Akiko Yosano

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Akiko Yosano
Akiko Yosano posing by window.jpg
Born (1878-12-07)7 December 1878
Sakai, Osaka, Japan
Died 29 May 1942(1942-05-29) (aged 63)
Tokyo, Japan
Occupation Writer, educator
Genre poetry, essays
Notable works Kimi Shinitamou koto nakare
Spouse Tekkan Yosano

Akiko Yosano (与謝野 晶子?, Yosano Akiko, Seiji: 與謝野 晶子, 7 December 1878 – 29 May 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.[1] Her name at birth was Shō Hō (鳳 志よう?, Hō Shō).[2] She is one of the most famous, and most controversial, post-classical woman poets of Japan.[3]

Personal life[edit]

Yosano was born into a prosperous merchant family in Sakai, near Osaka. From the age of 11, she was the family member most responsible for running the family business, which produced and sold youkan, a type of confection. From early childhood, she was fond of reading literary works, and read widely in her father's extensive library. As a high school student, she began to subscribe to the poetry magazine Myōjō (Bright Star), of which she became a prominent contributor. Myōjō's editor, Tekkan Yosano, taught her tanka poetry, having met her on visits to Osaka and Sakai to deliver lectures and teach in workshops.[4]

Although Tekkan had a common-law wife, he and Akiko fell in love, and he eventually separated from his common-law wife. The two poets started a new life together in the suburb of Tokyo and were married in 1901. The couple had two sons, Hikaru and Shigeru. Despite separating from his first wife, Tekkan remained actively involved with her.

Yosano helped to found what was originally a girls' school, the Bunka Gakuin (Institute of Culture), together with Nishimura Isaku, Kawasaki Natsu and others, and became its first dean and chief lecturer.[5] She assisted many aspiring writers to gain a foothold in the literary world. She was a lifelong advocate of women's education. She also translated the Japanese classics into modern Japanese, including the Shinyaku Genji Monogatari (Newly Translated Tale of Genji) and Shinyaku Eiga Monogatari (Newly Translated Tale of Flowering Fortunes).[6]

Yosano gave birth to 13 children, of whom 11 survived to adulthood. The Japanese politician Yosano Kaoru is one of her grandsons.[7]

Yosano died of a stroke in 1942 at the age of 63.[8] Her death, occurring in the middle of the Pacific War, went almost unnoticed in the press, and after the end of the war, her works were largely forgotten by critics and the public. However, her romantic, sensual style has come back into popularity in recent years, and she has an ever-increasing following. Her grave is at Tama Cemetery in Fuchu, Tokyo.

Literary career[edit]

In 1901, Yosano brought out her first volume of tanka, Midaregami (Tangled Hair), which contained 400 poems and was mostly denounced by literary critics.[9] Despite this critical reaction, it was widely read and became a sort of lighthouse for free-thinkers of her time. Her first book, by far her best known, brought a passionate individualism to traditional tanka poetry, unlike any other work of the late Meiji period. She followed this with twenty more tanka anthologies over the course of her career, including Koigoromo (Robe of Love) and Maihime (Dancer). Her husband Tekkan was also a poet, but his reputation was eclipsed by hers. He continued to publish his wife's work and to encourage her in her literary career. Yosano Akiko was an extraordinarily prolific writer. She could produce as many as 50 poems in one sitting. During the course of her lifetime, Yosano Akiko is thought to have written between 20,000 to 50,000 poems. She also wrote 11 books of prose.

Akiko and her husband, Tekkan Yosano
Engraved on the back of the Ichiyo Higuchi monument. The names of sponsors Yosano Akiko and Mori Ogai can be confirmed. (Taken April 8, 2011)

Yosano's poem Kimi Shinitamou koto nakare[10] (君死にたもうこと勿れ, Thou Shalt Not Die), addressed to her younger brother,[10] was published in Myōjō during the height of the Russo-Japanese War and was extremely controversial.[11] Made into a song, it was used as a mild form of anti-war protest,[10] as the number of Japanese casualties from the bloody Siege of Port Arthur became public.

