tree to be
transplanted properly into the soil of haiku, the pot containing the soil would
have to be broken. That the pot remains intact proves that it is only a sprout from
the tree that has been transplanted. If haiku had wanted to learn something
from Western literature, at the very least it could have turned its attention
to nihilism, regardless of any prospect for success. But apparently even this possibility
has escaped the notice of our haiku poets.
current trend is the attempt to reinvigorate haiku by infusing it with human
life. But given that human life is itself being modernized, our practically
oriented lifestyles simply refuse to be taken in. It is all very well to say
that training in haikai helps to perfect human character and to proclaim, along
with Arō, "Let the light of personality illuminate haiku!" But in today's world, a personality steeped in poetic tradition has no light to emit. Let us consider, for instance, the understanding of the world demonstrated by one of our present haiku masters. Ogiwara Seisensui has offered the following interpretation of freedom in his "The Unstriving Heart" ("Kokoro kisowazu"):
The true meaning of freedom (jiyū) derives from the two Chinese characters used to write the word: "of oneself" (onozukara) and "in accordance with" (yoru). The peach tree brings forth blossoms of its own accord, and the wheat growing at the tree's base also produces ears of its own accord. Each does what is in its nature to do. They do not trespass upon one another, nor do they restrain or compete against each other, but instead give expression to their lives naturally and without haste. This is the form taken by truth and freedom, and so I say that freedom is the spirit of the unstriving heart…. In the broadest sense, it is an ideal held by people all around the world; in a narrower sense, it is the principle informing the world of linked verse (renku)."
I do not think I need to add anything more to suggest how difficult it is to infuse modern haiku with human life. Shūōshi was being honest and entirely correct when he wrote, "The proper range of subject matter for haiku consists of natural phenomena and everyday life as it is affected by changes in nature." (On Modern Haiku [Gendai haiku ron])19This is why I spoke earlier of Shūōshi's sincerity. He also argues that modern
haiku should not regard Bashō as absolute—that it should give up sabi and wabishisa and instead adopt an attitude of cheerful brightness (akarusa). I am willing to admit that these are progressive views, but I doubt that they are enough to save haiku as a modern art. The works themselves are the important thing. How are they to be produced? It is telling that
Shūōshi instructs us to look to painting for an answer: "One should try composing haiku with the same attitude one brings to painting a small picture. A good size to aim for is the No. 4 canvas used in Western painting—about 33 by
24 centimeters—or, in Japanese terms, a size slightly larger than a shikishi." (The Carpenter Bee, vol. 2) One scarcely needs to refer to the example of Alain to observe that it always weakens a genre's artistic integrity for it to be drawn to another and attempt to make use of that genre's techniques. For a prominent poet like Shūōshi to advocate such a method of training seems
to me a clear sign of artistic decline. And what, according to Shūōshi, is the
poet supposed to depict? "Natural phenomena and everyday life as it is affected by changes in nature." Or, less ambiguously, a life centering on plants. The reader will recall that Seisensui explained the most important problem facing modern mankind—freedom—by referring to peach trees and wheat. This is what it
finally all comes down to when haiku today aims for sincerity: depicting plants
on a No. 4 canvas or a shikishi while learning about peach trees from the peach tree and about wheat from wheat itself.
An activity like haiku is suited to whiling away the time or serving as a diversion for the ill or the elderly, who normally have more important work to do. But does it deserve to be considered an art to which a modern individual can commit both heart and soul? Isn't it abusing the term to call modern haiku an art in the same way we use that word to describe the novel or the contemporary theater? (In this respect, it is interesting to note that Shūōshi,
in the same article cited above, always refers to "artistic skill" [gei] rather than to "art" [geijutsu]). One hastens to add that it is perfectly acceptable in any period for people to find ways to divert themselves. No one would presume to criticize the elderly for devoting their spare time to bonsai or the cultivation of chrysanthemums and holding the occasional exhibition or publishing a magazine or two (although thirty is overdoing it). As long as one does not attempt to find a modern meaning in it, cultivating chrysanthemums has its own distinctive challenges and pleasures. No one would deny that.
