Higuchi Ichiyo (樋口一葉)

Ichiyo HIGUCHI (May 2, 1872 - November 23, 1896) was a Japanese novelist. She was born in Tokyo. Her real name was Natsuko, while in the family register, her name was Natsu.

She studied waka and the classics with Utako NAKAJIMA and novels with Tosui NAKARAI. While her life was difficult, she produced excellent masterpieces including 'Takekurabe' (literally, Seeing Who's Taller), 'Jusanya' (literally, Thirteenth Night), and 'Nigorie' (literally, Muddy Picture), which were highly acclaimed by the literary public. She produced these masterpieces in only a year and a half, but died of lung tuberculosis at the age of 25 (age calculated by the traditional Japanese system; the same applies hereafter). "Ichiyo Nikki" (Ichiyo's Diary) was also highly acclaimed.


She was born on May 2, 1872 in a nagaya (row house) on the premises of the Tokyo prefectural office (present Chiyoda Ward, Tokyo Prefecture) in Uchisaiwaicho, Ichi shoku, Daini daiku, Tokyo-fu (Tokyo Prefecture). Her real name was Natsu HIGUCHI. Her father was Tamenosuke (Noriyoshi) HIGUCHI and her mother was Ayame, the fifth daughter of the Furuya family; Ichiyo was their second daughter. She had an older sister (Fuji) and two older brothers (Sentaro and Toranosuke), and was followed by a younger sister (Kuni).

Her father, Noriyoshi, was a peasant in Nakahagiwara Village, Yamanashi County, Kai Province (present Koshu City, formerly Enzan City). Her grandfather seems to have been familiar with creative writings such as haikai (seventeen-syllable verse) and keisho (the most important documents in Confucianism); it is said that Noriyoshi preferred academics to farming and, as his marriage with Ayame was not permitted, they practically eloped to Edo. Noriyoshi began as a servant in the Bansho shirabesho (a government-run Western studies education and research institute) and, by good fortune, became a jikisan (immediate retainer) of the bakufu (Japanese feudal government headed by a shogun) by buying a kabu (a right to become doshin) of doshin (a low-ranked official) in 1867. After the Meiji Restoration, he became a low-level official and acquired the status of shizoku (a family or person of samurai ancestry), but was dismissed in 1876. After that, he made a living by working as a real estate broker and similar things.

As a young child, Ichiyo was raised in a family of moderate means, and she enjoyed reading from the time she was small; she read kusazoshi (illustrated story books) and it is said that she read through "Nanso Satomi Hakkenden" (a story of eight samurai and a princess of the Satomi family in the Nanso region) by Bakin KYOKUTEI when she was seven years old. In 1877, she entered Hongo Shogakko (Hongo Elementary School), but could not continue because she was too young, so she enrolled in Yoshikawa Gakko (Yoshikawa School), which had been established privately by Tomikichi YOSHIKAWA. In 1881, Toranosuke, her second older brother, set up a branch family and apprenticed himself to an earthenware painter. The family moved to Okachimachi, Shitaya Ward in the same year, so in November, she transferred to Seikai Gakko, a private school, in Ueno Motokuromoncho. She graduated from the fourth grade of the advanced course at the top of her class, but left the school without advancing to the upper grades. It is said that this was because her mother, Ayame, believed that studies were unnecessary for women.

On the other hand, it is said that her father, Noriyoshi, recognized his daughter's literary talent and let her learn waka from his acquaintance, Shigeo WADA. In 1886, she entered the waka school 'Haginoya,' run by Utako NAKAJIMA, through an introduction by Choan TODA, an acquaintance of her father from the days of the Tokugawa shogunate. In this school, besides waka, she studied classic literature and Japanese calligraphy of the Chikage school; dynastic style literature, such as The Tale of Genji, was the motif of Ichiyo's early works. During her time at Haginoya, Ichiyo met her close friends Natsuko ITO and Tatsuko TANABE and gave lectures as an assistant teacher. At that time, Haginoya was a waka school attended by the wives and daughters of the former regime's privileged classes - such as court nobles, former roju (senior councilor of the Tokugawa shogunate), and former domain lords - and of the Meiji government statesmen and military personnel. Although Ichiyo was shizoku, since her family had been farmers, she was treated as a commoner; she became introverted, and senior pupils from the upper social class called her 'monotsutsumi no kimi' (literally, close-natured person). When the first annual New Year's opening ceremony since Ichiyo had entered the school drew near, the topic of conversation among the well-bred young ladies turned to clothing and festive dress, well beyond the range in which the daughter of a low-class government official could compete. However, she quashed her feelings of inferiority and attended the ceremony wearing old clothes that her parents had borrowed.

