Yosano Akiko (与謝野晶子)

Akiko YOSANO (与謝野 晶子 or 與謝野晶子 in orthographic style; December 7, 1878 - May 29, 1942) is a kajin (waka poet), novelist, and thinker active during the Meiji through Showa Periods. She was born in Sakai City (present-day Sakai Ward), Osaka Prefecture. Her maiden name was Ho.
In the family register, her name was 'Shiyo.'
The Kanji character '晶' in her pen name '晶子' came from her real name 'Shiyo.'
Her husband was Tekkan YOSANO (Hiroshi YOSANO).


Shiyo Ho was born as the third daughter of Soshichi HO (father) and Tsune (mother) who ran a long-established Japanese confectionery shop 'Surugaya' in Kaino-cho, Sakai City (present-day Kaino-cho, Sakai Ward), Osaka Prefecture. One of her real brothers was Hidetaro HO who later became an electrical engineer. Shiyo entered a school of Sinology (the study of the Chinese classics) at the age of nine and also learned koto (a long Japanese zither with thirteen strings) and shamisen (a three-stringed Japanese banjo). After entering Sakai Girl's School (present-day Osaka Prefectural Senyo Senior High School), she devoured the Japanese classics such as "The Tale of Genji." In addition, she said, under her elder brother's influence, 'by the time I was twelve or thirteen, my greatest pleasure was reading literary magazines "Shigaramisoshi" (and later its successor "Mezamashigusa") and "Bungakukai" as well as novels by Koyo OZAKI, Rohan KODA, and Ichiyo HIGUCHI' ("Myojo" May 1906).

Around the age of twenty she started contributing her poems to magazines while she helped her family business. After participated in the Kansai Young Men's Literary Society, in 1900, she became acquainted with a waka poet Tekkan YOSANO at a poetry reading held at a Japanese-style hotel in Hamaderakoen and contributed her poem to "Myojo," an in-house magazine of Shinshisha (New Poetry Society) founded by Tekkan. In the following year she left her home and moved to Tokyo, and published her first poetry anthology "Midaregami" (Tangled hair) that expressed female sensuality in open fashion with which she established her style as a romantic poet. Later she married Tekkan.

In September 1904, she published a poem "Kimi Shinitamou koto nakare" (Thou Shalt Not Die) in "Myojo." In 1911, she contributed a poem that started with 'Yama no ugoku hi kitaru' (The day comes when a mountain moves) to the first issue of "Seito," the first female literary magazine in Japan. In 1912, Akiko followed Tekkan and moved to Paris, France. Ogai MORI helped her to raise money for going abroad with his wide range of literary works and large circle of contacts, and he also proofread "Shinyaku Genji Monogatari (New Translation of The Tale of Genji)" on behalf of Akiko to which he wrote the preface. On May 5, 1912, the Yomiuri Shimbun started a series of articles entitled 'Atarashii Onna' (New Women) with an article on Akiko's voyage to Paris, and on the following day the newspaper reported her departure (some 500 people including Raicho HIRATSUKA saw her off). The following June issue of the "Chuo koron" magazine ran a feature story on Akiko. On May 19, Akiko arrived in Paris via the Trans-Siberian Railway; during four months up to her leaving to Japan from Marseille, France on September 21, she visited England, Belgium, Germany, Austria, and the Netherlands and so on.
Two years after returning to Japan, she wrote a book with Tekkan called "Pari yori" (From Paris) in which she argued the necessity of education for women, stating '(snip) the first legitimate right to claim is the freedom of education.'

Akiko and Tekkan had many children, but sales of Tekkan's poetry kept falling, so she worked very hard as the sole bread-winner until her husband gained a position as a college professor. She had to take every offer to make ends meet and even asked advanced payment for her poetry anthologies. While she was busy working and managing the household, she held improvised tanka poem meetings with women and wrote about 50,000 poems. Her energetic works include a contemporary translation of "The Tale of Genji" called "Shin Shin Genji," poetry, and critiques, and she also left a vast mark as a pioneering feminist. Her grave is located in the Tama Cemetery.

