The First Modern Japanese, by Donald Keene

Page 1

Donald keene

The First Modern

j a pa n e se O

Th e L i f e o f i s h i k awa ta k u b ok u

Copyrighted Material

1 takuboku, modern poet


shikawa Takuboku (1886–1912) probably ranks as the most beloved poet of the tanka, a form of poetry composed by innumerable Japanese poets for well over a thousand years. Takuboku’s tanka stand out less for their beauty than for their individuality; his poems are as surprising today as they were for the first readers. His poems borrowed from no one but managed always to transmit the striking freshness of his thoughts and experiences. Countless poets before him had conveyed in the thirty-one syllables of the tanka such subjects as their perceptions of the changes brought by the seasons or the yearning evoked by the poet’s love. Takuboku’s poems seldom touched on these familiar subjects, but he had no intention of destroying the traditions of the tanka with his originality. Instead, he clung to composing his poems in thirtyone syllables, just as other tanka poets had done for two thousand years. And although his essays often urge poets to write in the language of the day, his tanka were always written in the classical Japanese language, even when he described the thoughts of an unmistakably modern man. He rather resembled the French modernist poets who, though determined

C6997.indb 1

7/7/16 9:32 AM

Copyrighted Material

2—–T a k u b o k u , M o d e r n P o e t

to wreck the old poetry, continued to use rhyme and traditional forms like the sonnet.1 The tanka was often beautiful in its imagery and rich in overtones that gave depth, despite the few syllables available to the poet. The language permitted to the poets consisted of a vocabulary that had been established centuries earlier by members of the court in order to maintain elegance of diction, but it limited the subjects. Tanka poets borrowed openly from the poetry of their predecessors; indeed, a poem without reference to the past was not praised. Tanka poets, with no thought of startling, hoped that their variations on familiar themes would be admired for the delicate shifts of older poems or a barely hinted freshness of expression. The sameness of subjects in the collections of tanka does not apply to the dozen great tanka poets whose poems are unforgettable, even when the subjects are conventional. Although the rise of linked verse in the fourteenth century and of haiku in the seventeenth century gave poets greater freedom of subject and language, they did not eliminate or greatly change tanka. Not until late in the nineteenth century was there a serious call to reject the heritage of the past and create poetry suitable to men of the enlightened Meiji era. The poems of Masaoka Shiki (1867–1902), the leader of this new movement, were rarely about the beauty of cherry blossoms or colored autumn leaves and the other lovely but exhausted subjects of poetry. Instead he described in his poems what he had perceived and felt, without worrying whether they might seem unpoetic to readers of traditional poetry. Shiki’s insistence on writing his poems in modern Japanese resulted in bringing tanka and haiku into the new age and saved both forms from being demolished by the European influences that swept over Japanese poets beginning in the 1880s. This in itself did not make Shiki a modern poet. He rarely revealed, as a modern poet usually does, his deepest emotions, and he seldom referred to himself in the first person. His best-known tanka sequence

C6997.indb 2

7/7/16 9:32 AM

Copyrighted Material

T a k u b o k u , M o d e r n P o e t —–3

requires an understanding of unspoken background poems: Shiki did not reveal that he wrote these poems when he was almost completely paralyzed from an illness that eventually killed him. Unlike Shiki, Takuboku was a truly modern poet. About sixty years ago, Kōsaka Masaaki, a professor of philosophy at Kyoto University, told me he was convinced that Takuboku was the first modern Japanese. This statement lingered in my memory, though at the time I did not know Takuboku’s work well enough to understand what made him “modern.”2 Although it is difficult to name the qualities that make a poet appear modern, Takuboku’s poems make their modernity clear without needing further explanation. Here are a few examples: ware ni nishi tomo no futari yo hitori wa shini hitori wa rō wo idete ima yamu

two friends just like me: one dead one, out of jail now sick3

Surely no earlier tanka poet ever wrote a poem that included a dead man, a man released from prison, and still another who was sick; and Takuboku resembled all of them: arano yuku kisha no gotoku ni kono nayami tokidoki ware no kokoro wo tōru

like a train through the wilderness every so often this torment travels across my mind4