ku o tama to
where with warmth my verses become
Nevertheless, one hesitates to call the cultivation of chrysanthemums an art. It seems best to classify it as an artistic pursuit. If one still insists on using the word "art," modern haiku should be called a "second-class art" to distinguish it from the other kinds. As a second-class art, haiku requires no complicated logical justification. Its followers should therefore stop calling for a return to the
time of Bashō when haiku was a first-class art and, in candid recognition of
its nature as an enjoyable pastime, return instead to the time of Sōin.20 This would be a course more fully in accord with haiku's present status, for as
Among the different styles of the past, the present, and times in between, we find both the skillful and inept. But nothing equals simply doing as one pleases, not concerning oneself with the difference. The rest is but the empty banter of dreams and illusions.
This concludes what I set out to say, but in view of recent calls for Japan to build a "nation of culture" (bunka kokka), I feel the need for a few additional comments. If these calls for the construction of a nation of culture are to be taken seriously, we have to think about the content of that culture, and consequently it would seem that a blockade of sorts must be placed around this sort of second-class art. It goes without saying that showing respect for art and promoting its spread among the general public will both be necessary if we want to create a nation of culture. However, this new culture should not be envisioned as centering upon art, nor should we forget that there must first exist an awareness of the true nature of the kind of art that is to be respected and encouraged. The ideal is for good art to be understood and appreciated by all of a nation's citizens, but I do not think that we should allow ourselves to be seduced by the sophistry of descriptions of a national character purporting to derive from the values of traditional Japanese civilization (see Hasegawa Nyozekan's The Japanese Character [Nihonteki seikaku]).22 Do the haiku or senryū of a barber qualify as art, even supposing that we
attach an adjective like "inferior" to the term? According to Nyozekan, "Rather than look down on [haiku and senryū] as inferior, shouldn't we instead look down on the inhabitants of [Western] towns and villages who cannot even claim to possess this inferior sort of literature?" When I was in France, however, I frequently encountered a use of the language at least as artistic as that of some of my Japanese acquaintances, both in my conversations with intellectuals and even in discussions around the dinner table at my boarding house. But while the French enjoy the skillful thrust and parry of verbal exchange, they do not even dream that it might be considered art. They regard art as something of a higher order, and respect it for that very reason. Anyone who has lived in France is aware of the esteem with which the word écrivain —author—is
pronounced by the general public. The public relishes art, but they do not
regard it as something that can be created easily. And as for Japan? A major
reason that art has not been taken very seriously here—aside from the fact that
we have had so few great artists to begin with—is the influence exerted by a
genre like haiku that can be so easily produced by anyone. Art is something we
can do without even trying. Master poets are simply those who, favored by
circumstance, are able to devote themselves entirely to haiku. We might just as
easily have become artists ourselves; art is only a matter of having enough
time and acquiring a certain amount of skill. This mode of thought does not
breed a genuine respect for art, nor does it lead to the creation of great art.
I have no statistical evidence for this, but I suspect that no other country
has as many amateur artists as Japan. That every young person who has fallen in
love immediately wants to write a novel about it (quite a few even bring their
manuscripts to me) can be attributed to this aspect of our "national character." Without an awareness that modern art is hard work that demands everything an individual can bring to it—that is, that the process of creating a single work can
either help a writer to mature or bring the writer to ruin—nothing artistic can
be produced. Furthermore, so long as we must contend with an attitude toward
art that assumes that composing a few haiku qualifies as artistic creation, the
great modern art of Europe will never be properly understood.
is my hope—always granting that adults should be free to indulge in a taste for
haiku—that subjects like haikai will be excluded from the curricula of our
elementary and middle schools in that same way that Edo-period music has been. Some
people seem to think that the observation of nature found in haiku serves as a
kind of guide to the natural sciences, but that is only because they do not
understand the nature of modern science. Nothing is as incompatible as the
spirit of haikai—which attempts to capture nature and human society in the
manner of a snapshot while ignoring the laws beneath the surface—and the spirit
of modern science.
I wonder how many members of the newly created Education Reform Committee can be said to be without a traditional appreciation for haiku.23 These last few extra comments have been prompted by my uneasiness on this score.