As novelist and poet

Her famous works include the poetry anthology "Midaregami" (Tangled hair) in 1901 that includes many passionate poems and "Kimi Shinitamou koto nakare" (Thou Shalt Not Die) made during the Russo-Japanese War. She is also known for her translation of "Genji Monogatari" (The Tale of Genji) in modern language.

With the poetry anthology "Midaregami" (Tangled hair) she expressed female sensuality in open fashion at the time when it was outrageous that a woman expressed their ego and sexuality, and she established her style as a romantic poet. The traditional poetry circles were offended by her poems, but the world was startled and enthusiastically supported her, so her poems had a significant impact on the circles. She was called 'Yawahada no Akiko' after a poem in the anthology.

In September 1904, she wrote the poem "Kimi Shinitamou koto nakare" (Thou Shalt Not Die) in Myojo on lamenting her younger brother who was recruited half a year ago and sent to the Siege of Port Arthur.
In the third verse of the poem she wrote that the Emperor was not allowed to join the war himself; a literary critique Keigetsu OMACHI who was a close friend of Akiko, but at the same time a nationalist, criticized her by stating 'it was too audacious to say that what matters to you is your family and wife, that it doesn't matter if your country is destroyed, and that merchants are not bound to fight in the war.'
Akiko published "Hirakibumi" in the November issue of "Myojo" to criticize extreme patriotism by stating 'Dear Mr. Keigetsu, you said that I had very dangerous ideas, but don't you think that it is far more dangerous to tell young men to die for the country, and to cite loyalty, patriotism and the Imperial Ordinance on Education in any discussions, don't you?'
Stating that 'waka poetry should express the true feelings of people,' she scoffed at Keigetsu's criticism.
(During the Russo-Japanese War, the suppression of free speech was not so fierce as that during war time in the Showa Period, and many other poets wrote poems deploring the war, including Seigo SHIROTORI, Naoe KINOSHITA, Kaizan NAKAZATO, and Kusuoko OTSUKA.)

In the magazine "Taiyo," Keigetsu OMACHI published a thesis "Shiika no kotsuzui" (Bone marrow of poetry) to fiercely criticize Akiko, stating 'If you scrutinize Akiko's poetry from a perspective of imperial centrism, you can't help but scream that she is a traitor, betrayer, and offender who should be punished by the state.'
By negotiating with Akiko's husband Tekkan YOSANO and Shu HIRAIDE in person, Keigetsu, while he never changed his position that poetry should obey the nation and society in a particular situation, agreed to withdraw his criticism against Akiko calling her 'a traitor, betrayer, etc.,' and thus the dispute was settled. When Keigetsu died of illness at the age of 57 on June 11, 1911, Akiko contributed a memoir to the newspaper "Kanagawa Boeki Shimpo."

Although this dispute left her image as an anti-war poet, when Submarine No.6 sunk in 1910, she wrote about ten poems including 'At the bottom of the sea; writing under the light of water; for farewell; the letters from Japanese men;' and during World War I, she wrote a poem entitled "War" that encourages and praises the war: 'This is the time to fight; even I, who usually detests war; feel excited these days.'
After the Manchurian Incident broke out, by taking into consideration that the wartime regime and Yokusan Taisei (Support system of Taisei Yokusan-kai - Imperial Rule Assistance Association) were strengthened, she approved and supported the establishment of Manchukuo and in "Hakuo-shu" that she published in 1942, she wrote poems that glorified and encouraged the war, completely opposite of her pervious work 'Kimi Shinitamou koto nakare.'
Such poems include 'How strong, without fear of the heaven, they act worthy of themselves, in battle, our brave men' or the one dedicated to her fourth son who went to the war as an naval captain, which had the completely opposite meaning to "Kimi Shinitamou koto nakare:" 'As a naval captain, my son Shiro will join the Imperial force; Fight bravely.'
Based upon these facts, some comments about her conduct as being anti-war lacks consistency or she converted depending upon the tendency of the times by changing her sentiment.

