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ABSTRACT: In 1940s Japan, haiku poets were persecuted, arrested, tortured and their journals annihilated by the ultranationalist Tennō regime. All victims were advocates of free-verse haiku poetry, which had turned away from the “traditional” stylism of haiku composition. After the war, Takahama Kyoshi (1874 – 1959) became chief editor of the haiku journal Hototogisu, and propagated a return to “tradition,” against the innovative reform efforts of other haiku poets and groups. The persecutions of haiku poets took place during Kyoshi’s presidency of the Haiku branch of the “The Japanese Literary Patriotic Organization” (Nihon bungaku hōkoku kai), a culture-control/propaganda organization. After the war, Kyoshi did not distance himself from his attitudes or apologize for his wartime activities. From 1946, a movement began, whose aim was to bring charges of haiku war crimes to Kyoshi and others.



Udo Wenzel interviews Itō Yūki

Itō Yūki was, at the time of this interview,1 a Ph.D. candidate at Kumamoto University, Graduate School of Cultural and Social Sciences. He has since that time completed his doctorate, and is currently an editor at an academic publishing house in Tokyo. He is the author of , among other works. Udo Wenzel was then editor of Haiku heute, a journal dedicated to haiku and haiku studies in German.


Udo Wenzel: You wrote and published the historical work, New Rising Haiku: The Evolution of Modern Japanese Haiku and the Haiku Persecution Incident,2 about the incidents of haiku persecutions during the age of Japanese imperialism. With this work you reveal aspects of Japanese history which are mostly unknown in the Western haiku world. What was your motivation in writing this monograph? What inspired you to undertake this project?

Itō Yūki: From the starting point of my haiku career, I have had great respect for the mastery demonstrated by many haiku poets, and have read many books of haiku poetry and criticism, from the classics like Bashō to the contemporary, such as Kaneko Tōta, one of the key figures of modern haiku. However, I did not learn much of the deeper history of haiku until recent years. This project first began when Prof. Richard Gilbert, who teaches in my department at Kumamoto University, requested whether I might write something in English describing the history of gendai (modern Japanese) haiku. In our discussions which followed I was surprised to learn that there was almost nothing published in English on this topic.

When I began to study the history of haiku in depth, some of the first books I read were Kaneko Tōta’s Kon nichi no haiku [Today’s Haiku (1965)], and his Waga sengo haiku shi [My postwar haiku history (1985)]. In the latter book, Kaneko mentions that in order to understand gendai haiku history, a study of the wartime period is of great importance. He further states that without such an understanding any historical study would remain stereotypical and implicitly superficial. This was the process which led me to pursue the topic, and particularly, to write in English to an international audience. So it was that I learned of the Haiku Persecution Incident(s), and I want to say that I became quite shocked. I realized that in order to discuss the history of haiku, this wartime history should and in fact must be mentioned.

I became quite upset and had many sleepless nights. What I am saying here is literally true, without exaggeration. I felt the bitter sting of conscience, and nearly cursed myself as a haiku poet of Japan. At first I felt it was not my place to criticize those haiku poets who had collaborated with the totalitarian government; that is, from a perspective of safety and distance, concerning these events. I felt some repentance with regard to the wartime period events. However, repentance alone was not a good solution.

My next step was to gather as many primary-source materials on the subject as possible to obtain, and read them. For instance, I obtained many facsimiles of original documents, such as the records of the Japanese Secret Police (tokubetsu kōtō keisatsu or tokkō). After some difficulties, I was able to first locate and obtain some of the Holy War Haiku books, most of which had been gathered and burned by the Supreme Commander of the Allied Powers (SCAP). As well, I obtained banned books, such as Seisen haiku-sen [The Holy War haiku selection]. These original documents clearly reveal and document historical attitudes and facts. Nevertheless, if no one writes about these historical facts, they will likely be forgotten.

