Masaoka Shiki

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Masaoka Shiki
Masaoka Shiki c. 1900
BornOctober 14, 1867[1]
DiedSeptember 19, 1902 (age 34)
Occupation(s)Writer, journalist
ParentMasaoka Tsunenao

Masaoka Shiki (正岡 子規, October 14, 1867 – September 19, 1902), pen-name of Masaoka Noboru (正岡 升),[2] was a Japanese poet, author, and literary critic in Meiji period Japan. Shiki is regarded as a major figure in the development of modern haiku poetry,[3] credited with writing nearly 20,000 stanzas during his short life.[4] He also wrote on reform of tanka poetry.[5]

Some consider Shiki to be one of the four great haiku masters, the others being Matsuo Bashō, Yosa Buson, and Kobayashi Issa.[6][7]

Early life[edit]

Shiki, or rather Tsunenori (常規) as he was originally named,[8] was born in Matsuyama City in Iyo Province (present day Ehime Prefecture) to a samurai class family of modest means.[1] As a child, he was called Tokoronosuke (處之助); in adolescence, his name was changed to Noboru (升).[citation needed]

His father, Tsunenao (正岡常尚),[9][10] was an alcoholic who died when Shiki was five years of age.[1] His mother, Yae,[11] was a daughter of Ōhara Kanzan, a Confucian scholar.[1] Kanzan was the first of Shiki's extra-school tutors; at the age of 7 the boy began reading Mencius under his tutelage.[12] Shiki later confessed to being a less-than-diligent student.[12]

At age 15 Shiki became something of a political radical, attaching himself to the then-waning Freedom and People's Rights Movement and getting himself banned from public speaking by the principal of Matsuyama Middle School, which he was attending.[13] Around this time he developed an interest in moving to Tokyo and did so in 1883.[14]


The young Shiki first attended his hometown Matsuyama Middle School, where Kusama Tokiyoshi, a leader of the discredited Freedom and People's Rights Movement, had recently served as principal.[13] In 1883, a maternal uncle arranged for him to come to Tokyo.[14] Shiki was first enrolled in Kyōritsu Middle School and later matriculated into University Preparatory School.[15] (Daigaku Yobimon) affiliated with Imperial University (Teikoku Daigaku).[16] While studying here, the teenage Shiki enjoyed playing baseball[17] and befriended fellow student Natsume Sōseki, who would go on to become a famous novelist.[18]

He entered Tokyo Imperial University in 1890.[19] But by 1892 Shiki, by his own account too engrossed in haiku writing, failed his final examinations, left the Hongō dormitory that had been provided to him by a scholarship, and dropped out of college.[19] Others say tuberculosis, an illness that dogged his later life, was the reason he left school.[20]

Literary career[edit]

While Shiki is best known as a haiku poet,[21] he wrote other genres of poetry,[22] prose criticism of poetry,[23] autobiographical prose,[23] and was a short prose essayist.[11] (His earliest surviving work is a school essay, Yōken Setsu ("On Western Dogs"), where he praises the varied utility of western dogs as opposed to Japanese ones, which "only help in hunting and scare away burglars."[24])

Contemporary to Shiki was the idea that traditional Japanese poetic short forms, such as the haiku and tanka, were waning due to their incongruity in the modern Meiji period.[15] Shiki, at times, expressed similar sentiments.[25] There were no great living practitioners although these forms of poetry retained some popularity.[26]

Despite an atmosphere of decline, only a year or so after his 1883 arrival in Tokyo, Shiki began writing haiku.[19] In 1892, the same year he dropped out of university, Shiki published a serialized work advocating haiku reform, Dassai Shooku Haiwa or "Talks on Haiku from the Otter's Den".[21] A month after completion of this work, in November 1892, he was offered a position as haiku editor in the paper that had published it, Nippon, and maintained a close relationship with this journal throughout his life.[21] In 1895 another serial was published in the same paper, "A Text on Haikai for Beginners", Haikai Taiyō.[21] These were followed by other serials: Meiji Nijūkunen no Haikukai or "The Haiku World of 1896" where he praised works by disciples[27] Takahama Kyoshi and Kawahigashi Hekigotō,[28] Haijin Buson or "The Haiku Poet Buson" (1896–1897[28]) expressing Shiki's idea of this 18th-century poet whom he identifies with his school of haiku,[5] and Utayomi ni Atauru Sho or "Letters to a Tanka Poet" (1898) where he urged reform of the tanka poetry form.[5]

