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The Evolution of Tomioka Takeko: From Poetry to Prose and the Awakening of Her Feminist Voice

  Tomioka Takeko (1935— ) was born in a merchant family in Osaka City. She graduated from Osaka Women’s University and worked as an English teacher before settling in Tokyo. While studying at university, she read a large number of poetry collections by Ono Shisanrou from her friends and became very interested in it, and started her own poetry creation. In 1957, she published her first collection of poems “Returning Gifts” at her own expense, and won the 8th “H Award”. Since then, she has stepped onto the literary stage as a cutting-edge poet. When she had a high status in the poetry world, she turned to novel writing. In the past few decades, she has won many heavyweight awards such as “Kawabata Yasunari Literature Award”, “Murashi Shikibu Literature Award” and “Ito Sato Literature Award”. While writing novels, she is also engaged in the creation of dramas, film scripts and other aspects.
  Tomioka Takeko not only has made great achievements in the creation of modern poetry and novels, but also is a famous feminist writer. The late 1960s to the early 1970s coincided with the climax of the second women’s liberation movement. It was during this period that Tomioka Takeko started writing novels. In her novels, she focuses on women’s personal life experience excluded by mainstream discourse, and attempts to deconstruct and reconstruct concepts such as love, sex, childbirth, marriage, and family under the domination of traditional systems. Because of her insights into the gender order and unique insights into women’s sports, Chizuko Ueno praised her as “the runner who brought inspiration to the Japanese women’s liberation movement”. In the 1990s, with the publication of “Nanliu Literary Theory”, Tomioka Takeko’s discourse on women’s issues received more and more attention, and together with Mizuta Muneko, Saneda Kazuko and others, she became a leading figure in the field of Japanese feminist criticism.
  Combing Tomioka Takeko’s creative experience, it can be found that the awakening of her gender consciousness is a gradual process, in which the transition from poetry to novel is a symbolic event. Since then, Tomioka’s female subject consciousness has been continuously manifested, and has exploded in avant-garde and radical forms in the creation of prose and novels.
from poetry to novel

  Tomioka Takeko came into contact with the poetry collections of Shisanrou Ono when she was in college, and was attracted by its expressive techniques, so she became very interested in poetry creation. From the first collection of poems “Returning Gifts” (1957) to the last collection of poems “Hate Art and Reverse Ancient Papyrus” (1970), Tomioka’s poetry creation lasted for 13 years. As shown in titles such as “Monogatari Tomorrow”, “Challenge to Meaninglessness”, “Beauty of Language”, “Japanese Needs a Sanxian”, in the stage of poetry creation, Tomioka’s themes mainly revolve around topics such as “what is poetry” and “what is a poet?” “What” “What does poetry need” and “What is language” involve issues such as artistic expression and the identity of the writing subject.
  Scholar Sagawa Hatsuki divides Tomioka’s poetry creation into four periods: the early period was deeply influenced by Ono Jusanro, using poetry as a medium of self-expression, rejecting the fantasy system that people rely on to maintain their identity; The method of automatic description confronts the real world and constructs one’s own spiritual world; later, influenced by Junzaburo Nishiwaki’s “Surrealist Poetry”, he believes that the language of poetry should refuse to be a tool of communication, and consciously use language to transform daily life and reconstruction; the poems in the last period have begun to transition to novels, and the external characteristics and internal meaning of poems are obviously different from those in the previous three periods.
  Regarding the change of creative style, Sagawa Hatsuki believes that Tomioka’s experience in the United States is the key factor. From 1965 to 1966, Tomioka lived in New York for a year with the printmaker Mitsuo Ikeda. Through the experience of living in a foreign country, she not only realized the cultural differences between Japan and the United States, but also noticed that there are differences in her own views on things and others. This difference is accumulated in people’s long-term life and is a product of history. In order to understand the underlying reasons for the differences, Tomioka began to pay attention to his neglected hometown and various stories that happened in his hometown. Therefore, in her first novel “People Facing the Hills”, she no longer obsesses with the expression of her inner world, but uses a limited perspective to describe social life, hoping to make the hidden in social activities The norms that restrict people’s behavior and ideas are revealed.
