Simply Haiku: An E-Journal of Haiku and Related Forms
September-October 2004, vol. 2, no. 5

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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).

Tsurube kara Jumping from the
yo ni tobidetaru bucket into the world—
i no kawazu frog in the well

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:

Haru no kawa Spring river—
chasana geta no tiny wooden clogs
nagareyuku float by

Haruhi sasu Spring sun stabs
komeya no mise no at the rice-merchants shop—
suzume kana sparrows

Mijikayo no Short summer night
nani mo yume mizu not dreaming at all—
akakenikeri first light of dawn

Two haiku utilize more unusual imagery, the second taken from his life at Nippon:

Fumi irite Tromping,
hebi no kawa fumu tromping on snakeskin—
susuki kana pampas grasses

Ganjitsu no New Year's
shinbun oki newspaper—
tsukue kana a big deskful!

Two more poems suggest the new world of Meiji Japan:

Hatanaka ni In the empty fields
teishajo ari a railroad station—
ume no hana plum blossoms

Funabito no The seaman's
tama matsuru hi ya memorial service lamp
hagi no naka amid the clover

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:

Kankodori Cuckoo—
so ishi ni shi o a monk has inscribed a poem
daishi suru on a rock

Fune ni kite Arriving by boat
Nankin no hito the Chinese from Nanking
uchiwa uru sells round fans

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.

Imo no ha ni Planting my buttocks
shiri o suetaru in potato-plant leaves—
tsukimi kana moon viewing

akakani no A red crab
suma ni kakururu hiding in the sand—
kiyomizu kana pure waters

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:

Mochi tsuki no Pounding mochi
usu oraisu in house after house—
Kyo no machi Kyoto

Tera oki Kyoto's mountains
Kyoto no yama ya full of temples—
joya no kane New Year's bells

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:

Waga hin wa My poverty
hone ni tesshite penetrates my bones—
kamiko kana paper clothes

However, he did not lose heart, knowing that the life he wished to lead as a literatus required courage.

Kokoromi ni As a test,
fumeba no kori no stepping out on the
usuki kana thin ice

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:

Naruko kashimashiku Noisy clappers
kakashi shizuka nari quiet scarecrow
yuu evening

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:

Higashi mado From the eastern window
mata nish modo ni then from the western window
tsuki o miru watching the moon

Harumizu no North and south
minami shi kitasu of the spring waters—
yanagi kana willows

Sumitori no The charcoal powder
konazumi ni tadon on the scoop has gathered into
hitotsu kana a single charcoal ball

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.

Hatake utsu ya Plowing—
mukashi umi nite where once there was
arishi tokokoro an ocean

Harumizu ya Spring waters—
hashi no shita yuku puffing under the bridge
kajoki a river steamer

Gake o kezutte Cutting down a cliff
michi tsukurubeshi because a road must be built—
tsuta momiji red ivy leaves

Gunkan no A small boat
soba ni bora tsuru next to the battleship
kobune kana casting for mullet

Yakeato no By the burnt-out campfire
furuike koru the old pond is frozen—
ashita kana dawn

It was from his poetry that Kodojin's paintings emerged, functioning as another expression of his inner feelings and values. Although many more of Kodojin's nanga (Chinese-style literati paintings) than haiga (haiku-paintings) survive, there are still a number of fine haiga from his hand. One example shows a hibachi (brazier) with smoke billowing forth, carrying with it a few ashes from the charcoal fire. Next to the hibachi rests a Chinese-style round fan, significantly decorated with a painting of the literati theme of orchids. The inscribed haiku descends in counterpoint to the rising smoke:

kayari shite Smoking out insects,
tsuma ko to kataru chatting with my wife and children—
ukiyo kana this floating world

The final line of this poem refers firstly to the age-old Buddhist concept of the transience of life, and secondly to the Edo-period interpretation of the word "ukiyo" to suggest the world of transient pleasures.

While the painting is rendered in a deliberately simplified style, its sense of movement is created by the slight diagonals of rising smoke and falling calligraphy. The relaxed but confident brushwork, along with the reprise of the red from the fire in the artist's seal, demonstrates Kodojin's expertise. The totality of poem and image also show that the artist could invoke both an everyday family occasion and a deeper experience of life in haiga, the most informal of painting traditions.

A second haiga by Kodojin shows a folk-subject, the Snow Daruma. Since there is a legend about the First Patriarch of Zen that his legs fell off during his nine years of meditation, a snowman is known in Japan as a Snow Daruma. In this work there is a stress on the word “jakumetsu,” which can mean both “nirvana” and “fading away.”

Yuki Daruma Snow Daruma
sude ni jakumetsu already extinguished—
itaku kana what joy!

The calligraphy of the haiku encloses this sad-faced figure with a touch of whimsical humor— is melting away a sadness or a joy?

There is also a touch of Zen-like humor in some anecdotes about Kodojin that survive, including the story of the gigantic name-card. According to Maekawa, Ozaki Sakujiro was the owner of the Ozaki Sake brewery, and he wished for a signboard with calligraphy by Kodojin. He frequently asked the master, but to no avail. Finally he consulted with Kodojin's student Sakaguchi, who decided upon a stratagem. A large wooden board was prepared and brought to the neighborhood sake shop, and ink and brushes made ready. Sakaguchi then visited Kodojin in his home and told him that Ozaki requested a name-card, a task that the master could not decline.

—"Fine, fine, bring it here and I'll write it for him."
—"Actually, the materials are waiting at the local sake store."
—"But if it’s a name card, wouldn't it be best to do it here?"
—"Yes, but the ink has been ground over at the store."

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.

Painting 1: Fukuda Kodojin, Smoking Out Insects. Ink and color on paper. Clark Center Collection
Painting 2: Fukuda Kodojin, Snow Daruma, White on red paper, ex-Hashimoto Collection

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.