Masaoka Shiki

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Masaoka Shiki
Masaoka Shiki.jpg
Masaoka Shiki c. 1900
BornOctober 14, 1867 [1]
DiedSeptember 19, 1902 (age 34)
Occupationwriter, journalist
Parent(s)Masaoka 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

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

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

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 Masaoka stone monument is recognized as one of the symbols of Matsuyama-City.JPG
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

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Further reading