SHIKI - discovery of haiku


. - Masaoka Shiki 正岡子規 Introduction - .

- quote
SHIKI: The Discovery of Haiku

In 1868 Japan launched into a civilized society from the feudal age. Western culture had a great effect on it and civilization rapidly developed modern culture.
In the previous year 1867, Masaoka Shiki was born in Matsuyama. His father served the Matsuyama domain in the lower rank of samurai. Shiki lived to be 35 years old and died of tuberculosis of spine in 1902. In his last seven years, he had to be confined to his bed; however, during that time he accomplished three of his great works on modern literature: Haiku Reform, Tanka reform, Advocating Sketch-from-Life-Prose.

1. Shiki's Discovery of Literature

When Shiki was in the fifth grade he composed a Chinese poem.

Under the moonlight, cuckoo cried as if it coughed up blood.
The sad voice kept me waking up,
the cry reminded me of my old home town far away.

(It is said that a Japanese cuckoo, hototogisu , Žq‹K (Shiki) will sing until it coughs out blood because of its sad voice.)
In those days Chinese poetry and prose were considered as important learning and culture, so even young children used to compose them. The interesting thing about this young Shiki's Chinese poem is that he composed on a sad voice of cuckoo which would cough up blood. Later he was to cough out blood and he picked out his pen name, Žq‹K (Shiki) a hototogisu. Shiki wrote about 900 Chinese poems in his life.
At the age of 15, Shiki began to composed tanka with 31 Japanese letters of 5-7-5-7-7 syllables. He composed about 2300 tanka in his life.

2. Interest in Haiku

When he was 18, he became interested in short poems with 15 syllable,haiku, written on portraits. And he liked drawing by nature. He found something in common between drawing and literature when he was 11 years old. The sense of observation helped his sense of appreciation for the haiku on portraits.
Besides, drawing flowers and things around him later became one of his indispensable remedies for his bedridden life.
When he was a college student in Tokyo he sometimes enjoyed word games with his friends. He also like baseball very much. He is said to have introduced baseball to Matsuyama. One of his pen names was '-e‹…',baseball. In this pen name he used a complex bilingual pun. The kanji -e‹… literally means field ball and 'field ball' can be translated into 'no boru' in Japanese. Shiki was called Noboru in his infancy. Noboru was the name by which Shiki's friends and family loved him. In his youth Shiki believed word play was the wit of literature. He once composed a haiku on '-Ý,a green herb rice cake.

green in the field
was pounded into
rice cake

'-Ý a green herb rice cake is made of rice pounded in a mortar with steamed leaves of mugworts. The expression ' green in the field is pound into rice cake' was interesting, but overuses the images.
When he was 22, he coughed out blood. He changed his name to Shiki,which is an another name for the bird a Japanese cuckoo 'hototogisu'. Since those days, he was inspired by his uncle, haiku teacher Ohara Kiju. He began to devote himself into haiku. Shiki composed over 25,500 haiku in his short life. After Ohara Kiju passed away, he began to classify old haiku according to season words. At that time there were several ways of using season words and they were different according to writers. For instance, there were many kinds of 'tofu' : cold tofu, yu-dofu (a simmered hot water tofu), etc. So he began to consider what season each word should express.

3. Haiku as a Sketch of Life

When he was 24, he had 3 day walk around Musashino ( fields around present Warabi-shi and Kumagawa-shi in Saitama Prefecture where there used to be lots of rice paddy fields and forests.) at the end of the year 1891, when he realized that word play would not enough to express the truth and that we should write things as they are. He had an open-eye to haiku for the first time. He composed:

cold winter blast
a cord of a sedge hat
cut into my neck

the sun set behind
a traveling monk
tall in the withered field

Next year in 1892 he went to a hill ,Takao-san in the western suburbs of Tokyo and composed the following haiku:

wheat sowing
the mulberry trees
lift bunched branches

pine and cypress
in a desolate filed
a Fudodo shrine

He wrote a simple haiku from a simple common sight. This was a new experiment and discovery of new material and vision. Then he composed another sketch haiku in 1894.

locusts fly low
over rice paddies
in the dim sun ray

red dragon fly
in the sky of Tsukuba
no cloud

The former haiku has a very close eye to the insects and the latter one expresses a very spacy field with a dragon fly focused.

4. Shiki in Matsuyama

At the age of 28 he returned to Matsuyama and spent over 50 days recuperating from tuberculosis with Soseki Natsume, one of his best friends and a very famous author. Soseki was in Matsuyama as a teacher of English at Matsuyama Middle School. Soseki was living at Gudabutsuan , where many Shiki's friends visited. Soseki and town people were quite inspired with Shiki's new type haiku. They gathered around him every night to hold haiku meetings. They also enjoyed writing haiku while taking a walk. Shiki composed this haiku when they paid a visit to Ishite Temple, the 51st pilgrimage temple.

looking up
what a high pagoda
in the autumn sky

This haiku just has a right direct expression of the great three storied pagoda, soaring to the clear autumn sky.
At Hojoji Temple,where Buddhism Ji-sect founder Saint Ippen was born, he composed:

a gay quarter
just ten steps away
autumn breeze

Just near the temple there used to be a gay quarter.
Also he composed another haiku at Dogo Hot Spring from the building of Dogo hot spring spa, which is very near the temple.

