Simply Haiku: An E-Journal of Haiku and Related Forms
FEATURE: Stephen Addiss, The Haiku of the “Old Taoist” Fukuda Kodojin.
It is generally accepted that the traditional Japanese literati world of art and poetry came to an end with the modernization and Westernization that began in the late nineteenth century. The persona of a poet-sage who embraces poverty, creates art primarily for his own and his friends' enjoyment, and devotes himself to self-cultivation would seem to have no place in a society that values economic growth and public achievement.
It is therefore a considerable surprise to discover the art of Fukuda Kodojin (1865-1944), who lived almost through the Second World War and maintained a literati lifestyle to the end of his days. His art name Kodojin literally means “Old Taoist,” and he was a master of painting, calligraphy, kanshi (Chinese-style poetry), and haiku. How did Kodojin reconcile such cultural values in the modern age? What success could a poet-painter expect, and indeed how much success would he desire, in industrial Japan? Do his life, poetry, and art represent the resiliency of an old tradition faced with new conditions and new challenges?
Showing his literati talent at a young age, Kodojin wrote his first haiku at age five (by Japanese count; we would consider him to have been four years old).
By beginning his haiku career with a frog, Kodojin was certainly paying his respects to the tradition of Basho, but the poem also shows his own ebullient spirit as a child ready to face the world.
Rather than haiku, however, it was Chinese-style poetry that first fascinated the young Kodojin. He studied the works of the major masters diligently, as well as beginning to compose his own kanshi while still at school. By the age of fifteen, Kodojin realized that to pursue his studies he must leave Shingu and move to a major cultural center. He determined to go to the Kansai area, no longer the political capital of Japan but still a locus of traditional poetry, painting, and calligraphy. According to an anecdote, on the road north he was followed by a brigand. Although small in size, Kodojin pulled out a small sword from his waist and let loose a great shout. The would-be robber was frightened and ran away.
Along with a friend named Taiji Goro, Kodojin settled in Osaka, despite having only enough money for a single futon that did not keep him very warm on chilly winter nights. Taiji was much wealthier but spent his money freely, so one day he asked to borrow from Kodojin. Lending his friend what little cash he had, Kodojin marveled at such a different attitude towards finances. His own studies came at the cost of considerable poverty but he persevered, soon moving to Kyoto to become a kanshi poetry pupil of Hayashi Sokyo (1828-1896), and also to study painting with Suzuki Hyakunen (1825-1891), a highly respected artist with a firm grasp of the techniques of various schools, and Kodojin doubtless received a thorough training in mastery of the brush.
After a few years of study, Kodojin was acknowledged by Hyakunen as a stellar pupil, and the master urged him to move to Tokyo where the art world was enjoying patronage from the new Meiji government and those who clustered about it. Here Kodojin met the outstanding haiku master of his day, Masaoka Shiki (1867-1902). Although two years younger than Kodojin, Shiki had already established a reputation as a young firebrand at the newspaper Nippon who had set out to reform the study and composition of both haiku and the five-line waka (tanka). Before long Kodojin found himself drawn into Shiki's group of young poets, and was given the haiku name of Haritsu (bundled chestnuts).
Kodojin's early haiku reveal both his influence from Shiki, who urged direct observation and natural language in his poetry, and his own poetic gifts of combining traditional motifs with a fresh spirit. Examining several haiku that were published in Shin Bijutsu in 1898, we can see how Kodojin was able to give new life to relatively familiar imagery:
Two haiku utilize more unusual imagery, the second taken from his life at Nippon:
Two more poems suggest the new world of Meiji Japan:
Finally, two of Kodojin's haiku from 1898 stem from his interest in Chinese traditions; the first because the practice of writing on rocks was begun in China, the second because the round fan is Chinese, in contrast to the Japanese folding fan:
The following year of 1899, Kodojin was given a position at Nippon, first serving as a proof-reader but soon advancing to editor of the kanshi for the cultural section. 1899 was also the year of Kodojin's marriage to Yoshiyama Bifu, who was ten years his junior. Getting married and starting a family must have made Kodojin consider his life very seriously. Did he want to continue to live in the bustling excitement of Tokyo, or would a more peaceful existence be more conducive to his life as a literatus?