Ichiyo's family moved frequently; Ichiyo moved twelve times in her life. In 1888, Sentaro, the first son and head of the family, died; Ichiyo inherited the family and became its head, with her father as guardian. In 1889, Noriyoshi's attempt to establish an association of draying contractors failed, and he died in July of the same year.

Ichiyo's engagement to her fiance, Saburo SHIBUYA, was cancelled. It is said this was due to the fact that, although the Higuchi family was left with a large amount of debt after Noriyoshi's death, Saburo HIGUCHI required a large amount of yuinokin (betrothal [gift] money). At the age of 17, Ichiyo was forced to support her family as its head and, in 1890, she lived in the house of the Nakajima family as a Haginoya apprentice. In September of the same year, she moved to Kikuzaka, Hongo (Bunkyo Ward, Tokyo Prefecture) and, along with her mother and younger sister, was obliged to live a hard life doing needlework and araihari (washing, stretching and drying various parts of kimono). It is said, however, that Ichiyo herself tended to disdain labor, and that the needlework and araihari were conducted by her mother and younger sister.

As Ichiyo's nearsightedness made her bad at detail work, she searched for other ways to earn income. When she learned that Kaho TANABE, a pupil in the grades ahead of her, had obtained a large manuscript fee for her novel "Yabu no Uguisu" (literally, Bush Warbler in a Thicket), Ichiyo made up her mind to write novels. At the age of 20, she wrote 'Kareobana Hitomoto' (Withered Grass). She used her pen name 'Ichiyo' for the first time in an essay written that same year. In order to make a living as a novelist, she also studied under Tosui NAKARAI, who reported on novels for the Asahi Shimbun, frequented a library, and published her first novel 'Yamizakura' (literally, Cherry Blossom in the Dark) in the first issue of the magazine 'Musashino,' presided over by Tosui. Afterwards, Tosui continued to take care of Ichiyo, who lived in dire poverty. Gradually, Ichiyo began to have amorous feelings for Tosui. However, a scandal about their relationship spread (although both were single, the customs of the time did not approve of such associations between a man and a woman without the intent to marry), and so she severed relations with Tosui. As if to emphasize the end of her relationship with Tosui, she published "Umoregi" (literally, Buried Wood), an idealistic novel in the style of Rohan KODA; it was completely different from her previous works, and it became the one that made her career.

Ichiyo became acquainted with Toson SHIMAZAKI and Tokuboku HIRATA, both of whom were well-versed in European literature; having come into contact with naturalistic literature, Ichiyo published multiple works including 'Yuki no Hi' (literally, Snowy Day) in 'Bungakukai.'
Her former fiance, Saburo SAKAMOTO (the Saburo SHIBUYA mentioned above) had become a prosecutor; around this time, he proposed to her, but she refused him. In order to relieve her straightened circumstances, she opened a variety shop which sold cleaning implements and penny candy in Shitaya Ryusenji-cho (present Ryusen 1-chome, Taito Ward), but closed the shop in May 1894 and moved to Maruyama Fukuyama-cho, Hongo Ward (present Nishikata 1-chome). Her experience on this occasion later became the subject of 'Takekurabe,' her representative work. She continued writing. In December, she published 'Otsugomori' (literally, New Year's Eve) in 'Bungakukai' and the next year, in 1895, 'Takekurabe' was published in seven installments, beginning in January.
Between the two works, she published 'Yuku Kumo' (literally, Going Cloud), 'Nigorie,' 'Jusanya' and others; the period from 'Otsugomori' to 'Uramurasaki' (literally, Purple on the Verso) is called her 'miraculous 14 months.'

