• Kyodo

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The chief priest of a Shinto shrine in Kobe said Monday he has discovered 544 pages of tanka written between 1920 and 1940 that were critiqued by acclaimed poet, feminist and educator Akiko Yosano.

Takahisa Kato, 65, head priest at Ikuta Shrine and professor emeritus at Kobe Women’s University, said he found the poems, written by leading Yosano disciple Akiko Niwa, in a rattan box he bought at a secondhand bookshop in Kobe.

Yosano, who died of a stroke in 1942 at age 63, won acclaim for her passionate and sensual reinterpretations of classical poetry. Her works include a 1901 collection of 400 tanka titled “Midaregami” (“Tangled Hair”).

In one of her poems, she indirectly criticized Japan’s aggression by expressing her concern for her brother, who was conscripted into the Imperial Japanese Army for the 1904-1905 Russo-Japanese War.

The tanka genre was developed in the seventh century and remained the dominant poetry form in Japan for about 1,200 years. Tanka consist of 31 syllables in five lines of five, seven, five, seven and seven syllables.

Yosano and her husband, the famed poet Tekkan, signed the critiques of Niwa’s poems, but the handwriting was Yosano’s.

Niwa, who lived in Ashiya, Hyogo Prefecture, knew members of Shinshisha, a poetry group founded by Tekkan.

Haruyuki Irie, a former professor at Otani Women’s College who is an expert of Yosano’s work, said the papers are the first discovery of a large collection of critiques by Yosano. The find is valuable because it indicates the poet’s views on poetic expressions, Irie added.

Yosano scrupulously edited and critiqued each of Niwa’s poems in red ink. For instance, she criticized a tanka that depicts Mount Fuji, colorful leaves and a lake as mentioning too many colors. “Using colors is the mark of a beginner,” Yosano wrote.

She also advised Niwa to do away with ordinary sources of inspiration and produce a few high-quality poems rather than aiming to be prolific.

Kato said he was moved by the strict but affectionate way that Yosano guided Niwa’s writing.