There is an Asian proverb, “Forgive, but do not forget.” Forgetting is not a good attitude towards, nor treatment of, history, in my opinion. Furthermore, I wanted to express, through my research, a sense of warning in light of recent inclinations in contemporary Japan toward right-wing ideology. Some conservative groups tend to forget or negate historical facts. In consideration of these various social, cultural, personal, and historical perspectives, I wrote the monograph on the Haiku Persecution Incident(s) in relation to the evolution of modern Japanese haiku, so that these facts and histories would be preserved for the future.

UW: You wrote of Takahama Kyoshi’s (1874 – 1959) long period of editorship of Hototogisu, and of his extended rule of the haiku world, before, during, and after the war. You also quoted briefly from his “The Commandment,” an authoritarian essay, as you state. Later in your monograph you also indicate the strict hierarchy of the master-disciple system of haiku. Can it be said that kachōfūei [haiku about nature] was mainly Kyoshi’s development — and that this aesthetic was strictly enforced in Hototogisu? To comment further, Hachirō Sakanishi published Treibeis3 (in German; Drift Ice in English). In “Remark 19” (p. 31) Sakanishi states that Kyoshi visited Asahikawa (in Hokkaidō) in 1933, where there was a main meeting of the Hototogisu group. In his lecture, he documented the strict discipline of the group related to the aesthetic. He stated that kigo must be oriented to the climate of Kyōto or Tōkyō,4 and that haiku should be composed solely about nature (kachōfūei). “Heresy should be strictly proscribed.” (p. 34) Can you support this statement? It seems from this quote that, in terms of Kyoshi, kachōfūei might be viewed not only as an artistic aesthetic, but also as a means of social rule or even control, as well as intellectual control.

As well, the German author Annika Reich, in Was ist Haiku? (in German, What is Haiku? in English)5 quotes from her personal communication with Kaneko Tōta: “Takahama Kyoshi said kigo must be a rule, Bashō wrote seasonless poems. Before Kyoshi kigo was only a promise not a rule.”6 This also suggests the dictatorial attitude of Kyoshi.

IY: To answer your questions sufficiently, I would have to write more than one additional essay. And in fact, your question has motivated me to do this.7 Here, I will answer with only a few remarks.

That kigo before Kyoshi was not a rule but a “promise,” is a statement Tōta Kaneko has made, in various places and texts. If you look at the history of haikai literature, it is clear. There were no authorized “rulebooks” at Bashō’s time and only a few compilations of keywords; in fact, there was only a single case of a limited season-keyword compilation, from the unique haikai poet Kitamura Kigin (1625 – 1705) of the Teimon school. Bashō himself recommended a different haikai “rulebook” to his disciples, the Haikai mugonshō [Haikai book without words] published in 1676, which presented the techniques and philosophy of haikai, rather than being a dictionary of keywords. And Bashō included haiku without kigo in his haiku philosophy. Even the founder of modern haiku, Masaoka Shiki (1867 – 1902), accepted haiku without kigo and wrote such haiku himself. Shiki’s treatment of non-kigo haiku follows the example of Bashō, and other haiku poets of the Edo period. In the last years of Shiki’s life Kyoshi, one of his main disciples, became de facto chief editor of Hototogisu. Following Shiki’s death, the conflict between Kyoshi and Shiki’s other important disciple, Kawahigashi Hekigotō (1873 – 1937), who wanted to promote also haiku in the free-verse style, became serious and intense. Kyoshi criticized Hekigotō several times in Hototogisu. Hekigotō then met with Ogiwara Seisensui (1884 – 1976), and they founded the free-verse haiku journal Sōun [Layered clouds] in 1911, and later Hekigotō left the Hototogisu journal.

