Haru Kobayashi

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to: navigation, search
Haru Kobayashi
小林 ハル
Born (1900-01-24)January 24, 1900
Niigata Prefecture, Japan
Died April 25, 2005(2005-04-25) (aged 105)
Niigata Prefecture, Japan
Nationality Japan
Occupation Professional musician singing goze songs accompanied with shamisen
Known for the last Japanese blind musician and shamisen player called goze

Haru Kobayashi (小林 ハル, Kobayashi Haru, January 24, 1900 – April 25, 2005) was a Japanese female musician, singing goze songs accompanied by a shamisen. Kobayashi was blind and had been since the age of 3 months. She started goze training at age 5 and started her career at age 8. She continued until 1978 and traveled throughout most of Niigata Prefecture as well as through parts of the Yamagata and the Fukushima Prefectures.[1] In 1978, she was named as one of the Living National Treasures of Japan, as a key figure of the traditional goze art form.[2] In 1979, she was awarded the Medal of Honor with Yellow Ribbon.


She was born on January 24, 1900, the last daughter of four siblings in what is known today as Sanjo city, Niigata Prefecture. She was born to a relatively wealthy farming family of the Shoya class, or "top of the village". At 3 months of age, she lost her eyesight in both eyes due to cataracts; her family was told that there was no hope of recovery. In 1902, her father died and, at that time, her mother had asthma. Kobayashi was brought up by her great-uncle, the younger brother of her grandfather.

Her foster family feared the stigma of discrimination, and Kobayashi was made to live in her bedroom. She had to eat meals there, and her water intake was limited to minimize her need to use the toilet, as each trip would have necessitated the assistance of family members and exposed her to passersby as toilets were commonly in outhouses at the time. She was told not to say anything except when she was called. She was even told that she should eat less, because she was being cared for. She was not called by her name; only "mekurakko" (blind woman) or "tochi" (the short form of tochi-mekura, a slang term). Her brother, who was 16 years older than her, teased her and told her he could not marry because of her. She could not remember her exact date of birth. A fortune-teller foretold that she would live long, and her family considered how she might make a living.[3] At that time, blind persons had limited means to earn a living. Careers open to them included acupuncture, massage, and playing music on the koto or the shamisen. Acupuncture was selected for her, but when she first met the acupuncturist, he was drunk and told her that he would perform acupuncture on her if she did not study hard. She was scared and abandoned acupuncture.

Training and apprenticeship[edit]

Then goze was decided upon and Fuji Higuchi became her tutor.[4] At the request of her teacher, Haru's mother taught her daughter womanly disciplines very strictly; including sewing, how to dress by herself, and how to pack and carry her things by herself. If she failed, she could not eat meals. In March 1905, she formally began as a goze, and, at age 21, an apprenticeship was formally decided to be her vocation. Her family paid the expenses of education and other costs in advance, and if she discontinued the apprenticeship, a breach-of-contract fee would be paid. Haru was given the goze name "Sumi" and was subsequently home taught, but also travelled with her teacher.

In the summer of 1907, Haru first started playing and singing the song Mishima geisha girls are excellent girls. Haru was very small and the shamisen was for little girls so her fingers on her left hand bled. Her mother scared her by saying she would drown Haru if she said the word "painful". She began to practice Kangoe, a specific manner of speaking among goze. This was peculiar to goze and could be achieved through rigorous hard practice, ideally in a cold environment. Haru practiced on the banks of the Shinano River, even as it led to bleeding of her thorax. She was forced to practice in thin clothing, without tabi socks. This special training lasted for one month every winter for 14 years. Her goze technique progressed until she could play in the local shrine of her village.

In the spring of 1908, she was allowed to go out, at the order of Fuji Higuchi, her teacher, who wanted her to be accustomed to walking. Then, Haru for the first time met friends of her age. She had never played with girls before and for the first time, she was made aware that she was blind. While they were playing outside, Haru picked flowers of various colors, while her friends picked only red flowers. She had no concept of color, because she was blind. Her mother cried and taught the idea of colors to Haru.[5][6] Haru was taught that there was no other way of living other than as a goze. In 1908, Fuji, Haru, and two other older apprentices, went on a journey, working as goze. Haru's uncle, virtually her father, declared that Haru should not return home if she failed, this would be a breach of contract and money would be owed. Haru endured hardship and cruel treatment by her teacher during the journey, unlike the two elder apprentices.