In 1896, when 'Takekurabe' was published in its entirety in 'Bungei Kurabu,' it won great acclaim from Ogai MORI, Rohan KODA and others; Ogai MORI praised Ichiyo very highly in 'Mezamashigusa,' and many members of 'Bungakukai' began to visit her. In May, she published 'Warekara' (literally, From Myself), and 'Tsuzoku Shokanbun' (literally, Popular Epistle) in "Nichiyo Hyakka Zensho" (literally, The Daily Encyclopedia). Ichiyo had advanced tuberculosis and, when she was diagnosed in August, it was judged hopeless. On November 23, she died at the age of 24 years and 8 months. Ichiyo's life as a novelist lasted only a little over 14 months and in 1897, the year following her death, "Ichiyo Zenshu" (literally, The Complete Collection of Ichiyo's Works), and "Kotei Ichiyo Zenshu" (literally, The Revised Complete Collection of Ichiyo's Works) were published.

Her grave was in the annex temple of Tsukiji Hongan-ji Temple, the Higuchi family's ancestral temple, and was later moved to the Wadabori byosho (mausoleum) of Nishihongan-ji Temple in Izumi, Suginami Ward. Her homyo (posthumous Buddhist name) in Jodo Shinshu sect (the True Pure Land Sect of Buddhism) is Choshoin Shaku Myoyo. Literary materials including handwritten manuscripts and other related materials are kept by the Museum of Modern Japanese Literature and Yamanashi Kenritsu Bungakukan (literally, Yamanashi Prefectural Museum of Literature). Since November 2004, her portrait has been used on the Bank of Japan's five thousand yen note.

A Comment on the Novelist

She was the first professional female novelist since the beginning of the Meiji period. In her life of 24 years, and in particular during the one year and two months immediately before her death, she left works which have been regarded highly in the history of modern Japanese literature.

Even as her family declined, she continued to take pride in her descent from shizoku; however, some believe that this was the cause of her failure in business. Because she lived in great poverty, she sometimes made up her mind to stop writing, but her life in the neighborhood of Yoshiwara (Tokyo Prefecture), where she opened a variety shop, influenced the style of her works. She used Saikaku IHARA's gazoku-setchu style (a mixture of elegant and common language) to describe the behavior of women in the Meiji period and the resulting sorrow. In "Takekurabe," she gave an emotion-filled description of the appearance and behavior of adolescent boys and girls against the backdrop of Daionjimae near Yoshiwara. Her diary also has high literary value.

Pen name

"Ichiyo" was her pen name, while her name on the family register was Natsu. She was also called Natsu (written in hiragana) and Natsuko. Although she is known as "Ichiyo HIGUCHI," she used different pen names for different purposes: Natsuko for poetry, Ichiyo (usually without a family name) for novels and Numako ASAKANO and Shikako KASUGANO for novels for newspapers. Her published works may be classified as two groups, one associated with her real name, "Natsuko HIGUCHI" and the other associated with her pen name, "Ichiyo."
There is only one incident of the use of a mixed pen name, "Ichiyo HIGUCHI;" in another case, someone else added the family name to the original signature, "Ichiyo," on an unfinished manuscript of 'Takekurabe.'
During the first half of the Meiji period, due to opposition toward family or change in family name, female novelists showed this tendency to avoid using family names in their signatures and to use pen names in fictitious works; Ichiyo is believed to have been very conscious of her position as female head of her family. The pen name, Ichiyo, is a pun on the fact that she was force to suffer from poverty (having no oashi [money]), and on the anecdote of Darma, who made a voyage to China on a boat made of a leaf (ichiyo) of reed (in Japanese, "ashi") and later lost his hands and legs (in Japanese, "Ashi").

The Five Thousand Yen Note

The portrait of Ichiyo was adopted for the Bank of Japan's newly designed five thousand yen note on November 1, 2004, replacing one of Inazo NITOBE. She is the second lady to have her portrait used on a banknote, after the Empress Jingu (the one-yen note of the Empire of Japan was issued starting in 1881; the Empress's portrait was pure fiction). A picture of Lady Murasaki Shikibu is printed on the back of the two thousand yen note which was issued beginning in 2000, but this picture is not treated as a portrait, and the 2,000 yen note is considered to have no portrait. Therefore, Ichiyo is the first woman to have her photograph-based portrait used on a banknote in Japan. Because there were fewer of the whiskers and wrinkles usually used in counterfeiting prevention, it took time to prepare the blocks; therefore its production was delayed as compared to Hideyo NOGUCHI's one thousand yen note and Yukichi FUKUZAWA's ten thousand yen note.