It is important to consider the socio-political and economic realities as well: with his haiku style Kyoshi met the expectations of a new audience, the new bourgeoisie, who mostly had only little literary skill and knowledge. He provided haiku composition with religious connotations, and enunciates the truth that, for all those who write haiku, even bad poets who write haiku as a hobby can become enlightened. The true way to such salvation, we find, obtains in Kyoshi’s haiku style. Kyoshi calls his haiku style the “literature of heaven” [gokuraku no bungaku], while other styles are deemed the “literature(s) of hell” [jigoku no bungaku].

And Kyoshi floated with the current of the already existing nationalism, as the following example from 1928 reveals. It was written after an attack by the Japanese Imperial Army against a Manchurian warlord, which was a prelude to the Manchurian Incident, thus bringing about the Fifteen Years War (1931 – 1945). Kyoshi reflects in this lecture about the development of his haiku style, of kachōfūei:

Especially, the hokku of haikai, today’s haiku, became a completely specialized literature of kachō [nature]. . . . We ourselves are those who do not serve the nation well, but succeeding to and following the tradition of our ancestors’ taste, we cherish ka-chō-fū-getsu [natural scenery]. Thus, in order to gather together the power of you men of culture, at a time when the Japanese nation stands in the world with its glorious power rising, Japanese literature must also rise within world literature. Then, when the time comes that the Japanese nation gains a strong footing in the world as the greatest nation, all peoples of other nations will without doubt pay close attention to the unique character of the literature of Japan. At that time, from among the crowds of plays and novels, there can be seen the face of a haiku poet, and he will say, “Here: this is the literature of kachōfūei. That is, haiku.” I expect such a time to come.8 vol 11, 179-81. Tōkyō: Mainichi shinbunsha, 1974.]

Kyoshi’s editorship of Hototogisu ran in parallel with the development of military expansionism. At the time, Kyoshi was the most powerful authority in the haiku world. In opposition to Kyoshi’s dictatorial attitude, Mizuhara Shūōshi (1892 – 1981) and Yamaguchi Seishi (1901 – 1994) left Hototogisu. And as for Kyoshi, in 1936 he banished Hino Sōjō (1901 – 1956), Yoshioka Zenjidō (1889 – 1961), and Sugita Hisajo (1890 – 1946) from Hototogisu. All of these events reflect Kyoshi’s dictatorial attitude, and there are numerous Kyoshi writings and lectures that could be quoted to further document the consistency of his character and attitude.

UW: The “war crimes” of which Kyoshi is accused have an ideological nature (censorship, the publication of war-glorifying scriptures or lectures, propagandistic actions, etc.). After reading your monograph, it seems that Ono Bushi is more directly responsible for arresting poets or initiating torture or deportation to the front-lines of the war. You also write that the nationalism of Shūōshi was much more obvious than that of Kyoshi. How could it happen that Kyoshi is in the main focus of the accusation: that he was put on the top of the list of “haiku war criminals,” but Bushi or Shūōshi beneath?

IY: This order of the haiku poets’ names which I presented in my monograph follows the order of the original document published by the “Prosecution for Haiku War Criminals” movement (haidan senpan saiban undō), and I have quoted from that section. In the writings of the movement, the name of Kyoshi is listed first.9, Tōkyō: Tōryō Shobō, 1943. pp. 304-18.] This listing, with Kyoshi first, reflects Kyoshi’s position during the wartime period. His title during this period was president of the Haiku Branch of the fascist government culture-control/propaganda group, “The Japanese Literary Patriotic Organization” (nihon bungaku hōkoku kai; JLPO). The titles of Ono Bushi and Shūōshi were, in both cases, director-trustee. After the war, in the International Military Tribunal for the Far East (Tōkyō Trial), the general president of the JLPO Tokutomi Sohō was listed as a Class A War Criminal. Kyoshi’s position as president of the Haiku Branch of the JLPO is quite similar to his. As well, after the war, Shūōshi presented an apology for his actions, and Ono Bushi had died before the end of the war. Kyoshi, however, never apologized for his actions. I think these facts help explain the reason for Kyoshi being listed first in the quoted “Prosecution for Haiku War Criminals” document.

