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TANKA TAKE HOME – 3rd May 2023 20th Century Japanese Tanka Poets

Updated: May 6

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.

Tekkan Yosano (February 26, 1873 - March 26, 1935) was the pen-name of Yosano Hiroshi, a Japanese author and poet active in late Meiji, Taishō and early Shōwa period. Yosano was born in Kyoto as the son of a Buddhist priest, and was a graduate of Keio University. After graduation, he taught Japanese language for four years at Tokuyama Girls' School, in what is now Shunan city, Yamaguchi prefecture. At the age of 20, he moved to Tokyo, and as he was always interested in Japanese literature, he became a disciple of Michia Naofumi, a noted poet and scholar of the Japanese language. He supported himself as a staff writer for Tokyo newspapers.

On 11 May 1894, he published a strongly worded article encouraging the reform of traditional Japanese poetry, or waka, to give it more originality and thus make it more popular. Traditional waka poetry had flourished in the feudal systems, where the individual self was subjugated. With more exposure to Western poetry, Tekkan felt confident that the new wave of waka poetry should be more personal, following neither a teacher nor a model. With the founding of a new poetry magazine called Myōjo (The morning Star) waka reform was well on its way, and the name tanka was adopted to describe this new avatar.

Tekkan divorced his first wife and married one of the young poets, Akiko who later on surpassed him with her poetry. Tekkan was embroiled in scandal, and his reputation suffered as a consequence. This, coupled with the rise of naturalistic realism led to a decline in his popularity as a poet and he retired as an educator and professor at Keio University. He died on March 26 1935 in Tokyo.

Modern Japanese Tanka edited and translated by Makoto Ueda


in the dark woods

lying ahead on your road

whom will you call?

you don't yet know the names

of your parents or your own

Tekkan's daughter Fukiko died six weeks after birth in 1899. This tanka is extremely poignant, and is self explanatory at some level. However the questions posed also strike at a deeper level, striking at the very root of one's self. Who am I? Where am I going?


with warts and all

the true image of a toad

vividly emerges

from those popular poems

rare treasures of our time

This tanka was written in 1908, when naturalistic realism started becoming more popular in the Japanese literary culture. Is this a satirical take on the 'new' form that poetry was taking? Or perhaps the satire is directed at the older waka forms. Or perhaps it is a political poem. In any case, the change in style is clear.

Challenge for the week: Write a response tanka to either of these poems


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 of course if you want to.

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


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