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On the Life & Works of Yagi Mikajo

Commentaries & Anecdotes
& A Brief Biography

 

Richard Gilbert and Itô Yûki (trans.)

February 22, 2008

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

• Excerpt from the “Afterword” to Benitake [The Scarlet Mushroom] (1956; reprinted in Yagi Mikajo zen kushû [Collected Haiku of Yagi Mikajo] Tokyo: Shûsekisha, 2006, p. 43):

 

 

“AFTERWORD” to BENITAKE

 

 

This book of poetry includes my haiku works from 1945 to 1955, the period which represents the era of my adolescence. Although my adolescence was distorted by World War II and the turbulence following its aftermath, somehow or other, in everyday life, the path I followed was ostensibly that of a typical woman, ostensibly a typical life. Having managed thus far, I have compiled the haiku of that period within this present volume. Pondering the fact that I have continued to breathe, even though poor in health, I cannot but offer my gratitude, and acknowledge my great obligation to my teachers, senior comrades, friends, family, and others. In outward appearance, the scarlet mushroom [amanita muscaria] is alluring, yet it exhibits a toxic quality with regard to humankind and other creatures—I have found this intriguing, and for this reason have taken this image symbolically, in titling this volume, while adding a touch of color. This reflects my style of conscious resistance.

 

January 1956

Yagi Mikajo

 

 

 

 

 

• Excerpted comment by Kaneko Tohta (1919—). Included within the pamphlet insert, in Yagi Mikajo zen kushû ([Collected Haiku of Yagi Mikajo], Tokyo, Shûsekisha, 2006, pp. 1-2):

 

 

THE SPIRIT OF VENTUROUS EXPERIMENT

by Kaneko Tohta

 

 

I recall that my first encounter with Yagi Mikajo was sometime in 1956, during the time of the publication of her first book, Benitake [Scarlet Mushroom]. The publication celebration party was held in Osaka, and I attended the party, as I lived in Kobe at the time. My impression of Yagi Mikajo was very strong, and I recall the event quite clearly in memory. At the time, the topic of conversation was focused on [two] haiku containing the title of her book:

 

紅き茸礼賛しては蹴る女

akaki take raisan shite wa keru onna

 

worshiping it, the scarlet mushroom

kicks it, a woman

 

 

紅茸の前にわが櫛すべり落つ

benitake no mae ni waga kushi suberi otsu

 

in front of the scarlet mushroom

my comb slips off

 

The subtle wording, especially, in the first example, the use of akaki take [for scarlet mushroom], rather than benitake [indicating language nuance], suggests the presence of a partner to a man [a woman]; in our discussion of this expression, someone mentioned: “this wording is cleverly insidious.” [Implying also “foxy” in all senses. Dokubenitake, another scarlet mushroom of Japan (Russula emetica), has a feminine form.] The discussion ended I recall with someone saying something like, “this haiku is about jealousy.” In any case, the sort of woman who slips off a comb in front of a man, presents a considerable “challenge” to her partner. [The expression “my comb slips off” implies assertive sexuality. In Japanese culture at the time, a “decent” woman was expected to be passive.] We all laughed in admiration. Our group was a band of haiku poets filled with an energy to write “haiku of “the human,” not kachôfûei. [Traditional composition based upon “official” kigo, etc.]

 

So, the publication of the haiku book Benitake was warmly welcomed with real excitement and a sense of freshness. Mikajo had responded to the aims of our group through her body. Smiling, yet in a definitive manner she greeted us.

 

Strongly passionate—with piercing sharpness—she revealed a sensibility which encompassed the profound depths of human being. I realized that I was witnessing the emergence of a singular woman haiku poet who had the power to become a leader of the postwar haiku movement. Her second book of haiku, Akai chizu [The Red Map] includes her haiku on Nagasaki. I lived there for a time, due to my business, so I had the chance to meet and talk with her, and realized my expectations were becoming confirmed. In fact, the book contains several of her haiku masterpieces, which caused some later controversy:

 

満開の森の陰部の鰓呼吸

mankai no mori no inbu no era kokyû

 

full bloom

in the forest’s genitals

respiration of gills

 

 

マラソンの足扇形に滝の使徒か

marason no ashi senkei ni taki no shito ka

 

a marathon runner’s legs

fanning to and fro

apostles of a — waterfall

 

 

黄蝶ノ黄危機ノキ・ダム創ル鉄帽の黄

kichô no kiki no ki • damu tsukuru tetsu bô no ki

 

yellow-butterfly’s-danger’s-yellow-danger :

                                    dam-constructing-iron-helmet's-yellow

 

 

And the same experimental sense is also found in her later work,

 

 

百足百匹洗骨の儀はすみしかな

mukade hyappiki senkotsu no gi wa sumishi kana

 

a hundred black centipedes —

the ritual of washing bones

accomplished . . .

