“I would like to make a haiku out of : What touches my life, what my eyes see, ears hear, what my heart speaks to myself in a strong voice… I want to sketch things that left an impression in the depth of my soul.“ — from ”A Letter Written In Daybreak, 1922” – by Sugito Hisajo (1890~1946)
Sugita Hisajo was born on 30 May 1890 as the third daughter of Akabori Renzo, a high-ranking civil servant. Hisajo was given a good education and attended Ochanomizu University in Tokyo. In 1909, at the age of 20 she married the art teacher Sugita Unai. The couple then moved to Kokura, an industrial town on Kyushu Island.
morning glories –
smog begins to foul
the town’s sky
Two daughters were born early in the marriage. Hisajo adored her children but her marriage was not a happy one. In 1915 her brother Akohoro Getsuken came to stay and taught her how to write haiku. Despite her husband’s disapproval painting and writing haiku occupied much of Hisajo’s time.
caring mother –
this summer I’m a wreck
reading a play
dishes left in the sink
this winter’s night
Despite the constraints of her marriage Hisajo appears to have been a lively, sensual woman.
on untying the obi
assorted strings now cling
She wrote of this haiku – “A woman back from cherry-blossom viewing takes off each layer of her best kimono by untying obi and various cords. Each cord clings to her slippery silk undergarments as it falls to her feet on the tatami. She feels only a little annoyed for she is in a sweet fatigue after being in public for blossom viewing (and being viewed). Boldly and sensually this haiku describes the sluggish motion of silk cords with their beauty of colors.”
In 1920, after the death of her father she returned to Tokyo and lived with her mother for a year. During that time she contracted a kidney disease and was hospitalized for an extended period. Concerned for her health her mother entreated Unai to divorce Hisajo. He refused and Hisajo returned Kokura. Although Unai’s work as a teacher supported the family Hisajo taught haiku and took in sewing to earn the extra money needed to provide her daughters with a good education.
a teacher’s wife
has not become a Nora *
From 1917 Hisajo submitted haiku to the influential magazine “Hototogisu”edited by the poet Takahama Kyoshi and in 1932 she began publishing and editing her own magazine of women’s haiku, “Hanagoromo”. In an article in “Hanagoromo” she explains what she means by ‘a Nora’* –
“She is in her early thirties with eyes losing the brightness of youth. Mending her husband’s old tabi socks under a dim light, she looks tired. Wives in the transition time who experienced feudalism but awaken to modern values tend to get caught badly in social contradictions and personal problems. She can not easily part with old traditions. She is attached to her children. She keeps on treading on the path of patience and resignation.”
hardly a word spoken
the man and his wife part –
During these years writing haiku sustained Hisajo. In 1934 she contributed an essay to the first issue of Haiku Kenkyu (Study of Haiku) magazine. In it she wrote –
“I used to consider myself poor and unhappy, but not any more. With no jewels to wear, no knowledge of fashion-trend, I kept on writing haiku. Reflecting on my past days, I am pleased and even happy now. Haiku has given me spiritual strength by encouraging my soul all these years.”
the persistent spirit
of a woman –
Despite her enthusiasm and love of haiku Hisajo’s magazine “Hanagoromo” folded in 1936. In the same year she was suddenly expelled from “Hototogisu” by the editor Kyoshi. Hisajo was devastated. Her reputation as a haiku poet was besmirched and she was no longer able to teach. From that time on she suffered from bouts of deep depression and sometimes behaved very erratically. She was shunned by the haiku community and rumours flourished that she was a sexual predator who had affairs with male writers. Although she was outspoken and unconventional there is no evidence to support these accusations.
At the same Japan was at war and the country was under attack. Hisajo was often alone during air-raids because of her husband’s war duties.
air-raid sirens _
the last to turn off the lights
is a temple with blossoms
Hisajo’s health deteriorated and in 1945 she was forcibly admitted to a psychiatric ward. She died there in 1946, probably due to malnutrition and kidney failure. After her death the poet Kyoshi wrote an essay in “Hototogisu” where he declared she was schizophrenic. He developed this essay into a novel titled “Kuniko’s Letters” in 1948 where he distorted letters Hisajo had written to make her appear to be insane. These writings so damaged Hisago’s reputation her poetry was disregarded by the haiku community in Japan for many, many years.
In recent years her work has been re-assessed and she is now regarded as one of the finest Japanese haiku poets of the 1930’s and 40’s. Her haiku style is similar to the Japanese style of painting where details are implied rather than accurately depicted. What is not said must be filled in by the reader’s imagination. Hidden metaphors often express her thoughts about the rigid nature of Japanese society in the first half of the 20th century.
stiff as a board-
the tight obi jabbed
by an autumn fan
Prompt: I found it impossible to pick just one of Hisajo’s haiku for this week’s prompt
deep into spring mountains
I have become lost
For this week’s prompt let the life and work of Hisajo inspire your creative explorations of haiku and related forms.
Please post a link to your response in the comment thread. Including the tag #ontheroadprompts can help others find your work easily.
Since posting a list of links to recent “On the Road Prompts” earlier this week two more wonderful posts have been created in response to last week’s prompt –
The haiku of Sugita Hisajo used in this post were found on the sources listed below
* Nora is a character in the Norwegian playwright Henrik Ibsen’s play, A Doll’s House (1879). This play was controversial when it was first published because it criticized 19th century marriage norms..