  In addition to the change of the object of expression, the change from poetry to novel also means a change of methodology. Tomioka’s continuous production of excellent poems is inseparable from her mastering the technique of turning concrete into abstraction. When he went out on a tram in his third year of university, Tomioka suddenly felt that the scenery outside the window appeared in front of him like an illusion—the world is composed of the sky and the earth, people live on the earth, and looking at the earth seems to be standing there. Taking this as an opportunity, Tomioka comprehended the relationship between language and reality. On the basis of absorbing previous experience, he began to try his own writing mode—that is, to perceive concrete people and landscapes as an abstract world, and then use specific words to express Abstract feelings are expressed. But when Tomioka changed the focus of her writing to people’s real life, this set of conversion methods from concrete to abstract, which she had mastered with great proficiency, ushered in the fate of self-subversion. Because poetry is a narcissistic chanting, while a novel is a narration for the audience, the writer should “pick up the gentle or ignorant words of human beings that the poet omits between the lines” and “listen to the poet’s unwillingness to cover his ears.” Hear the voices of people and things”. What poetry shows is an idealized conceptual space, while what novels reveal is a vivid picture of reality. Between ideal and reality, Tomioka chose the latter. The return from abstraction to concreteness is in line with Tomioka’s fundamental intention of creative transformation. She is determined to restore the details of life discarded in poetry, and restore the reality covered by ideals, so as to “for those who are silent and don’t know how to be for themselves. Revenge for those who speak out.” The change in methodology is of great significance to Tomioka. She no longer follows the conventions and norms of the poetry world step by step, and has taken an important step in exploring the way of self-expression.
  The transition from poetry to novel also heralds the awakening of her gender consciousness. Most researchers believe that Tomioka Takeko’s poems are genderless, and there is no obvious masculine or feminine color in her style. But in fact, like many female writers, Tomioka was also troubled by the obstacles brought about by gender in writing, and once doubted that he could not create excellent works like male writers.
  The encounter with the American female writer Gertrude Stein prompted Tomioka to recognize and gradually get rid of gender identity anxiety. Stein’s writing involves poetry, novels and dramas and other genres. He is a pioneer of modernist literature and is regarded as the literary mentor of “lost generation” writers such as Hemingway. Stein’s innovative modernist writing style and distinctive feminist ideas are still the focus of British and American literature until today. According to the textual research of scholar Tsuchida Junko, Tomioka read Stein’s poems translated by Yukio Haruyama in his early years. Haruyama’s translation uses only Chinese characters and katakana, showing concise, abstract, and profound features. Tomioka admired this masculine style of writing very much, and believed that Stein could freely write in a masculine tone, freed from the shackles of gender identity. In the early stage of poetry creation, Tomioka actively used this style beyond gender consciousness in his own works. Tomioka didn’t realize his misunderstanding of Stein until he translated “Three Women”. “Three Women” is Stein’s masterpiece and her first published novel. For this work, Tomioka’s first concern is its spoken style, rather than the written style that is rigid in grammatical rules, pays attention to logical relations, and is full of rational colors. This surprised Tomioka. Combining Stein’s prose and papers, she believed that Haruyama’s translation had deviations, and it was likely that the translator replaced the author’s female tone with his own male perspective.

  ”Three Women” takes three different types of women as the protagonists, and describes their tragic fate of becoming victims no matter which path they choose. Stein has a clear understanding of the oppression existing in gender relations under the patriarchal system, and boldly questioned the traditional concept of love and marriage. The penetration and dissemination in the capitalist system and its social and cultural mechanism to curb female subject consciousness”. In the process of translating “Three Women”, Tomioka was deeply moved not only by Stein’s avant-garde ideas, but also by her identification with female identity. Stein made no secret of her female perspective and position in her writing, and faced her identity as a female writer frankly. This gave Tomioka, who was caught in a dilemma, the direction, allowing her to see the possibility of truly getting rid of the barriers of gender identity.