This poem likens the torment flashing through Takuboku’s mind to a train that is momentarily visible as it rushes through a wilderness. Surely no one before Takuboku had used such a simile:

C6997.indb 3

7/7/16 9:32 AM

Copyrighted Material

4—–T a k u b o k u , M o d e r n P o e t

hō ni tsutau namida no kobosu ichiaku no suna wo shimeshishi hito wo wasurezu

never forget that man, tears running down his face a handful of sand held out to show me.5

The word “sand” occurs in all of the first ten poems of A Handful of Sand, Takuboku’s most celebrated collection. This poem suggests the passing of time, like sand in an hourglass. Even though Takuboku does not tell us what he felt on seeing the weeping man, he makes us feel almost unbearable sympathy. Takuboku believed that the tanka was the ideal form for a poem. Disagreeing with the poets of his day who, under European influence, found the tanka’s brevity an obstacle to their expression, he insisted that the shortness allows the poet to write a poem the moment an inspiration comes into his head. The brevity of the tanka keeps the poet from exaggerating his emotions, as there is no second stanza repeating what has already been expressed. Takuboku sometimes used modern Japanese when he wrote poems that were not tanka, but all his tanka were in the classical language. Although this sometimes makes them difficult to understand, especially today when the classics are no longer an important part of Japanese education, Takuboku did not hesitate to use unusual characters or obsolete meanings. But even when a poem is difficult to parse, the general meaning can usually be sensed. When we read Takuboku’s poems and diaries today, we are likely to forget that he died a century ago, because even though Japan changed enormously during this time, no gap separates Takuboku from ourselves. We may be startled at times by his candor, especially in his diaries where he reveals even his faults more openly than do most writers today. The following passage from his Romaji Diary (1909) illustrates his modernity: “Why did I decide to keep this diary in roman letters? Why? I love

C6997.indb 4

7/7/16 9:32 AM

Copyrighted Material

T a k u b o k u , M o d e r n P o e t —–5

my wife, and it’s precisely because I love her that I don’t want her to read this diary. No, that’s a lie! It’s true that I love her, and it’s true that I don’t want her to read the diary, but the two facts are not necessarily related.”6 Although less widely read than his poetry, Takuboku’s diaries are his most unforgettable works. Because they were written day by day and were not rewritten at a later date, they inevitably contain passages of only ephemeral interest, but hardly a page is without literary interest. Takuboku did not hesitate to show himself naked even when his actions were plainly foolish or deplorable. He did not keep the diaries with possible readers in mind, nor was he making a confession. He occasionally did use material from his diaries in his works of fiction, but never long passages or successfully. The diaries must have taken considerable time to write each night, and they were Takuboku’s most precious possession. When he had lost everything else, he saved his diaries. Then, when he realized he might die before long, he ordered a friend to burn them after his death, but he never attempted to burn them himself. He also ordered his wife, Setsuko, to burn his diaries after he died, but fortunately she did not. When Takuboku died in 1912, he was not well known to the public, but in the years since then, more than a thousand books and monographs have been devoted to his life and writings. He is now recognized as a major figure of modern Japanese literature. Takuboku was born in the tiny village of Hinoto in Iwate Prefecture. He is usually thought to have been born in 1886, but some scholars, based on a memorandum in Takuboku’s hand and the recollections of an elder sister, insist that he was born in 1885.7 His father, Ishikawa Ittei (1850–1927), was the priest of the Sōtō Zen temple in Hinoto, but Takuboku never referred to Hinoto as his birthplace. Even after monuments had been erected at other sites where he had lived, there was none in Hinoto until 1955. The existing monument bears an inscription written by Takuboku’s close friend from his school days, Kindaichi Kyōsuke (1882–1971). He

