Japan // Shikoku //

Masaoka Shiki


Matsuyama heavily promotes its Japanese literary connections and one of the most prominent is with the poet Masaoka Shiki, a rather tragic figure who died at 35 from tuberculosis. He took his pen name, Shiki, from that of a bird, which according to legend coughs blood as it sings. His life story can be traced at the Shiki Kinen Museum in Dōgo and there are two houses connected with the poet preserved as tourist attractions in Matsuyama, including the villa he shared for a short period with Sōseki Natsume, one of Japan’s most famous authors, whose novel Botchan draws on his experiences as a young teacher working in Matsuyama in 1895.

Masaoka made his reputation by encouraging reforms to the then hidebound traditional poetic form haiku, which comprises just three lines of five, seven and five syllables and has a subject matter traditionally connected with the seasons. Famously criticizing the master of the genre, Bashō, Masaoka advocated that poets be allowed to use whatever words they wanted for haiku, on any subject matter, while striving to be more reflective of real life. Encapsulating his approach is one of his most famous poems: “Kaki kueba kane-ga narunari Hōryū-ji” (“I was eating a persimmon. Then, the bell of Hōryū-ji temple echoed far and wide”).

Masaoka is also one of the principal characters in Saka no Ue no Kumo (Clouds Over the Hill) by Shiba Ryotaro, a bestseller about Japan’s destruction of the Baltic fleet during the Russo-Japanese War. The novel and its heroes are celebrated at the modern Saka no Ue no Kumo Museum.

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