Higuchi Ichiyo 1872-1896
(Pseudonym of Higuchi Natsuko) Japanese novelist and short story writer.
Higuchi is considered the first major woman writer of Japan's Meiji period (1868-1912). Her literary focus on the role of women in Japanese society, and in particular on the lives of the poor, represented a departure from most Japanese literature of her time, which focused on traditional gender roles in aristocratic society.
Higuchi was born into a middle-class family in Tokyo. Although she was an excellent student, girls commonly received limited formal education in nineteenth-century Japan, and at the age of 11 her parents removed her from school. In 1886, when she was 14, she convinced her parents to allow her to study poetry at a private school. Her father's death in 1889 left Higuchi, the best-educated member of her family, responsible for their support. Wanting to write professionally, she solicited advice and assistance from the popular journalist and editor Nakarai Tosui. Higuchi's first published stories, "Yamizakura" ("Flowers at Dusk") and "Wakarejimo" ("The Last Frost of Spring") appeared in the literary magazine Musashino, edited by Tosui, in 1892. Ongoing financial hardship influenced Higuchi's writing: in her fiction she examined themes of poverty, social class, women's roles, and societal expectations. Higuchi earned fame as a writer but not financial security. She died of tuberculosis at the age of twenty-four.
Higuchi's third published story, "Umoregi" (1892; "A Buried Life") explores the motivation of a potter dedicated to perfecting his craft. This story appeared in the prestigious literary journal Miyako no hana and was favorably reviewed by the critic and editor Hoshino Tenchi. He solicited further stories from Higuchi for his magazine Bungakkai (The World of Literature), including "Yuki no Hi" (1893; "A Snowy Day"), which examines the consequences of a relationship between a student and her teacher. Her most highly regarded work, the novel Takekurabe (Child's Play), appeared serially in Bungakkai in 1895 and 1896. This coming-of-age novel examines the limited choices facing a group of self-sufficient adolescents living on the streets of a city's licensed "pleasure quarter." Subsequent works included the stories "Yuku Kumo" (1895; "Passing Clouds") and "Wakare-Michi" (1896; "Separate Ways") and the novels Nigorie (1895; Troubled Waters), and Jusan'ya (1895; The Thirteenth Night). "Separate Ways" treats a poor woman who contemplates abandoning the drudgery of work as a laundress and seamstress to become the mistress of a wealthy man. While she regrets relinquishing her self-respect and ending longtime friendships with people who disapprove of her choice, she cannot resist the material comforts and financial security that will accompany life as a kept woman. Troubled Waters examines with insight and compassion the life of a young prostitute. The Thirteenth Night focuses on the social conventions that impede a young woman seeking to escape from an abusive marriage. Higuchi's diary, published after her death, describes in her lyrical prose style the motivation and inspiration for many of her works.
Higuchi received much critical and popular attention during her brief career, which she believed was at least partly due to the fact that she was a professional author at a time when few women published regularly. The favorable review of "A Buried Life" by Tenchi lead to Higuchi's recruitment into Japanese literary society, and the distinguished author and critic Mori Ogai hailed Growing Up as a literary masterpiece. Modern critics consider Higuchi an important pivotal writer in Japanese literature. They acknowledge that while her prose style adhered to classical Japanese literary characteristics of lyricism, allusiveness, and elaborate wordplay, her works nevertheless exhibit a distinctly modern sensibility. Hailed during her lifetime as "the last woman writer of old Japan," she has been regarded since her death as the first modern Japanese woman writer.
"Yamizakura" ["Flowers at Dusk"] (short story) 1892
"Wakarejimo" ["The Last Frost of Spring"] (short story) 1892
"Umoregi" ["A Buried Life"; also translated as "In Obscurity"] (short story) 1892
"Yuki no Hi" ["A Snowy Day"] (short story) 1893
Takekurabe [Child's Play; also translated as Growing Up, Teenagers Vying for Tops, and They Compare Heights] (novel) 1896
"Yuku Kumo" ["Passing Clouds"] (short story) 1895
Nigorie [Troubled Waters; also translated as In the Gutter, and Muddy Bay] (novel) 1895
Jusan'ya [The Thirteenth Night] (novel) 1895
"Wakare-Michi" ["Separate Ways"; also translated as "The Parting of the Ways"] (short story) 1896
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SOURCE: "Higuchi Ichiyo," in Monumenta Nipponica, Vol. XII, Nos. 3-4, October, 1956-January, 1957, pp. 3-26.
[In the following essay, Tanaka discusses the relationships between events recorded in Higuchi's diary and themes in her short stories and novels.]
With the beginning of the Meiji era Japan entered upon a new epoch of her history. The sudden impact of Western ideas made itself felt in many phases of life, and it took quite a time until the people had adjusted themselves to the changes which the restoration had brought to the nation.
