Monash University
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Innovation and constraint : the female haiku poet, Sugita Hisajo, and Hototogisu haiku

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posted on 2017-03-01, 02:07 authored by Stanford, Susan Alice
This thesis takes the haiku of one female poet, Sugita Hisajo (1890 – 1946), as a case study to explore aspects of the development of haiku from the 1890s century through the 1930s. Although Hisajo was not only an acclaimed, pioneering female haiku poet, but an editor and amateur scholar as well, she struggled with her marginalized status as a woman and as a female writer. The intertwined trajectory of her life and her career highlights how contemporary life and contemporary ideology impinged on the composition of haiku. Specifically, her work illustrates how an ambitious “New Woman,” educated to be a Good Wife and Wise Mother and driven to write could, despite hostility from those around her, help transform haiku in ways that were not apparent to contemporary males. Making some comparisons with work by the dominating figures, Masaoka Shiki (1867 – 1902) and Kyoshi Takahama (1874 – 1959), the thesis challenges the notion that “haiku” is a 400 hundred year old tradition of brief nature-oriented poetry expressing timeless, universal insights. It contends that the transition from the hokku of Bashō and his school to the haiku written from the last decade of the nineteenth century, that was facilitated by Shiki in the context of modernity and under pressure from the West, was a such a sharp one that hokku and haiku should be understood as different genres. The influence of cultural nationalism on the development of haiku has been profound, and it is for this reason that haiku poets like to emphasize their ties to the past. However, which heritage elements were preserved and which were discarded and how new approaches were assimilated, followed agendas that were tied to the contemporary context. Two clear sets of contradictions can be discerned. The first relates to worldview. Traces of a Neo-Confucian worldview, found particularly in obligatory season words, conflicts with the observer-centred, individualistic bias inherent in the sketch-from-life compositional approach introduced by Shiki. The second relates to the roles the distribution of power and ability to take initiative within the haiku field. On the one hand, there was a trend towards hegemonic control which enabled Kyoshi to dictate what was and was not acceptable as haiku. However, Kyoshi’s business interests encouraged the segmentation of the haiku market and the recruitment of a much larger range of demographic sectors into his organization, Hototogisu. Capturing and maintaining the interest of these new groups meant that their preferences inevitably influenced haiku’s development. This thesis addresses a number of gaps in scholarship. Despite the dominating nature of Kyoshi’s influence on twentieth century haiku, little has been published in English on him, his magazine Hototogisu [Little Cuckoo]or the organization of the same name. Likewise, apart from some translations, little has been written about the women’s (joryū) haiku movement of which Hisajo was the most innovative exponent.


Principal supervisor

Beatrice Trefalt

Year of Award


Department, School or Centre

Languages, Literatures, Cultures and Linguistics

Degree Type


Campus location



Faculty of Arts