Transition and proficiency[edit]

At age 12, she was given a shamisen, sized for adults. At age 13, she was allowed to play duets (nichoushamisen), and this meant that she was a full-fledged goze. However, Fuji did not value Haru highly, because Haru's family were hunters, so Haru was thought to be cursed with ill fortune. In 1915, her apprenticeship was discontinued, without the fee, since Haru was not allowed to follow on a goze journey. Fuji probably disliked Haru's comparatively deep voice. Medical examinations revealed many fissures along Haru's leg bones, due to Fuji's habitual abuse. In the same year, Haru entered into an apprenticeship with Sawa Hatsuji of Nagaoka, with the approval of Goi Yamamoto, the boss of the goze organization of Nagaoka. She praised Haru's technique, and Haru was allowed to wear the under-garment with red han-eri, which was a sign of a fully-fledged goze. The new teacher was just and fair, unlike Fuji. Haru could eat anything and then, could perform her skill beautifully.


At age 18, Haru went on a journey with a goze with normal vision, called Sayo. Sayo was a quick-tempered girl and once Haru accidentally fell into a small moat. Somebody suggested Sayo should attend Haru more carefully. Angered, Sayo injured Haru in her genitalia, with a stick, which resulted in lasting pain.[7][8] In 1921, her teacher Sawa Hatsuji died, and Haru decided to study under Tsuru Sakai. Haru herself taught her lower apprentices kindheartedly. Tsuru allowed Haru to use a leather shamisen and a tortoiseshell bachi; these also symbolised the fact that she was a full-fledged goze. Tsuru retired and Haru began to lead her goze group.

In 1933, Haru became independent but continued to help her teacher. In 1935, Misu Tsuchida, one of Haru's apprentices, was going to marry a masseur and suggested that Haru adopt her, so they could live in one house. Haru accepted, but the masseur already had a wife. The newly constructed house that Haru had paid for was taken over by the wife, and the three persons moved to Takase Hot Spring. Misu's lover was a bad man that took the money earned by Haru. In 1934, Haru went back to Nagaoka, but there was nowhere available to live. She moved to a Tenrikyo church, where two handicapped gozes lived. On August 1, 1945, the goze house was destroyed during an air raid. Fortunately, their party was on a journey. On August 15, she played the famous story of 'Ogurihangan and Teruhime' (小栗判官照手姫), and of 'Kushimoto Bushi(串本節) and Ohryokkobushi(鴨緑江節)'. Haru's party returned to Nagaoka and fortunately, the Tenrikyo church had not been destroyed by the raids.

For several years after World War II, Japanese people tried to obtain food and their struggles were much the same. Around this time, Haru was determined to leave her family where she was born, in spite of the fields she had bought in her family's name. However, she had some form of dermatitis, and she frequently met with discrimination.

In March 1982, she was living in the special home for the blind and elderly called Tainai Yasuragino Ie. Later she visited her birthplace Haruvpaid, visited the grave of her mother, and performed an address to a kami called Matsuzaka. Although her family asked her to come back home, she refused. She even refused the idea that her bones should be buried in the family grave. Her dermatitis had cleared within two months of the hot spring treatment.


The interference by the bad man still continued, since he had asked Haru to educate a girl named Kimi as a goze. The girl had clear eyesight, and the bad man wanted to sell her somewhere. She decided to educate her, in return, the man haunted her presence for 7 years. Haru left the Takase hot spring and went to Agano hot spring where she succeeded in leaving the bad man, who had become sick, in 1960, and therefore Haru adopted the girl as her daughter. Television had now started to become popular and unfortunately goze jobs went into decline. She lived as a masseuse, although she was sometimes asked to play as a goze. Kimi was described as having 'loose morals' and after the wedding, gave birth to three children. Later, one of them, namely a grandson of Haru said a cruel thing to Haru; that her father put meat in his bowl, while her grandma (Haru) had only soup. Haru decided to leave them and entered a special home for the aged. Even so, they sometimes visited Haru for money. On May 28, 1973 Haru declared her retirement as a goze and gave her shamisen to an acquaintance. This was the last day of the activities of gozes in Nagaoka. She visited a temple every day but television reporters were waiting there for her.


Haru decided to discontinue all goze activities, but she attracted the attention of the public when she performed before the scholars of folk arts at Kokugakuin University. The education committee of Shibata city decided to record the goze performances, and she began to perform again. In July 1977 she went into the Tainai Yasuragino Ie, a special home for the aged, and was united with former gozes. In the 1980s, the previous gozes who had worked in the region lived in the same home for the aged. The project of the education committee continued between 1973 and 1975, recording 40 tapes of 120 minutes each. Parts of them were broadcast through NHK, the public television and broadcasting network of Japan.

Reiko Takeshita (竹下玲子) was accepted as a new student of goze, and Naoko Kayamori (萱森直子) became the last student. On March 25, 1977, Haru was credited as the retainer of the goze art form and showed her skill at the National Theater of Tokyo. On April 29, 1979 she was given the Medal of Honor with Yellow Ribbon.

Age 100[edit]

In 2000, Haru was 100 years old, and she was awarded a special award by Sanjo city. In 2001, she was made a special citizen of Sanjo city. In 2002, she was awarded the 36th Eiji Yoshikawa award. On April 25, 2005, she died of old age.


