French poet to honor wartime haikuists who defied authority
NAGANO--Crackdowns on free speech were intensifying, and those who dared to defy the authorities were severely punished.
But that oppressive atmosphere did not stop a group of people known for beautiful choices of words from expressing opposition to the war and Japan’s militarism.
These haiku poets also ended up being arrested, and some endured brutal interrogations. The clampdown on the poets did have the effect of silencing their voices of dissent until the end of World War II.
Laurent Mabesoone, a French haikuist who lives in Nagano, is now spearheading a campaign to erect a monument in honor of the courage of the wartime poets.
Mabesoone and other advocates want to pass down to posterity memories of a time when people’s thoughts and words became targets of surveillance.
The catalyst for the project was the reaction to Mabesoone’s own haiku.
At the request of a magazine, Mabesoone, 48, composed a haiku expressing concerns about the impact of the 2011 triple meltdown at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant on his daughter, who was 2
years old at the time.
“On my child’s cheek/ Tears of spring/ And of radiation.”
Mabesoone, who arrived in Japan in 1996 after studying Japanese literature at the University of Paris, specializes in the works of Kobayashi Issa (1763-1827), a luminary haikuist who hailed from Nagano Prefecture.
Mabesoone wrote more haiku on the theme of movements to steer Japan away from nuclear energy. Collections of his poems were published in Japan and France.
But some colleagues in haiku circles criticized the Frenchman for taking up a social subject in his poetry.
“Haiku should not be related to a social issue,” said one critic. “Why does he have to compose haiku concerning nuclear energy even though he was not directly affected by the disaster?” said another.
The criticism led Mabesoone to study the plight of the haikuists who wrote anti-war poems.
They were members of a new school of haikuists who emerged in the 1930s and called for reforming the conventional style of the poetry.
They generally wrote their anti-war haiku after watching war propaganda news programs shown at movie theaters.
Mabesoone’s research found that these poets were also condemned for composing haiku related to war--the most extreme form of a social subject--far from the front lines of battle.
Among their works composed between 1937 and 1939 are:
“Without seeing one’s blood/ The enemy pilot/ Has lost his life” (Kageo Hashi)
“At the door of my class/ They still strike/ Military boots” (Hakubunji Inoue)
“The war/ Was standing there/ Down the hall” (Hakusen Watanabe)
The poets were accused of spreading anti-war sentiment among the public and arrested on suspicion of violating the public security preservation law, according to Mabesoone.
The notorious law was enacted in 1925 with the initial purpose of reining in communist activities.
But authorities repeatedly stretched the interpretation of the law to muzzle citizens, silence free speech and trample freedom of thought. The law was scrapped in 1945, after Japan’s surrender in the war.
Between 1940 and 1943, 44 poets, many in the younger generations, from the new school were arrested.
The haikuists were forced to undergo grueling interrogations to get them to “convert.” Thirteen were handed suspended sentences.
Mabesoone said their defiance led to a change in the history of Japanese haiku.
As Japan’s war effort intensified, poets felt increasing pressure. They came under the direct oversight of the Cabinet bureau controlling free speech before the 1941-45 Pacific War.
As a result, many haikuists ended up composing works glorifying Japan’s militarism.
Mabesoone said that if it wasn’t for the poets who defied authority and composed anti-war works, the reputation of haikuists would have been irreversibly tarnished.
“Their footprints of resistance, however small they were, became a salvation in the history of Japanese haikuists,” he said.
Mabesoone published a collection of anti-war haiku in October under the title, “The Haikus of Japanese Resistance."
In the course of his research, Mabesoone’s desire to build a monument in honor of the anti-war poets grew.
More than 60 haikuists and likeminded people across Japan signed up for the project.
The group plans to erect the monument in 2020, the 80th anniversary of the beginning of the crackdown of the poets, at the latest. It is eyeing a site in the vicinity of the Art Memorial Museum for the Fallen Students in Ueda in the prefecture.
The museum houses a collection of paintings by art students who were killed in battle during the war.
Mabesoone is aware that the initiative comes at a time when the Diet is debating a bill that critics say is designed to “punish people for their thoughts.”
“It is far from my intention to link the memorial project with politics in any way,” he said. “But it is quite clear that we should learn a lesson from the crackdown before and during the war.”
Tota Kaneko, a 97-year-old haikuist who experienced that oppression first-hand, will produce the calligraphy engraved on the monument.
The text on the monument is expected to be read: “We erect this monument to pledge never to forget their sacrifices and sufferings and not to allow a politics of the dark times to visit us again. And we hope for peace, protection of human rights and freedom of thoughts, speech and expression.”
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On 2017-05-12, at 9:30 AM, Katherine Gordon wrote:
How very timely. We must learn from these brave poets.
will wake the shamans
we will be heard
Katherine L. Gordon
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Thanks, Katherine ; )-
I'm going to post your comment - hope this is OK? I'm surprised at how many poets have quickly responded to this news. I'm very grateful to Angelee Deodhar for forwarding it from Haiku Canada.
When I began writing and publishing haiku in Eric Amann's Haiku magazine in 1967, I was also beginning a life of anti-war activism. In those early days of English language haiku, there were strict rules about what was and wasn't appropriate content for a haiku. I remember sneaking in anti-Vietnam War imagery in several of my poems, including:
red and white
lobster trap buoys
I'm sure I drew too much attention from the draft board with my activism in reactionary Dade County, Florida. In June of 1969 I received THREE draft notices in a week, and fled the U.S. to live on the streets of Europe for three years (I've told this story in Eel Pie Island Dharma, Unfinished Monument Press, 1990, Hidden Brook Press, 2012 ). Eventually I returned to Canada, where I was born, in 1972. Not long after I wrote this much anthologized haiku:
watching the ducks
I've always intuited that haiku could be written about any aspect of the human condition, including anti-war activism and pacifism. Learning of the brave haijin who opposed Japanese militarism in World War 2 confirms the unlimited scope of haiku/haibun, and the socio-politikal power which haiku - ALL POETRY - can hold!
peace & poetry power!
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On 2017-05-12, at 10:38 PM, Richard M. Grove wrote:
I have always loved haiku and hiijin. These war poems are the most real I have ever read. amazing. Thanks
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On 2017-05-12, at 10:05 AM, Kathy Figueroa wrote:
Thank you for the link, Chris, and the other info. Very interesting!
@Kathy - Maybe some of the shamans ARE poets. ;-)
Have a great day, everyone!
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On 2017-05-12, at 5:20 AM, gerry shikatani wrote:
Thanks for this valuable information, Chris
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On 2017-05-12, at 10:55 PM, Ariadne Sawyer wrote:
Hi, looks great. I will mention it on the radio and on FB .
Respect and peace,