During the Taishō period, Yosano turned her attention to social commentary, with Hito oyobi Onna to shite (As a Human and as a Woman), Gekido no Naka o Iku (Going through Turbulent Times) and her autobiography Akarumi e (To the Light). Her commentaries tended to criticize Japan's growing militarism, and also promoted her feminist viewpoints. Her final work, Shin Man'yōshū (New Man'yōshū, 1937–39) was a compilation of 26,783 poems by 6,675 contributors, written over a 60-year period.


Midaregami is Akiko Yosano’s first collection of tanka (31 syllable poems, arranged in 5-7-5-7-7), published in 1901 and consisting of around 400 poems. The majority are love poems through which Akiko expresses her feelings towards Tekkan Yosano. It was through this particular collection that she set an image for herself as well as the stage for female voices in modern Japan. The poems tended to express femininity in a manner unconventional for her time, especially from a female writer.

In traditional Japanese views, women are seen as (and expected to be) gentle and modest. The domestic and societal roles of women focused on procreation and raising children (particularly boys). Midaregami not only expresses concepts and/or issues that pertain to women and are not normally voiced in such a public manner, but also created a new, revolutionary image of womanhood, as lively, free, sexual and assertive people, nothing at all like the conventional picture. Her women were not passive, but active agents of their love lives. So Midaregami posed a challenge to patriarchal society, as well as the familiar literary and cultural conventions of her time. Although Akiko Yosano’s work was denounced and severely criticized, it served as a great source of inspiration to women of her day.[citation needed]

As mentioned, these visual representations symbolize women’s sexuality.[citation needed] From these particular examples, the idea of nudity changed the way Japanese people viewed eroticism and female sexuality. Up until this point women’s breasts were a symbol for child feeding and motherhood. From then on they began to take on a different representation; that of natural beauty, of young women specifically. A door is opened for Japanese women to see new representations of sexuality and the female body.[citation needed]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Beichman, Janine (2002-01-01). Embracing the Firebird: Yosano Akiko and the Birth of the Female Voice in Modern Japanese Poetry. University of Hawaii Press. ISBN 9780824823474. 
  2. ^ Henshall, Kenneth (2013-11-07). Historical Dictionary of Japan to 1945. Scarecrow Press. p. 481. ISBN 9780810878723. 
  3. ^ Akiko, Yosano (2014-01-07). River of Stars: Selected Poems of Yosano Akiko. Shambhala Publications. ISBN 9780834829336. 
  4. ^ Arana, R. Victoria (2015-04-22). Encyclopedia of World Poetry. Infobase Learning. ISBN 9781438140728. 
  5. ^ Rodd, Laurel Rasplica (1991-01-01). "Yosano Akiko and the Bunkagakuin: "Educating Free Individuals"". The Journal of the Association of Teachers of Japanese. 25 (1): 75–89. doi:10.2307/488911. JSTOR 488911. 
  6. ^ Emmerich, Michael (2013-08-13). The Tale of Genji: Translation, Canonization, and World Literature. Columbia University Press. ISBN 9780231534420. 
  7. ^ Arana, R. Victoria (2008-01-01). The Facts on File Companion to World Poetry: 1900 to the Present. Infobase Publishing. p. 484. ISBN 9781438108377. 
  8. ^ George Haggerty; Bonnie Zimmerman (2000). Encyclopedia of lesbian and gay histories and cultures. Taylor & Francis. p. 823. ISBN 978-0-8153-3354-8. Retrieved 29 December 2011. 
  9. ^ Yosano, Akiko (2002-01-01). Tangled Hair: Selected Tanka from Midaregami. Cheng & Tsui. ISBN 9780887273735. 
  10. ^ a b c J. Thomas Rimer; Van C. Gessel (2005). Modern Japanese literature. Columbia University Press. pp. 333–334. ISBN 978-0-231-11860-6. Retrieved 29 December 2011. 
  11. ^ James L. McClain, Japan: A Modern History p 427 ISBN 0-393-04156-5

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