Note: The authors of the fifteen haiku quoted anonymously at the beginning of
this essay include Awano Seiho (1), Nakamura Kusatao (3), Hino Sōjō (4),
Tomiyasu Fūsei (5), Ogiwara Seisensui (7), Iida Dakotsu (8), Matsumoto Takashi
(10), Usuda Arō (11), Takahama Kyoshi (13), and Mizuhara Shūōshi (15). The
others are either by new poets or unknowns. The choice of these ten particular
poets may be open to criticism, omitting as it does such famous names as Yamaguchi
Seishi,24 but I trust it will be understood that I was relying on materials that were immediately
available to me. Seishi and Shūōshi are currently experimenting with a new form
of modern haiku they call "serial composition" (rensaku), but I did not have the time to consider that here.
Postscript: Kusatao's haiku, the third on my list, was misquoted in the original article. It should have read shiwabuku hipokuritto Beetoben hibiku asa (the coughing/hypocrite Beethoven filling/the morning with sound). I do not know how the verse came to be mistranscribed, but the error does nothing to weaken the logic of my argument.
1 For Humanity Kuwabara had written a short article with the title "The Defects of the Modern Japanese Novel" (Nihon gendaishōsetsu no
jakuten). The September issue of New Currents of Thought carried a taidan-style dialogue between Kuwabara and Nakano Yoshio, a critic and scholar of English literature, under the title "Literature, Life, Society" (Bungaku, jinsei, shakai).
2 Hirakata is a city on the Yodogawa River in the northeastern part of Osaka Prefecture. The city sponsors a chrysanthemum exhibition that begins in late October.
3 Andon-zukuri, or the paper-lantern style of cultivating chrysanthemums, is a style in which the plants are trained to a frame that resembles the supports of a four-sided paper lantern. Kengai-zukuri, or the cascade style of cultivating chrysanthemums, is a style in which the plants are trained to a frame that drops down below the pot.
4 Alain. Pseudonym of French philosopher and educator Émile-Auguste Chartier (1868-1951); author of Système des beaux-arts (System of the
Fine Arts; 1920, revised 1926).
5 Kikuchi Kan (1888-1948). Novelist and publisher
who founded the magazine Bungei Shunjū and established the Akutagawa and Naoki
6 Shiga Naoya (1883-1971). Novelist and one of the founders of the magazine White Birches (Shirakaba). Much admired as a stylist, and often referred to as "the God of Fiction" (shosetsu no kamisama).
7 Antoine Bourdelle (1861-1929). French sculptor and teacher; served as an assistant to Rodin.
8 The Imperial Art Exhibition, or Teiten, was an annual exhibition of fine art held for the first time in 1919. It was the successor to the Ministry of Education Art Exhibition (Bunten), which started in 1907. The name reverted to the Ministry of Education Art Exhibition (Shin Bunten) in 1937, and was reorganized as the Japan Fine Arts Exhibition (Nitten) in 1958.
9 Kinbara Seigo (1888-1963). Art critic and educator; one of the founders of Musashino Art University. The passage comes from the introduction to the Shiga Naoya volume in the Collection of Modern Japanese Literature series published by Kaizōsha in 1928.
10 Takarai Kikaku (1661-1707), Nozawa Bonchō (d.
1714), and Ochi Etsujin (b. 1656). Three of Bashō's most talented disciples.
11 The Ken'yūsha (Friends of the Inkstone Society)
was organized in 1885 by Ozaki Kōyō and Yamada Bimyō, among others; the Akamon
school (Red Gate, from the name of the famous gate at Tokyo University) refers
to writers who published their work in the journal Imperial Literature (Teikoku Bungaku); the Mito school refers to those writers who published their work in the journal Mita Literature (Mita Bungaku; Mita is the location of Keio University).
12 Ishikawa Jun (1899-1987), novelist who won the second Akutagawa Prize for The Bodhisattva, or Samantabhadra (Fugen); Sakaguchi Ango (1906-1955), novelist who, along with Dazai Osamu, is considered one of the chief representatives of the postwar Japanese decadents (burai-ha).
13 Hirotsu Ryūrō (1861-1928). Meiji novelist and
member of the Ken'fyūsha whose works earned the appellation "tragic novels" (hisan shosetsu).
