Akiko Yosano

po_Yosano-Akiko1Akiko Yosano, (December 7, 1878 – May 29, 1942) was the pen-name of a Japanese author, poet, pioneering feminist, pacifist, and social reformer, active in the late Meiji period as well as the Taishō and early Shōwa periods of Japan. Her name at birth was Shō Hō. She is one of the most famous, and most controversial, post-classical woman poets of Japan.

Her father was a bourgeois merchant who loved art and literature. Akiko’s mother was his second wife, and Akiko had two older step sisters. Akiko had an elder brother, but he died when he was young. When his son died, Akiko’s father was very disappointed and upset. For Japanese families, sons, who inherit the name of ie (family), were very important, particularly for a family like that of Akiko’s father, which ran a business. Angry and devastated, the father even left home for a while. Akiko stayed at her aunt’s home for three years. Akiko felt that she was not loved by her parents and had a lonely childhood. She grew up to become a quiet but rebellious girl.

When Akiko was sixteen, she read Manyoshu, a collection of ancient Japanese poetry from the 8th century. It had a great impact on her and she started to write Tanka poetry. She joined a poetry circle, Sakai shikishima kai, in Osaka, and published her works in Yoshiashigusa, a poetry journal. She gradually began to gain a good reputation. Through her literary activities, Akiko became acquainted with such poets as Yamakawa Tomiko and Yosano Tekkan. Akiko admired Tekkan and respected him as her mentor. Tekkan was the editor of a newly created magazine, Myojo, and Akiko started to contribute to it. Her respect for Tekkan started to change into love. Tekkan had a common law wife and a child at that time, but Akiko did not hesitate to show her love. Recollecting her passionate feelings for him, she later writes in her “My Conception of Chastity”: “By an unexpected chance, I came to know a certain man and my sexual feelings underwent a violent change to a strange degree. For the first time I experienced the emotion of a real love that burned my body” (Beichman 108). Akiko left home to be with Tekkan and married him in 1902.

Midaregami (Tangled Hair) is her first collection of Tanka. It contains 399 poems, among which 385 are love poems expressing her feelings toward Tekkan.

From the introduction to Selected Tanka from Midaregami, translators Sanford Goldstein and Seishi Shinoda write: The connotations behind the term midaregami (tangled hair, disheveled hair) should be clarified. The word midaregami ought not to be viewed as the slovenly or unaesthetic appearance of a woman’s hair. Today, when Japanese are favoring more direct expression, evocative values of earlier terminology are lost to most of the younger generation. Modern Japanese males who are used to seeing women who have had their hair set at beauty parlors may visualize midaregami  as an attribute of ugliness or carelessness. However, in the days before. World War 1, the image of a woman with even slightly disordered hair had a peculiar aesthetic and erotic association. H. H. Honda, in his small volume The Poetry of Yosano Akiko, translates midaregami as “Hair in Sweet Disorder.”

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A thousand lines
Of black black hair
All tangles, tangles —
And tangles too
My thoughts of love!

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Amidst the notes
Of my koto is another
Deep mysterious one,
A sound that comes from
Within my own breast.

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Each string and bridge of my koto
Makes me sad;
Spring is passing,
And yet how long my long long hair
In this flickering light!

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Early evening moon
Over the flowering field,
I felt somehow
He was waiting for me
And I came.

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Fragrant the lilies
In this room of love;
Hair unbound,
I fear
The pink of night’s passing.

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How lonely
By the temple bell
After I slipped out
To meet him
When the fog cleared.

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In my bath —
Submerged like some graceful lily
At the bottom of a spring,
How beautiful
This body of twenty summers.

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My black hair tangled
As my own tangled thoughts,
I lie here alone,
Dreaming of one who has gone,
Who stroked my hair till it shone.
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Only
A filament of cloud
Above,
But like some sacred song
It showed me the way.

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Picking wild roses,
Some to hold,
Some to put in my hair,
I wait for you in the fields
This long long day.

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(see another translation below)
passion ache of love,
Press my breasts,
Part the veil of mystery,
A flower blooms there,
Crimson and fragrant.

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(see another translation above)
Pressing my breasts
I softly kick aside
the Curtain of mystery
How deep the crimson
of the flower here