C6997.indb 5

7/7/16 9:32 AM

Copyrighted Material

6—–T a k u b o k u , M o d e r n P o e t

was the first to declare that biographers were mistaken to believe that Takuboku was born in Shibutami, the village he frequently described as his home.8 A probable reason why Takuboku was reluctant to mention Hinoto was uncovered about twenty years after his death. His father had left Hinoto under a cloud after the villagers accused him of having usurped money sent by the sect’s main temple as a gift for indigent parishioners. Ittei was accused of using the money to make loans on which he charged interest. He was also accused of having sold trees belonging to the temple and using the proceeds to buy valuables that he took with him to his next post. Saitō Saburō, who visited Hinoto in the 1950s, reported that some elderly villagers were still indignant over Ittei’s offenses and that their dislike extended to Takuboku, his son. It is difficult now to judge whether or not Ittei was guilty of these allegations, but even his biographer admitted that he was “loose” with money. He suggested, too, that Takuboku had inherited this trait from his father.9 Takuboku’s birth certificate did not identify him as Ittei’s son but as Kudō Hajime, the illegitimate son of Kudō Katsu (1847–1912), his mother. Although Buddhist priests, celibate in accordance with the rules of most sects, were given permission by the government in 1872 to marry, disapproval and even contempt of married priests lingered among parishioners. At the time of Takuboku’s birth, Ittei, who had taken the Zen tonsure at the age of ten, held the lowly position of priest of a minor temple. Still young and unsure of his future, he may have decided, in the interest of keeping his job, to conceal the marriage, even though this effectively branded his children as illegitimate. Two older sisters of Takuboku were accordingly registered at birth as fatherless.10 Then in 1887, the superior of the Hōtokuji, a Zen temple in the more prosperous village of Shibutami, suddenly died, leaving only children too young to succeed him. Ittei was appointed as his successor, a promotion arranged by Katsurahara Taigetsu (1826–1910), the Zen priest

C6997.indb 6

7/7/16 9:32 AM

Copyrighted Material

T a k u b o k u , M o d e r n P o e t —–7

under whom Ittei had been ordained and whose sister Ittei had secretly married. Some parishioners felt that Ittei was too young and inexperienced for an important temple. Others felt sorry for the family of the previous superior who, forced to leave the temple, had been reduced to poverty. Ittei’s bookishness and his fondness for composing poetry also displeased the parishioners. Takuboku, still an infant, was carried from Hinoto to Shibutami. In 1892 Ittei, perhaps emboldened by his new authority, revealed that he was married and bestowed the family name Ishikawa on his wife and their children, despite pretending that the children were adopted and not his own. Ittei’s confession of marriage may have strengthened the opposition. Some parishioners accused him of being less interested in their welfare than in rebuilding the temple, which had been severely damaged in a fire. Before long, there was gossip that Ittei was making private use of temple funds, though he strongly denied any wrongdoing. Most parishioners accepted his solemn declaration of innocence, but the dispute between Ittei’s adherents and opponents smoldered for years. Takuboku entered school at the age of five. Although he was registered as Kudō Hajime, a year later his name was changed to Ishikawa Hajime. The Shibutami Elementary School had been founded as the result of a government proclamation, issued in 1872, requiring every child in Japan to attend school for at least four years from the age of six (five by Western count). Of course, schools had existed before this order was given, but the schools attended by the children of commoners taught little beyond basic reading and writing, along with enough arithmetic to enable a shopkeeper to keep his accounts. For boys of the samurai class, there were academies where they spent much of their time pondering Confucian thought. This knowledge of classical Chinese, essential to the study of Confucian writings, came to be a mark of a man’s samurai background. With the opening of Japan to foreign countries after the Meiji Restoration of 1868, it became evident to the government that Confucian

