Ichiyō Higuchi

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Natsu Higuchi (樋口 奈津, Higuchi Natsu, May 2, 1872 – November 23, 1896), known by her pen name Ichiyō Higuchi (樋口 一葉, Higuchi Ichiyō), also known as Natsuko Higuchi (樋口 夏子, Higuchi Natsuko), was a Japanese writer from the Meiji Period. Specializing in short stories, she was Japan's first prominent woman writer of modern literature, and also an extensive diarist.

Ichiyō Higuchi
Higuchi Ichiyou.png
Native name
樋口 一葉
BornNatsuko Higuchi
(1872-05-02)May 2, 1872
Uchisaiwaichō, Tokyo, Japan
DiedNovember 23, 1896(1896-11-23) (aged 24)
Tokyo, Japan
Resting placeYanaka Cemetery, Tokyo, Japan
Pen nameIchiyō Higuchi

Early lifeEdit

Natsuko Higuchi was born in Chiyoda-ku, Tokyo, on May 2, 1872, the youngest daughter of Noriyoshi Higuchi, a samurai from the nearby Yamanashi Prefecture.[1][2] Her parents were from a peasant community, but her father had managed to procure samurai status in 1867. Despite only enjoying the position for a short time before the samurai caste was abolished with the Meiji Restoration, growing up in a samurai household was a formative experience for her.[3]

In 1886, she began studying waka poetry at one of the best of the poetic conservatories, the Haginoya, and became a student of Nakajima Utako.[1] Here she received weekly poetry lessons and lectures on Japanese literature. There were also monthly poetry competitions in which all students, past and present, were invited to participate. Poetry taught at this school was that of the conservative court poets of the Heian period.[4] She always felt awkward among the other students, the great majority of whom came from the upper-class. It did not help that she was nearsighted, modest, small, and with thin hair.[5]

Her compulsion to write became evident by 1891 when she began to keep a diary in earnest. It would become hundreds of pages long, covering the five years left in her life. With her feelings of social inferiority, her timidity, and the increasing poverty of her family, her diary was the place where she could assert herself. Her journals were also a place for her to assert objectivity and included her views on literary art as well as others' views on her work.[6]

Efforts to become a writerEdit

In 1889, her father died and she was named as head of the family, an unusual position at the time. Finances were very tight and she, her mother, and younger sister made ends meet by doing needlework, washing, and other jobs.[7] In 1892, after seeing the success of a classmate, Miyake Kaho, who had written a novel, Yabu no uguisu (lit. "Bush warbler in the grove"), Higuchi decided to become a novelist to support her family.[6]

Her initial efforts at writing fiction were in the form of a short story. In 1891 she met her future advisor who would help, she assumed, this poet-turned-fiction-writer and connect her with editors: Tosui Nakarai. She fell in love with him right away, not knowing that, at 31, he had a reputation as a womanizer. Nor did she realize that he wrote popular literature which aimed to please the general public and in no way wished to be associated with serious literature. Her mentor did not return her passionate, if discreet, love for him, and instead treated her as a younger sister. This failed relationship would become a recurrent theme in Higuchi's fiction.[8]

Eventually, she got the break she was so eager for: her first stories were published in a minor newspaper under her pen name, Ichiyō Higuchi. The stories from this first period (1892–1894) suffered from the excessive influence of Heian poetry.[9] Higuchi felt compelled to demonstrate her classical literary training. The plots were thin, there was little development of character and they were loaded down by excessive sentiment, especially when compared to what she was writing concurrently in her diary. But she was developing rapidly. Several of her trademark themes appear; for example, the triangular relationship among a lonely, beautiful, young woman who has lost her parents, a handsome man who has abandoned her (and remains in the background), and a lonely and desperate ragamuffin who falls in love with her. Another theme Higuchi repeated was the ambition and cruelty of the Meiji middle class.[10]

The story Umoregi (lit. "In Obscurity") signaled Higuchi's arrival as a professional writer. It was published in the prestigious journal Miyako no Hana in 1892,[11] only nine months after she had started writing in earnest. Her work was noticed and she was recognized as a promising new author.[12]

Last yearsEdit

Monument of Ichiyō Higuchi in her hometown at the Jiunji or Jiun-ji Temple of Koshu
Higuchi on the 5,000 yen bill, established on November 1, 2004.

