The Life and Legacy of Hakushu Kitahara

A Biography of Hakushu Kitahara

Youth and Family

Hakushu Kitahara was born on January 25, 1885, in the town of Yanagawa in the Fukuoka prefecture. He is so well-known as Kitahara Hakushu but his real name is actually Kitahara Ryukichi. Not much is written about his childhood as most of his biographies focused on his early career and education. There are some biographies that say that his childhood was terribly troubled. However, there are many biographies indicate that his childhood was very mysterious and attributed to his shadowy character.

By そらみみ [CC BY-SA 4.0 (], from Wikimedia Commons

 He was born to a family whose estate revolved around brewing sake, the traditional alcoholic beverage in Japan. Everyone was expecting him to inherit the enterprise and continue the legacy of sake brewing that has run in his family for decades. However, a turn of the tides has washed him up in a totally different and unrelated career – literature.

Education and Career

He famously took up an English Literature degree from the Waseda University in the late 1890s. This was the time he started writing professionally under the pen name Kitahara Shasui. He became part of the ‘Three Waters (sui in the Japanese language) of Waseda’ which was a trio of popular writers/poets from the university. He made good friends including Tekkan Yosano (Yosano Hiroshi) and Akiko Yosano, who largely contributed to his rise to fame.

He truly gained passion and interest in writing and literature through this experience. He excelled in his craft, he was a bright student, and he loved what he was doing. Unfortunately, he was not able to graduate from this degree. Many historians attribute this to the fall-out he had with his family over his desires to become a writer instead of an entrepreneur. Despite that, it did not stop him from becoming one of the most popular writers in Japan.

Later on, he became a part of the Shinshisha, also known as New Poetry Association in the early 1900s. He became a writer for their magazine, Myoujou, which introduced him and his work to the industry. With his exposure with Myoujou, Kitahara became a household name in the literary industry where a larger number of poets and writers became more familiar with his identity.

See page for author [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Seeing that there is potential in his influence, he had founded the Pan no Kai (Society of Pan) Movement together with other writers, artists, and poets. It is a literary circle that lobbied for the innovation of different forms of arts. The circle also opposed Naturalism which was the common trend in art at the time. The literary circle lasted between 1908 and 1912.

Kitahara was also famous for re-introducing Tanka form of poetry but in a new and innovative style. He even founded a new magazine for this new formed called the Tama. In his later years, Kitahara became a figure in poetry writing and he used his popularity to influence new writers to find innovation and style in writing. With this newfound fame as well, he founded several poetry groups and poetry journals. He became a mentor to many of the popular modern writers of today.

Later life and death

It was in the 1930s when Kitahara found out that he was suffering from a severe form of diabetes and needed continuous health care as a treatment. Despite his knowledge of his condition, Kitahara still remained active in the industry. He continued to publish work, mentor apprentices, and even travel for his craft. In 1937, his complications started to worsen that there is a consistent threat of blindness caused by his disease. This did not stop him, however, and he continued to do what he does – even traveling to Yanagawa in 1940 after decades of absence. Sadly, due to the complications he suffered from diabetes, Hakushu died in 2nd of November 1942. His body was laid to rest in the Tama Reien in Tokyo.

About Hakushu’s Literary Works

What is a Tanka Poem?

In Japan, there are many different forms of poetry. One of them is the Tanka or ‘short poem’ in English. It is a traditional form of Japanese poetry and was just revived and innovated in the later years. It consists of five separate lines which follow a syllable pattern of 5-7-5-7-7. Just like other forms of traditional Japanese poetry, the common philosophical themes of the Tanka are nature and life. The most defining characteristic of Tanka poetry is that it is effeminate.

Along with other writers of Myojo, the Tanka form of poetry was reformed by Kitahara. During the earlier times, there were many rituals and ceremonies that come together with the writing of Tanka. It was more often used for solemn events and other important occasions. But the modernization has changed Tanka and its image. It is now a more casual form of poetry which could be used to write a variety of random subjects and topics.

Kitahara, along with other writers, wanted the Tanka form of poetry to be relived once again. This is after many experts declared that tanka poetry was outdated. They were afraid that such a wonderful form of art would be forgotten by future generations. They have observed that writers of the younger generation were more aggressive with their words and were bolder in every way. With the effeminate image of tanka, it would seem that the nature of these younger writers’ works is incompatible with the poetry form. Thus, they have revitalized tanka into its more modern form – whilst combining the trending nature of poetry with the traditional form of tanka.

By 663highland [GFDL (, CC-BY-SA-3.0 ( or CC BY 2.5 (], from Wikimedia Commons

What is the Pan no kai Movement?

The Pan no kai movement, or ‘the Society of Pan’ is a literary circle formed by Kitahira together with other famous poets and writers that opposes and critics naturalism in art, which was trending at the time. The movement was made up not only of writers and poets but actors, painters, and other artists which were active in Tokyo at the time of its foundation. One of its main goals is to create an institution that encourages artists to explore styles which are beyond what is traditional in Japan.

