August 3, 2022

Hagiwara Sakutarō (Japan) 1886-1942

Hagiwara Sakutarō (Japan)



Born into a wealthy family, Hagiwara was able as a young man to devote himself to poetry. Although he did not finish college, he read Western authors, including Poe, Nietzsche, Schopenhauer, and Dostoevsky.

     He began by writing poems in the tanka form, drawn to it in 1901 when he read the collection Midare-gami (Hair in Disorder) by Yosano Akiko. Writing poems in this form for about ten years, he stopped in 1910. During this same period Sakutarō moved from his native Maebashi to Kumamoto, then to Okayama and, ultimately, to Tokyo, failing his classes in Japanese and unable to complete his schooling. His father's wealth allowed him to remain in Tokyo without any definite goals for three years. There he heard concerts, saw stage productions such as A Doll's House, and adopted Western attitudes. He also learned to play the mandolin and guitar, and upon his return home, founded a musicians' club called Condola Western Music Society, of which he was the conductor.

    In early 1913 he began corresponding with the poet Muro'o Saisei, whose poems he had read in the journal Zumuboa. In May that magazine published some of his own poems, which meant immediate recognition in Tokyo and inspired him to write more poetry. That year, the year of the beginning of the First World War, Sakutarō emerged as a notable poet, and by 1915 had written a considerable body of work.

     Suddenly in 1915, he stopped writing poetry, attempting suicide because of his continued ill-health and drunkenness. A year of silence ensued, but in 1916 he began to write again, and in February 1917 published his first book of poems, Tsuki ni hoeru (Howling at the Moon).

     Tsuki ni hoeru received immediate acclaim, in part because it represented one of the first successful attempts to fuse colloquial Japanese with complex ideas and what Hagiwara described as "physiological fear," a fear that, lying deep in one's physical existence, continues to exert a fearful force of the individual's spiritual and mental condition.

     His second collection, Aoneko (Blue Cat) [cover above] of 1923 is a work of growing despair and melancholy, in which the cat symbolizes the individual at rest, indulging in fantasies. His Hyōtō (Iceland) of 1934 represents a further move of the poet away from society, trapped in his anger for his own ostracization. Nekomachi (The Cat People) of the following year was a work of prose-poetry.

     Hagiwara also wrote aphorisms, fiction, and critical essays, contributing important works to Japanese literary theory, particularly in Shi no genri (Principles of Poetry).

He died in Tokyo in 1942.


[Based on material by Hiroaki Sato]




Tsuki ni hoeru (1917); Aoneko (1923); Junjo Shokyoku Shu (1925); Hyōtō (1934); Nekomachi (1935); all volumes are collected in zenshū (Tokyo: Chikuma Shobō)





Face at the Bottom of the World and Other Poems, trans. by Graeme Wilson (Rutland, Vermont: C. E. Tuttle, 1969); Howling at the Moon, trans. by Hiroaki Sato (Tokyo: University of Tokyo Press, 1978) [translation of Tsuki ni hoeru and Aoneko]; Rats' Nests: The Collected Poetry of Hagiwara Sakutaro (selections), trans. by Robert Epp (Stanwood, Washington: Yakusha, 1993); Howling at the Moon: Poems and Prose of Hagiwara Sakutarō [revised trans. of Tsuki ni hoeru and Aoneko, trans. by Hiroaki Sato (Los Angeles: Green Integer, 2002); Cat Town, trans. by Hiroaki Sato (reprinting of Tsuki ni hoeru, Aoneko with addition of other poems and prose) (New York: New York Review Books, 2014)





Something straight growing on the ground,

something sharp, blue, growing on the ground,

piercing the frozen winter,

in morning's empty path where its green leaves glisten,

shedding tears,

sheeding the tears,

now repentance over, from above its shoulders,

blurred bamboo roots spreading,

something sharp, blue, growing on the ground.


Translated from the Japanese by Hiroaki Sato




On the gleaming ground bamboo growing,

blue bamboo growing,

under the ground bamboo roots growing,

roots gradually tapering off,

from root tips cilia growing,

faintly blurred cilia growing,

faintly trembling.


On the hard ground bamboo growing,

from the ground bamboo sharply growing,

straight, blind, bamboo growing,

at each frozen joint gallantly,

under the blue sky bamboo growing,

bamboo, bamboo, bamboo growing


Behold all sins have been inscribed,

yet not all are mine,

verily manifest to me are

only the illusions of blue flames without shadows,

only the ghosts of pathos that fade off over the snow,

ah painful confessions on such a day, what shall I make of them,

all are but the illusions of blue flames.


Translated from the Japanese by Hiroaki Sato





From the bottom of the earth I stare at,

a ridiculous hand sticks out,

a leg sticks out,

a neck protrudes,


this damned thing, what on earth,

what kind of goose is this?

From the bottom of the earth I stare at,

looking foolish,

a hand sticks out,

a leg sticks out,

a neck protrudes.


Translated from the Japanese by Hiroaki Sato



Frog's Death


A frog was killed,

the children made a circle and raised their hands,

all, together,

raised their lovely,

bloody hands,

the moon appeared,

on the hill stands a man.

