Masaoka Shiki (正岡子規)

Shiki MASAOKA (October 14, 1867- September 19, 1902) wrote haiku (Japanese poems of 17 syllables, arranged in lines of 5, 7, and 5 syllables, that traditionally contained a reference to the seasons) and tanka (short Japanese poems of 31 syllables, arranged in lines of 5, 7, 5, 7, and 7 syllables), and was a researcher into the history and development of the Japanese language. His given name was Tsunenori. He was known as Tokoronosuke in his childhood, but he was later known as Noboru.

Actively involved in many genres of creative activities, such as the writing of haiku, tanka, shintaishi (poems in the new style), novels, critiques, and essays, he had a considerable influence on modern Japanese literature and is considered to be one of the foremost writers of the Meiji Era. He suffered from a lung hemorrhage for about seven years before his death. He died at age 34. From his following death haiku "Hechima Sakite Tanno tsumarishi Hotokekana", "Tann itto hechimano mizumo maniawazu", "Ototoino hechimano mizumo torazariki", the anniversary of his death memorial on September 19 is called "Hechima ki" or also called "Dassai ki " referenced from one of his pen names.

Chronological list of events

Born as the first son to the Iyo Matsuyama Domain samurai Tsunenao MASAOKA and Yae in September 1867 in Fujiwara Shinmachi Onsen County, Iyo Province (present Hanazono Cho, Matsuyama City, Ehime Prefecture). His mother Yae was the first daughter of the Confucian scholar Kanzan OHARA.

In 1868, the family moved to Minatomachi, Shinmachi.

In April 1872, his father Tsunenao died.

In 1873, he enrolled in his maternal grandfather Kanzan OHARA's private school and learned to read the Four Books of Confucianism. He enrolled in Suehiro Terakoya which was a private elementary school in the Edo period.

8th year of the Meiji Era (1875)

He was transferred to Katsuyama school (present Matsuyama city Bancho elementary school).

In April, his grandfather Kanzan died. He studied sinology under Kyumei TSUCHIYA.

In 1879, he wrote his first Chinese poetry which was evaluated by Kyumei.

In December 1879, he graduated from the Katsuyama school.

In March 1880, he enrolled in Matsuyama Junior High School (present Ehime Prefectural Matsuyamahigashi High School).

16th year of the Meiji Era (1883)

In October, he withdrew from Matsuyama Junior High School to prepare for the entrance exam to a university preparatory school.

In June, he moved to Tokyo.

In October, he briefly studied English at a university preparatory school at Suda and Kyoritsu (presently Kaisei Junior High School and Kaisei High School)

In September 1884, he enrolled in the preparatory school for the University of Tokyo, which later became Daiichi Koto Chugakko. Some of his classmates were Soseki NATSUME, Bimyo YAMADA, Koyo OZAKI, Masaichi TERAISHI and others. He began writing haiku (a Japanese poem in seventeen syllables having a 5-7-5 syllabic form and traditionally containing a reference to the seasons).

21st year of the Meiji Era (1888)

In July, he graduated from a preparatory course at Daiichi Koto Chugakko.

In September, he moved up to a regular course at Daiichi Koto Chugakko.

In May 1889, he suffered a lung hemorrhage. He took the name "Shiki" for the first time.

23rd year of the Meiji Era (1890)

In July, he graduated from a regular course at Daiichi Koto Chugakko.

In September, he enrolled at the Imperial University in the Department of Literature's philosophy division.

In January 1891, he transferred to the Department of Japanese literature.

25th year of the Meiji Era (1892)

In October, he withdrew from the school.

In December, he was employed by Japan Newspaper Company.

In April 1895, he took part in the Sino-Japan war campaign as a war correspondent and suffered a lung hemorrhage on his way home.

In January 1896, he held a haiku gathering at Shikian (Shiki's private villa designed to serve for this type of gathering)

In March 1898, he held a Uta-kai (poem competition) at Shikian.

