Sunday, 1 December 2019

Akiko Yosano - Japanese author, poet, feminist, pacifist, and social reformer

Akiko Yosano (1878 - 1942) was the penname of Japanese author, poet, feminist, pacifist, and social reformer. Her real name was Yosano Shiyo and she is one of the most famous, and most controversial, post-classical female poets in Japan.

In 1901, Akiko moved to Tokyo to be with Yosano Hiroshi, a writer and editor whom she married later that year, shortly after the publication of her first book of poems Tangled Hair which contained 400 poems.

Tangled Hair caused a sensation among her contemporaries for its freshness of theme and style, and its direct expressions of passion in an uninhibited, sensual language and was mostly denounced by literary critics. Despite this critical reaction, it was widely read and became a beacon for freethinkers of her time. Her first book brought a passionate individualism to traditional Tanka poetry, unlike any other work of the late Meiji period.

Traditional Japanese values expect women to be gentle and modest and the role of a Japanese woman was focused on procreation and raising children. Tangled Hair created a new revolutionary image of womanhood, as lively, free, sexual and assertive and a door was opened for Japanese women to imagine new representations of sexuality and the female body.

Her work was immense, she wrote more than 17,000 Tanka and published 75 books, including translations of classical literature. She also had 13 children, 11 of whom survived into adulthood.

An early feminist and outspoken critic of nationalism and government policy, Akiko was also an educational reformer and established the Bunka Gakuin, a women’s trade school, in 1921.

Akiko died of a stroke in 1942 at the age of 63. After the end of the Pacific War her works were largely forgotten by critics and the general public but in recent years, her romantic, sensual style has come back into popularity and she has an ever-increasing following.

Three Tanka poems by Yosano Akiko

Her hair at twenty
Flowing long and black
Through the teeth of her comb
Oh beautiful spring
Extravagant spring!

Translated by Roger Pulvers

My black hair
My thick thick black hair
My wild hair
Its thousand strands my heart
Dishevelled, torn apart.

Translated by  Roger Pulvers

My shiny black hair
fallen into disarray,
a thousand tangles
like a thousand tangled thoughts
about my love for you.

Translated by Sam Hamill & Keiko Matsui Gibson

Visit to see some Tanka poems printed onto unique gift ideas. Contact us at if you have any questions. 

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Saturday, 2 November 2019

How to write a Tanka poem

Tanka is a Japanese style of poetry dating back to the 5th Century. 

Tanka poems are written about nature, the seasons, love, sadness and other strong emotions, using strong imagery with a focus on the 5 senses, Sight, Smell, Touch, Taste and Sound.

The structure of the poem is:
  • Five lines with 31 syllables or less in total 
    • 1st line – 5 syllables or less
    • 2nd line – 7 syllables or less
    • 3rd line – 5 syllables or less
    • 4th line – 7 syllables or less
    • 5th line – 7 syllables or less
Most English-speaking writers apply the ‘or less’ rule as there are too many vast differences between the Japanese and English language.

Writing 5 lines of 31 syllables ‘or less’, following the short line/long line/short line/long line/ long line form will achieve the same basic effect as the Japanese Tanka.

A syllable is part of a word which has one vowel sound e.g. Swan has 1 syllable, Autumn has 2 syllables and Butterfly has 3 syllables.

Think of a list of images and sounds from nature, e.g. rustling leaves, squawking seagulls, rushing river etc.

Next, think of a theme for your poem and the key words you want to use.

Write your poem counting the syllables.

a trail of thin mist 5
drifts along the riverbank 7
brushing the tall reeds 5
that bend towards the water 7
swirling its way to the sea 7

Visit to see some Tanka poems printed onto unique gift ideas. Contact us at if you have any questions. 

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Thursday, 3 October 2019

A Profile of Shiki the Japanese Poet who Reformed Tanka Poetry

Masaoka Shiki 1867 – 1902 was a Japanese poet, author, and literary critic.

Shiki is regarded as a major figure in the development and reform of modern Haiku and Tanka poetry and is credited with writing nearly 20,000 verses during his short life.

Shiki was born named Masaoka Noboru, in Matsuyama City to a Samurai class family of modest means. His father was an alcoholic who died when Shiki was five years old and his mother was the daughter of a Confucian scholar.

At the age of 15 Shiki became something of a political radical, attaching himself to the Freedom and People's Rights Movement and getting himself banned from public speaking. Around this time he developed an interest in moving to Tokyo and did so in 1883.

While studying at the University Preparatory School the teenage Shiki enjoyed playing baseball.

He entered Tokyo Imperial University in 1890 but by 1892 he was so engrossed in Haiku writing he failed his final examinations and dropped out.

Contemporary to Shiki was the idea that traditional Japanese poetic short-form poems, such as the Haiku and Tanka, were waning in the modern period. There were no great living practitioners at the time although these forms of poetry had retained some popularity.

In 1892, the same year he dropped out of university, Shiki published a serialized work advocating Haiku reform. In 1898 he urged reform of the Tanka poetry form believing that a new literary spirit was needed to free poetry from centuries-old rules prescribing topics and vocabulary.