Under his hat, a face.


Translated from the Japanese by Hiroaki Sato



The Reason the Person Inside Looks Like a Deformed Invalid


I am standing in the shadow of a lace curtain,

that is the reason my face looks vague.

I am holding a telescope in my hands,

I am looking through it far into the distance,

I am looking at the woods,

where dogs and lambs made of nickel and children with bald heads

are walking,

those are the reasons my eyes look somewhat smoked over.

I ate too much of the plate of cabbage this morning,

and besides this windowglass is very shoddily made,

that is the reason my face looks so excessively distorted.

To tell you the truth,

I am healthy, perhaps too healthy,

and yet, why are you staring at me, there?

Why smiling so eerie a smile?

Oh, of course, as for the part of my body below the waist,

if you are saying that area isn't clear,

that's a somewhat foolish question,

of course, that is, close to this pale window wall,

I am standing inside the house.


Translated from the Japanese by Hiroaki Sato





The person sleeping under the chair,

is he the children of the person who made the grand house?


Translated from the Japanese by Hiroaki Sato



Spring Night


Things like littlenecks,

things like quahogs,

things like water-fleas,

these organisms, bodies buried in sand,

out of nowhere,

hands like silk threads innumerably grow,

hands' slender hairs move as the waves do.

A pity, on this lukewarm spring night,

purling the brine flows,

over the organisms water flows,

even the tongues of clams, flickering, looking sad,

as I look around at the distant beach,

along the wet beach path,

a row of invalids, bodies below their waists missing, is walking,

walking unsteadily.

Ah, over the hair of those human beings as well,

passes the spring night haze, all over, deeply,

rolling, rolling in,

this white row of waves is ripples.


Translated from the Japanese by Hiroaki Sato



The World of Bacteria


Bacteria's legs,

bacteria's mouths,

bacteria's ears,

bacteria's noses,


bacteria are swimming.


Some in a person's womb,

some in a clam's intestines,

some in an onion's spherical core,

some in a landscape's center.


Bacteria are swimming.


Bacteria's hands grow right and left, crosswise,

the tips of their hands branch out like roots,

from there sharp nails grow,

capillaries and such spread all over.


Bacteria are swimming.


Where bacteria live their lives,

as if through an invalid's skin,

a vermilion light shines thinly in,

and only that area is faintly visible,

looks truly, truly sorrow-unbearable.


Bacteria are swimming.


Translated from the Japanese by Hiroaki Sato



Lover of Love


I painted rouge on my lips,

and kissed the trunk of a new birch,

even if I were a handsome man,

on my chest are no breasts like rubber balls,

from my skin rises no fragrance of fine-textured powder,

I am a wizened man of ill-fate,

ah, what a pitiable man,

in today's balmy early summer field,

in a stand of glistening trees,

I slipped on my hands sky-blue gloves,

put around my waist something like a corset,

smeared on my nape something like nape-powder,

thus hushed assuming a coquettish pose,

as young girls do,

I cocked my head a little,

and kissed the trunk of a new birch,

I painted rosy rouge on my lips,

and clung to a tall tree of snowy white.


Translated from the Japanese by Hiroaki Sato



You Frog


You frog,

in a growth of blue pampas grass and reed,

the frog looks swollen white,

in the eveningscape with rain falling fully,

gyo, gyo, gyo, gyo croaks the frog.


Slapping down on the coal-black ground,

tonight the rain and the wind are fierce,

even on a cold leaf of grass,

it sucks a sigh in, the frog,

gyo, gyo, gyo, gyo, croaks the frog.


You frog,

my heart is not far from you,

I held a lantern in my hand,

and was watching the face of the dark garden,

was watching, in a tired state of mind, the grass and tree

leaves wilting in the rain.


Translated from the Japanese by Hiroaki Sato



Skylark Nest


With the saddest heart in the world I walked down the riverbed of my

[home town.

On the riverbed, starworts, horsetails and such, parsley, shepherd's-purse,

and even the roots of violets profusely grew.

Behind the low sandmound the Toné river flows. Like a thief, darkly

[helplessly flows.

I was still, crouched on the riverbed.

Before my eyes is a bush of riverbed-mugwort.

A handful, the bush is. Like an emaciated woman's hair the mugwort loosely

[moved in the wind.

I am deep in thought about some unsavory thing. A terrible ominous thought.

And, with an almost deranged sun shining upon my hat, muggy, I'm exhausted,


Like a parched man panting, yearning for water, I shot out my hand.

As if grasping my own soul I grasped something.

Grasped something like bone-dry hair.

Hidden in the riverbed-mugwort, a skylark nest.


Piyo, piyo, piyo, piyo, piyo, piyo, piyo, piyo, in the sky a skylark calls.

I gazed at the pitiful skylark nest.

The nest sweeled on my large palm, gently as a softball.

The sensation that fawns, seeks love from those innocently raised, was

[apparently felt in my heart.

I became freakishly lonely and felt pain.

Like a parent bird I craned my neck again and peered into the nest.

Inside the next, as in a beam of light at evening, it was vague

[and dark.

An incomparably DELICATE pathos, like touching the celia of a feeble

[plant, brushed the peripheries of my nerves like a shadow and was gone.