 

Bold, adventurous, sexual, experimental. These are some of the qualities of Mikajo’s work. Without concern for consequences, following her passion, creating haiku of the human, Mikajo is a haiku poet born in the vortex of the postwar haiku movement, and assuredly remains today a powerfully influential creator.

 

 

 

 

 

• Excerpted comment by Uda Kiyoko (1935—). Included within the pamphlet insert, in Yagi Mikajo zen kushû ([Collected haiku of Yagi Mikajo], Tokyo, Shûsekisha, 2006, pp. 3-4):

 

 

YAGI MIKAJO AND THE TRACE OF TIME

by Uda Kiyoko

 

 

In the late 50’s and early 60’s, I learned of and first laid eyes on haiku works possessing tremendous impact, such as those by Kaneko Tohta, Hori Ashio (1916-1993), Hayashida Kineo (1925-1998), Shimazu Akira (1918-2000) and so on. Among them was Yagi Mikajo [Uda quotes the two haiku just above, and adds]:

 

産卵の亀の涙が溶けた朝

sanran no kame no namida ga toketa asa

 

laying eggs

a sea turtle’s tears melt

a morning

 

. . . From that time, almost a half century has passed, and the situation of the haiku world has changed. Nowadays, without any especially deep consideration, some reviewers and commentators from younger generations will comment, “avant-garde haiku was a failure.”

 

However, I do not know of any other period than that of the postwar era when haiku poets wrote with such a strong consciousness in clarifying and discussing their own aims, directly addressing issues of self and society with an acute awareness—this was the so-called “avant-garde haiku” movement. Even in my eyes, a mere spectator’s immature eyes, the senior haiku poets’ outbursts of their passion toward haiku expression was intensely sharp and powerful. Even now, that time remains burned in my memory. It is absolutely unforgettable.

 

I have some copies of the haiku journals which Yagi Mikajo founded: Fukurô [Owl], Yatôha [Night Thieves’ School], Nawa [Rope], and so on. These were all printed on old mimeograph machines, and the paper quality was poor as well. Nevertheless, every page of these journals is filled with the substantial power and passion of the young haiku poets of that era, who today have become foundational in haiku history. Yagi Mikajo’s haiku works represent the traces of a woman who became a pivotal innovator in this era of haiku history.

 

 

 

 

 

• Excerpt from Yagi Mikajo’s “Comment on ‘One Hundred Haiku of Saitô Sanki’” (1990; reprinted and included within the pamphlet insert, in Yagi Mikajo zen kushû ([Collected Haiku of Yagi Mikajo], Tokyo, Shûsekisha, 2006, pp. 4-5):

 

 

COMMENT ON “ONE HUNDRED HAIKU OF SAITÔ SANKI”

by Yagi Mikajo

 

 

Around 1947 or 1948, in the time-period just after the war ended, there were uncountable numbers of starving people, and the black-markets fed and flourished on the destruction of the ruined country. At the time, I attended a lecture on psychiatry by Hirahata Seitô (1905-1997), who had returned from the battlefield of China in 1946. From 1947, while I was an intern, I went daily to his psychiatry laboratory, and became friendly with Saitô Sanki, who regularly visited there, about twice a week. Prior to Sanki’s participation in Hirahata Seitô’s haiku group in the medical college, Hirahata Seitô had invited Hashimoto Takako (1899-1963) to be a haiku teacher for the students. Therefore, when we held a haiku party-gathering (kukai), many haiku poets attended: Hashimoto Takako, Horiuchi Kaoru (1903-1996), Hirahata Seitô, Saitô Sanki, Fujita Katsutoshi (head of the pharmacy branch of the university), Okajima Kiyoko (psychiatry department assistant), and six or seven other female students. As well, Hashi Kageo (1910-1985) occasionally joined the haiku parties. In fact, these haiku party-gatherings became the core of the postwar haiku journal-group Tenrô [Wolf of Heaven].