UW: Nowadays the term “war crimes” is commonly used to signify offences against Public International Law which are closely connected to warfare. In which sense do you use the term “war crime,” or how was it used in the historical (immediate postwar) period you are discussing? What was the basis for the accusation of being a “haiku war criminal”? What was the ambition of the “Prosecution for Haiku War Criminals” movement (haidan senpan saiban undō), and what did it concretely try to achieve?

IY: The “Prosecution for Haiku War Criminals” movement (haidan senpan saiban undō) began in 1946. This was the same year as the beginning of “The Tōkyō War Crimes Trials” (The International Military Tribunal for the Far East), according to the 10th article of the Potsdam Declaration. So this movement, which developed along with The Tōkyō War Crimes Trials, had a particular emphasis. As a consequence of the defeat of Japan, the Tōkyō War Crimes Trials proceeded, naturally enough, from the perspective of “judgments by the winner” (of the war), so to say. In witnessing this process, some felt that trials by Japanese citizens themselves should supplement The Tōkyō War Crimes Trials — that such activity was necessary and important. The “Prosecution for Haiku War Criminals” movement began exactly in this spirit; that Japanese people themselves should fully and honestly judge the wartime actions of those most responsible for atrocities, persecution, and other war crimes. Concerning the “Prosecution for Haiku War Criminals” movement, in my monograph, I wrote:

Its advocates were Higashi Kyōzō (Akimoto Fujio), Furuya Kayao, several other haiku poets, and the lawyer, Minato Yōichiro (1900 – 2002). The movement’s aim was not to imprison those who had either instituted persecutions or collaborated with the Secret Police, but to justly and publicly cause those guilty parties to recognize the weight of their guilt and feel the sting of conscience. It was not a witch hunt. If it had been, the movement would have become a reverse mirror image of the Haiku Persecution Incident(s) itself. By contrast, the aim of the movement was “to resolve all the issues of the past in order to together hold hands for the progress of haiku.”10,” in Haikujin, January 1947. Minpōsha, 1947. p, 34.]

Such was their intention and aim. I hope this answers your question.

UW: How wide is the influence of the Hototogisu school today?

IY: Even today, the influence of the Hototogisu school is very strong, and this influence is widespread. The term kachōfūei is applied by many haiku groups, and forms a major part of the Japanese haiku world.

UW: In your monograph one can find several times in the critical writings of the New Rising Haiku poets a reproach, that traditional haiku is not serious literature but instead a kind of hobby-literature. What is the reason for this allegation, and how do you assess it?

IY: The phrase “season-hobby literature” is not my coinage, but rather a term first used by Yamaguchi Seishi in 1935. He stated that the aim of the New Rising Haiku movement was to “overthrow the conservative haiku as season-hobby literature, and to create gendai haiku as season-feeling literature in the spirit of Bashō, and as true poetry.”11. Tōkyō: Hon’ami shoten, 2002. p. 48.] Seishi criticized the Hototogisu school because the school had an inclination to narrow and stagnated clichéed expressions. Seishi’s critique was similar in intent to the manner in which Masaoka Shiki had earlier criticized the traditional haikai of the Meiji era, as “tsukinami [hackneyed, formulaic].” Bashō said, “Do not follow the trace of the old masters. Rather follow what the old masters wanted to seek out” (kojin no ato wo motomezu, kozjin no motometaru tokoro wo motomeyo). Seishi thought that the Hototogisu school had strayed far from this intention and motivation, and he was not the only one who felt this way. I agree, by the way, with Yamaguchi Seishi’s opinion.

UW: Are some of the persecuted poets or any close disciples still alive today? Were you able to get in touch with any of them personally? If so, how do they assess your monograph? Is there still bad blood because of these past incidents?