This early Meiji era gave to Japan a woman writer, Higuchi Ichiyō (with her personal name called Natsu), who, during the short span of her life from 1872 to 1896, created a genre of stories which is unique in Japanese literature. Her life was full of suffering, part of which was shared by fellow men of her time. However, much of the agony she had to go through was personal in nature. The latter part of her life was constantly threatened by extreme financial insecurity. The gossip of her friends forced her to give up her friendship with her teacher, Nakarai Tōsui. She had to struggle to keep alive, and to fight to conquer her passion, but because of all difficulties with which she had to contend she could write the stories for which she has become famous.
Ichiyō's own miseries had opened her eyes to see the pain of others. The...
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SOURCE: "Higuchi Ichiyō," in Dawn to the West, Japanese Literature of the Modern Era: Fiction, Vol. 1, Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1984, pp. 165-85.
[In this following excerpt, Keene chronicles Higuchi's literary career, discussing her influences and the critical reception of her work.]
During the six centuries after the composition of Izayoi Nikki in 1280 hardly a single work by a woman left its imprint on Japanese literature. It is true that the court ladies continued to compose imitations of Heian tanka and fiction until well into the fifteenth century, and in the Tokugawa period a few women enjoyed reputations for their tanka, haiku, and even poetry in Chinese, but their works, with a few exceptions, were of minor interest. The Heian tradition of writing by women was broken when the court society itself lost its importance and when the position of women came to be threatened by the hostile attitudes of the feudal government.
Early in the Meiji period, however, the long-standing prejudices against education for women began to give way to more enlightened views, largely in response to Western influence. Girls were among the students sent abroad by the government, and they were admitted to the educational institutions founded at home; the first graduate of the national music school was a woman, a sister of Kōda Rohan. But the role of women in literature remained modest. The...
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SOURCE: "Higuchi Ichiyō: A Literature of Her Own," in Comparative Literature Studies, Vol. 22, No. 1, Spring 1985, pp. 53-66.
[In the following excerpt, Mitsutani examines Higuchi's place as a woman writer in Meiji period (1868-1912) literature and examines the evolution of her literary style.]
At the close of his small book on one of the masterpieces of Heian literature, The Pillow Book of Sei Shonagon, Arthur Waley mentions Higuchi Ichiyō, drawing an analogy between her position in the literature of the Meiji era, and that of women writers such as Sei Shonagon and Murasaki Shikibu in the literature of Heian, approximately a thousand years before Ichiyō lived:
While the energy of male writers was largely absorbed in acquiring a foreign culture, and their output was still too completely derivative to be of much significance, there arose a woman [Higuchi Ichiyō (1872-1896)] whose work, hitching straight on to the popular novelettes of the eighteenth century, has outlived the pseudo-European experimentations of her contemporaries.
In other words, at a time when convention required men to do most of their prose writing in Chinese, women such as Sei Shonagon and Murasaki Shikibu were producing, in the kana phonetic script, works that were later to be regarded as classics; by the same token Ichiyō, who was also a...
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SOURCE: "Breaking Out of Despair: Higuchi Ichiyō and Charlotte Brontë," in Comparative Literature Studies, Vol. 24, No. 3, 1987, pp. 251-63.
[In the following essay, Enomoto explores parallels as well as differences between the lives and works of Higuchi Ichiyō and Charlotte Brontë, maintaining that both were motivated by a "sense of powerlessness and loneliness" as women writers.]
This article will explore the striking similarities and differences between the lives and works of Higuchi Ichiyō and Charlotte Brontë, two leading women novelists of the nineteenth century. Ichiyō was often called "Brontë" by a contemporary Japanese critic, Hirata Tokuboku, and his friends in the Bungakkai (Literary World) group. The first and only work of Charlotte Brontë introduced to Japan during Ichiyō's lifetime was an abridged translation by Mizutani Futô of Jane Eyre, entitled Risô Kajin (An Ideal Beauty, 1896). While no evidence exists of Ichiyō's having read Brontë, Tokuboku noted one interesting affinity between the two. In an article entitled "Brontë and Kingsley," he observed that Ichiyō and Brontë's character Jane Eyre both have "a strong sense of honor" and a "defiant passion." Moreover, he wrote, "In the depth of their hearts, the people of this kind have tender feelings and longings for love, but their cool, willfull and rational disposition resists it. This conflict...
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Danly, Robert Lyons. In the Shade of Spring Leaves: The Life and Writings of Higuchi Ichiyo, a Woman of Letters in Meiji Japan. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1981, 335 p.
Critical biography focusing on Higuchi's short stories and diary. Danly maintains the importance of examining "the experiences and preoccupations out of which great literature grows.… If any writer gave her life the shape and meaning of a work of art it was Ichiyō—this was a central purpose of the diaries." The volume includes annotated translations of nine stories selected by Danly as representative.
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