In 1893, Higuchi, her mother and her sister abandoned their middle-class house and, with a grim determination to survive, moved to a poor neighborhood where they opened a stationery store that before long failed. Their new dwelling was a five-minute walk from Tokyo's ill-famed red-light district, Yoshiwara. Her experience living in this neighborhood would provide material for several of her later stories,[13] especially Takekurabe, (lit. "Comparing heights"; Child's Play in the Robert Lyons Danly translation; also called Growing Up in the Edward Seidensticker translation).[14]

The stories of her mature period (1894–1896) were not only marked by her experience living near the red-light district and greater concern over the plight of women,[15] but also by the influence of Ihara Saikaku, a 17th-century writer, whose stories she had recently discovered. His distinctiveness lay in great part in his acceptance of low-life characters as worthwhile literary subjects.[13] What Higuchi added was a special awareness of suffering and sensitivity. To this period belong Ōtsugomori (On the Last Day of the Year), Nigorie (Troubled Waters), Wakare-Michi (Separate Ways), Jūsan'ya (The Thirteenth Night) and Takekurabe. The last two are considered her best work.[citation needed]

With these last stories, her fame spread throughout the Tokyo literary establishment. She was commended for her traditional style, and was called "the last woman of the old Meiji" in reflection of her evocation of the past.[16] In her modest home, she was visited by other writers, students of poetry, admirers, the curious, critics, and editors requesting her collaboration. Due to constant interruptions and frequent headaches, Higuchi stopped writing. As her father and one of her brothers had before her, she contracted tuberculosis.[17] She died on November 23, 1896 at the age of 24.[18] She was buried in Tsukiji Hongan-ji Wadabori Cemetery in Suginami, Tokyo.


Higuchi's likeness adorns the Japanese 5000 yen banknote as of fall 2004, becoming the third woman to appear on a Japanese banknote, after Empress Jingū in 1881 and Murasaki Shikibu in 2000.

Her stories Ōtsugomori, Nigorie, Jūsan'ya and Takekurabe have been repeatedly adapted for film and television. Some stories have also been translated from classical Japanese language, in which all of Higuchi's works are written,[19] into modern Japanese, like Hiromi Itō's translation of Nigorie[20][21] or Fumiko Enchi's translation of Takekurabe.[22]

Selected worksEdit

At the time of her death, Higuchi left behind 21 short stories, nearly 4,000 poems (which are regarded being of lesser quality than her prose), numerous essays and a multivolume diary.[23] The year refers to the date of first publication.[24]

Short storiesEdit

  • 1892: Yamizakura (闇桜, Flowers at Dusk)
  • 1892: Wakarejimo (別れ霜)
  • 1892: Tamadasuki (玉襷)
  • 1892: Samidare (五月雨)
  • 1892: Kyōtsukue (経づくえ)
  • 1892: Umoregi (うもれ木)
  • 1893: Aketsukiyo (暁月夜)
  • 1893: Yuki no hi (雪の日, A Snowy Day)
  • 1893: Koto no ne (琴の音, The Sound of the Koto)
  • 1894: Hanagomorie (花ごもり)
  • 1894: Yamiyo (やみ夜, Encounters on a Dark Night)
  • 1894: Ōtsugomori (大つごもり, On the Last Day of the Year or The Last Day of the Year)
  • 1895: Takekurabe (たけくらべ, Child's Play, Growing Up, They Compare Heights or Teenagers Vying for Tops)
  • 1895: Noki moru tsuki (軒もる月)
  • 1895: Yukugumo (ゆく雲)
  • 1895: Utsusemi (うつせみ)
  • 1895: Nigorie (にごりえ, Troubled Waters, Muddy Water or In the Gutter)
  • 1895: Jūsan'ya (十三夜, The Thirteenth Night)
  • 1896: Kono ko (この子)
  • 1896: Wakare-michi (わかれ道, Separate Ways or The Parting of the Ways)
  • 1896: Ware-kara (われから)


