Ruth Linhart | Takuboku Dissertation | Japanologie

Ishikawa Takuboku and Japanese Naturalism


There exist many studies about the Japanese poet Ishikawa Takuboku (1886-1912), which apart from biographic details mainly deal with the interpretation of Takuboku's tanka (short poems) or else describe his ideas during the last years before his death.
As a result of these studies the following picture of the poet arises: After having been a romantic writer in his first period and being influenced by japanese naturalism in the next one, he became a socialist towards the end of his life. While a lot of studies have been written about the importance of romanticism and socialism in Takuboku's life the middle period of his literary career has been relatively neglected. Therefore the author of this study concentrated on an analysis of the naturalistic elements in Takubokus literary theories. Also these literary theories were compared with his creative writings: novels, shi (long poems) and tanka (short poems). After a survey of those biographic data of his early years which are important for his later development as a poet and after a short investigation of the influence of the romantic philosophy of Takayama Chogyû as well as the romantic poetry of the Myôjô school, which gave the foundations of Takuboku's literary work, a short description of Japanese naturalism is given and the literary traditions of naturalism, its most important representatives and their works are also discussed.

Takuboku made his first aquaintance with naturalism in 1906 when he read the novel "Hakai"(The broken commandment) by Shimazaki Tôson during a short visit in Tôkyô. After that he was informed about the new literary trend from literary magazines, and by reading new novels and letters sent to him (he lived until 1908 in the northern parts of Japan, Tôhoku and Hokkaidô) by friends living in Tôkyô, the cultural centre of Meiji Japan. While in Hokkaidô Takuboku made some favourable remarks in his letters and also in his essay "Takujô isshi" (A twig on the table) in which he welcomed the new movement which would break with old traditions and would show real life without any distortions. After having moved to Tôkyô in April 1908 be wrote one novel after the other, but only one novel of the seventeen novels be wrote can be called truly naturalistic. This is "Sekiri" (Dysentery), a rather poor novel. He also had serious difficulties in getting them published. He did not develop a theory of the novel of his own but took over the then popular naturalistic theories. After having discovered that he was not suited to write naturalistic novels because of his inconsistent and still partly romantic attitudes, and realizing that he could not become famous and rich by adhering to naturalistic principles he only continued novel-writing because his financial situation forced him to do so.

In December 1909 he wrote the Essay "Kuubeki shi" (Poems to eat) in which he explained his opinion about the new poetry. The theories he developed in this essay are mainly influenced by naturalistic shi-theory. But the long poems he made cannot be called truly naturalistic. Either they are written in a colloquial language as required by naturalism but the style is more symbolistic than naturalistic, like for example in "Kokoro no sugata no kenkyu" (Study of the shape of the heart); or else the poems are written in a literary language, but stylistic methods and content are to some degree naturalistic like in his last poems "Hateshi naki giron no nochi" (After an endless discussion). Nevertheless, these last poems, especially "Ie" (The house) and "Hikôki" (The aeroplane) could be classified as naturalistic and they are also the best of all of his verse in the shi-genre.

Primarily Takuboku is known as a poet of tanka, the short poem. His attitude towards this kind of poetry was of a somewhat ambivalent nature. His first literary experiments were tanka. Only after seeing that tanka were not well regarded by the poets of the Myôjô school, he turned towards shi.
Naturalism in general does not favour poetry. In Japan it did not restore the already declining position of the tanka and also neglected the shi. For the naturalists the novel was the most important literary form. Takuboku also believed that the novel was of much greater importance than the short tanka, but in spite of this opinion he wrote many tanka as soon as he learned of his failure as a naturalistic novelist. Tanka writing consoled him in his desperate financial and spiritual situation. And he defended the tanka when he said, that it could not be compared with the moral use of the novel but it was well suited for expressing vanishing feelings, precious seconds of a transitory life. This positive opinion towards the tanka he expressed in his two essays "Uta no iroiro" (Various things about the tanka) and "Ichirikoshugisha to yûjin to no taiwa" (An egoist's conversation with his friend). In these essays he called for the liberation from traditional restrictions in tanka and put forward naturalistic ideas. While his collection of tanka ,"Ichiaku no suna" (A handful of sand) is still influenced by romantic and symbolistic language, style and ideas, his second tanka-collection "Kanashiki gangu" (Sad toys), which he wrote in the last year of his life, is full of simple, plain, detailed description of Takuboku's social and inner life and in it most of the restrictions of old Japanese poetry which he himself and the naturalists had criticised were cast aside. In addition to novels and poetry Takuboku wrote essays and diaries. In these he expressed criticism of naturalistic thought soon after his first contacts with naturalists. He did not agree with their resigned and fatalistic attitudes towards life and criticised their lack of solutions for any problems. The most important of these essays was "Jidai heisoku no genjô" (The situation of stagnation of the time) in which he mainly criticised the absence of opposition against the authority of the absolutistic state. On the other hand his diaries show a desperately ill young man full of self-pity who is not able to achieve in his life what he demands in his literary works.

So because Takuboku was too full of phantasies, too romantic and inconsistent and on the other hand too rationalistic, too selfanalytical and critical towards himself and the world, he could not become a true naturalistic writer. But the naturalistic movement gave strong impulses to his work which would be entirely different had Takuboku not known naturalistic ideas and naturalistic novels.

Ruth Linhart | Takuboku Dissertation | Japanologie Email: ruth.linhart(a)