 

A little bit later, the Nara Kukai (a Nara haiku-party-gathering) was founded. At the time, Saitô Sanki and other haiku poets were consumed with an ardent passion to break the silence they had held during the wartime era. As a result, the atmosphere of the haiku party was quite fantastic . . .

 

 

Notes.

1. Hirahata Seitô, Saitô Sanki, Horiuchi Kaoru, and Hashi Kageo were all members of the New Rising Haiku journal-group, Kyôdai Haiku. During wartime, these four haiku poets were arrested by the Secret Police of Imperial-fascist government of Japan, due to their liberal-progressive thought, and for additional reasons (Cf. Itô Yûki. New Rising Haiku: The Evolution of Modern Japanese Haiku and the Haiku Persecution Incident, Red Moon Press, 2007; available online, <http://tinyurl.com/yrka65>).

 

2. Hashimoto Takako is a notable woman haiku poet, and a disciple of both Shigita Hisajo (1890-1946) and Yamaguchi Seishi (1901-1994). She is known as one of the “Four T” female haiku poets, the group which is the counterpart to the notable “Four S” male haiku poets.

 

3. In 1948, the haiku poets, Hirahata Seitô, Saitô Sanki, Horiuchi Kaoru, Hashi Kageo, and Hashimoto Takako, and other notable haiku poets founded the journal-group Tenrô [Wolf of Heaven] with Yamaguchi Seishi, and this group became one of the most influential groups of the postwar haiku, and the gendai haiku movement. In the same year, Saitô Sanki founded his own haiku journal-group, Gekirô [Violent Waves]. Yagi Mikajo participated in this journal-group, rather than the Tenrô group, and in 1951 she founded her own journal-group, Fukurô [Owl].

 

 

 

 

• Excerpt from, “A Commentary on Yagi Mikajo zen kushû” ([Collected Haiku of Yagi Mikajo], Tokyo, Chûsekisha, 2006): “Yagi Mikajo as female “avant-garde” haiku poet” [Joryû “zen’ei” haijin to shite no Yagi Mikajo] by Shiwa Kyôtarô (1954—), a.k.a. Professor Shimoyama Akira, Ph.D., Osaka University of Commerce].

 

 

YAGI MIKAJO AS A FEMALE “AVANT-GARDE” HAIKU POET

by Shiwa Kyôtarô

 

 

. . . Indeed, the generation of Yagi Mikajo was born in the Taishô era (1912-1926); this is the generation which experienced three main historical periods: Taishô, Shôwa (1926-1989), and Heisei (1989 -). Many people consider the greatest turning point of this generation to be “the gap between the pre-war and postwar eras.” However, if instead one considers modern history from the viewpoint of a change in social perception of events and a social shift in values, then the promotion of the advancement of women, in an actual sense, may be definitive. In this regard, when looking at the pre- versus post-1960’s era, a complete break or shift occurred in society—a point of paradigmatic change. . . .

 

股の間の産声芽木の闇へ伸び

mata no ma no ubugoe megi no yami e nobi

 

between thighs

the birth cry stretches into

budding tree darkness

 

Yagi Mikajo had a baby just like this. In 1954, when this event occurred, it was an era when many ponds, lakes, and rice fields still remained scattered throughout Sakai city; a time when many street stalls set up in front of our neighborhood houses during festival days. Within such a scene, Yagi Mikajo seemed to feel “darkness.” It was the “darkness” that was expressed in the novel Kappa [a water sprite, in Japanese folklore], written by Akutagawa Ryûnosuke (1892-1927), and similar to the “darkness” that Shakespeare addressed in Macbeth.

 

When I was a child, fishermen would come to our house from Sakai harbor, as they wandered through the streets selling sardines, chanting, “Wouldn’t you like to try tete kamu iwashi [sardines so fresh they’ll bite your fingers]?”