14 Saigyō (1118-1190), poet-priest of the late
Heian and early Kamakura period whose many travels also inspired Bashō; Du Fu (712-770; pronounced "To Ho" in Japanese ), Chinese poet—also known as Du Shaoling
or Du Gongbu—who is often paired with Li Bo as the greatest of Chinese poets.
15 Sugiyama Sanpū (1647-1732). Haikai poet of the
mid-Edo period. He is mentioned in the opening section of Narrow Road to the Deep North.
16 The Four Chinese Classics. These include The Great Learning, The Doctrine of the Mean, The Analects of Confucius, and The Discourses of Mencius. These works were first grouped together as the "Four Books" (Ssu shu) by the 12th-century Neo-Confucian philosopher Chu Hsi.
17 Masaoka Shiki (1867-1902). One of the most preeminent figures in waka and haiku during the Meiji period.
18 The Japanese Literature Patriotic Association (Nihon Bungaku Hōkoku Kai) was founded in 1942 as part of the government's war-mobilization effort. The Association's chairman was Tokutomi Sohō (1863-1957).
19 On Modern Haiku was published by Daiichi Shobō in 1941.
Sōin (1605-1682). Renga and haikai poet of the mid-Edo period; associated with
the Danrin school. His disciples included Ihara Saikaku (1642-1693).
21 The passage comes from Oranda-Maru Niban-sen (The Oranda Maru No. 2), a two-volume haikai miscellany compiled by Sōin in 1680. The title, which takes the form of
a ship's name, is based on the Japanese pronunciation of "Holland" and is meant to suggest the eccentricity associated with the exotic.
22 Hasegawa Nyozekan (1875-1969). Critic born in Tokyo. Founder of the magazine Us (Warera). The Japanese Character was published by Iwanami Shoten in 1938.
23 The Japanese, although technically different, appears to refer to the Education Reform Committee (Kyoiku Sasshin Iinkai), which was established in August 1946. The size of the committee was set at no more than 50 members. The committee was renamed the Education Reform Council (Kyoiku Sasshin Shingikai) in June, 1949, and replaced by the Central Council for Education in June, 1952. For more detailed information about the committee and its work, see the following page at the Web site of the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology:
24 Yamaguchi Seishi (1901-1994). Haiku poet born in Kyoto. Associated with the magazines The Cuckoo (Hototogisu), Lily-of-the-Valley (Ashibi), and Heavenly Wolf (Tenrō; the
traditional Chinese name for Sirius). The other ten poets mentioned in the note are as follows:
Awano Seiho (1899-1992). Haiku poet born in Nara Prefecture. Associated with the magazines The Cuckoo (Hototogisu) and Katsuragi (a place name in Nara), the latter of which he founded.
Nakamura Kusatao (1901-1983). Haiku poet born in Xiamen (Amoy), China. Associated with the magazines The Cuckoo (Hototogisu) and Unending Green (Banryoku).
(1901-1956). Haiku poet born in Tokyo. Founder of the magazine Seigen (taken from the name of a jōruri character).
(1885-1979). Haiku poet born in Aichi Prefecture. Associated with the magazine Fresh Leaves (Wakaba).
(1884-1976). Haiku poet born in Tokyo. Founded the magazine Layers of Cloud (Sōun).
Iida Dakotsu (1885-1962). Haiku poet born in Yamanashi Prefecture. Associated with the magazines The Cuckoo (Hototogisu) and Mica (Unmo).
(1906-1956). Haiku poet born in Tokyo. Associated with the magazines Layers of Cloud (Sōun) and The Flute (Fue).
(1879-1951). Haiku poet born in Nagano Prefecture. Founder of the magazine Rhododendron (Shakunage).
(1892-1981). Haiku poet born in Matsuyama, Ehime Prefecture. Associated with
the magazine The Cuckoo (Hototogisu).
(1892-1981). Haiku poet born in Tokyo. Associated with the magazines The Cuckoo (Hototogisu) and Lily-of-the-Valley
Translated by Dr. Mark Jewel, Waseda University, Japan. Please see Mark Jewel's Translator's Note.