Friday, June 29, 2012

Radical, tragic Shiki.

Reading up a little on Issa's life has me thinking about another of the four haiku masters, MASAOKA Shiki (who lived much later than the other three, 1867–1902—note that he died at the young age of 35). He's a fascinating figure, and the more I read about him the more interesting I find him. He was from samurai stock but by his teens, in school (in the early 1880s), he was so strongly in favor of elections, civil rights, etc., that the school actually banned him from speaking in public (ca. 1882), as a pro-democracy radical:
In the 1870s and 1880s, the democratic movement was at its height, and one of its chief leaders was Taisuke Itagaki (1837–1919) from Kochi Prefecture... [...] [D]emocratic thought reigned at the school; yet after the principal's departure many students left, and their numbers decreased from 213 in 1879 to 102 in 1881. Among those strongly influenced by the former principal was Shiki. He neglected most of his schoolwork, so caught up was he in the excitement of making political speeches night after night with ten or so of his classmates. (source)
面白いですね。In the 1880s and 1890s he became a kind of poetry radical, intentionally picking up forms that were in decline in the 明治時代 Meiji era (specifically, haiku and tanka), dropping out of college to do so, and focusing on poetic reform. (What reforms he wanted, exactly, I don't yet know.) Late in his life he had a circle of acolytes and left Matsuyama for Toukyou.*

What's particularly poignant about Shikiさん, amazing as he was, is that he suffered from tuberculosis for much of his life. He was coughing up blood for about the last thirteen years and was bed-bound for the last five. (The source of his poetic name, Shiki, is the cuckoo ほととぎす, which is traditionally held to cough blood as it sings—at least, that's what I've read.) Last week at shuuji 先生 was kind enough to show me some of Shiki's writing, three poems on one page, written at different angles; 先生 said he probably was lying on his left side while writing. So, he may have lost some functioning before then. Beyond sad.

(Did I mention that, in addition to being one of the four great masters of haiku, Shikiさん went to China as a war correspondent in the Sino-Japanese War of 1894–1895 and also is in Japan's Baseball Hall of Fame? We all should achieve so much in so little time!) 

Fun fact: Shikiさん was a fellow middle-school student and friend of the novelist NATSUME Souseki, who also wrote haiku, and encouraged him in his writing. (Natsume wrote 坊っちゃん about his experience teaching there some twelve years after Shiki moved to Toukyou.) Apparently the government sent Natsume to study in England from 1901–1903 as Japan's first British literary scholar; since the UK census is conducted every ten years on the '01s, I checked the 1901 census for Natsume, and there he is! At #6, Flodden Road, Lambeth, K Natsume—he was born 金之助 Kinnosuke; Souseki was a pen name taken from his Chinese studies—34, Japanese, married, an instructor of literature. (Presumably his wife, Kyouko, was still in Japan.) Natsume later said that he'd pretty much hated his time in England and had felt alienated by British people. Interesting that there also was, boarding in that house, a Japanese merchant, TANAKA Kotarou. I wonder whether they'd known each other earlier in life—or, if not, why this boarding house would unusually be hosting two Japanese citizens, as there were only about 800 Japanese-born people in all of London at the time, and most of them were ancestrally British.

*I feel silly spelling "Tokyo" that way, but the difference between long and short vowels really is an important one, especially for students, like me; 日本語で they're written differently. So I'm going to be rigorous about it and transliterate things as faithfully as I can.

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