A specific request soon brought this question into sharp focus. The abbot of Kyoto's Eikando, Kondo Ryogan, especially admired the poetry of Kodojin, and soon became his student whenever the two could get together. He continually invited Kodojin to move to Kyoto, and after some deliberation, the young literatus decided to agree, moving to the countryside near the city. The year was 1901, and from then until the end of life, the Kyoto area was to be Kodojin's home.
The move led directly to some of Kodojin's finest haiku. Two poems of 1902 show his renewed sense of nature; the first shows his ability to smile at himself, while the second was to become his most famous haiku, later published by the National Education Department in one of its textbooks.
Two more haiku, published the following year, are even more specific about his life in Kyoto. The first celebrates the custom of pounding mochi (rice-cakes) in preparation for the New Year, and the second refers to the tradition of midnight visits to temples:
With no newspaper position to support him, Kodojin sustained himself and his family on private teaching of Chinese poetry. He also taught haiku occasionally, including to the celebrated painter Takeuchi Seiho (1864-1942). Nevertheless, the fact that Kodojin had very little money is indicated by a haiku of 1903:
However, he did not lose heart, knowing that the life he wished to lead as a literatus required courage.
In the next few years Kodojin experimented with the haiku form, especially challenging the 5-7-5 syllable tradition. The following poem has a daring arrangement of 8-8-2 syllables:
Another characteristic of Kodojin's haiku is that he enjoyed repetition, which is usually considered inappropriate for such a short poetic form. Of the following three haiku, only the final one has an unusual subject, yet they all use a deliberately prosaic tone to conversely stress the inner poetry of the observations:
Finally, Kodojin's haiku sometimes tackle the modern world head-on, something that other most other poets of his era were loath to attempt for fear of "unpoetic" imagery.
Kodojin was a little puzzled by this, but could not avoid going over to the store. Opening the fusuma, he saw the board and said, "Aha, so that's the way it is. My, this is certainly a huge name card! Ozaki-san, you have a large body, is that why you need such a huge name-card?" Everyone broke into laughter, and Kodojin wrote out the five characters meaning "Ozaki Sake Brewery." This became a famous moment in the Ozaki family history; unfortunately, the sign was later destroyed in an earthquake and no longer exists.
When the financial panic struck in 1929 and 1930, there were runs on many Japanese banks. Kodojin was visiting his friend Taiji's house in Wakayama when he heard from his host that Kodojin's own bank was in trouble. Advised to withdraw his money immediately, Kodojin instead sent a telegram to his wife, saying "Don't take out our funds." Taiji was astounded, but Kodojin told him, "Everyone will be rushing to take out money, but perhaps if even one person doesn't, the bank may survive." Of course, Kodojin was very poor, but he was more concerned for the bank than about his own funds.
What kind of life did Kodojin lead as his old age approached? According to his daughter, he arose at 4:00 in the morning, drank a cup of plum-flavored hot water, lit incense, and began his study of old books. She also reports that he treated everyone alike, whether a high official or the man who pulled a rickshaw. He had some unusual beliefs; for example, he thought that the wrap-around loincloths that Japanese men traditionally wore were very important. When Ozaki Sakujiro came to visit for a few days, he was offered a hot bath, after which Kodojin's wife put out a new loincloth for him. Kodojin explained that this long cloth wrapped around the genitals and buttocks maintained a man's inner power; young people who adopted loose Western underclothes were losing some of their basic energy.
For the same reason, except when he meditated, Kodojin did not sit cross-legged with his knees split apart. Instead, he read and studied with his legs stretched forward, saying to Ozaki, "Please consider this: if you put a bottle on its side, it spills. Therefore if you don't maintain the strength of your pubic region, nothing will enter your head when you study; don't do this to your body."