IY: As far as I know, all of the arrested haiku poets have passed away. Recently, I met the haiku poet Yagi Mikajo (1924 –), whose haiku teachers were the three arrested haiku poets of the Kyōdai Haiku group: Saitō Sanki (1900 – 1962), Hirahata Seitō (1905 – 1997), and Hashi Kageo (1910 – 1985). Her haigō [pen-name] was given to her by Saitō Sanki and Hirahata Seitō. She writes that Hirahata Seitō never, in any fulsome way, elucidated the story and historical details of the haiku persecution incident(s).

And yes, these incidents indeed are “bad blood” among the different groups of haiku poets. It is certainly “bad blood” concerning the Hototogisu haiku poets. Even for myself, it is very, very disturbing “bad blood,” because these incidents are undeniable facts in haiku history of Japan.

UW: You presented the historical background of the divisiveness and division of the haiku movement. After Shiki’s death the traditional haiku school led by Kyoshi gained in importance and became more popular than the opposing movement of Shiki’s other main disciple, Kawahigashi Hekigotō. Later the “rebels” Shūōshi and Seishi departed from the Hototogisu school and founded their own groups. How do you see the different approaches and methods of composition of haiku, within the haiku movements of the non-Japanese-speaking world related to subjects such as form, kigo, kireji, etc.?

IY: I think it is good to study as many works of haiku poets as possible. It is unfortunate that many historical studies of haiku in the 20th century outside of Japan stop at Kyoshi or Shūōshi. Although some of the works of Kyoshi and Shūōshi are admirable, to neglect gendai haiku is a terrible loss for Western haiku, as well as a diminution or reduction of both of historic struggles and genius. Gendai haiku continues to develop in various ways. Also, it must be said that gendai haiku does not negate traditional haiku or haiku tradition. In fact, the gendai haiku poet Hasegawa Kai attains his mastery through the application of classical haiku techniques. A contrastive example is Tsubouchi Nenten, who attains his mastery via fragmentary and playful language, at times lacking kigo and kireji. He writes that katakoto (fragmentary language) is a sine qua non of haiku, and of traditional Japanese culture. There are many more examples which reveal that, while incorporating national and international modern/contemporary art theories and techniques, gendai haiku flows within the ancient river of Japanese haiku, literature, and culture.

In my opinion, haiku in the non-Japanese-speaking world does not have to use kigo because climate and cultural traditions are different, etc. And as well, from a linguistic point of view, kireji (“cutting words”) have their origin in the modal verbs existing in the ancient Japanese language. However, we haiku poets should know that kire (cutting) is not created merely through the use of special words, but rather that kire creates ma (the subtle empty room or “psychological space” of time, space, and mind) among words and senses, exhibited as disjunction, juxtaposition, etc. On kire, kireji, and ma, Hasagawa Kai has much to offer, and hopefully his haiku criticism will be translated into various languages in the future. I feel that, wherever they are in the world, haiku poets should not limit the possibilities of the poetry, haiku, in any sense.

UW: In your monograph you called the master-disciple system feudalistic. And, in your acknowledgments you expressed gratitude to your haiku teachers. What is the difference between a teacher and a master? Is this master-disciple system still alive today?

IY: Kuwabara Takeo called haiku’s master-disciple system feudalistic, in his essay, “A Second Class Art: The Case of Gendai Haiku” (daini geijutsu ron: gendai haiku ni tsuite). I partly agree with him. I think that the master-disciple system of Japanese haiku has a feudalistic aspect, but I do not completely deny its value. Japanese haiku has had a long history as a literature of the party (kukai) — a social gathering — and is not limited to (the more contemporary stylism of) individualistic literature. In terms of kukai, the master-disciple system of haiku seems to work well.

In Japan, many master-disciple systems exist, not only in haiku, but also within many “traditional” arts. In the Japanese haiku world, kessha systems (“one’s own literary association”) are quite strong. To be recognized as a leading haiku poet, typically one must found a kessha as a magazine group, and become its chief editor, hold one’s own kukai (haiku meeting or party), etc. Certainly, most Japanese haiku poets belong to several kessha, whether as members or leaders.