C6997.indb 7

7/7/16 9:32 AM

Copyrighted Material

8—–T a k u b o k u , M o d e r n P o e t

wisdom alone would not enable the Japanese to obtain a place in the modern world. At the outset of his reign, the young emperor promised that knowledge would be sought throughout the world “to strengthen the foundations of imperial rule.” The Rescript on Education of 1872 materialized this promise with the decision to build schools throughout the country where children, regardless of class, would be taught science, geography, English, and other untraditional subjects. By Takuboku’s time, some fifteen years later, even schools in remote parts of the country were providing elementary education comparable to that offered in advanced countries of the West. This great diffusion of education enabled Takuboku to acquire the knowledge that would enrich his poetry and his life, and it is astonishing that he learned so much so quickly. The elementary school that Takuboku first attended was within the grounds of the Hōtokuji, the temple where he lived. In the haste to provide classrooms where the new learning could be taught, Buddhist temples (the largest available buildings) were often turned into schoolhouses. At first, Takuboku did poorly in his studies. Perhaps an inborn resistance to conformity and a love of the outdoors kept him from obeying school discipline. But his marks gradually improved, and by the time he graduated, he stood at the head of his class. In fact, Takuboku’s marks were so much superior to those of his classmates that they spoke of him as a genius, an epithet that clung to him for the rest of his life. Occasionally he even referred to himself as a genius, but he grew increasingly aware of the bitter contrast between the bright future expected of a child prodigy and the life he would be forced to lead. He expressed the contradiction in these terms: sono kami no shindō no na no kanashisa yo furusato ni kite naku wa sono koto

C6997.indb 8

The sadness of it! To have had the reputation of a prodigy— That’s what makes me weep when I come back home.

7/7/16 9:32 AM

Copyrighted Material

T a k u b o k u , M o d e r n P o e t —–9

Takuboku’s boyhood years in Shibutami, however, were happy for the most part. He was worshipped by his mother and had many friends, but his happiness came less from people than from the mountains and fields. He was a “child of nature,” as his sister Mitsuko described him.11 He often recalled the pleasures of his boyhood: kanikaku ni Shibutami mura wa koishikari omoide no yama omoide no kawa

One thing and another Make me yearn for Shibutami Village The mountains I remember, The river I recall.

He remembered with nostalgia the songs of the Shibutami birds: kankodori Shibutami mura no sansō wo meguru hayashi akatsuki natsukashi

The cries of cuckoos— How they bring back memories Of a mountain hut, Surrounded by woods: Daybreak in Shibutami Village.

He particularly enjoyed the sounds of woodpeckers in the trees around the Hōtokuji. In 1902, when he was sixteen, he published a sonnet on the woodpecker, experimenting with a foreign poetic form. Indeed, Takuboku was so captivated by woodpeckers that he took Takuboku as his poetic name (gagō) from the two characters used in writing “woodpecker.”12 He was once asked why he had abandoned an earlier, more poetic, name in favor of “woodpecker,” a bird not celebrated by Japanese poets for its appearance or song. He replied, Outside my window is a dark wooded place. From its depths, irrespective of the season, I can always hear the sound of woodpeckers steadily pecking at the bark of the trees. The sound, from the

C6997.indb 9

7/7/16 9:32 AM

Copyrighted Material

10—–T a k u b o k u , M o d e r n P o e t

heart of the forest, continues at all hours, a soft drumming like an echo from ancient times, a most endearing sound. It cures my spring ailments, whether I am resting on a pillow with a headache or reciting poetry to beguile tedium, or even when I am reading something about my beloved Wagner.13 The sound comforts me day and night, and when I hear it, whenever that may be, I feel an overwhelming desire to compose poetry—a pure joy that spurts up inside me, a pleasure that blots out the tedium of writing. That’s why I took Woodpecker for my name.14 Long after he left Shibutami and the woodpeckers, Takuboku continued to express nostalgia for this village, though his longest unbroken stay was only from 1887 to 1903. His attachment grew as he increasingly sensed that his years in Shibutami were likely to be the happiest of his life. The poems about his boyhood are his most cheerful: Yoru nete mo kuchibue fukinu kuchibue wa jūgo no ware no uta shi arikeri even whistled in my sleep— in fact, at 15 whistles were my poems15 Takuboku’s family in Shibutami consisted of his parents, himself, and Mitsuko, his younger sister (1888–1968), whose recollections of Takuboku are filled with complaints about the unkindness and even cruelty with which Takuboku treated her. She obviously resented her mother’s greater affection for her brother. Takuboku seldom wrote about his boyhood relations with his parents, but his poems suggested that he and his father were not close:

C6997.indb 10

7/7/16 9:32 AM

Copyrighted Material

T a k u b o k u , M o d e r n P o e t —–11

oya to ko to hanarebanare no kokoro mote shizuka ni mukau kimazuki ya na zo father and son minds apart face to face in awkward silence why—?16 chichi to ware mugon no mama ni aki no yonaka narabite ikishi furusato no michi

