was a writer of free-style verse, active in Taishō and early Showa period Japan. He liberated Japanese free verse from the grip of traditional rules, and he is considered the “father of modern colloquial poetry in Japan”. He published many volumes of essays, literary and cultural criticism, and aphorisms over his long career.
Hagiwara Sakutarō was born in Maebashi, Gunma Prefecture as the son of a local physician. He was interested in poetry, especially the in the tanka format, from an early age, and started to write poetry much against his parents' wishes. From his early teens, he started to contribute poems to magazines and had his tanka verse published in the literary journals Shinsei and Myōjō.
His mother bought him his first mandolin in the summer of 1903. After spending a futile five semesters as a freshman at two national universities, he dropped out of school. In 1911, when his father was still trying to get him to enter college again, he began studying the mandolin in Tokyo, with the thought of becoming a professional musician. He later established a mandolin orchestra in his hometown Maebashi.
In 1913, he published five of his verses in Zamboa ("Shaddock"), a magazine edited by Kitahara Hakushu, who became his mentor and friend. He also contributed verse to Maeda Yugure's Shiika ("Poetry") and Chijō Junrei ("Earth Pilgrimage"), another journal created by Hakushū. The following year, he joined Muro Saisei and the Christian minister Yamamura Bochō in creating the Ningyo Shisha ("Merman Poetry Group"), dedicated to the study of music, poetry, and religion. The three writers called their literary magazine, Takujō Funsui ("Tabletop Fountain"), and published the first edition in 1915.
In 1916, Hagiwara co-founded with Murō Saisei the literary magazine Kanjō ("Sentiment"), and in the following year he brought out his first free-verse collection, Tsuki ni Hoeru ("Howling at the Moon"), which had an introduction by Kitahara Hakushū. The work created a sensation in literary circles. Hagiwara rejected the symbolism and use of unusual words, with consequent vagueness of Hakushū and other contemporary poets in favor of precise wording which appealed rhythmically or musically to the ears.
He later wrote additional anthologies, including Aoneko ("Blue Cat") in 1923 and Hyōtō ("Icy Island") in 1924, as well other volumes of cultural and literary criticism. He was also a scholar of classical verse and published Shi no Genri ("Principles of Poetry",1928).
His critical study Ren’ai meika shu ("A Collection of Best-Loved Love Poems", 1931), shows that he had a deep appreciation for classical Japanese poetry, and Kyōshu no shijin Yosa Buson ("Yosa Buson—Poet of Nostalgia", 1936) reveals his respect for the haiku poet Buson, who advocated a return to the 17th century rules of Bashō.
His unique style of verse expressed his doubts about existence, and his fears, ennui, and anger through the use of dark images and unambiguous wording.
Hagiwara married Ueda Ineko in 1919; they had two daughters, Yōko (1920-2005), and Akirako (b.1922). Ineko deserted her family for a younger man in June 1929 and ran off to Hokkaidō and Sakutarō formally divorced her in October.
He married again in 1938 to Otani Mitsuko, but after only eighteen months Sakutarō’s mother—who had never registered the marriage in the family register (koseki)—drove her away.
After more than six months of struggle with what appeared to be lung cancer but which doctors diagnosed as acute pneumonia, he died in May, 1942—not quite six months short of his 56th birthday.
References and reading
- Hagiwara, Sakutaro. Rats' Nests: The Poetry of Hagiwara Sakutaro. (Trans. Robert Epp). UNESCO (1999). ISBN 923103586X
- Hagiwara, Sakutaro. Howling at the Moon and Blue (Trans. Hiroaki Sato). Green Integer (2001). ISBN 1931243018
- Hagiwara, Sakutaro. Principles of Poetry: Shi No Genri. Cornell University (1998). ISBN 1885445962
- Kurth, Frederick. Howling with Sakutaro: Cries of a Cosmic Waif. Zamazama Press (2004). ISBN 0974671428
- Dorsey, James. "From an Ideological Literature to a Literary Ideology: 'Conversion in Wartime Japan'," in Converting Cultures: Religion, Ideology and Transformations of Modernity, ed. by Dennis Washburn and A. Kevin Reinhart (Leiden & Boston: Brill, 2007), pp. 465~483.