Some have criticized the decision as unconsidered, made simply because the creators wanted to use a woman's portrait. Around the time the banknote with a portrait of Shotoku Taishi (Prince Shotoku) was discontinued (1983), when those involved in designing the new banknotes were considering the use of a woman's portrait, Seishonagon, Lady Murasaki Shikibu, Ichiyo HIGUCHI and Akiko YOSANO (in birth order) were proposed as candidates, but none of them was adopted at the time.

Ironically, although she was adopted for rather expensive banknote, Ichiyo was continually pressed for money throughout her short life. However, because some of the causes for Ichiyo's financial troubles can be attributed to the internal affairs of Ichiyo herself - for example, the Higuchi family's annulment of the engagement that her father had recommended after her father's death (parenthetically, the fiance later became the governor of Akita and Yamanashi prefectures), Ichiyo's disdain for labor, and her worshipful feelings towards shizoku and kazoku (the peerage) - some think it one-sided to consider Ichiyo a talented but financially troubled saint. When poor, the Higuchi family borrowed money from various sources, but (possibly due to their pride as shizoku) they lent what little money they had to relatives and social connections whose circumstances were even more straitened.

Other comments
According to "Soseki no Omoide" (literally, Memories of Soseki) by Kyoko NATSUME, Soseki NATSUME's wife, Soseki's father, Kohei Naokatsu, was a superior of Ichiyo's father, Noriyoshi, when the latter worked as an official of Tokyo Prefecture. Because of this connection, Ichiyo's marriage to Soseki's oldest brother Daisuke (Taichi) was proposed; however, as Noriyoshi often asked Naokatsu for loans and Naokatsu did not think much of this, he refused the proposal, saying, "He has asked me for loans so often, simply because we are a superior and a subordinate, that I cannot know what he will ask if we become relatives."


Yamizakura (March 1892, 'Musashino')
Tamakeyaki (literally, Ball-like Zelkova) (March 1892, 'Musashino')
Samidare (literally, Early Summer Rain) (July 1892, 'Musashino')
Kyozukue (literally, Sutra Desk) (September 1892, 'Koyo Shinpo')
Umoregi (November 1892, 'Miyako no Hana')
Akatsuki Zukiyo (literally, Moonlit Dawn) (February 1893, 'Miyako no Hana')
Yuki no Hi (March 1893, 'Bungakukai')
Koto no Ne (literally, The Sound of the Koto [Japanese harp]) (December 1893, 'Bungakukai')
Yamiyo (literally, Moonless Night) (July 1894, 'Bungakukai')
Otsugomori (December 1894, 'Bungakukai')
Takekurabe (January 1895 - January 1896, 'Bungakukai')
Nokimoru Tsuki (literally, Moonlight Through the Eaves) (April 1895, 'Mainichi Shimbun')
Yuku Kumo (May 1895, 'Taiyo')
Utsusemi (literally, This Mortal Coil) (August 27 - 31, 1895, 'Yomiuri Shimbun')
Nigorie (September 1895, 'Bungei Kurabu')
Ame no Yoru (literally, Rainy Night) (September 1895, 'Yomiuri Shimbun')
Tsuki no Yoru (literally, Moonlit Night) (September 1895, 'Yomiuri Shimbun')
Jusanya (novel) (literally, Thirteenth Night) (December 1895, 'Bungei Kurabu')
Wakaremichi (Fork in the Road) (1896, 'Kokumin no Tomo')
Warekara (May 1896, 'Bungei Kurabu')

Karigane (literally, Wild Goose) (October 1895, 'Yomiuri Shimbun')
Mushi no Ne (literally, The Sound of Insects) (October 1895, 'Yomiuri Shimbun')
Akiawase (May 1896, 'Urawakaso')
Hototogisu (literally, Little Cuckoo) (July 1896, 'Bungei Kurabu')