My father and I Not saying a single word, Walked side by side Late one autumn night along A road through the village.17

kanashiki wa wa ga chichi! kyō mo shinbun yomiakite, koari to asoberi

How sad—my father, today again, Bored with reading the newspaper, Is toying in the garden With little ants.18

Despite the distance between them, Ittei was pleased to have a son, though he seems not to have hoped that Takuboku would succeed him as a Zen priest. Takuboku, living in a temple, often heard his father’s prayers, but he does not mention receiving any instruction in Zen teachings or even learning the importance of worshipping the Buddha. Before long, he was calling himself an atheist.19 It is possible, however, that his father was unintentionally responsible for Takuboku’s awakening to poetry. Ittei was a tanka poet of the old school who left close to four thousand poems.20 He also subscribed to several poetry magazines, quite unusual for a rural priest. Takuboku may have first thought of writing poems after getting a

C6997.indb 11

7/7/16 9:32 AM

Copyrighted Material

12—–T a k u b o k u , M o d e r n P o e t

glimpse of the magazines or else his father’s poetry, but no childhood poems survive. Probably the person Takuboku loved most in the world was his mother, though his diary never directly expresses love or even gratitude. His mother came from a better family than his father did, and she had done well in elementary school, but her education stopped after her marriage. At the time that Takuboku wrote his longest account of his mother (in the Romaji Diary), she was all but illiterate. He quoted a letter she had sent describing how much the family needed money. Begging him for even one yen, she wrote, “If we don’t get an answer from you, we’re finished.” Takuboku commented, My mother’s letter, full of shaky, misspelled kana. I don’t suppose anyone but myself could read this letter. I’ve been told that when Mother was a pupil at the Senboku Street School in Morioka, she was the brightest in the class. But in the forty years of married life with my father, I doubt that she ever wrote a letter. The first letter from her was in the summer of the year before last. . . . Today was the fifth I have received since coming to Tokyo. There are fewer mistakes than at first, and the characters are better formed. How sad—a letter from my mother.21 Based on the number of times Takuboku mentions his parents in his diaries, Saitō Saburō concluded that Takuboku loved his mother at least seven times as much as his father.22 But Miyazaki Ikuu (1885–1962), who played a major role in Takuboku’s life, found something “unhealthy” in the relations between Takuboku and his mother, though he did not elaborate. He was unfavorably impressed when he met her in 1908: His mother looked like an old harpy. She was extremely small and painfully bent. Seated, she looked no bigger than a girl, but her features were regular. Her forehead was prominent, like Takuboku’s.

C6997.indb 12

7/7/16 9:32 AM

Copyrighted Material

T a k u b o k u , M o d e r n P o e t —–13

Her pale face was gourd shaped, the nose and the mouth average. Her most attractive feature was her white hair. I thought, looking at her face, that she might have been pretty when she was young, but whenever anything displeased her, she revealed in her expression an unyielding nature I didn’t like.23 Despite her tiny size, his mother never hesitated to voice her likes and dislikes, but she was devoted above all to keeping Takuboku happy. This concern probably went back to Takuboku’s infancy. He was sickly at birth, and his mother was so afraid of losing her only son that she permitted him to do whatever he pleased, fearful that scolding him might cause a tantrum or even death. Mitsuko characterized her mother’s affection for Takuboku as “blind love.” She recalled that in order to strengthen Takuboku, her mother fed him delicacies that no one else was allowed to eat. She never complained, no matter how mischievously Takuboku engaged in pranks. His father was somewhat more severe, and on one occasion, he scolded Takuboku harshly. The boy shrank with fear at this unexpected show of parental authority, but Mitsuko confessed she was overjoyed to see her brother punished. She admitted that she hated him because he kept calling her stupid and hitting her.24 Mitsuko envied Takuboku, who, as an only son, was at liberty to do as he pleased. Her parents did nothing to protect Mitsuko from Takuboku’s willfulness. He was always well dressed, but if whenever she asked her parents for something to wear, they would give her clothes that he had discarded. She wrote these unpleasant recollections of Takuboku after his death but insisted she did so not in order to reveal how her brother had made her suffer but to rebut books about Takuboku that blamed his misfortunes on the heartlessness of society. Mitsuko was convinced that Takuboku’s unhappiness stemmed from an aristocratic egoism fostered by his mother: “People nowadays forget that my brother was a spoiled son at home and an aristocrat in the village. It is true that the Ishikawa