In August 1900, he suffered a massive lung hemorrhage.

In September1992, he died.

Personal Profile

Military officer Saneyuki AKIYAMA had been Shiki's friend since he lived in Matsuyama and Kazue KATSUTA was their common friend. He studied together with AKIYAMA later when he moved to Tokyo. A novel written by Ryotaro SHIBA, "Saka no Ue no Kumo" (Clouds over the slope), touches on the story of the subsequent friendship of Shiki and AKIYAMA, while the continuing story of the MASAOKA family after Shiki's death is written about in the novel "Hitobito no Ashioto."

According to a TV interview with Nao Utahara, an entertainer and a distant relative, the interchanges with Soseki were not limited to himself but extended to other family members, and her great grandfather was a cousin of Shiki who wrote haiku himself as well. She was also told that he had a friendly relationship with Soseki NATSUME.

When Soseki lived in Matsuyama, Shiki invited him out for unadon (a bowl of rice topped with cooked marinated eel) only to have made Soseki pay for it.

For Tanka, he published a series "Uta yomi ni ataeru sho" (Letters to the Tanka poets) in the newspaper "Japan." He contributed to the reform of tanka by highly praising the Manyoshu (Collection of Ten Thousand Leaves) and repudiating the Kokin Wakashu (A Collection of Ancient and Modern Japanese Poetry) while criticizing waka in the Edo era for being rigidly confined in form. His Monjin Students Sachio ITO, Takashi NAGATSUKA, Fumoto OKA and others continued the trend set by Shiki by forming an association called the "Negishi Tanka Society" which evolved later into the Araragi School (Araragi School of Tanka poetry).

His tanka "Byosho Roku Shaku" (1.8 meter sickbed), composed from his sickbed without sentimentality or looming shadows, is recognized as a great human document, as he depicted his own body and mind objectively while facing death. The original copy of his diary "Gyoga Manroku,"also written from his sickbed, is kept at the Kiyoshi Memorial Literature Center in Ashiya City, Hyogo Prefecture.

It is believed that the word "tsukinami" (meaning of monthly or every month) including the meaning of somthing commonplace or ordinary is derived from the word "tsukinamicho"(monthly style) used by Shiki MASAOKA to criticize trite haiku and tanka.

Shiki and baseball

Shiki was also an avid baseball player since the game was first introduced in Japan and continued to play until his lung hemorrhage forced him to quit. He played as catcher. He used his pen name "Nobooru"in a way that relates to baseball ("the ball"), which also plays off his childhood name "Noboru;"however, Kanae CHUMAN was the first one to translate baseball as yakyu. Refer to the origin of the words nobooru and yakyu. He also composed haiku and tanka that were related to yakyu, such as "Throw a ball in an open space To see spring grass in the field", "Nine players take up positions, The ball game is about to begin", and contributed to spreading baseball in Japan. In recognition of his contribution, he was inducted into the baseball hall of fame in 2002.

Incidentally, the use of the pen name "Nobooru" by Shiki Masaoka preceded Kanae CHUAMAN's translation of baseball as yakyu in 1890 by four years. Although it was Kanae CHUMAN who first translated baseball as yakyu, it was Shiki MASAOKA who first presented baseball as "yakyu"although it was pronounced differently at the time, moreover, it was he who coined the translations for foreign words such as "batter", "runner", "four balls", "straight ball", "fly ball", "short stop," changing them into "dasha", "sosha", "shikyu", "chokyu", "hikyu" and "tansha," which was the word used before Kanae CHUMAN later used the term "yugekishu."

Pen name

His pen name Shiki was an alias for "Hototogisu"(lesser cuckoo), a bird which is said to chirp until it spits out blood, a metaphor for the image of himself suffering from tuberculosis and lung hemorrhage.