Shizuko Yamada attended Haru, and in her later years, assisted Haru in her daily life. Shizuko said that Haru's voice was low and resounding.[9] Painter Susumu Kinoshita started painting after he met Haru. Kinoshita said that her voice was not so loud, but the voice struck him since it vibrated a shoji nearby.[10] Shimoju pointed out that Haru's recitation was not in order, but was strong and powerful with some pressure.[11] "The voice does not bend at any place, but comes directly from the front." "The voice comes straight into the eardrum. She wrote that the voice of Haru was unique, unlike any other reciting gozes.[12] Kawano heard her voice in 1995 at Sanjo, and wrote that although Haru did not use a microphone, her voice struck the audience pleasantly with a certain rhythm, and the voice was heard penetrating the audience. It was not the so-called beautiful voice. Every word could be understood by the audience, and her intonation was that of a person trained for a long time. [13] Jun-ichi Sakuma commented that her voice was once crushed, and was coming from the intestine. It was completely different from the voice of those who were trained in favourable conditions. Reiko Takeshita, her student, commented that her singing might be that of Bel canto.[14] According to her, three experienced singers sang at the same time, but only the voice of Haru could be heard.[15]

Haru's tone was constant, and there was no rising or falling.[16] Masako Shirasu commented that Haru's voice was more or less monotonous and progressed innocently and this struck the audience greatly. Usually, blind persons have peculiar tones but Haru's voice was without any worried concern. With the monotone, she sang chilly stories. Haru's voice was not demanding sympathy. She should be called a master.[17] Reiko Takeshita once asked Haru whether sentiment should be included in the song or not. Her answer was no.[18]

Naoko Kayamori, another student, wrote that Haru could sing three different ways, probably because of her three different teachers.[19] According to Haru, she had difficulties adapting herself to new circumstances.

Haru had a brilliant memory, possibly because she could not see.[20] Jun-ichi Sakuma wrote that the education committee of Shibata city was surprised that Haru remembered several hundred goze songs, and she memorized every song when she heard it only once. Gerald Groemer, a scholar of music, compared her performances Awatokushimajuurobee and Kuzunoha no Kowakare(阿波徳島十郎兵衛 and 葛の葉子別れ) played 20 years apart, and found practically no difference between them.[21] Haru said that any songs she remembered were neither what she wanted to master, nor what she mastered with pleasure. She thought it was her job.[22] Especially during her apprenticeship, there had been no pleasure. However, Haru wanted to learn more if there was a good singer. Haru's repertoire included a wide range of music; popular music such as Saimonmatsuzaka, tokiwazu, shinnai, kiyomoto, gidayu, nagauta, hauta, Mikawa manzai, wasan and dodoitsu.[23] In the house of the aged, Haru belonged to a music club, but commented that folk songs and popular songs were difficult.[24]


Haru's mother told her that Haru should answer,"yes", to any request and Haru should not express her opinions, since Haru could not see, and had to be cared for throughout her life.[25] Haru should not bother anyone, and do anything by herselfand she should not do anything which will bring hatred to herself.[26] Shomoju pointed out that these rules of Haru's mother governed her behaviour throughout her life.[27] She remained good-natured, and accepted her destiny impressively. But at the same time, her convictions made her life full of difficulties.[28] Haru accepted anything which occurred to her as a festival if she walked with good people, and if she walked with bad people, she accepted it as 'training'.[29] Sakuma wrote that Haru was a rare good-natured person, while other gozes thought that Haru was an exceptionally unlucky person.[30] Haru had a number of unfortunate events occur throughout her life, but her character remained solid. Being a goze made her face anyone with the same sentiment as those with eyesight.[31](298). Good nature and sincerity might be of her own character, but the education by Haru's mother was great.[32]

Shizuko Yamada referred to the severe circumstances of Haru. However hard she might have been educated, there was nothing humble in her mind.[33] On the contrary, Haru was too kind to other people and this nature brought her to considerable difficulties.[34] Haru kept the advice of her mother even when she was in the home for the aged and she had tried not to do anything which might be noticed by other people.[35] She never spoke ill of others.[36]

Shimoju commented on the behavior of Haru at the Yasuragi no Ie (home for the aged). Even when other people were in high spirits, she remained calm and solitary.[37] It was thought that this must have been her nature since childhood. Tomoko Matsui, a cameraman who took pictures of Haru, said that Haru never expressed anything which would make others look upon her with scrutiny.[38]

Painter Susumu Kinoshita drew pictures of Haru for 20 years, starting in 1982. According to Kinoshita, Haru's face differed every time he drew, absent-minded at some time, with wrinkles making his pictures worthwhile.[39] He used a 9B black pencil (very soft and dark pencil) to depict the darkness of her heart.[40] Shimoju wrote that usually Haru appeared dignified, but while she was alone, she sometimes showed an expression of the darkness of her life.[41]


On her personal philosophy, Haru said

Wherever we may go, or how old we may be, we will meet difficulties. But kami or Buddha will see the truth. Other persons may say what they want to say and may do what they want to do. But I will not do so. I will put myself in the hands of kami or Buddha.