by persimmon trees
hot spring

From the 3rd floor of the main building of Dogo hot spring spa, we see the castle to the west, rice paddies beyond and hot spring quarters, where each house had persimmon trees in the yard. They were astringent persimmons. We remove the astringency of persimmons with low-class distilled spirits, 'shochu'. We spray 'shochu' over them until they become sweet, Shiki loved this sweetened persimmons very much. As for his haiku appreciation, that haiku describes only visible scene, and to tell the truth, we may say it is not so good a haiku. Shiki could have eaten up 15 or 16 of the sweetened persimmons at one time. So persimmon trees might have attracted Shiki.

5. Haiku Reform

Through his haiku exercise, he studied how to improve haiku and wrote a theoretical text on haiku literature, 'Haiku Taiyo', The Element of Haiku.
At this time haiku was considered to be a low rank literature. It used to be composed in the hangout of the barbers or rikisha-men. But Shiki's 'Haiku Taiyo' inspired people and they began to think better of haiku.
Shiki composed more haiku:

water plant blossoms
still white
autumn wind

I wonder
a cow has eaten up the leaves
a spider lily

Matsuyama Castle
lifted over the mats
of rice fields

In the traditional Japanese literature, people used to attach much importance to 'yugen' and 'wabi'. 'Yugen' is the subtle and profound quiet beauty and 'wabi' is quiet refinement. These concepts are based on imagination. But Shiki made much use of realism as a methodology and also hit upon an idea of sketch, a technique of drawing and then proposed the philosopher Hegel's theory of "Aufheben", Sublimation as a true literature. He thought of how to use the selection of combination with realism. He advocated 'the 3rd literature; Non imaginary and non realistic literature'.
On his way to Tokyo, he dropped in at Nara, and composed the best known haiku.

I bite a persimmon
the bell tolls
Horyu-ji Temple

Shortly after, he suffered much agonized pain and had to be confined to his sick bed for seven years. Although he was a newspaper correspondent at Nihon Shinbun newspaper company, he could not get to work. During that painful period in bed, he initiated his haiku and tanka reform.

6. Some Interesting Haiku

Let's appreciate some of his interesting haiku:

Title: Cat's Love
My cat Choma
waiting for neighbor's cat Tama
at night.

This haiku is humorous and it contains the real cats' names 'Choma' and 'Tama'.

many a time
asking the height of
the snow

Since there was not so much snow in Matsuyama, Shiki might have been interested in the snow and he was curious about snow like a child. He kept such innocent spirit of a child.

an infant
steps on the green grass

This green grass haiku evokes us of the touch of the child's barefoot on the green grass.

at this time
morning glories fix the color
deep blue

The summer is advancing and the color of the morning glories has become most blue.

I eat green apples
facing to peonies
I will die

In this peony haiku, both 'green apples' and 'peony' are summer season words. It is usually said we should not use two season words because the haiku will be out of focus with two images. But this haiku is beautiful and it describes Shiki's character very well. Shiki liked fruit very much. When he wrote the haiku, he had eaten apples to his heart content, thinking of the famous traditional haiku master Buson, who composed famous beautiful haiku on peonies. Also Shiki believed Buson was the greatest haiku poet that people should follow his way.
Shiki's characteristic realism is not such realism as observing things merely objectively but a value of realism appreciating the objects profoundly and reaching a mental state of accepting just as they are, a state of simplicity.

7. Shiki's Curiosity and Humor

At the age of 34, his friend bought a new record player and they listened to Western Laughing Songs. In no time Shiki composed a humorous poem.

crows come flying
scatter their dropping
on a man Gonbe, on the head,
a-ha-ha! a-ha-ha! a-ha-ha! . . . . (in 1901)

In spite of his pain, he still seems to have had such sense of humor. Everyday he had high fever. He was thirsty. Then he composed:
(in 1901)

full of spring
rotten oranges
how sweet!

He still devoted himself to eating fruit. Writing and eating were only his pleasure in his sick bed. He submitted his article to the newspaper every day.
He was tortured by pain, but when morphine could mask the main, he enjoyed painting.
While the death is closing to Shiki, he composed a haiku on a cicada.

a late summer cicada
at the top of his voice
chirping, and chirping . . . . . . .

The image of the life of the cicada overlaps his fate close to death.

8. Deathbed Haiku

On the morning of September, with the assistance of Hekigoto, one of his successor who was nursing him and his sister Ritsu, he wrote down three final haiku .

sponge gourd has bloomed
choked by phlegm
a departed soul

Sponge gourd vine juice was used to relieve coughing, but it could no longer help Shiki. Death came at one o'clock the following morning. Even sponge gourd, which is not so elegant, became the theme of his haiku. He found the poetic taste in it and took himself for a hotoke buddha (a departed soul).

----------- based on a talk given by Prof. Shigeki Wada, former curator of the Shiki Memorial Museum, for the EPIC 'Hand's On' project.

source : terebess.hu/english


. Shiki - Cultural Keywords and ABC-List .

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