He also used different pen names like "Dassaishooku Shujin," "Takeno Satobito," "Koun," "Chifusho," "Ochi Tokoronosuke" and others. Kawauso as used in his pen name "Dassaishooku Shujin"means an otter. The origin of this word came from the sentence "Dassaigyo" which appeared in the monthly publication of the Book of Rites. It was once believed in China that otters have the habit of eating their fish by catching them and then lining them up, which resembled the way humans performed saishi (religious service) with offerings toward the sky. Therefore, "even an otter performs Saishi, to say nothing of humans." The great Chinese poet of the Tang Dynasty, Ri Shoin, wrote the works of poetry which he admired on tanzaku (strips of fancy paper) and spread them out in view while he contemplated poetic thoughts, from which he gave himself the pen name of "Dassaigyoan"based on the spread-out view of tanzaku of historical origin described earlier in "Raiki." It is from here that the phrase "Dassaigyo" has come to mean "like scattered books." His pen name "Dassaishooku Shujin" not only simply meant "the occupant of a book-scattered room" but also expressed his passionate desire to become a famed poet like Ri Shoin. Like an otter, he spread his material around the pillow of his sickbed.

In addition, in the part "The Pen Name" written in his essay "Fudemakase", he revealed the use of fifty four different pen names, and furthermore, it is believed that many more pen names were used. The pen name "no booru" described above is one of them.

Shiki and his illness

As his pen name symbolizes him as a lesser cuckoo because of his suffering from lung hemorrhages, it is clear that his illness cannot be separated from his literature. He first suffered a lung hemorrhage during his trip to Kamakura in August 1888. In May of the following year (1889), he was diagnosed as having pulmonary tuberculosis by a doctor after suffering from a massive lung hemorrhage. During this time, tuberculosis was considered an incurable disease and anyone who was diagnosed with the disease was forced to come to terms with an inevitable death. At that time, he composed a cuckoo poem using his pen name "Shiki"for the first time.

His illness was exacerbated as a result of his participation in the Sino-Japanese War as a correspondent. In May 1895, on his return voyage, he suffered a massive lung hemorrhage and was hospitalized in Kobe upon arrival. After recuperating for a while in Suma, he returned to Matsuyama to rest at the place where Soseki NATSUME was boarding, while he was teaching at Matsuyama Junior High School. In October, around the time of making another trip to Tokyo, he began to experience difficulty in walking due to hip pain which was first thought of as rheumatism but in the following year (1896), it was diagnosed as an onset of spinal caries caused by tubercle bacillus affecting the spine. After that, he spent more days in his sickbed; his condition did not improve after having a few operations, and soon streaks of pus were exuded from holes which developed around his back and buttocks.

He went out in a rickshaw periodically after becoming disabled, however, around the summer of 1896, he had difficulty even just sitting up. For the next three years from this time, Shiki continued to compose haiku, tanka and essays from his sickbed, overcoming severe pain with the use of anesthetics that made him unable to turn from his side, and he also continued to advise his followers Kyoshi TAKAHAMA, Hekigodo KAWAHIGASHI, Sachio ITO, Takashi NAGATSUKA and others.


Shiki succeeded in the reform movement of Haiku and Tanka and was highly praised as an innovative reformer who set the course for tanshi (a verselet) style literature in present day literature.

For Haiku, he rejected all common, hackneyed phrases and while he highly praised Basho's poetic sentiment, discovering forgotten poets like Buson after sifting through Edo era literature was seen as his achievement. He also developed a new poetic sentiment in Haiku based on his theoretical beliefs which were closely connected to reality via life drawing and realism due to being influenced by the naturalism of the 19th century in Europe.

On the other hand, the following issues were pointed out about his poetic theory and the works he composed. There was strong repudiation of the colorful word-play and figures of speech in haiku. In the undue focus on depicting real life, the serenity and the heart of the "aisatsu" (greeting) in haiku, as practiced by Kenkichi YAMAMOTO, was lost. His notion of making a Haiku concept only by stressing the first line of a waka poem, and giving only meager recognition to renku (a lined verse) kasen(a master poet of classical waka), was thought by some to be causing a great deal of adverse effects on the present day Haiku.