The above work, on tanka, is an example of Shiki's expanded focus during the last few years of his life. He died four years after taking up tanka as a topic.[29] Bedsore and morphine-addled, little more than a year before his death Shiki began writing sickbed diaries.[30] These three are Bokujū Itteki or "A Drop of Ink" (1901), Gyōga Manroku or "Stray Notes While Lying on My Back" (1901–1902), and Byōshō Rokushaku or "A Sixfoot Sickbed" (1902).[5]

Later life[edit]

Shiki suffered from tuberculosis (TB) much of his life. In 1888[31] or 1889[32] he began coughing up blood[15] and soon adopted the pen-name "Shiki" from the Japanese hototogisu—the Japanese name for lesser cuckoos.[32] The Japanese word hototogisu can be written with various combinations of Chinese characters, including 子規, which can alternatively be read as either "hototogisu" or "shiki". It is a Japanese conceit that this bird coughs blood as it sings,[32] which explains why the name "Shiki" was adopted.

Suffering from the early symptoms of TB, Shiki sought work as a war correspondent in the First Sino-Japanese War[32] and, while eventually obtaining his goal, he arrived in China after the April 17, 1895 signing of the Treaty of Shimonoseki.[33] Instead of reporting on the war, he spent an unpleasant time harassed by Japanese soldiers[34] in Dalian, Luangtao, and the Lüshunkou District, meeting on May 10, 1895[35] the famous novelist Mori Ōgai, who was at the time an army doctor.[33]

Living in filthy conditions in China apparently worsened his TB.[33] Shiki continued to cough blood throughout his return voyage to Japan and was hospitalized in Kobe.[33] After being discharged, he returned to his home town of Matsuyama city and convalesced in the home of the famed novelist Natsume Sōseki.[33] During this time he took on disciples and promulgated a style of haiku that emphasized gaining inspiration from personal experiences of nature.[33] Still in Matsuyama in 1897, a member of this group, Yanigihara Kyokudō, established a haiku magazine, Hototogisu,[5] an allusion to Shiki's pen name.[32] Operation of this magazine was quickly moved to Tokyo. Takahama Kyoshi, another disciple,[27] assumed control and the magazine's scope was extended to include prose work.[11]

Shiki came to Tokyo,[36] and his group of disciples there were known as the "Nippon school" after the paper where he had been haiku editor and that now published the group's work.[28]

Although bedridden by 1897,[5] Shiki's disease worsened further around 1901.[11] He developed Pott's disease and began using morphine as a painkiller.[11] By 1902 he may have been relying heavily on the drug.[37] During this time Shiki wrote three autobiographical works.[5] He died of tuberculosis in 1902 at age 34.[32]


A monument containing a haiku by Shiki, in front of Matsuyama Station

Shiki may be credited with salvaging traditional short-form Japanese poetry and carving out a niche for it in the modern Meiji period.[38] While he advocated reform of haiku, this reform was based on the idea that haiku was a legitimate literary genre.[39] He argued that haiku should be judged by the same yardstick that is used when measuring the value of other forms of literature — something that was contrary to views held by prior poets.[40] Shiki firmly placed haiku in the category of literature, and this was unique.[citation needed]

Some modern haiku deviate from the traditional 5–7–5 sound pattern and dispensing with the kigo ("season word"); Shiki's haiku reform advocated neither break with tradition.[6]

His particular style rejected "the puns or fantasies often relied on by the old school" in favor of "realistic observation of nature".[41] Shiki, like other Meiji period writers,[citation needed] borrowed a dedication to realism from Western literature. This is evident in his approach to both haiku[39] and tanka.[42]