The Second World War brought changes to Kodojin as to all of Japan. His first son had died in childhood, and now his only surviving son became a fighter pilot; it was not long before he was killed in North China. Kodojin was extremely affected by this, but he wrote to a friend that, "Human beings are all destined to die; although life is brief, we cannot predict the time or place of its end; perhaps for the person himself, death is welcome." This last comment may have been made regarding himself, now in his late seventies as he mourned his son.
In his final years, Kodojin spent much of his time in his study, but he never minded being disturbed by his young grandson. The child, age five or six, would open the shoji door-panels and come in calling, "Grandfather!" Kodojin would welcome him, the child would then leave and Kodojin would close the shoji. A few moments later, the same scene would be repeated, sometimes many times in a row, but Kodojin never lost his temper. He told Ozaki, "This child has no father and so I can't scold him or discipline him; please just laugh at me."
The war made Kodojin's poverty even more severe than before, but he did not change his principles. One day a local volunteer came to his house, as to all houses in the area. He was collecting funds for "comfort packages" of supplies to send to troops from their neighborhood serving overseas. Many people managed to be out, no matter how often the volunteer called, but Kodojin simply asked him how much the package would cost. Told it was five yen, Kodojin said, "Unfortunately I now pass my days in study, and although our country is at war, I can't do anything useful. Your request is for five yen, but I now have five people living in our household, so I'll contribute twenty-five yen."
Kodojin's wife was suffering from ill health at this time, so Kodojin cooked his own extremely simple meals in his study; when a friend visited with some cakes, they would drink tea and eat in the same room. Towards the end of the war, however, rationing was severe, and Kodojin refused to buy extra food on the black market. He wrote to his former pupil Sakaguchi that he was growing very weak from economizing on food and drink, and could not longer go out from his house. Even walking indoors was painful, and he could only sit and wait for death.
Kodojin collapsed on September 14, 1944. His closest friends gathered from near and far, but there was nothing to be done and he died the following day. After the funeral, his friends tried to make sure that his papers, poems, and paintings were collected and safe. They estimated that there should be more than one hundred volumes of his journals, poetry, and prose, but they could find nothing in his study. They were very distressed and asked Kodojin's wife, but she didn't know what had happened to them. Looking further, they finally discovered a single volume of collected writings. It became apparent that Kodojin had spent his final months going through all of his works, selecting those he wished to preserve and destroying the rest. Whether this was from modesty, or from the wish to be remembered only for a small part of his work, is not known. However, it is certainly possible that Kodojin felt great discouragement over the fate of literati art in the modern world of war and destruction, and therefore might have believed that his writings were superfluous.
Kodojin had seen Japan change in his lifetime from a traditional East Asian country to a modern industrial and imperialist power, and this must have affected him deeply, no matter how much he loved his native land. Nevertheless, he maintained until the end of his life a deep devotion to scholarship, poetry, calligraphy, and painting, all founded upon a profound belief in the expression of lofty human responses to the nature of the world around us.
For further poems and paintings by Kodojin, see Stephen Addiss with Jonathan Chaves, Old Taoist; the Life, Art, and Poetry of Fukuda Kodojin (1865-1944), Columbia University Press, 1999.
1: Fukuda Kodojin, Smoking Out Insects. Ink and color on paper. Clark Center
A composer, musician, poet, painter and Japanese art historian, Stephen Addiss is the recipient of four grants from the National Endowment for the Humanities and one from the National Endowment for the Arts.
He has published 36 books or exhibition catalogs, including Old Taoist: The Life, Art and Poetry of Kodojin; The Resonance of the Qin in Far Eastern Art; and The Art of 20th Century Zen.
His paintings, ceramics and calligraphy have been shown internationally in London, Japan, Taiwan, Korea and Beijing, as well as throughout the United States. The March/April 2004 issue of Simply Haiku featured some of his ink and brush paintings.
He holds degrees from Harvard University and the University of Michigan and taught for 15 years at the University of Kansas before joining the Department of Art & Art History at the University of Richmond in Virginia where he is the Tucker-Boatwright Professor in the Humanities.