Haiku for Harakiri: Stupid and Serious Poems about Suicide


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It was in tanka that the leaders of the Kokugaku movement saw the sources of Japanese cultural identity, the sacred bastion of the Japanese spirit. Referring to the literary monuments of the past, it advocated purity of Japanese language, the patriarchal dignity of morals, mystical depth, and the greatness of Shinto, the Way of the Gods. This quest to return to the roots brought into their own works depth and breadth, restraint and internal integrity. The Buddhist basis of their poetry is brightened and enriched by Shinto spirituality. This passion was also shared by his younger friend Kagawa Kageki, the patriarch of the most popular Keien tanka style.

The subjectivity and the connection with earthly matters typical of Pre-modern tanka is also a reference to haiku aesthetics, which proclaimed the priority of the smallest details of the material world over the canonical stereotypes. Moreover, the potency of tanka helped to expand the boundaries of the Zen worldview and turn the short verse into an amazingly natural form. These poems are full of imagery taken from life proper, in which the directness and spontaneity of the feeling overcome the conventions of the form.

Pretentiousness, eloquence of lexicon, and compositional elegance are not typical of the Edo tanka. All stylistic means are more often than not meeting the requirement to create visible, almost tangible images, and the primary goal of the author is nothing else but to achieve as in haiku a lively response from the reader. The suggestive element becomes the means of conveying real impressions of the moment, unlike the late courtly poetry, where deliberate ambiguity of the image was the aim.

The traditional set of poetic techniques was slightly changed: such archaic tropes as foreword— parallelism jo or introduction utamakura are rarely used. The traditional artistic techniques are reinvented and used in the playful spirit of ukiyo aesthetics.

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Simple feelings and Zen wisdom triumph over literary sophistication. The theme of abandoning the temptations of the world, voluntary austerity, and poverty real or imaginary permeate the poetry of major tanka authors represented in the Edo period. Thus, the thread is pulled back through centuries, to the masterpieces by Saigyo and Fujuwara no Teika, and to the Chinese classics of the Tang period — which had elevated the ideal of noble poverty and detachment from mundane vanity.

TANKA to fame. Some of them, like Kamo Mabuchi, Tayasu Munetake, and Kagawa Kageki, were quite wealthy and famous during their lifetime; others, like Ryokan, Roan, and Akemi, lived in noble poverty. Okuma no Kotomichi remained in oblivion for many years after his death. But overtime the masterpieces of Edo waka poetry took their well deserved place in the treasury of classical Japanese literature. However, by the middle of the nineteenth century, at the end of the Edo or Tokugawa era, waka tanka , as well as other ancient poetic genres, came to the state of decline and lost for a while its former aura in the eyes of the intellectual elite.

Haiku for Harakiri: Stupid and Serious Poems about Suicide

The custodians of the old-fashioned canon, paying homage to Kagawa Kageki, the founder of the Keien style, actually distorted his legacy and abnegated any innovations. The situation remained practically unchanged until the s, though Japan by that time had actually entered a new period of development and had changed beyond recognition. At the court of Emperor Meiji, tanka was revived in a classic version with the inevitable touch of imitation. The emperor himself was a great admirer of classic poetry and composed during his lifetime no less than a hundred thousand waka.

His wife, Empress Shoken, composed forty thousand poems. The court poetry tournaments were revived after a centuries-long break. Didactic tanka, where the authors introduced all kinds of technical and every day realities of Western life, would form a special trend of education.


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Some poems, in the form of tanka contained some references to historical anecdotes, featuring episodes from the life of the great men of the West: Julius Caesar, Napoleon, Peter the Great, Washington. Many sounded like epigrams addressed to the acting politicians.

All this, of course, did not meet the demands of the new intellectuals, who were raised on Western ideals and were eager to renovate radically the national culture. After the Meiji Restoration many young reformers seriously raised the issue of whether it would be best to abandon traditional genres and forms of poetry, painting and music, and shift completely to Western cultural values.

He also insisted on switching immediately to spoken language in tanka this reform has not been fully implemented yet even in our days. Some of the young reformers tried to follow his recommendation, but, of course, came to no success.

The Haiku: A Short, Powerful, Three Line Poem

In , three professors of Tokyo University, Toyama Chuzan, Yatabe Shokon, and Inoue Sonken, released a collection of verse containing some translations of Western poetry and their own experimental poems under the title The Collection of New Style Poetry Shintaishisho. Many poets, critics and scholars of the verse demanded that tanka as well as haiku should be thrown away as obstacles in the way of progress. They were not aware that their idol Van Gogh, as well as many other Impressionists and Post- impressionists, admired the masterpieces of Edo ukiyo-e prints and sought inspiration in Japanese art.

Some of them, led by Masaoka Shiki, followed the path of gradual reformation of the traditional genres, adjusting them to the demands of modern times. Their work gave rise to many new masterpieces of haiku and tanka poetry of the Japanese Silver Age, laying a solid foundation for further development and improvement of ancient genres.

Others, like Yosano Tekkan, tried to turn tanka poetry into an instrument of nationalist propaganda— and this line of development, leading ultimately to catastrophe, can also be tracked up to the end of the Second World War. When he was young, he was fond of European literature and did translations for the anthology of European poetry edited by Mori Ogai.

Together with Sasaki Nobutsuna and Masaoka Shiki he tried to set up a society of new poetry, but soon turned to composing tanka. Nevertheless, Naobumi himself was not a poet of a militant attitude. A somewhat different tone and mystical philosophical depth is characteristic of his later waka, such as this one composed on his sickbed shortly before his death: kogarashi yo Oh you, stormy wind!

