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TANKA TAKE HOME – 10th May 2023. 20th Century Japanese Tanka Poets: Yosano Akiko

Updated: May 16, 2023

hosts: Firdaus Parvez, Kala Ramesh, Priti Aisola & Suraja Menon Roychowdhury

Introducing a new perspective to our Wednesday Feature!

This month we will discuss some of the prominent Japanese poets of the 20th century who were influential in the evolution of tanka as we know it today. Much of the material presented is taken from the book Modern Japanese Tanka edited and translated by Makoto Ueda, as well as other sources on the internet.

Yosano Akiko:

Akiko (maiden name Ho Sho) was born on Dec 7, 1878 to a merchant's family in a small town near Osaka. Although she was educated only until middle school, she read widely thanks to her love for literature, while tending the family cake shop. She began writing tanka around the age of 16. A couple of years later she joined a group of local poets and very soon had tanka published in Myojo, the magazine founded by Yosano Tekkan. She met Tekkan a few months later and the couple immediately fell deeply in love, despite the fact that Tekkan was already married and had a child. Facing her parents' and society's disapproval, she moved in with him, and married him after he obtained a divorce from his first wife. Her first book on poetry Midaregami (Tangled Hair) described the extent of her passion in detail, including several sensual poems, thus bringing the focus of tanka even more on the individual and personal experience. She came to be known as the foremost writer of love poetry and her success led to the success of Myojo (1). Throughout her career she was outspoken about several issues, including female sexuality, the role of women not just as wives and mothers; politics, womens' rights etc (2).

The sheer volume of work that Akiko produced is staggering. A highly prolific, versatile and talented poet, Akiko wrote over 40,000 tanka. In addition she published one novel, four volumes of stories for children, some 700 poems in free verse, and eighteen collections of essays on poetry, literature, and contemporary social issues. She also translated a number of Japanese classics into modern Japanese, including the massive Genji monogatari (The Tale of Genji). Her passion for promoting liberal education led her to found Bunka Gakuin, a combination private girls' school and educational college. She did all that while raising eleven children.

Akiko travelled widely to give lectures as well as write poetry. She was widowed in 1935, but supported by a loving family of children and grandchildren. She died on May 29, 1942.

This tanka and the accompanying commentary is taken from the article in Simply Haiku titled Awakening Female Sexuality in Yosano Akiko's Midaregami (Tangled Hair)

by Hiromi Tsuchiya Dollase (3):


Spring is short

what is there that has eternal life

I said and

made his hands seek out

my powerful breasts

[trans. Janine Beichman]

(haru mijikashi nanini fumetsu no inochi zoto

chikaraaru chichi o teni sagurasenu)

Spring, the starting season of new lives, is a symbol of youth, the period of adolescence. "Spring is short”; the main speaker, a virgin girl, appreciates and enjoys the remaining days of her short adolescent period. The girl lets her lover touch her firm and young breasts, sharing her passion and youth with him. It is noteworthy that the girl's breasts and body are presented as her own. They are not possessed by anybody. The girl's spiritual strength, confidence in herself and the appreciation of her own growing body are witnessed here."


but for women

writhing like vengeful demons

screaming like wild boars

no child of man

would ever be born

This tanka, translated by Makoto Ueda, was written after Akiko gave birth for the fourth time to twins, one of whom was stillborn. It appears to rail against the view of women purely as mothers, and paints the agony of childbirth. It also seems to rail against the patriarchy- 'no child of man would ever be born'. Why is the child known as being the father's when it is the mother who suffers...


1. Modern Japanese Tanka edited and translated by Makoto Ueda

3. Awakening Female Sexuality in Yosano Akiko's Midaregami (Tangled Hair) by Hiromi Tsuchiya Dollase

I would encourage all readers here to read the Wikipedia article on Yosano Akiko to get a grasp of the vastness of her work and influence. Simply incredible!

This Week's Challenge: Write about a social evil. Use elegant but powerful language. I have no more to say- because I am off reading more of her work :)

An essay on how to write tanka:


1. Post only one poem at a time, only one per day.

2. Only 2 tanka and two tanka-prose per poet per prompt. Tanka art, too.

3. Share your best-polished pieces.

4. Please do not post something in a hurry or something you have just written. Let it simmer for a while.

5. Post your final edited version on top of your original verse.

6. Don't forget to give feedback on others' poems.

We are delighted to open the comment thread for you to share your unpublished tanka and tanka-prose (within 250 words) to be considered for inclusion in the haikuKATHA monthly magazine.

We are saddened to share the news that tanka pioneer (poet and translator) Sanford Goldstein has passed away at the age of 97. In 2015, the Tanka Society of America named its annual contest after Sanford. You can read more about Sanford Goldstein at


852 views307 comments

307 ความคิดเห็น

lakshmi iyer
lakshmi iyer
17 พ.ค. 2566

#1, (rejected in 2021), trying to find a home here.

Revised, thanks so much


Living in Style

Thinking about the birdsongs, remembering the colours of sky, holding the breath of plants and trees and then walking on the road to never ending issues; I finally realise ...

the stars

can twinkle without the sun


on the other side

a new dawn

though the time

has come to give up

I stay

not a day without

the basic amenities




Living in Style

Thinking about the birdsongs, remembering the colours of sky, holding the breath of plants and trees and then walking on the road to never ending issues; I finally realise ...

can the stars


lakshmi iyer
lakshmi iyer
19 พ.ค. 2566

Thanks Suraja! I appreciate.


Susan Beth Furst
Susan Beth Furst
16 พ.ค. 2566

Tanka Prose #2



Was it a morning like this, when there's a hush in the garden, and even the birds haven't taken from their nests; and the scent of jasmine and plum lures me from my sleep as the sun peeps over the mountain, and the stars fade to pink?

did you sing

when you arose

as I am,

this morning when everything

is possible


Feedback Welcome :)


Bonnie J Scherer
Bonnie J Scherer
15 พ.ค. 2566

May 15 Tanka-prose Feedback welcome 🙂

I turned my story from haibun to this version and moved it here.

𝗕𝗿𝗲𝗮𝗸 𝗨𝗽

Spring in Alaska is wet, really wet. If things aren’t






they’re probably calving or sinking.

The last of the icicles







from roof eaves. Creeks open up and begin to flow. Everything responds to increased hours of daylight and the gradually warming temperatures. Almost everything.

when you left

a part of me dissolved …

our love blistering

in the sun


Bryan Rickert
Bryan Rickert
15 พ.ค. 2566

#2 edit (thanks to Kala)

Losing the Drive (By)

Carrying the boy I had been teaching for seven years from the hearse to his final resting site was a day when a part of me died too. The following Monday, when the first graders filed into my classroom, I looked into their faces and thought “Which one of you won’t make it? Which one of you will be a waste of time.” That was the moment I knew that I would never teach again.

a lame pigeon

on the city street

the debate

to heal it or put it

out of its misery


Losing the Drive (By)

Carrying the boy that I had been teaching for seven years…

Reid Hepworth
Reid Hepworth
16 พ.ค. 2566

Incredibly moving, Bryan. This one will stay with me for a while.


Iffah  Peerzada
Iffah Peerzada
15 พ.ค. 2566

#1 15/5/23 her lustrous persona fool the foolish and repel the vain ut she sees me see her truth For it is all in the eyes (Feedback appreciated)

Iffah  Peerzada
Iffah Peerzada
16 พ.ค. 2566

Noted, I'll keep trying til I get it!

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