Shiki played baseball as a teenager and was inducted into the Japanese Baseball Hall of Fame in 2002.[17] A group of 1898 tanka by him mention the sport.[43]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e Beichman, p. 2
  2. ^ Natsume Sōseki (1974). Ten nights of dream, Hearing things, The heredity of taste. Tuttle. p. 11.
  3. ^ Beichman, Preface, p. i
  4. ^ Masaoka, Shiki (1940). Takahama, Kyoshi (ed.). 子規句集 Shiki Kushuu [Shiki Haiku Collection] (in Japanese). Tokyo: Iwanami Shoten (published 1993). p. 4. 原句は凡そ二万句足らずある中から見るものの便をはかって、二千三百六句を選んだ。
  5. ^ a b c d e f g Beichman, p. 26
  6. ^ a b Burton Watson (1997). "Introduction". Masaoka Shiki: selected poems. Columbia University Press. p. 5. ISBN 9780231110914.
  7. ^ Higginson, William J. (1985). "The Four Great Masters of Japanese Haiku". The Haiku Handbook: How to Write, Share, and Teach Haiku. Tokyo: Kodansha International (published 1989). pp. 7–24.
  8. ^ Frédéric, Louis. Japan encyclopedia. Harvard University Press, 2005. ISBN 978-0-674-01753-5. p. 613
  9. ^ Official website of the Shiki-an Archived June 24, 2013, at the Wayback Machine, Shiki's Tokyo residence, page "Shiki's Family" (子規の家族, Shiki no Kazoku) (in Japanese)
  10. ^ "Image Index: Matsuyama City, Ehime". Atelier Aterui. Retrieved January 5, 2014.
  11. ^ a b c d e Beichman, p. 27
  12. ^ a b Beichman, p. 4
  13. ^ a b Beichman, pp. 7–8
  14. ^ a b Beichman, pp. 8–9
  15. ^ a b c Beichman, p. 14
  16. ^ Beichman, p. 9
  17. ^ a b "Masaoka Shiki". Japanese Baseball Hall of Fame. Archived from the original on July 17, 2009. Retrieved July 20, 2008.
  18. ^ Shively, Donald H., ed. (1971). Tradition and Modernization in Japanese Culture. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press. p. 384. ISBN 0-691-03072-3.
  19. ^ a b c Beichman, pp. 15–16
  20. ^ Kato, Shuichi (1983). A History of Japanese Literature: The Modern Years. Vol. 3. Tokyo, New York, and San Francisco: Kodansha International. p. 133. ISBN 0-87011-569-3.
  21. ^ a b c d Beichman, pp. 18–19
  22. ^ Burton, Watson. Introduction. Masaoka Shiki: selected poems, p. 11
  23. ^ a b Beichman, p. 22
  24. ^ Beichman, p. 5
  25. ^ Keene, Donald (1978). Some Japanese Portraits. Tokyo, New York, and San Francisco: Kodansha International. p. 200. ISBN 0870112988.
  26. ^ Keene, pp. 195–198
  27. ^ a b Beichman, pp. 27–28
  28. ^ a b c Beichman, p. 25
  29. ^ Keene, p. 202
  30. ^ Beichman, pp. 26–29
  31. ^ Keene, p. 198
  32. ^ a b c d e f Beichman, p. 20
  33. ^ a b c d e f Beichman, p. 21
  34. ^ Rabson, Steve (1998). Righteous cause or tragic folly: changing views of war in modern Japanese poetry. Ann Arbor, MI: the Center for Japanese Studies, the University of Michigan. pp. 23–26. ISBN 0-939512-77-7.
  35. ^ Bowring, Richard John (1979). Mori Ōgai and the modernization of Japanese culture. University of Cambridge oriental publications. Vol. 28. London, New York, Melbourne: Cambridge University Press. p. 175. ISBN 0-521-21319-3.
  36. ^ Beichman, p. 23
  37. ^ Beichman, p. 28
  38. ^ Keene, p. 203
  39. ^ a b Beichman, p. 32
  40. ^ Kato, p. 134
  41. ^ Beichman, p. 45
  42. ^ Burton, Watson. Introduction. Masaoka Shiki: selected poems, p. 9
  43. ^ Beichman, pp. 89, 91

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