His particular style rejected "the puns or fantasies often relied on by the old school" in favour of "realistic observation of nature". Shiki, like other Meiji period writers borrowed a dedication to realism from Western literature which is evident in his approach to both Haiku and Tanka.

Throughout his life Shiki suffered from tuberculosis. In 1888 he began coughing up blood and soon adopted the penname "Shiki" the Japanese name for lesser cuckoos. Because of its sad song, the Japanese cuckoo is said to sing until it “coughs out blood” which explains why the name "Shiki" was adopted.

Suffering from the early symptoms of TB, Shiki sought work as a war correspondent in the First Sino-Japanese War.

Living in filthy conditions in China apparently worsened his TB. Shiki continued to cough blood throughout his return voyage to Japan and was hospitalized in Kobe. After being discharged, he returned to his home town of Matsuyama city.

Although bedridden by 1897 Shiki's disease worsened further around 1901. He developed Pott's disease and began using morphine as a painkiller. He died of tuberculosis in 1902 at 34 four years of age.

Shiki may be credited with salvaging traditional short-form Japanese poetry and carving out a niche for it in the modern Meiji period.

He argued that short-form poetry should be judged by the same yardstick that is used when measuring the value of other forms of literature which is something that was contrary to views held by prior poets.

Shiki firmly placed short-form poetry in the category of literature, and this was unique.

Thursday, 5 September 2019

Some Tanka Poetry History

Tanka may be defined in several ways, but this often lyrical, five-line, 31 syllable poem, derived from the Japanese Tanka and its predecessor, Waka, continues to attract poets around the world.

The Tanka, like the Haiku, is a short poem of a set number of syllables (5,7,5,7,7) per line, written to capture a single moment or emotion. 

One of the oldest Japanese forms, Tanka originated in the seventh century, and quickly became the preferred verse form not only in the Japanese Imperial Court, where nobles competed in Tanka contests, but for women and men engaged in courtship. 

Tanka’s economy and suitability for emotional expression made it ideal for intimate communication; lovers would often, after an evening spent together, write a Tanka to give to the other the next morning as a gift of gratitude.

During the Heian period of Japanese culture (700-1100), it was a social requirement to be able to instantly recognize, appreciate and recite Japanese and Chinese poetry. It was around this period that short forms of poetry grew in popularity over long forms of poetry. The rigid lifestyles of the time carried over into the art and every poem had to have a specific form. 

In many ways, the Tanka resembles the Sonnet, certainly in terms of treatment of subject. Like the Sonnet, the Tanka employs a turn, known as a pivotal image, which marks the transition from the examination of an image to the examination of the personal response. This turn is located within the third line, connecting the kami-no-ku, or upper poem, with the shimo-no-ku, or lower poem.

Today in Japan poetry is still read widely, and millions of Tanka are composed every year. 

Over the last decade writing Tanka in English has become popular worldwide.

The composition and translation of Tanka in English began at the end of the 19th century in England and the United States. 

Translations into English of classic Japanese Tanka dates back to the 1860s in the US and an early publication of originally English Tanka dates to 1899. In the United States, the publication of Tanka in Japanese and in English translation acquired extra impetus after World War II, and is followed by a rise of the genre's popularity among native speakers of English.

Join us next time for a profile of Shiki the poet, essayist, and critic who revived the Haiku and Tanka in 1900.

Visit to see English Tanka poetry printed as gifts onto t-shirts, tote bags, cushions, aprons, greetings cards, tea towels and mugs. 

Contact us at if you have any questions. 

Sunday, 18 August 2019

MoonInk Launch Poetry Pages Blog

Today MoonInk have launched their Poetry Pages Blog which will cover interesting thoughts and news about poetry.

Poetry as an art form predates written text.

The earliest poetry is believed to have been recited or sung as a way of remembering oral historygenealogy, and law

Poetry is often closely related to musical traditions and the earliest poetry exists in the form of hymns and other types of song such as chants. 

Poetry is a verbal art. Many of the poems surviving from the ancient world are recorded prayers, stories about religious and historical accounts, love songs, and fiction. 

Many historians suggest that early writing shows clear traces of older oral traditions, including the use of repeated phrases as building blocks in larger poetic units. A rhythmic and repetitious form would make a long story easier to remember and retell. 

Poetry appears among the earliest records of most literate cultures, with poetic fragments found on early monoliths and runestones.

The development of modern poetry is generally seen as having started at the beginning of the 20th century and extends into the 21st century.

The use of verse to transmit cultural information continues today. 

Some writers believe poetry has its origins in song. Most of the characteristics that distinguish it from rhythm or rhyme appear to have come about from efforts to fit words to musical forms. 

In the European tradition the earliest surviving poems, identify themselves as poems to be recited or chanted to a musical accompaniment rather than as pure song. 

The introduction of writing fixed the content of a poem to the version that happened to be written down and survive. Written composition meant poets began to compose for an absent reader and the invention of printing accelerated these trends. 

Visit to read some Tanka poetry.