C6997.indb 13

7/7/16 9:32 AM

Copyrighted Material

14—–T a k u b o k u , M o d e r n P o e t

family later was forced to scatter in all directions, but I would like readers to consider objectively how much his troubles were due to my brother’s aristocratic tendencies.”25 “Aristocratic” is an unexpected adjective to apply to a man whose life was largely spent in poverty, but Mitsuko’s memories were of Takuboku’s youth when, as the son of a priest. he flaunted his superiority to other villagers, treating them as unworthy of his attention. Mitsuko was in fact so upset by his arrogance that she attended a missionary school and became a Christian, as if to be as unlike her brother as possible. A late poem by Takuboku called attention to their religious opposition: kirisuto wo hito nari to ieba, imōto no me ga, kanashiku mo, ware wo awarenu

When I said Christ was a man My sister, eyes full of grief Took pity on me.26

Mitsuko’s anger toward her brother occasionally yielded to affection, but bitterness taints most of what she wrote. Perhaps she did not exaggerate her grief, as Takuboku, too, recognized the unfairness of their parents’ treatment of Mitsuko: haha ware wo utazu tsumi naki imōto wo uchite koraseshi hi mo arishi kana

I remember days When my mother, not spanking me, Struck and punished My younger sister, Though she hadn’t done a thing.27

Mitsuko admitted that Takuboku sometimes showed concern about her education: “My brother often said he intended to make me into a novelist and urged me to understand thoroughly whatever I read. It was at this time that I first heard the names of Ueda Bin and Natsume Sōseki.”28

C6997.indb 14

7/7/16 9:32 AM

Copyrighted Material

T a k u b o k u , M o d e r n P o e t —–15

It also occasionally occurred to Takuboku that although his parents were severe with Mitsuko, they had been excessively permissive with him: tada hitori no otoko no ko naru ware wa kaku sodateri chichi haha mo kanashikaruran

Because I was an only son This is how I grew up—I can imagine How unhappy I must have made Father and Mother.29

Takuboku’s first schooling was at the Ordinary Elementary School in Shibutami. Four years at such a school was the entire education most children in the village received, but after graduating in April 1895, Takuboku went on to the Higher Elementary School in Morioka, the largest town nearby. He graduated from this school in 1898 with the highest marks in all three branches—classwork, deportment, and examinations. He applied for admission to the Morioka Middle School and was accepted at the age of twelve, ranking tenth highest of 128 applications. His firstyear marks were good but not remarkable. Takuboku began to compose tanka while in middle school, already able to write classical Japanese. He seems to have had no difficulty learning the old vocabulary and grammar and came to revel in obscure characters. Then Takuboku’s marks began to drop during his second year of middle school, and they continued to fall every year afterward. Although his diary does not mention the cause of the decline, biographers generally attribute it to his awakening to his future: having decided he would be a writer, he lost interest in classroom study. The decline, however, may have had a more direct cause. In 1899, Takuboku, then thirteen years old, met Horiai Setsuko, a girl of the same age. Photographs of her make it evident that she was not beautiful; she certainly does not look like a “white lily,” the affectionate name by which Takuboku called her, but she was intelligent and may have had a sexual appeal. Before long, the passionate Takuboku fell in love with