During the Russo-Japanese War, she made public that she hated the anti-war theory of Shusui KOTOKU.
It should be noted, however, that she published the following poem dedicated to twelve people including Shusui sentenced to death in a case of high treason on March 7, 1911 on "Tokyo Nichinichi Newspaper": 'Ubuyanaru; by my pillow; standing in white; prisoners for high treason; their twelve coffins.'
Among those executed, Seinosuke OISHI was a member of "Myojo" whom Akiko knew well; and Suga KANNO was the only female and she asked her attorney Shu HIRAIDE to send her Akiko's poetry anthology while she was in detention before the verdict. Akiko was full of remorse for not giving the book to Suga in person and wrote her regrets in a letter to Tenmin KOBAYASHI.

In 1911, Akiko participated in the launch of the monthly magazine "Seito" that opened with her poem "Sozorogoto" that praised the magazine, and she was listed as 'one of the new women.'
In the same year, the Ministry of Education and the Ministry of Home Affairs established a consultative body called the Literature Committee in the name of honoring literary works, but on this event Akiko wrote a critical poem filled with irony 'Eitaro KOMATSUBARA and Tosuke HIRATA; these ministers know nothing about literature; poor things.'
Regarding this literature committee, Soseki NATSUME was also critical by commenting 'it is too obvious that their intention is to promote nothing, but such works that are convenient for the administration in the most disgusting way.'

In 1915, Akiko published in the Yomiuri Shimbun a long poem entitled "Daju no mure" (a group of dumb beasts) that depicted her distrust of the congress and politicians. She also advocated female suffrage and wrote a song "Fusen no uta" (song for female suffrage). This song, composed by Kosaku YAMADA, was presented at the first national conference for female suffrage.

When Akiko was thirty-four, "the New Translation of The Tale of Genji" was published as a four-volume work, but was filled with flaws because its source Kigin KITAMURA's "Kogetsu-sho Commentary" contained many errors, the process of publication was hasty in order to earn money for traveling abroad, and Ogai MORI who was in charge of proofreading was not an expert on "The Tale of Genji." Therefore, Akiko started all over from scratch and finished up to the one before the last "Uji Jujo" (last ten chapters) of fifty-four chapters of The Tale of Genji, but the Great Kanto Earthquake burnt all the manuscripts kept in Bunka Gakuin into ashes. Once again she started over and it took seventeen years for her to complete the six-volume set "New-New Translation of the Tale of Genji." The publication started in October 1938 and was completed in September of the following year.

As critic

After the Russo-Japanese War, Akiko started her activity as a critic by contributing articles to newspapers and magazines to rebuke society. Her reviews can be classified into two categories: female self-independence, and politics. She also made comments on education.

In terms of female self-independence, she argued that a woman should be self-disciplined and self-cultivated to develop her own personality. So she was an advocate of westernized individualism.

At that time, the Ministry of Education was strengthening the censorship of ideas because the Ministry regarded any ideas as dangerous if they argued that an ideal woman was not a dutiful wife and devoted mother.
On the other hand, Raicho HIRATSUKA supported maternity-centrism and demanded that the National Treasury should cover all the costs of pregnancy and delivery; Akiko criticized, however, that maternity-centrism was merely an alternative approach of supporting the concept of a dutiful wife and devoted mother, and argued against Hiratsuka and Waka YAMADA about maternal care stating 'women should not depend on men or the nation.'
Here a women's liberation activist Kikue YAMAKAWA participated in this dispute of protection (Hiratsuka) versus financial independence (Yosano) by clarifying the historical context of feminist movement and arguing logically from a socialist viewpoint that women's liberation could be achieved only in a society without discrimination. This dispute was far from the intention of the Ministry of Education from beginning to end (a similar dispute occurred even in our time that was known as the "Agnes Dispute").

As a political critic, she commented from the perspective of anti-communism and anti-USSR. She wrote over twenty articles on this subject. Despite her "Kimi Shinitamou koto nakare" fame, she was not an unconditional anti-war and anti-Emperor activist; she also criticized Marxism-Leninism that was introduced as "Labor-Peasantism" at that time.

She was against the Siberian Intervention by stating that such an act would arouse suspicions that Japan had territorial ambitions, resulting in impoverishment of people's lives again caused by foreign loans in the Russo-Japanese War. She also contributed an article 'On Food Riots' to the magazine "Taiyo" regarding rice riot and demanded the resignation of Masatake TERAUCHI's Cabinet at that time.