Kitahara founded the society, together with Kinoshita Mokutaro who’s an admirer of Western art. Incidentally, the society’s name was derived from a German periodical entitled Pan. This is why it is also among the goals of their movement to introduce innovative forms of art influenced by the west to Japanese writers and poets.

Popular Works by Kitahara Hakushu

Kitahara Hakushu Poems

Many of his works, just like with other writers and poets, are deeply rooted from his personal experiences – happiness, struggles, and more. Among the major points in his life where he roots his inspirations from including the time when his best friend committed suicide, or when he was imprisoned after having an affair with a married woman, and the like. He also roots his emotions from struggles he had with his family, like the time his parents lost the business, or when he chose writing over their brewery.

One of his most interesting, and scandalous, work would be:

“How sad is

The roadman must take.

The road to prison.

The pebbled road down which

a police wagon creaks. “

This particular tells a story about his experience going to prison for a scandalous and unlawful crime that he committed for the sake of loving. Here he somewhat describes his questions and sadness for being punished for an unbelievable crime. Another one of his famous works tells about his family life and his struggles with his family and how they were originally unaccepting of the career he wanted to pursue. It could be seen in this work:

“I can hear so faintly

My mother and father



Dawn after a snowfall”.

In this work, it could be seen how he described his family discussing (possibly) about his future and how they are quietly talking among themselves while seemingly unaware that a young child was listening. His works are often described as perceptive and sensitive. He knew how to play with words that would allow the readers to create an image in their heads of what he is trying to portray with verses. One of his later works even describes his experiences with the complications of diabetes, which would, later on, take his life:

“We are well into spring

And I have thought of peonies

For several days now

How many years have passed

Since my eyesight failed?”

What makes this particular poet popular in the world is the fact that he could write almost every form of poetry. This includes Choka, waka, shi, and more. He could write folk songs, haiku, and even children’s poetry. He was an artist of a variety of crafts, making him one of the most popular writers in Japan.

Kitahara Hakushu Books

Based on Kitahara Hakushu’s biographies and write-ups from historians, he had written more than 200 books in his lifetime. Some of these are short articles or short stories. Some of these are novels and novelettes. But mostly, these are collections of poetry and folk songs. Among his most famous work was Jashumon (or the Heretics) which he wrote during the early years of his career. This particular book is a collection of his verses which definitely amazed many writers and critics in the industry. According to many historians, this particular work has provided a new basis and criteria that constitutes modern poetry.

By Ogiyoshisan [Public domain], from Wikimedia Commons

Among his most famous articles or essays, include 5 Pairs of Shoes which he wrote together with Tekkan Yosano, Mokutaro Kinoshita, and more. His anthologies or poetry collections are later published as Hakkin no Koma (Platinum top in 1915) Shinju Sho (Selection of Pearls in 1914), Kiri no Hana (Blossoms in 1913). Interestingly enough, he also published books on Zen and simplicity. In particular, he published Suzume no tamago (Sparrow’s Eggs in 1921) and Suibokushu (Collection of Ink Drawings in 1923).

Kitahara Hakushu Children’s Genre

Unlike other writers during his time, he was also devoted to writing nursery rhymes and folk songs during the peak of his career. This is probably one of the reasons why he is such a popular character in Japanese literature. Among his most famous works include Red Bird which is a literary magazine that takes charge of collecting nursery rhymes all over Japan. He also wrote Maza Gusu (literally Mother Goose) which is a collection of English classics translated to Japanese. He also wrote Usagi no denpo (Rabbit Telegrams) which was a collection of his own nursery rhymes.

Works dedicated to Kitahara Hakushu

Kitahara Hakushu: His Life and Poetry (By Margaret Benton Fukasawa)

This particular book is probably one of the works that described the life and works of Kitahara Hakushu in depth and in full detail. It has encompassed his youth, his early career, and his later life. Fukasawa has captured the rare moments in Kitahara’s life and encapsulated it in this piece. It provides a deeper understanding of the mind and thoughts of Kitahara.

Kitahara Hakushu Memorial Park

This place was opened in 1985 as a commemoration of Kitahara’s 100th birthday. It is a place that exhibits his life and works. This memorial park has a small museum dedicated to his early life in Yanagawa and his later life in Tokyo. What is interesting is that the memorial park is constructed next door to Kitahara’s childhood home. Entry to this park costs 400 yen for adults and 350 yen for students. It is located in Okinohata town, Yanagawa city of Fukuoka Prefecture.

Hakushu Festival Water Parade

Kitahara Hakushu is one of the most prominent individuals who was born in Yanagawa which is why he is remembered highly in this city. Not only is there a museum and a park dedicated to commemorating his memory, there is also a festival dedicated to him. Celebrated on his death day of November 2, the Hakushu festival is a three-day event in the city. Visitors ride gondolas in the waterways which are designed with lanterns and lamps and they form a parade through the river (waterway). It is one of the most interesting parades in Japan.