In this way, Yagi Mikajo recalls the past—. That fishermen’s sea has disappeared. Today, such a sea does not exist in Sakai city. Although the mythical and elegant place name [for Sakai city], “Hagoromo” [from the Noh plays of Zeami: “heavenly feathered dress”] remains, and people once boasted of “the absolutely whitest seashore in the East,” the coastline of Sakai city is now decorated by polluted sediment and foul breezes. The sea, which nature had purified through hundreds of millions, billions of years. The sea, from which our ancestors had fished “tete kamu iwashi” through hundreds, thousands of years. The sea was “cut” between Yagi Mikajo’s and my own generation— this is the gendai [contemporary] situation. The actualities of the era cannot help but include darkness.

 

Through the baptism of the New Rising Haiku, Yagi Mikajo managed to express the “gendai” era in her haiku works, within the current of our contemporary time—in which everything was “cut” apart. In 1957, she published her book of haiku, Benitake. At that time, in the early 1960’s, her title of, “The Flag-bearer of Women’s Avant-garde Haiku,” appeared in many haiku magazines. When we read her writings of that period, it is possible to clearly discern her inclination toward the philosophies of Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir. As a result, her various writings were attempts to express “existence [Existenz]“ in “extreme/boundary conditions [Grenzsituation],” inclusive of her haiku works. She also wrote numerous challenging essays, in a sense aiming for conceptions possibly beyond her ability to articulate [in prose]; it could be said that her essential character was not that of a philosophical thinker. On the contrary, her definition of “avant-garde” was essentially ambiguous.

 

Within the darkness: there is no “here”; the real aim of Yagi Mikajo has been to find those vectors or dimensions of existence which touch upon this theme.

 

In any case, after the publication of Benitake, she began writing essays and criticism for the major haiku magazines, such as Haiku, Haiku Kenkyû [Haiku Study], Haiku to Essay [Haiku and Essays], and many haiku group-journals blossomed out of Kaitei [Ocean Distance; led by Kaneko Tohta], her own journal-group, Hana [Flower], and so on.

 

 

 

 

 

BIOGRAPHY

 

 

Yagi Mikajo (1924-, born as Yagi Michiko, Sakai City, Osaka Prefecture), graduated from Sakai Women's High School (the same institution from which tanka poet Yosano Akiko, 1878-1942, also graduated), and entered Osaka Women's Medical College (now Kansai Medical University). She received her MD Degree from Osaka City University, becoming the first female ophthalmologist in the history of Japan. Following the war, she was first taught haiku in the shasei style by Suzuka Noburo (1887-1971), then by the previously arrested New Rising Haiku poets, Hirahata Seitô and Saitô Sanki, as well as others. She was given the haigô (haiku pen-name) “Mikajo” in emulation of the kanji found in “Yosano Akiko,” by Seitô and Sanki. Her haiku style is known as zen'ei (avant-garde) haiku. She engaged in haiku activities not only with the senior poets of the New Rising Haiku movement, but also with the younger postwar haiku poets, such as Kaneko Tohta (1919 -), Suzuki Murio (1919-2004), Akao Tôshi (1925-1981), and others. In 1964, she became the leader of her own journal-group Hana [flower].

 

As well as a leading postwar haiku poet, she was active as a feminist, and as a commemorator of Yosano Akiko, who had also lived in Sakai City. In 1982, she founded, “The Choral Group Association of Yosano Akiko” [Yosano Akiko o utau kai], becoming the group's director. From the following year, the “Akiko Recital” became an important annual event. In 1986, the first female prime minister of Norway, Gro Harlem Brundtland (1939 -), became interested in Yosano Akiko, as the Japanese representative had previously quoted from her poetry at the UN Conference on Women, 1985. Mikajo, in an international spirit of friendship, became a founding patron of the “Yosano Akiko Bilingual (Japanese/Norwegian) Poetry Monument-stone,” placed at Sakai Women's Junior College, and later traveled to Norway to present an official photograph of the monument to the Cabinet. She also presented her own haiku tanzaku (a formal presentation and mounting of haiku poems in calligraphic hand) to the Minister of Education, and Prince and Princess of Norway. In 1992, Mikajo founded the “Yosano Akiko Bilingual Poetry Monument-stone” at the Council of Gender Equality, in Oslo, Norway. In the same year, she became a founding patron of the Yosano Akiko Museum, which opened in Sakai City, Osaka Prefecture, in the year 2000.

 

 

 

 

 

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