Akiko contributed an article to the May issue of the Chuo koron in May 1919 entitled 'Expecting national education' (the title was altered to "Demanding for the democratization of education" when it was included in a book "Gekido no naka o yuku" (Going through Turbulent Times)). She suggested establishing a board of education by popular vote in each municipality.
She argued that education of the times was 'an education submissive to the Ministry of Education's despotic decisions' but it should be 'left to a discretionary power of the board of education of each municipality' in order to realize 'education for the people.'
Moreover, based on her experience to meet elder women in Europe who were devoted to various social volunteer activities with younger women, she proposed to offer adult and social educational opportunities.

Around the time that Motoko HANI established Jiyu Gakuen, Akiko devoted her time to found the Bunka Gakuin (Institute of Culture), a coeducational school against the specifications by the Ministry of Education. She later became the school's director for the department of women.

Books written by Akiko

"Teihon Yosano Akiko Zenshu" (Complete collection of Akiko Yosano) twenty volumes (Kodansha, published in 1979 - 1981)
"Midaregami" (Tangled Hair) (Shincho Bunko)
"Midaregami with Midaregami shui" (Tangled Hair with additional collection) (Kadokawa Bunko Classics)
"Zenyaku Genji Monogatari" (Complete translation of the "The Tale of Genji" three volumes (Kadokawa Bunko Classics); Large-print edition "The Genji Monogatari" with complete text and translation (Daisan Shokan)
"Kogai Genji Monogatari" (Outline of The Tale of Genji) (Musashinoshoin) Faculty of Letters, Tsurumi University, edited by Toshio Ikeda
"Kagero Nikki" (The Gossamer Years) (Heibonsha library) translated by Akiko Yosano
"Poetry anthology of Akiko Yosano" (Iwanami bunko)
"Collection of Commentaries by Akiko Yosano" (Iwanami bunko)
"Ai, Risei oyobi yuki" (Love, Reason, and Courage) (Kodansha Bungei Bunko, Contemporary Japanese Essays)
"Nyonin Sozo (Creation of Women) The Series on Feminism" (Ozorasha)
"Collection of Letters by Hiroshi and Akiko Yosano" (Yagishoten)
"Watashi no oitachi" (My biography) (Josei bunko/Gakuyo Shobo) illustrated by Yumeji TAKEHISA (Kankosha)
"Dowa Tamaki no ichinenkan" (Nursery story: A year of Tamaki" (Izumi-shoin publishing)

Children's book

"Kingyo no otsukai" (The Gold Fish Couriers) (Kakusha) by Seiichi TAKABE, Akiko Yosano
"Akiko Yosano: A poet of passion for the freedom of women" (Gakushu Manga Jinbutsukan/Shogakukan) by Haruyuki IRIE, Sayori ABE


The family name YOSANO was derived from the name of town Yosano-cho in north Kyoto.

"Hana no ran" (A Chaos of Flowers) (1988, Toei Kyoto Movie Studios, directed by Kinji FUKASAKU) is a film on the life of Akiko Yosano. Sayuri YOSHINAGA played the role of Akiko.

In May 1998, a bronze statue of Akiko was built in the commemoration of her 120th anniversary at the west gate of Sakai Station, Nankai Main Line, in Saki City.

Kaoru YOSANO, a member of the House of Representatives and the former Minister of International Trade and Industry, the Minister of State for Economicand Fiscal Policy and Financial Services, and the Chairman of Policy Research Council of Liberal Democratic Party (and the Chief Cabinet Secretary of the Abe Administration in 2007) is Akiko's grandson. Kaoru was an early age when Akiko died, but after he ran unsuccessfully for his first election as a member of the House of Representatives, he published the reprint of his grandmother's collection of poetry "Midaregami" while he was preparing for the next election.

Based on Akiko's works, in the 'Drama Division of the National High School Arts Festival' held in Yawata City, Kyoto in August 2006, a play entitled 'Kimi Shinitamou Koto Nakare' was performed that depicted a sister and her younger brother who were stand-up comedians at the mercy of the time during World War II.

[Original Japanese]