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The history of Japanese literature in Seattle after the Seattle Tanka Club's 100th anniversary



The Seattle Tanka Society was founded in 1919 as the Kayo-kai, led by Tanaka Ashijo, a native of Nishinomiya City, Hyogo Prefecture. Seattle was known as a "cultural immigrant town" due to the literary influence of Japanese immigrants. In 1906, the first literary group, the Shako-kai (haiku), was formed, and other groups such as the Bungaku-kai (literature, founded in 1909) and the Coast-kai (tanka, founded in 1910) were soon formed. The Kayo-kai appears to have been one of the groups that was founded in this way.

Young people who came to America with dreams in mind sought spiritual nourishment in literature as they were exposed to the harsh realities of immigrant life. Young people in similar circumstances would gather in someone's boarding house or a Japanese restaurant to discuss literature. Eventually, Japanese-language newspapers such as North American Current Affairs (the precursor to our sister paper, North American Post) began publishing works, and these gatherings took the form of literary societies. Ito Kazuo, who later interviewed these young literary people of the time, wrote the following in his book, Continued: North American Centennial Cherry Blossoms:

"While digging potatoes on the Yakima Plains or washing dishes in restaurants, they felt dissatisfied and would read Japanese literary magazines and become absorbed in the popular naturalist literary movement of the time, advocated by such authors as Tanaka Katai and Iwano Homei, and they created works through self-study, so to speak. Some were devoted to Yosano Akiko, others to Ishikawa Takuboku, others to Yoshii Isamu, Wakayama Bokusui, and Kitahara Hakushu."

Tanaka's works, which Ito included in the book, also contain poems expressing the anxiety and expectation of traveling to a foreign land, the hardships of daily work, and nostalgia for one's home country and hometown.

A boat trip on the rough waves of the North Pacific Ocean. Standing on the deck, soaked by the spray
Tanaka Ashijo

The Kayo-kai became more and more active as it was joined not only by first-generation poets but also by second-generation poets who had been educated in Japan and returned to Seattle, and they also interacted with Japanese poets.

"Members of the Kayo-kai included Takada Ichitaro, who later joined the Mainichi Newspapers, Akakabe Shiro, who was then an employee of Nippon Yusen and an Araragi associate, and fellow Araragi associates Kanbe Takako, Takeda Tsuji, and Nakamura Fushinko (Ikuko), who are now in Los Angeles. I also joined this group, and in 1937, with the help of Arima Sumiyoshi, president of North American Jiji, and Koike Banto and Kaneko Shinzo, haiku poets, the "Murasaki-kai" (Purple Society) was formed, which was made up of women only. In addition to Mihara Katsuno and Nakamura Ikuko, who are now deceased, I, Nakagawa Sueko, Nakamura Masuko, and Kushi Harue participated." (Itoi Nogiku's recollections from "North American Centennial Cherry Blossoms" by Ito Kazuo)

The Kayo-kai continued until just before the outbreak of war between Japan and the United States, and there is a record of a party held by the Murasaki-no-kai, the Kayo-kai, and senryu poets at Tamakoken in Japantown to commemorate the 2,600th anniversary of Emperor Jimmu's accession to the throne in November 1940, called the "Imperial Festival Celebration Party." Tanaka Ikuko, who ran a lunch counter in Pioneer Square with her husband Manabuichi, left a song expressing her feelings at the time when war was about to break out between Japan and the United States.

If Japan and the US don't go to war, I will be at peace. I am also a customer who favors Japan.
Ikuko Tanaka

Even after the Pacific War broke out and people began living in internment camps, the tanka club's activities continued.

"During the war, in order to bring some spice to the monotony of camp life in Minedoka Camp, the group was founded in October 1942 with the permission of the Western Defense Command, and twenty members were recruited. The group was renamed the Minedoka Tanka Club. After leaders Tanaka Ashiki and Kaneko Shinzo were transferred to the eastern camp, Nakamura Ikuko played a central role in maintaining the group, and they wrote poems about the hardships of camp life." (Hanagatami, Seattle Tanka Club Profile)

At the Minedoka internment camp, a Japanese-language newspaper, the Minedoka Irrigator, was published, which featured tanka, haiku, and senryu poems. The poetry magazine, Takahara, published by mimeograph at the Tule Lake internment camp, accepted submissions from the Minedoka Tanka Club and other internment camps, and it seems that there was some interaction between the internment camps through poetry. Nakamura Ikuko died of an illness in the camp in September 1942. When Takahara published the "Nakamura Ikuko Memorial Issue" in May 1945, memorial songs were sent in from all over the United States.

For the sign of those who are chased and live in the wilderness, let us carve a song into the lives of those who are alive.
Tanaka Ashijo

After the war ended, the Minezuka Tanka Club was suspended, but when about half of the members returned to Seattle, it was renamed the Seattle Tanka Club and resumed in 1946. Genji Mihara, president of the Japanese American Association and a member of the Tanka Club, was selected to participate in the Imperial Court Poetry Competition in 1958, as was Shizue Iwatsuki in 1974.

Currently, the Seattle Tanka Club is headed by Toshiko Hoashi, who meets on the second Monday of every month at Kawabe Memorial House and continues to be active in publishing Tanka poems in the North American Post. Originally from Kobe, Hoashi moved to Seattle in 1975 at age 45 and joined the Seattle Tanka Club around 35 years ago when she was raising her children. She is the only current member who can talk about the faces of the founding members, and when Hanagata was published, she compiled a brief history of the group as told by Nomura Takasei, who was 100 years old at the time. She also once drove Nakamura Masuko, a founding member of the Murasaki no Kai who was still alive when she joined, to and from regular meetings.

"Tanka is like a crystallization of words. Each word is connected and resonates with each other, enhancing the content of the poem and creating a melody that suits the content. The charm of tanka is that by composing such poems, you can experience the beauty of the Japanese language," says Hoashi. In 2020, when he turns 90, he plans to hand over his position as representative to the next generation, saying, "I want the next generation to carry on the history of the Tanka Association, which has lasted for 100 years."

*This article is reprinted from the North American Newspaper (January 3, 2020).

© 2020 Misa Murohashi / North American Post

literature poetry Seattle Seattle Tanka Society tanka United States Washington
About the Author

Misa Murohashi is General Manager of North American Post Publishing and Editor-in-Chief of The North American Post. Since graduating from Sophia University, Tokyo, with a BA in Business Administration, Misa has been in the content publishing industry for over twenty years. She later earned a master’s degree in Urban Planning from the University of Washington, Seattle, where she studied community development in Seattle’s International District for her thesis. The research taught her Japanese American history, and her interests in it brought her to her current position in 2017.

Updated October 2021

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