Other people may say anything about me, but it may be alright except if I am said to be a robber. Kami or Buddha knows everything, and if I say something, I may commit a crime.

Kusumi Kawano wrote that

Haru lived by the conception that a good thing causes a good result, and a bad thing brings a bad result.


Haru said that her blindness was the result of her bad deed in her previous life; I want to have eyesight, even if I become a worm. I have lived with this in mind.


A monk who gave Haru a Dharma name said that

Haru believed in the saying Even a worm will turn.-Gautama Buddha Haru rejected the concept of desire, and believed in enlightenment through abstainance from worldly desires-that is, she believed those who follow this path become enlightened.



  • Osamu Akiya, 説経節の伝統 説経祭文と越後瞽女(Tradition of Saimon and Niigata Goze)1987, Hitotsubashi Souron, 97, 3, pp304–326
  • Seiji Kiryu, 最後の瞽女 小林ハルの人生,(The life of Kobayashi Haru, the last Goze) 2000, Bungeisha, ISBN 4-8355-1037-2
  • Groemer, Gerald. A study on Goze and their songs(瞽女と瞽女唄の研究 研究篇) 2007, University of Nagoya Press, ISBN 4-8158-0558-X
  • Haru Kobayashi(narrator) and Kusumi Kawano, Kobayashi Haru looking for light - 105 year old last Goze(小林ハル光を求めた一〇五歳 最後の瞽女) 2005, NHK Shuppan. ISBN 4-14-081078-5
  • Jun-ichi Sakuma, The folklore of Goze(瞽女の民俗), 1983, Iwasaki Bijutsusha, ISBN 4-7534-0091-3
  • Akiko Shimoju, Steel woman, the last goze Kobayashi Haru(鋼の女 最後の瞽女・小林ハル) 2003, Shueisha,
  • Shin-ichi Harada, An introduction to the life of Goze (近世における瞽女の生活論序説 ), 1998, Komazawa Shakaigakukenkyu, pp75-100
  • Shoko Honma, The travel of blind Kobayashi Haru(小林ハル盲目の旅人) 2001, Kyuuryuudo, ISBN 4-7630-0105-1
  • Tetsuo Yamaore, The spiritual history of poems(「歌」の精神史), 2003, Chuokoronshinsha, ISBN 4-12-003760-6


  1. ^ Sakuma[1983:125]
  2. ^ Honma[2001:11]
  3. ^ Shimoju[2003:37]
  4. ^ Kobayashi[2005:22]
  5. ^ Shimoju[2003:52]
  6. ^ Kiryu[2000:36]
  7. ^ Shimoju[2003:123-125]
  8. ^ Kobayashi[2005:178-179]
  9. ^ Shimoju[2003:161]
  10. ^ Kobayashi[2005:250]
  11. ^ Shimoju[2003:32]
  12. ^ Shimoju[2003:32]
  13. ^ Kobayashi[2005:11]
  14. ^ Shimoju [2003:24,25,47]
  15. ^ Shimoju[2003:25-26]
  16. ^ Shimoju[25-26]
  17. ^ Shimoju[2003:231]
  18. ^ Shimoji[2003:33]
  19. ^ Kobayashi[2005:261-262]
  20. ^ Shimoju[2003:48]
  21. ^ Groemer[2007:369-370,360-361]
  22. ^ Shimoju[2003:239]
  23. ^ Groemer[2007:42-43]
  24. ^ Shimoju[2003:251]
  25. ^ Shimoju[2003:298]
  26. ^ Shimoju[2003:42]
  27. ^ Shimoju[2003:42-43]
  28. ^ Shimoju[2003:179]
  29. ^ Shimoju[2003:122]
  30. ^ Shimoju[2003:241]
  31. ^ Shimoju[2003:90]
  32. ^ Shimoju[2003:89]
  33. ^ Shimoju[2003:90]
  34. ^ Shimoju[2003:223]
  35. ^ Shimoju[2003:251]
  36. ^ Shimoju[2003:216]
  37. ^ Shimoju[2003:59]
  38. ^ Shimoju[2003:175]
  39. ^ Kobayashi[2005:249]
  40. ^ Kobayashi[2005:251]
  41. ^ Shimoju[2003:174]
  42. ^ Kobayashi[2005:60-61]
  43. ^ Kobayashi[2005:61]
  44. ^ Kiryu [2000:378]
  45. ^ Kobayashi[2005:278-279]

External links[edit]