  From the completion of the translation of “Three Women” at the end of 1969 to the publication of the first novel in 1971, Tomioka published “Women’s Independence”, “People Standing at the Entrance of Sex” and “Questions about the Sexual Revolution” in a relatively concentrated manner. “My Woman Revolution” and a series of essays discussing the relationship between the sexes. It is completely different from the way of alienating female consciousness and even covering female identity with masculine tone in the poetry stage. In these articles, Tomioka made bold and avant-garde speeches on women’s physical and mental desires and existence value.
Take “Three Thousand Worlds of Plum Blossoms” and “New Family” as examples

  The change from poetry to novel creation is not a one-off change. It is not only the process of Tomioka’s creative style becoming mature, but also the process of his feminist thoughts sprouting and manifesting. Tomioka’s various thoughts on women’s writing during this period are well confirmed in Plum Blossoms in Three Thousand Worlds (1980).
  ”Plum Blossoms in the Three Thousand Worlds” is a novel based on Naoko Ichiko, the founder of Omoto. Naoko Exit is an old woman with unfortunate background. She endured the violence of her father in her childhood, her husband’s betrayal after marriage, and the misfortune of her children in her old age. She only regards hard work as a kind of salvation. Naoko Koichi, who was struggling at the bottom of society, suddenly spoke “crazy words” in a state of “spiritual possession” at the age of 57. She claimed to the world that she saw plum blossoms in full bloom in the three thousand worlds, and the golden god of ghosts wanted to restore the world. scene. In order to show the ideal three thousand worlds to everyone, Naoko Koichi, who had no schooling experience, began to write quickly. Unfortunately, the content she wrote was too abstract for anyone to understand. Finally one day, Naoko was invited by a religious entrepreneur to establish a religious organization together, but she gave up at the last moment and embarked on a journey to find her own god. There is such a passage in “Three Thousand Worlds of Plum Blossoms”, which can well reflect Naoko’s heartfelt voice: the words that burst out from Naoko’s pen contain a voice, which was originally hidden deep in the heart, and was replaced by the voice of the gods. pulled out. Every night, Naoko’s cry always disappeared into the sky, but the words remained in front of her eyes. Naoko didn’t look back at the scene of her life where she suffered all kinds of humiliation due to poverty and wasted like gravel, but directly saw the abstract three thousand worlds.
  The novel has a side of faithfully recording historical figures, and at the same time, it also incorporates Tomioka’s own mental journey. Naoko’s shouting and writing echoes the germination of Tomioka’s female subject consciousness, and the frustration and departure echoes the change of Tomioka’s creative direction. Although Naoko Naoko won the right to speak in a spiritual way, her writing failed to gain the understanding of the world. This setting is meaningful and contains Tomioka’s warning to women’s writing. Although Naoko’s critique of the dark and corrupt social reality, her attack on the Emperor’s system, and her appeal for rebuilding an ideal new world are full of positive meanings, the religious concepts she wrote are as broad and grand as Tomioka’s modern poems, which are too abstract to be read. Arouse the empathy and recognition of women. Excluding the narration of women’s life experience cannot change the image of women as “other” in the eyes of the world. The “Oracle”‘s vision of the new world lacks care for women struggling at the bottom of society, and the practice of erasing the plight and humiliation encountered by women from collective memory is not fundamentally different from the old world. Whether the “Three Thousand Worlds” constructed by Export Naoko is really an ideal world for women, Tomioka has doubts about this. Only by fully describing women’s individual life experience in the social and historical context can the public understand the real situation of women, form an objective and comprehensive understanding of women’s identity and status, and realize the life that Naoko Export expects. People are equal. Otherwise, Naoko’s ideal can only remain in the stage of imagination, which should be the reason why Tomioka let Naoko leave in the novel.
  After full preparation in the transitional stage, Tomioka gradually clarified the discourse style that fits the awakened gender consciousness, and opened a new stage of creation to explain abstract thoughts with vivid life stories. In a series of works such as “Plant Sacrifice”, “New Family”, “Mingtu Family”, “The Straw Dog” and “The Spotted Cat”, she focuses on issues closely related to women such as love, marriage, and sex, and draws on the inner activities and life circumstances of the characters. , presenting the relationship between gender identity and female self intuitively and concretely.

