Throughout history, Yamguchi Prefecture has produced notable political figures who played a key role in the creation of Japan as a modern nation-state, however, on a lesser known scale, Yamaguchi has also been home to some of the most insightful literary minds in Japan. Until 1982, when a book of her works was first published, Misuzu Kaneko’s poems and songs for children were little known within Japan. Today, Misuzu Kaneko’s poems are known for their graceful prose conveyed in a simplicity that not only attracts the children for whom they are written, but adults who appreciate the candor with which she addresses the deeper issues and questions of life. Her works are included in the textbooks of elementary schools in Japan, and in 2003, a memorial museum was opened in her name in Nagato to celebrate what would have been her 100th birthday. Created within the refurbished house of her parents in Nagato, the museum is dedicated to showcasing all 512 poems she left behind, and visitors are able to walk among the rooms and yard where her most famous works were composed.
Misuzu Kaneko was born Teru Kaneko in 1903 in the small port city of Senzaki--what is known as Nagato City today, and until her death at the age of 26, composed a total of 512 poems. When her father passed away at the age of three, her brother was sent to live with her mother’s sister. At school, Misuzu was known as an excellent student and was well liked by those around her. People often commented on her gentle nature and her eternally cheerful disposition which people were naturally drawn to.
At the age of 20, she began writing under the pen name of Misuzu and submitted her works to four magazines, of which she was amazingly accepted to all. The judge for three of the four magazines was the well known poet Yaso Saijou who praised Misuzu as an up and coming young poet, whose prose reminded him of British poet Christina Rosetti. For Misuzu, who admired Yaso Saijou, this praise gave her the inspiration to continue writing and served as an impetus to create the poems that would be selected again and again by Saijou to be published.
In 1926, she married, against her will, the head clerk of her family’s bookstore, after submitting to pressure from her parents. Her husband did not share in Misuzu’s love for poetry and subsequently banned her from writing or from associating with any of those in the writing circle. He proved to be a womanizer and failed to support Misuzu after the birth of their only child. Battling a continuing illness she contracted from her husband while struggling to care for her child and the house, left Misuzu with no choice but to file for divorce in 1930. When the custody battle for her beloved daughter was lost to her former husband, Misuzu committed suicide in March of that same year, thus ending her tragically short life.
After her death, Japan was plunged into war, and the literary minds of the time were forgotten in the all ensuing conflict. Had it not been for a fellow poet by the name of Setsuo Yazaki who was inspired by her poem, A Good Catch, her works may have remained buried forever. He searched for over 16 years until he discovered her brother was working in Tokyo and had held on to her notebooks which she had entrusted to him for all these years. In 1982, her poems were published and her name quickly gained acclaim. Currently, Setsuo Yazaki is the manager of the Kaneko Misuzu Memorial Museum in Nagato, and thanks to his tireless efforts to bring the name of Misuzu Kaneko into the world of accomplished poets, her works are shared with the rest of the world.
For more information, contact:
Kaneko Miszuzu Memorial Museum