Shiki's successor in Haiku, Kyoshi TAKAHAMA, continued Shiki's "Shasei"(sketch) theory as well; however, it shifted from depicting not only nature to depicting human elements as well. This could be seen as conflicting views among the ideas for reform for modern times and the return to Edo haikai (a comical poetic style popular in the city of Edo).

For tanka, Shiki's role played in karon (an essay on waka poems) was far greater than his composed works. In the beginning, Shiki devoted his great enthusiasm to Haiku and he was left with only enough time to leave a broad general outline of his criticisms. Among the books written by him, "Utayomi ni ataeru sho"(Letters to the Tanka Poets) was the one that influenced tanka most. The karon (an essay on waka poems) written in "Utayomi ni ataeru sho" (Letters to Tanka Poets) placed an emphasis on the close observation in life of realism by sketches and graphics and included praise for "Manyoshu" (Collection of Ten Thousand Leaves) while rejecting "Kokinshu" (praise of "Collection of Ancient and Modern Literatures). While there are many literary scholars who express denial of his all-out rejection of "Kokinwakashu," others think of him as a man who was spawned by the fast and radically changing Meiji era in which many of the points he made are allowable.

While there was criticism that Shiki's theory was not heading in the right direction of fostering literature, the "shasei" theory was one which overlapped with the modernism of the Meiji Era. It is an undeniable view on Haiku to this day. It was made clear by Ryotaro SHIBA in his book "From World History" in 1980 that Shiki played a singificant role in the Japanese formation of prose.

It is also not widely known that he was versed in Chinese poetry. Kojiro YOSHIKAWA reminisced that Torao SUZUKI had given Shiki's Chinese poetry higher praise than those of Soseki.

Representative works

Haiku (a Japanese poem in seventeen syllables having a 5-7-5 syllabic form and traditionally containing a reference to the seasons)

I bite a persimmon Heard the gong Horyu-ji Temple

In spring and old times, Castle town of a hundred fifty thousand-koku production

The loofah juice of the night before yesterday I didn't get it either


Red rose bud grown to 60 cm Spring Rain falls on its soft thorn

White dew drops keep falling from pine tree leaves More drops are kept placed onto them

Ichihatsu flower (Iris) is blossoming This spring may be the last one for me to see

Literary works

Bokuju Itteki (A drop of Indian ink)

Byosho Roku Shaku (1.8 meter sickbed)

"Gyoga Manroku" diary wide edition by Iwanami Bunko Publishing

A compiled edition of the three-part Shiki works was published by Kodansha Academic paperback library (out of stock in 1986).

Chinese poetry


"Composer of Chinese-style poems; Environment for Haiku kaigan (eye-opening)" by Kuniyasu KATO (Kembun Shuppan, 2006)
"Soseki to Shiki no Kanshi: From a comparative view point " by Zen JO (Meiji Shoin, 2005)
"Shiki Kanshi and his surroundings" by Fusao SHIMIZU (Meiji Shoin, 1996)
"Kaidono hana; Shiki Kanshi and Soseki" by Toshiyuki IIDA (Kashiwa Shobo Co., Ltd., 1991)



The earliest ancestors are unknown except for their Kaimyo (posthumous Buddhist names). The second Yoshihisa TERAMICHI was a clerk of Imabari. The third Kadoshige TERAMICHI was a clerk of Imabarihatohama who later assumed the surname MASAOKA. The fourth Tsunetora MASAOKA was a headman of Kazehaya province. The fifth Tsuneichi MASAOKA made it to Kyoto and became a disciple of Sen Soshitsu Sado (tea ceremony). The sixth Tsunetake MASAOKA was a master of kusarigama (a chain and a sickle). The seventh Tsunenao MASAOKA was an adopted son and a lower-ranking samurai in charge of oumamawari (a mounted guard). His sister Ritsu adopted Chuzaburo MASAOKA, the third son of Tsunetada KATO.

[Original Japanese]