1 Early life 2 Efforts to become a writer 3 Her last years 4 Footnotes 5 Bibliography 6 Further reading 7 External links
She was born in Tokyo, with the name Natsuko Higuchi. Her parents had
come to the capital from a farming community in a nearby province. Her
father struggled to buy a lower-rank samurai position, then lost it,
worked for the municipal government, but was let go, and then invested
all the family's savings in a business venture which failed.
Not long before this final debacle, Higuchi, 14 years old, began
studying classical poetry at one of the best of the poetic
conservatories, the Haginoya. 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. 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
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. Often the
entries are written as if they were part of a novel. Of considerable
quality and interest, it has not been published in English.
Efforts to become a writer
She, her mother, and younger sister made ends meet by doing
needlework, washing, and other jobs. In 1892, after seeing the success
of a classmate, Kaho Tanabe, who wrote a novel, Higuchi decided to
become a novelist to support her family.
Nevertheless, her initial efforts at writing fiction were in the form
of a short story, a form to which she would remain true. 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.
Eventually, she got the break she was so eager for: her first stories
were published in a minor newspaper under her pen name, Ichiyo
Higuchi. The stories from this first period (1892–94) suffered from
the excessive influence of Heian poetry. 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.
The story "Umoregi" ("In Obscurity") signaled Higuchi's arrival as a
professional writer. It was published in the prestigious journal
Miyako no Hana in 1892, only nine months after she had started
writing in earnest. Her work was noticed and she was recognized as a
promising new author.
Her last years
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, the Yoshiwara. Her experience living in
this neighborhood would provide material for several of her later
stories, especially "Takekurabe", (literally, "Comparing heights";
"Child's Play" in the Robert Lyons Danly translation; also called
"Growing Up" in the Edward Seidensticker translation.)
The stories of her mature period (1894–96) were not only marked by
her experience living near the red-light district and greater concern
over the plight of women, 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. 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" ("Child's Play"). The last
two are considered her best work.
With these last stories her fame spread throughout the
^ Danly, Robert Lyons (1981). In the Shade of Spring Leaves. New York: W.W. Norton & Co. p. 15. ^ Kaho Tanabe (田辺花圃, Tanabe Kaho, 1868–1943) who wrote Yabu no uguisu ("Songbirds in the grove", 1888). ^ Danley. p.50. ^ Danley. p.60. ^ Danley. p.82. ^ Danley. p.82. ^ Danley. p.75. ^ Danley. p.109. ^ Keene, Donald. (1956) Modern Japanese Literature. New York: Grove Press. p.70. ^ Danly. p.109. ^ Danly. p.161. ^ Danly. p.vii.
Robert Lyons Danly. A study of Higuchi Ichiyō. Yale University, 1980. Robert Lyons Danly. In the Shade of Spring Leaves: The Life and Writings of Higuchi Ichiyō. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1981. Yukiko Tanaka. Women writers of Meiji and Taishō Japan: their lives, works and critical reception, 1868–1926. McFarland, 2000.
Further reading English:
Compernolle, Timothy J. Van. "Happiness Foreclosed: Sentimentalism, the Suffering Heroine, and Social Critique in Higuchi Ichiyō's 'Jūsan'ya.'" Journal of Japanese Studies 30, no. 2 (2004): p. 353–381. Available at JSTOR.
Ikuta, Hanayo. Ichiyō to Shigure—denki: Higuchi Ichiyō/Hasegawa Shigure denki sōsho. Tokyo: Ōzorasha, 1992.
E-texts of Higuchi Ichiyō's works at
Novels portal Japan portal
WorldCat Identities VIAF: 95282437 LCCN: n81017799 ISNI: 0000 0001 0927 345X GND: 118953818 SUDOC: 028422473 BNF: cb12026085h (data) NLA: 35770560 NDL: 00010313 NKC: xx0035