Masaoka Shiki bungo

. Masaoka Shiki 正岡子規 .

Masaoka Shiki - from Bungo to Nihongo
(1867, October 14 - 1902, September 19) 

Selected Poems of Masaoka Shiki
Translated by Janine Beichman


Centenary of the Death of Masaoka Shiki (1867-1902)
... Shiki expresses himself to us, in a simple and sincere voice, as though talking with the reader in private. By using the language of everyday life he raises it to a literary rank.
Masaoka Shiki’s literary carrier burst into literature when the majority of authors were copying limitlessly the European and American literature of the Meiji restoration period. His poetical style was the shasei, meaning “drawing from life”.
Using this informal, spoken language, he dared to denounce the importance of going back to the traditional roots of Japanese poetry, calling it a source in the process of defining modern Japanese modes of expression.
source : World Haiku Review . Susumu Takiguchi / Judit Vihar


Shiki lived in a time of great changes and reforms in Japan.
After the opening of the country to the "West", the Japanese had to deal with new ideas on every level.
One of them was the Japanese language itself.

The use of BUNGO 文語 had been common for written texts. It had a grammar and vocabulary of its own and made use of difficult Kanji characters.

- quote -
The Classical Japanese language
(文語 Bungo, literally "Literary language"),

also called "Old writing" (古文 Kobun), is the literary form of the Japanese language that was the standard until the early Shōwa period (1926–89).
It is based on Early Middle Japanese, the language as spoken during the Heian period (794–1185), but exhibits some later influences.
Its use started to decline during the late Meiji period (1868–1912) when novelists started writing their works in the spoken form.
the spoken style came into widespread use, including in major newspapers, but many official documents were still written in the old style. After the end of World War II because of the Surrender of Japan, most documents switched to the spoken style, although the classical style continues to be used in traditional genres, such as haiku and waka. Old laws are also left in the classical style unless fully revised.
..... Old character forms (旧字体 Kyūjitai)
變 → 変 (hen "strange")
體 → 体 (karada "body")
眞 → 真 (makoto "truth")
..... Historical kana usage (歴史的仮名遣 Rekishi-teki kana-zukai)
..... Geminate (促音 Sokuon) rule
In 1946, the simplified 当用漢字 Toyo Kanji were declared official.
..... and more details are here:
- source : wikipedia -

Shiki was a strong advocate of the simpler form of every-day life of the Japanese language, so that anybody could write poetry or prose to express himself.
He wanted "the people" to write poems, not just an educated elite with an education in poetry, history and Chinese influence on Japanese writing.

He did not change the three conditions of a hokku
- 5 7 5
- one kireji (cut marker)
- one kigo (season word)

He advocated poetry meetings where people could write single, individual poems, not the first set of a renku linked verse.
And all they had to do was look around them and write about it (shasei at its simplest).

He advocated a change in the use of the language, and thus
re-named 発句 hokku to 俳句 haiku.

It reminds me of the modern translations of the Bible, which use a much different language than the first "translations".

Haiku is poetry
that expresses itself through season words.

Masaoka Shiki 正岡子規


A "Sketch from Life" was One of Shiki's Many Techniques
Masaoka Shiki: the Misunderstood Reformer, Critic and Poet
. Carmen Sterba, 2011 .

(1) to "pay more attention to lesser-known locales" rather than famous places,
(2) to walk and observe nature, but afterwards write at home,
(3) to focus on "material and theme in a way that will reveal [your] individuality,"
(4) to read other's haiku to be informed, and
(5) to know something of the history of tanka (originally called waka).

Ueda also suggests that Basho wrote about the "beauty of external nature" and Shiki wrote haiku based on "internal, psychological reality of what is truthful (makoto)."

- quote -
History of Magazines in Japan: 1867-1988
The first magazine of Japan was Seiyo-Zasshi, or Western Magazine, published in October 1867 by a scholar Shunzo Yanagawa. That was ten and some pages wood printed booklet, and six issues had been public until it closed in September 1869. Since then, the term Zasshi has been used for the translation of magazine.
- source : kanzaki.com/jpress -


The efforts to make Japanese haiku accessible to more Japanese people
is going on.

. Local Japanese Kigo (chiboo kigo 地貌季語) .
Collecting regional kigo, sometimes even in dialect, from rural areas of Japan.
Natural phenomenon are included, and more interesting, the local festivals, food and other necessities of the daily life.
There are now quite a few regional Saijiki.


The following poem came to my attention a few days ago.

. Yosa Buson 与謝蕪村 (1715-1783) .

kusuri nusumu onna ya ha aru oborozuki

A woman has
stolen the elixir of life
the hazy moon

Tr. Allan Persinger

This is a poem that can not be understood without a detailed knowledge of things Chinese.
This is just the kind of poem that Shiki would have rejected.

The background of this story is here
. Lady Chang-O, The Moon Lady .
Jooga 嫦娥 Joga, Chang'e
Kooga 姮娥(こうが)Koga, Heng'e


Here is a haiku by Shiki himself, when he was too ill to get up any more.
He could only look at his front garden.

"teizen 庭前" Front Garden

keitoo no juushigohon mo arinubeshi

there must be
about fourteen or fifteen
cockscombs . . .

Tr. Gabi Greve

In a recent documentary about the life of Shiki, I saw the cockscombs in his garden, a flower he liked very much. When he could not move around any more, his sister, who cared for him lovingly, planted the flowers a bit closer to the veranda.
Later, when he had to be in bed all the time, she re-planted them again so that he could still see them when he uplifted his upper body, holding on to a crutch under his arm. Counting the blossoms was one of his daily joys in his sickbed.

When he became completely bedridden, she replanted many flowers, including the hechima gourds, directly on the veranda in pots, so he could see them while lying on his back in bed.
- Gabi Greve, January 2010 -

More translations and background of this poem in my blog:
. keitoo 鶏頭 (けいとう) Cockscomb .


. . SHIKI - Cultural Keywords and ABC-List . .

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