As a “traditional” art, each kessha and its haiku poets are placed in a shikei (the genealogical tree of haiku schools). However, some kessha and haiku poets reject this system. In my case, one of my main haiku teachers, Morisu Ran, said to me some time ago, “Do not call me sensei!” As a result, I do not use or apply the term “master” to my haiku teachers.

UW: What reputation has the haiku within contemporary Japanese society? Is it regarded as politically neutral, as progressive, conservative, or even unprogressive?

IY: Today, in Japanese society, haiku is regarded as a common “traditional” literature, which is politically neutral. Some poets are progressive, but it has to be said that conservative attitudes occupy a major part of the genre here. In fact there are strongly nationalist haiku groups which act politically in various ways, including the creation of, or joining with, coalitions of certain political parties. I would like to express some sense of warning concerning this situation.

UW: Was your monograph published in Japan (in Japanese) too?

IY: Although I have published various poetic works in Japan, I have not published the monograph on the Haiku Persecution Incident(s) in Japanese. The reason may be obvious, when you examine the bibliography appended to my work. Many books exist in Japanese, and I would especially recommend the following:

Kosakai Shouzou. Mikoku: Showa haiku danatsu jiken [Betrayer/Informer: Showa era haiku persecution]. Tōkyō: Daimondo, 1979.

Furukawa Katsumi. Taikenteki sinkou haikushi. [A history of New Rising Haiku, in my own experience] Tōkyō: Orienta, 2000.

Tajima Kazuo. Shinkō hijin no gunzō: “Kyōdai Haiku” no hikari to kage [The figures of the New Rising Haiku Poets: Light and shadow of Kyōdai Haiku] Shibunkaku: Tōkyō, 2005.

Kosakai’s book represents a landmark study of the Haiku Persecution Incident(s). Unfortunately however, Kosakai adopted the theory that Saitō Sanki acted as a spy. Therefore, in 1978, Sanki’s disciples (especially Suzuki Murio (1919 – 2004)) accused Kosakai, and sued both Kosakai and the publisher in court. The upshot of all this was that in 1983 the court pronounced Sanki innocent on all counts. Other descriptions within the book were corroborated, and the discussion of the Haiku Persecution Incident(s) took on a new life. In 2005, Tajima’s book won the Haiku Poets Association Research Award.

On the other hand, there is not enough work on the haiku persecution incident(s) in Western languages. It remains my wish that this history be conveyed to the Western world, as there are so few published studies.

  1. This interview was first published by Haiku heute 15 December 2007.
  2. Winchester, VA: Red Moon Press, 2007 (ISBN 978-1-893959-64-4). In German: „Das Neue Haiku. Die Entwicklung des modernen japanischen Haiku und das Phänomen der Haiku-Verfolgungen,” Haiku heute December 2007, translated by Udo Wenzel.
  3. Hachirō Sakanishi (ed.) Treibeis. Haiku. Seibunsha, Tōkyō 1986, Adonia-Verlag Thalwil 1990.
  4. For example, the climate in Tōkyō or Kyōto is very different from the northern island of Hokkaidō.
  5. Annika Reich, Was ist Haiku? Zur Konstruktion der japanischen Nation zwischen Orient und Okzident. Lit-Verlag Hamburg, 2000.
  6. Reich, p. 34.
  7. Subsequent articles were later published in the pages of Haiku heute.
  8. Teihon Takahama Kyoshi zenshū [Collected works of Takahama Kyoshi
  9. Cf. Ōno, Rinka. (ed.) Haiku-nenkan: Shōwa 22. [Haiku Almanac: 1947
  10. Minato Yōichirō. “Haidan senpan saiban no koto [On “the prosecution for haiku war criminals” movement
  11. Komuro Zenkō. Haijin tachi no kindai [The early-modern era and the haiku poets
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