Illuminated by the scant beam of light in the nest, rat-colored skylark eggs,

[about four of them, gleamed solitary.

I stretched my fingers and picked up one of them.

The lukewarm breathing of a living thing tickled the belly of my thumb.

A confounding sensation like looking at a dying dog, boiled up at the bottom

[of my heart.

Of the lukewarm unpleasantness of the sensation of a man at such a moment

[disastrous crimes are born. A heart afraid of crime is the forerunner

[of a heart that gives birth to a crime.

I looked at the egg held between my fingers gently against the sunlight.

Something faintly red and vague was visible like a clot of blood.

Something like cold juice was felt.

At that moment I felt a raw-smelling liquid oozily flowing between my fingers.

The egg was torn.

A barbarian's fingers had savagely crushed a delicate thing.

On the rat-colored thin eggshell the character K was inscribed, red, and lightly.


An exquisite bird-bud, bird's parent.

A nest made with a lovely beak, a small animal's job for which it did its best,

[a manifestation of a loveable instinct.

Various good-natured, demure thoughts welled up violent in the bottom of my heart.

I tore an egg.

Killed love and joy, did a job full of sorrow and curse.

Did a dark unpleasant deed.

I made a gloomy face and looked at the ground.

On the ground pebbles glittered, glass fragments, and grass roots, everywhere.

Piyo, piyo, piyo, piyo, piyo, piyo, piyo, piyo, in the sky the skylark calls.

There's a raw-smelling odor of spring.

I was again deep in thought about that unsavory thing.

That a human being dislikes the odor of a human being's skin.

That a human being feels that a human being's sexual organs are hideous.

That at times a human being looks like a horse.

That a human being betrays a human being's love.

That a human being dislikes a human being.

Ah, misanthrope-invalid.

Reading a certain famous Russian's novel, a very heavy novel, I came upon

[the story of a misanthrope-invalid.

It's an excellent novel, but a terrifying novel.

Not to be able to love with one's body those whom one's heart loves, what

[a hideous thought. What a hideous illness.

Not once since I was born have I kissed girls.

Nor have I ever simply put my hand around the shoulders of the birds I love

[and talked like an elder brother.

Ah, birds whom I love, I love, I love.

I love human beings. Nevertheless I fear human beings.

Sometimes I escape from everyone and become solitary. And my heart loving everyone

becomes tearful.

I always like, while walking on a deserted lonely beach, to think of the crowds

[in the distant city.

About the lamp-lighting time in the distant city, I like to walk alone in the park grounds

[of my home town.

Ah, yesterday as usual, I kept dreaming sad dreams.

I smelled the odor of rotten human blood.

I feel pain.

I become lonely.

Why can't one love with one's body those whom one loves with one's heart?

I repent.


Whenever I feel pain, I repent.

Sit on the riverbed sand of the Toné river, and repent.


Piyo, piyo, piyo, piyo, piyo, piyo, piyo, piyo, in the sky the skylarks call.

Riverbed-mugwort roots profusely spread.

The Toné river is flowing stealthily like a thief.

Here and there, I see farmers' melancholy faces.

The faces are dark, looking only at the ground.

On the ground, spring, like smallpox, is ponderously erupting.


With what pity I picked up the skylark egg.


Translated from the Japanese by Hiroaki Sato



Secret of the Garden of a Vacant House Seen in a Dream


Things planted in the garden of the vacant house are pine trees and such

loquat trees, peach trees, black pine trees, sasanquas, cherries, and such

prosperous tree foliage, branches of foliage that spread around

as well, the plants that luxuriate continually under the swarming branches of leafage

all of them─ferns, bracken, fiddleheads, sundews, and such

all over the ground they pile up and crawl

the life of these blue things

the prosperous lives of these blue things

the garden of the vacant house is always in the plants' shadows and dusky

only, what faintly flows is a string of rivulet water

the sound of running water, soughing sad and low, day and night

as well, somewhere near the soggy hedge

I see the uncanny muculent forms of slugs, snakes, frogs, lizards, and such

And above this secluded world

pale moonlight illuminates the night

moonlight flows in mostly through the planted groves.

Heart intent on thoughts of this late night deepening, ever so sad and gentle,

my heart, leaning on the fence, madly plays the flute;

ah, this secret life where various things are hidden

a world where boundlessly beautiful shadows and mysterious forms pile up

focused in moonlight; ferns. bracken, branches of pine trees

the eerie lives of slugs, snakes, lizards, and such

ah, how I miss the secret of the garden of this vacant house I dream of where

[no one lives

and its deeply suggestive seclusion, its mystery ever unsolved.


Translated from the Japanese by Hiroaki Sato






"Bamboo," "Bamboo," "Death," "Frog's Death," "The Reason the Person Inside Looks Like a Deformed Invalid," "Chair," "Spring Night," "The World of Bacteria," "Love of Love," "You Frog," "Skylark Nest" and "Secret of the Garden of a Vacant House Seen in a Dream"

Reprinted from Howling at the Moon, trans. by Hiroaki Sato (Los Angeles: Green Integer, 2002).

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