Yosano Akiko was born in Sakai, Japan, December 7, 1878. Her father, H Sshichi, owned a confectionery shop in Sakai, a suburb of Osaka. Both Akiko’s father and her mother imposed traditional constraints on her, but she soon developed precocious literary enthusiasms and talents, thanks to the libraries of her great-grandparents; her great-grandfather was called the “master’s master” of the town because of his knowledge of Chinese literature and his skilled composition of haiku. Akiko read all the literature that she could find from France and England, as well as from ancient and modern Japan—especially such classics as The Manyoshu, Sei Shnagon’s Makura-no-sshi (early eleventh century; Pillow Book, 1928), and The Tale of Genji (which Akiko eventually translated from the archaic style into modern Japanese).
At age nineteen, Akiko published her first poem in a local journal, and within three years, she became prominent in Kansai-area literary activities. In 1900, Tekkan, the poet-leader of the new Romanticism, discovered Akiko’s genius, began teaching her literature, brought her into his Shinshisha in Tokyo, and had her work published in the journal Myj; Akiko helped to edit the journal from 1901 until its demise in 1908, and again during its revival from 1921 to 1927. In 1901, Tekkan also edited and arranged publication for Akiko’s first book, Tangled Hair. Her immediate success ensured her impact as a feminist and a pacifist, as well as the popularity of her many other books of poetry and prose, the royalties from which helped to finance Tekkan’s three-year trip to France. Akiko was able to join him for six months in 1912, also visiting Germany, Holland, England, and Manchuria. She was inspired by European writers and artists, especially Auguste Rodin. She was also intrigued by the relative freedom of European women, and her tour strengthened her determination to change Japanese life through the power of the creative word. Her husband died in 1935, and two years later, she began working on a collection of others’ poetry, Shin Manysh (1937-1939). In addition to her vigorous cultural activities, she gave birth to thirteen children, rearing eleven of them to adulthood. She died in 1942, of a stroke.