Japan in Their Own Words (JITOW)/日本からの意見

Yosano Akiko – What She Brought Back from Paris a Hundred Years Ago

September 20, 2012
A century has passed since Yosano Akiko,the famed Poet of Passion,made her trip to Paris. In May 1912,the final year of the Meiji period,Akiko headed for Paris via the Siberian Railway at the strong prompting of her husband Yosano Tekkan,who had gone to Paris six months ago to study. Akiko had seven small children,but prodded by her love for a husband who was far away,she left the children in the care of relatives and took off. Alone,she made a two-week journey not knowing any foreign languages. She barely knew how to exchange money,and was strapped for cash at one point. It was a journey that required unimaginable courage.

At the time,Akiko was already well-established as a poet. In 1901,she published her first book of tanka (31-syllabled verse) "Midaregami (Tangled Hair)" containing poems that boldly celebrated romantic love and the female body,causing major controversy in a male-dominated society where modesty was the female virtue. Thereafter,she had begun to demonstrate her talents beyond tanka in an ever expanding arena including novels,children's stories,commentary on classical works and critique.

In those days,the Japanese community in Paris was mostly made up of men,such as diplomats,bankers and students. Many of them also belonged to the world of art,such as painters,but the presence of women was limited. Akiko would certainly have been the first famous woman of letters to have arrived from Japan. In France,where artists and intellectuals are held in great esteem,Akiko was received with courtesy as the representative of Japanese female intellectuals and was treated with due respect. She was interviewed by a literary magazine and the article was published along with her photograph. She even met the renown sculptor Auguste Rodin. Akiko had set off for Paris feeling helpless,but her experience there gave her a sense of confidence and pride as a Japanese and brushed aside the vague sense of inferiority she had felt towards advanced Western societies.

Akiko also saw the lively way women in Paris strode the streets and how they expressed their individuality in the way they dressed,and couldn't help thinking about the women in Japan. She became convinced of the need to change the mentality of Japanese women who were behaving demurely and modestly as though they had no individuality under the value system of male dominance.

She paid a one-week visit to London as well. There,the women's rights movement was in full swing,and at times Akiko found herself at odds with the radicalism of the women involved. Yet,upon her return to Japan she herself began offering stinging commentary on inconsistencies in politics and society in the hope that one day Japanese women will win their right to vote. It was also after her time in Paris that she began to respond to overseas news in the newspapers with acute awareness and to clearly establish her standpoint of placing Japan in a global context.

Akiko's life in Paris actually lasted only five months. While that may have been a short period,what she gained was by no means insignificant. In a word,she brought back a comparative perspective that could only be gained by observing Japanese society from the outside. How this broadened the horizon of her work is evident in the vast volume of literary accomplishments she left behind since then.

We could say that Akiko was a pioneer for all of us living in this time of globalism. Even today,when we can see visual images from the other side of the globe,real-life encounters with the international community is still important. Let us travel abroad,mingle with the local people and take a look at Japan from the outside. It will broaden the perspective of each individual Japanese,enhance our capabilities,enrich our work,and consequently bolster the very foundation of our nation.

The writer is Poet.
The English-Speaking Union of Japan

松平 盟子 / 歌人

2012年 9月 20日







一般社団法人 日本英語交流連盟

English Speaking Union of Japan > Japan in Their Own Words (JITOW) > Yosano Akiko – What She Brought Back from Paris a Hundred Years Ago