C6997.indb 15

7/7/16 9:32 AM

Copyrighted Material

16—–T a k u b o k u , M o d e r n P o e t

Setsuko, and she, equally attracted to him, became a frequent visitor at Takuboku’s house, usually on the pretext of seeing Mitsuko.30 In March 1901, a student strike erupted at the Morioka Middle School. It began with hostility between two groups of English teachers. The first were veteran teachers from the region who had learned their English entirely from books. They typically pronounced “the girl” as za gururu. The contesting group consisted of young teachers, mostly from Tokyo, who had learned correct English pronunciations from native speakers. The old guard, fearing they would be displaced, tormented the newcomers. The mild-mannered principal was unable to end either the hostility between the two factions or the students’ complaints about the inadequate teaching of English. The school alumni, seeking a solution, appointed Tomita Koichirō (1859–1945) as head of the literature department. Tomita was a distinguished educator, known as the “Pestalozzi of Iwate,” but his strictness angered the students, and he soon left the school. A strike ensued that lasted for three weeks until the governor of the prefecture intervened. Takuboku, always rebellious, enjoyed the excitement of the strike and was sorry when it ended: sutoraiki omoiidete mo ima wa haya wa ga chi odorazu hisoka ni sabishi 31

Even when I think back to the strike, My blood no longer dances; I feel a furtive loneliness.

At first, Takuboku disliked Tomita, but as he got to know him better, his enmity gradually turned to admiration and he wrote about him worshipfully in a newspaper serial devoted to Tomita that he published in 1909.32 After the governor ended the strike, Takuboku once again was bored with school but diverted himself by reading extensively. He recalled, “For the first time in my life, I began to read works of literature, and from then on I was completely captivated. My classroom appearances became

C6997.indb 16

7/7/16 9:32 AM

Copyrighted Material

T a k u b o k u , M o d e r n P o e t —–17

rarer than ever, a tendency that persists to this day.”33 Reading literary works was not only interesting but convinced him he must become a writer. Classes seemed less and less relevant to his future work. As the result of the strike, there was a shake-up of the school faculty, and no one was left to teach English. At Takuboku’s suggestion, in 1901 some students formed a group they called the Union Society, a name derived from the textbook of English literature that the society’s members used. They met each week to discuss not only literature but also politics and religion. This first taste of intellectual discussion was probably the most important benefit Takuboku gained from the strike. As he wrote in his diary, “If anyone should ask what consolations I have in life, I would at once reply, ‘On my right a white lily and on my left my friends in the Union Society.’”34 The “white lily” was, as mentioned earlier, Setsuko. Although they had been eager to marry since they were seventeen, both families resisted. Setsuko’s well-to-do family was not pleased to have their daughter marry the son of a village priest. Takuboku’s mother thought that Setsuko did not seem like a proper Japanese girl, as she was too forward in her affection for Takuboku. Despite their frustration with their parents’ opposition, the lovers continued to meet. Takuboku nearly botched his chances of marrying Setsuko. On July 15, 1902, he was caught cheating on a final exam in mathematics. He had arranged with a friend in the adjacent row to pass him answers to the questions. Takuboku had been caught cheating before, in March of that year. At that time, he was treated leniently, punished by no more than a reprimand, but as a second offender, he was suspended. Cheating on exams was so common in Japanese schools that it was usually treated as a minor offense, but the new principal, who had taken office after the strike, was under orders from the governor to reform the students’ morals. He persuaded the faculty to punish Takuboku severely. On September 2, Takuboku was informed that his scholastic record had been carefully examined. It showed that he had attended classes for only 104 hours of the required 207 hours of classwork. He was given

C6997.indb 17

7/7/16 9:32 AM

Copyrighted Material

18—–T a k u b o k u , M o d e r n P o e t

no credits for some courses and had failed others. In the midst of this condemnation, Takuboku received unexpected good news. Word came from the editor of Myōjō, the leading poetry magazine, that it was planning to publish one of his poems. This news reassured Takuboku, and rather than suffer the humiliation of expulsion, on October 27 he asked permission to withdraw from the school, citing “family problems.” Permission was granted at once. Takuboku, like the hero of a Balzac novel, decided to head for the capital to make his fortune. He left Shibutami and, on the following morning in Morioka, had a tearful farewell with Setsuko. At five o’clock on October 30, 1903, seen off by Setsuko and the Union Society members, Takuboku boarded a train for Tokyo. He had no money and no plans for what he would do in the capital, only a vague hope of meeting the leading poets and enormous self-confidence.

C6997.indb 18

7/7/16 9:32 AM

Turn static files into dynamic content formats.

Create a flipbook
Issuu converts static files into: digital portfolios, online yearbooks, online catalogs, digital photo albums and more. Sign up and create your flipbook.