  1. ^ a b Comité franco-japonais de Tokio (January 1936). France-Japon : Bulletin mensuel d'information (in French). p. 40.
  2. ^ Rubin 2001, p. 122.
  3. ^ Ortabasi & Copeland 2006, p. 129.
  4. ^ Danly 1981, p. 15.
  5. ^ Danly 1980, p. 29.
  6. ^ a b Tanaka 2000, p. 64.
  7. ^ Ortabasi & Copeland 2006, p. 130.
  8. ^ Danly 1980, p. 50.
  9. ^ Danly 1981, p. 60.
  10. ^ Danly 1981, p. 82.
  11. ^ Danly 1981, p. 75.
  12. ^ Tanaka 2000, p. 62.
  13. ^ a b Danly 1981, p. 109.
  14. ^ Keene 1956, p. 70.
  15. ^ Winston 2004, p. 6.
  16. ^ Tanaka 2000, p. 63.
  17. ^ Danly 1981, p. 161.
  18. ^ Ortabasi & Copeland 2006, p. 131.
  19. ^ Van Compernolle, Timothy J. (1996). The Uses of Memory: The Critique of Modernity in the Fiction of Higuchi Ichiyō. Cambridge (MA) and London: Harvard University Press. p. 6. ISBN 978-0-674-02272-0.
  20. ^ Kosaka, Kris (21 July 2018). "Fiercely intelligent and unstoppably prolific, Hiromi Ito is a modern literary provocateur". Japan Times. Retrieved 22 June 2021.
  21. ^ Itō, Hiromi (1996). にごり江 現代語訳 • 樋口一葉 (Nigorie: Modern language translation • Higuchi Ichiyō). Tokyo: Kawadeshobo Shinsha. ISBN 978-4-309-40732-6.
  22. ^ Higuchi, Ichiyō; Ōgai, Mori (2009). たけくらべ・山椒大夫 (Nigorie, Sanshō Dayū). Translated by Enchi, Fumiko; Teiichi, Hirai. Tokyo: Kodansha. ISBN 978-4-06-282651-8.
  23. ^ Danly 1981, pp. vii–viii.
  24. ^ Danly 1981, pp. 333–334.
  • Danly, Robert Lyons (1980). A Study of Higuchi Ichiyō (PhD). Yale University. OCLC 753731293.
  • Danly, Robert Lyons (1981). In the Shade of Spring Leaves: The Life and Writings of Higuchi Ichiyō. New Haven: Yale University Press. ISBN 978-0-30002-614-6.
  • Keene, Donald (1956). Modern Japanese Literature. New York: Grove Press. ISBN 978-0-80215-095-0.
  • Ortabasi, Melek; Copeland, Rebecca L. (2006). The Modern Murasaki: Writing by Women of Meiji Japan. New York: Columbia University Press. ISBN 978-0-23113-775-1.
  • Rubin, Jay (2001). Modern Japanese Writers. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons. ISBN 978-0-68480-598-6.
  • Tanaka, Yukiko (2000). Women Writers of Meiji and Taishō Japan: Their Lives, Works and Critical Reception, 1868–1926. Jefferson: McFarland. ISBN 978-0-78640-852-8.
  • Winston, Leslie (2004). "Female Subject, Interrupted in Higuchi Ichiyō's 'The Thirteenth Night". Japanese Language and Literature. 38 (1): 1–23. doi:10.2307/4141270. JSTOR 4141270.

Further readingEdit

External linksEdit