Tomioka Takeko

  From the novel “New Family” (1977), we can get a glimpse of Tomioka’s unique thinking on the form of family. “New Family” was published at a time when “New Family” as a social phenomenon was attracting attention. The heroine “I” is a woman about 40 years old. In order to watch the cubs of wild boars, she came to the natural zoo outside Tokyo alone on “Children’s Day”. The zoo was crowded with people, most of them families with children. Spring is the season for the birth of new life. Animal families walking with their cubs and human families playing with their children echo each other in the same space. The two families look alike, but they are not. Human families are homogeneous, consisting of parents and children; animal family forms are not the same, “monogamy” or “polygamy”, multiple models coexist in zoos. “I” carefully observed the families of lions and tigers: lions live in groups, lying together to rest in twos and threes, male lions do not work, female lions are responsible for hunting and supporting male lions; Male and female tigers are not together, they are independent and have no cubs. “I” was attracted by the majestic tiger, excitedly imagining how the tiger stretched its limbs and ran to its heart’s content in the mountains. While imagining, I came to the conclusion that “tigers are more suitable for the Japanese landscape than lions”.
  Surrounded by happy families, why am I more fascinated by animal families, especially the seemingly lonely tiger? The answer to this question can be found in the two memories of “I”. When I was in my 20s, “I” had a blind date under the arrangement of my mother. The man 10 years older than me just drank in silence. “I” tried hard to imagine the scene of being intimate with him, but I couldn’t feel it. to each other’s attraction. A man is rational and realistic, his sex is prepared for the formation of a new family, and he does not have illusions about romantic love between men and women like “I”. At that time, “I” also experienced a relationship, holding hands, hugging, and expressing love with her boyfriend like an animal in heat, and comforting each other like an orangutan. However, after “I” became pregnant, her boyfriend ran away, and “I” had to bear the consequences alone, killing the child. “I” was originally confused about marriage, and even more disgusted by the actions of people around me urging women to get married. After these two experiences, I had deeper doubts about the purpose and necessity of starting a family. Marrying in order to conform to social norms, weakening the emotional factors in marriage; or pursuing emotional and sexual satisfaction, but avoiding family responsibilities. —The two common patterns in the relationship between the sexes do not conform to the value orientation of “I”, so “I” has remained single for more than 20 years.
  From the postwar period to the 1970s, the size of Japanese families shrunk, and the nuclear family consisting of parents and two children became the model for modern families. Especially during the upsurge of the “new family”, the new-style friendly family of “the male dominates the outside and the female dominates the inside” has become an ideal form that people are vying to pursue. However, from the evaluation of the lion and tiger families, it is not difficult to see that “I” rejects the concept of a standardized family. Compared with the civilized family advocated by human society, “I” is more interested in the natural form of animal families. It is more suitable for Japan that a life style like a tiger that is not restricted to a standard form, husband and wife are independent of each other, and children are not a must. customs.
  The family view revealed in “New Family” is obviously contrary to the mainstream concept at that time. In the general trend of everyone praising “New Family”, Tomioka has realized that there is actually a crisis hidden under the appearance of “harmony and friendship” in the new family , the so-called “ideal family” is not sustainable. Her point of view is very forward-looking. Scholar Ochiai Emiko pointed out that around 1975 was the period when the proportion of nuclear families and housewives reached their peak in Japan. Afterwards, with the transformation of the economic development mode and the exposure of the disadvantages of social gender division of labor, the uniform family form and family awareness became increasingly differentiated, and single-parent families As a product of the new lifestyle, multiple family models such as the DINK family and the DINK family are gradually accepted by the society and the public. In the 1980s, as Tomioka predicted, “the modern Japanese family system, which is based on everyone getting married and having two or three children, ushered in changes and gradually declined.”
  The transformation from poetry to novel creation is the process of Tomioka Takeko’s transformation of female consciousness from alienation to identification. After accumulating in the stage of poetry, inspired by Stein’s works, thinking about the value of women’s existence, and reflecting on the way of speaking, after a long period of inward self-examination and outward breakthrough, Tomioka found a perspective to face the confusion of gender and established The writing mode of women’s life experience continues to carry out in-depth and unique thinking and speaking on issues closely related to women.