For example, what birds do they mention in their poems?

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Funny Haikus That Show How Great Things Come In Small Packages

TANKA but birds like canaries, peacocks, and parrots—no matter how wonderful their voices or the colors of their feathers are—were ignored by the old school poets [94, ]. He also tried his hand at composing kanshi poems in Chinese , imayo folk songs , experimented with ballads in shintaishi form, and advocated the coexistence of different genres and stylistic systems.


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  • It was the willingness to accept the new in all possible forms and a critical attitude towards the rigid conservatism of traditional schools that placed Ochiai Naobumi among the prominent reformers of aesthetics and poetics of the Meiji period. One must also take into consideration his ambitions, his passion for experiments, and his well known romantic love affair with his wife to-be, the ingenious poetess Yosano Akiko. Tekkan was born in Kyoto in the family of a Buddhist priest of the famous Nishi Honganji Temple who was also the head of a small school of waka poetry.

    He was not accepted to a high school, to say nothing about university. The venerable master was so much impressed by the talents of his new student that he recommended the twenty-year-old youth to the position of the head of the department of culture and arts in the central newspaper Niroku Shinpo. A similar miracle happened to Masaoka Shiki, another great poetry reformer of the Meiji period.

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    At the same time Tekkan, along with Omachi Keigetsu, Ayukai Kaien, and several other young poets, became an active member of the Asaka-sha society, putting forward the slogan of composing innovative tanka. Tekkan began his career as a literary critic with an affront. There are shameless people in the world who present silly judgments, stating that morality and literature are two quite different things. Those who are capable of destroying the country no doubt are among them [24, ]. Criticizing the untalented epigones who write boring imitative tanka, Tekkan develops his idea using a picturesque comparison: Heavy drinking and womanizing destroy the human body, therefore the damage they cause is clearly visible to everyone; indecent habits and morals corrupt the human spirit and the harm they have caused is not always obvious.

    I love waka with all my heart, but I will not let waka ruin my country. Only by feeling to the full the harmony of the universe can one can create really spiritual, masculine poems. However, our modern poets proved to be people who do not see the truth. They imitate classics in everything, argue about the merits of these imitations, and are ready to spend a lifetime in imitating … They know only their old masters, but the rhythms of nature and the universe are unavailable to their ears … They have found in this rubbish something catering to their taste and have taken over the worst from the classical works.

    If you ask about the extent of such poetry, it is scanty; if we talk about its spirit, the spirit is weak; the quality of the verse is low and primitive, its rhythm is uneven. Moreover, if we talk about poetry of such kind, a hundred days would not be enough to list its drawbacks [24, ]. In his polemical rage Tekkan in the early writings even comes to a resolute denial of the value of love poetry, claiming that only waka permeated with masculine civic spirit merits being called true poetry. Everybody should be judged only by skill, but the older generation has already been poisoned by imitation, and therefore their poetry has totally degenerated.

    The extremism of his slogans did not bother the poet at all. He did not even try to disguise the overtly nationalistic, racist pathos of his poems: naite sakebu Shedding tears I exclaim: kiiro muno The yellow are powerless! Ajia hisashiku Oh how long since there were men kataru ko no naki who could raise their voice in Asia! During the Sino-Japanese war Tekkan became famous not only among literati but also in political circles.

    In order to reinforce his imperial ambitions, in April he left for the new colony to teach Japanese literature in Seoul. There he started teaching Japanese classics to the Korean children at a school established by the Japanese administration. Tekkan took his mission as a colonizer and instructor very seriously, probably sincerely believing that he was bringing knowledge to half-savages, and completely ignoring the fact that Buddhism and all the basics of culture had come to Japan mostly from Korea or through Korea from China.

    Moreover, the young poet associated Korea the former tributary state of the Chinese Empire and by that time a protectorate of the Manchu emperors with the whole of continental China, against which Japan was then successfully waging a war. He was evacuated back to Japan in good faith that he would continue his mission at home. Kara ni shite How can I decease ika de ka shinan here in Chinese Korea?!

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    When Tekkan returned to his homeland and recovered, he resumed his ideological campaign developing the same militant topics in tanka poetry, but now the boundaries of his creativity were considerably expanded. While trying his hand at writing renga and shintaishi new westernized forms of poetry alongside tanka, Tekkan gradually came to the conclusion that the old and the new in fact can complement each other.

    TANKA turn to the genre of ideologically colored, propagandist waka poetry. A few tanka about tigers evoke the frightening nature of the beast and refer to the rumors that there are tigers in Korea. His patriotic impulse, however, develops into a nationalistic bravado. Incantations about the sacred mission of the Yamato race in Asia coexist with an inferiority complex when it comes to relations with Western countries.

    But at this point, national self-assertion takes a turn. However the tone of his poems would change drastically after his meeting in August with Ho Akiko, the future distinguished poetess, who soon became his sweetheart, then wife and devoted partner for life. By that time Tekkan was already married, so the new love story was fraught with serious family complications. In the end Tekkan divorced his wife and married Akiko, with whom they would have ten children.

    Haiku for Harakiri: Stupid and Serious Poems about Suicide
    Haiku for Harakiri: Stupid and Serious Poems about Suicide
    Haiku for Harakiri: Stupid and Serious Poems about Suicide
    Haiku for Harakiri: Stupid and Serious Poems about Suicide
    Haiku for Harakiri: Stupid and Serious Poems about Suicide

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