Obituary: Ono Tozaburo

As every British schoolboy should know, from Shelley's The Masque of Anarchy, written in 1819 and inspired by the Peterloo massacre, poetry and anarchism make good bed- fellows. One of the most distinguished representatives of this marriage was the Japanese anarchist poet Ono Tozaburo, whose life was one of perpetual poetic protest and revolutionary insubordination, attacking both traditional Japanese ways of life and traditional Japanese poetry, chiefly in the waka or tanka form.

It may surprise some to learn that there is a strong natural anarchist tendency in Oriental culture, but certain elements of anarchism can be found in Lao Tzu, and in the 18th-century Japanese thinker Ando Shoeki. During the Meiji Period (1868-1912), the theories of Prince Kropotkin and Mikhail Bakunin were introduced into Japan, along with socialist and communist philosophies. Several Japanese groups were formed, both violent and non-violent Christian. One of my ancestors, Thomas Kirkup, in his History of Socialism (1892), writes that the Tolstoyan anarchist Dr Kotoku, together with his wife and 10 followers, was executed after a secret trial in 1911:

It is believed there was an actual bomb . . . but no evidence was forthcoming to justify such savage and wholesale punishments. The whole episode appears to be a blot on the fair fame of Japanese civilisation, which must be regretted by the many admirers of that interesting nation.

Ono Tozaburo was born in Osaka, an industrial city which at the beginning of the century was in the throes of a violent economic and industrial upheaval, with accompanying social unrest and political agitation. The future anarchist poet of industrial landscapes of total desolation attended middle school, and fortunately part of his early childhood was passed in the lovely temple city of Nara.

In 1920 he made his way to Tokyo and entered the university. But, like so many of Japan's modern poets and artists, he dropped out after only eight months. There is something in the Japanese artistic temperament that does not take to further education, a rebellious spirit, a natural anarchy found in many modern works in conflict with accepted notions.

Tozaburo, as if instinctively, gravitated towards the anarchist-socialist groups of the time, fully aware of the dangers lying in wait for those "nails that refuse to be hammered down" at the hands of the authorities. In 1923, he became a contributor to the newly founded Aka to Kuro ("Red and Black") anarchist magazine. Like most publications of its kind, it was suppressed, and ceased publication in 1924. To take its place, Tozaburo founded his own Dadaist-anarchist journal Dam-Dam which predictably had only one issue.

The Dada movement in poetry and art was becoming popular in Japan, but no publisher could be persuaded to issue Tozaburo's first collection of poems, Hanbun Hiraita Mado ("A Half-Opened Window"), so he published it at his own expense in 1926. He also took the risk of issuing another anarchist magazine, Dando ("Trajectory") which ran for a whole year (1930-31), in association with his fellow anarchist poet Kiyoshi Akiyama.

In 1933 he returned to Osaka. The industrial landscapes of Osaka and Osaka Bay form the backgrounds of many of his later poems. Here in the inter-war period he became the acknowledged leader and teacher of younger poets. He gradually shifted to the Marxist-realist position in his Furuki Sekai no ue ni ("Above the Old World", 1934) and Osaka (1939). He also took up literary criticism with a socialist tendency, with which he was able to exert a major influence. He published successive essays in the magazine Bunka Soshiki ("Organisation of Culture", 1940-43) which were collected in Shiron ("Essays on Poetry", 1947). He sought to reject musical quality and replace tanka-type lyricism by a visionary verse founded on a critical and rational spirit. His post-Pacific War collections include Daika-hen ("The Ocean's Edge", 1947), Hi-nomu Keyaki ("Fire-Swallowing Zelkova", 1952), Juyu Fuji ("Heavy Oil Fuji", 1956) and Ikyo ("Strange Land", 1966).

Sadly, in later years, with the decline of Japanese interest in literature, he became somewhat neglected. He appears in a very few anthologies of modern Japanese poetry, and is missing from our own Penguin Book of Japanese Verse - in so many ways an unsatisfactory compilation. However, he is well represented in my own recently published anthology Burning Giraffes (University of Salzburg Press). Beside is an example of one of my translations of his poems, from Daikai-hen (1947).

Ono Tozaburo, poet and anarchist: born Osaka, Japan 27 July 1903; died Osaka 10 October 1996.

Tomorrow

The old reeds are dead

And the new shoots are few.

Sandpipers are flocking like clouds

across the river mouth.

Wild gales are sweeping the sand-

banks where

The spring tides churn up dirt.

In this deserted and disordered

landscape

I listen to the wind howling over the

wastes of heavy industry.

- Surely something must have

gone wrong.

Already it is worse than anything

I can imagine.

What I see before me is a ghastly

landscape of waste lands

everywhere.

Without sunlight without sound,

The indelible shadows of an

horizon buried

In iron, nickel, rubber, nitrogen,

magnesium.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs People

Ashdown Group: HR Manager - West London - £50,000

£40000 - £50000 per annum + bonus: Ashdown Group: HR Manager - West London - £...

Recruitment Genius: Recruitment & HR Administrator

£17000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Guru Careers: HR Manager / HR Business Partner

£55 - 65k (DOE) + Benefits: Guru Careers: A HR Manager / HR Business Partner i...

Recruitment Genius: Senior HR Assistant

£23000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The Company's vision is to be t...

Day In a Page

The Greek referendum exposes a gaping hole at the heart of the European Union – its distinct lack of any genuine popular legitimacy

Gaping hole at the heart of the European Union

Treatment of Greece has shown up a lack of genuine legitimacy
Number of young homeless in Britain 'more than three times the official figures'

'Everything changed when I went to the hostel'

Number of young homeless people in Britain is 'more than three times the official figures'
Compton Cricket Club

Compton Cricket Club

Portraits of LA cricketers from notorious suburb to be displayed in London
London now the global money-laundering centre for the drug trade, says crime expert

Wlecome to London, drug money-laundering centre for the world

'Mexico is its heart and London is its head'
The Buddhist temple minutes from Centre Court that helps a winner keep on winning

The Buddhist temple minutes from Centre Court

It helps a winner keep on winning
Is this the future of flying: battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks?

Is this the future of flying?

Battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks
Isis are barbarians – but the Caliphate is a dream at the heart of all Muslim traditions

Isis are barbarians

but the Caliphate is an ancient Muslim ideal
The Brink's-Mat curse strikes again: three tons of stolen gold that brought only grief

Curse of Brink's Mat strikes again

Death of John 'Goldfinger' Palmer the latest killing related to 1983 heist
Greece debt crisis: 'The ministers talk to us about miracles' – why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum

'The ministers talk to us about miracles'

Why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum
Call of the wild: How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate

Call of the wild

How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate
Greece debt crisis: What happened to democracy when it’s a case of 'Vote Yes or else'?

'The economic collapse has happened. What is at risk now is democracy...'

If it doesn’t work in Europe, how is it supposed to work in India or the Middle East, asks Robert Fisk
The science of swearing: What lies behind the use of four-letter words?

The science of swearing

What lies behind the use of four-letter words?
The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won't have him back

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won’t have him back
Africa on the menu: Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the continent

Africa on the menu

Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the hot new continent
Donna Karan is stepping down after 30 years - so who will fill the DKNY creator's boots?

Who will fill Donna Karan's boots?

The designer is stepping down as Chief Designer of DKNY after 30 years. Alexander Fury looks back at the career of 'America's Chanel'