Creative non-fiction / April 2018 (Issue 39)

Hirato Renkichi: An Introduction

by Sho Sugita

Biography of Hirato Renkichi

Born Kawahata Seiichi on December 9, 1893, in Osaka, Hirato Renkichi started writing poetry in 1912, first publishing in Banso under the guidance of Kawaji Ryuko. Although he worked at various publishers as a writer and editor, he suffered from pulmonary disease and often failed to make ends meet for his family. He passed away on July 20, 1922, in Tokyo, at the age of 29.


On October 15, 1921, a year after a group of artists in Japan had created the Association of Futurism, the Second Futurist Art Exhibition was held at Ueno Park in Tokyo. A copy of Hirato Renkichi's Manifesto of the Japanese Futurist Movement was displayed on the wall of the venue (Hagiwara Kyojiro, "A Memo for Hirato Renkichi," Shi惻genjitsu [Poetry/Reality], March 1931). Nearby, a bustling train station was surrounded by a four-storied Matsuzakaya department store that boasted more than 70,000 square feet of display space. Utility poles weaved above the pedestrian walkways, and young men and women would walk into "milk halls" for a cup of coffee while perusing the latest magazines. Gas-powered stoves and lamps were showcased at lively expositions and symbolised an optimistic future in technological innovation, though the rice riot and inflationary spiral of the late teens were still relatively fresh in the news. Not unlike the visibly turbulent urbanisation of Tokyo itself, the world of Japanese art and literature was perhaps equally busy and volatile—within a decade or so after F.T. Marinetti's infamous Manifesto of Futurism was swiftly translated into Japanese in 1909, the Association of Futurism was only one among several competing factions in Tokyo to tout the latest trends in experimental art and literature.

Opening up the Tokyo Nichinichi Shimbun (Tokyo Daily News) a day prior to the Second Futurist Art Exhibition, one would have found an article on how the exhibition committee selected twenty-seven works from a pool of over 450 submissions, in addition to a couple dozen more paintings by members of the Association of Futurism and works by Czech/Russian Futurists that included Fiala, Burliuk, Palimov and Lubarsky. The article also mentions that Hirato Renkichi had been recommended by the Association of Futurism to serve in its literary wing. Hirato Renkichi was well-acquainted with international movements in art and literature by means of working as an editor for Chuo Bijutsu (Central Art) and as a contributing writer for Gendai Shiika (Modern Poetry), where he published on subjects ranging from "finding Buddha" in the works of Marie Laurencin to translating "dance poems" by Apollinaire and Cocteau. Considering the information-hungry art community in Tokyo at the time, Hirato's intersecting knowledge of art, literature and translation made him an ideal candidate to promote new forms of art. It was around this time that David Burliuk, one of the founding members of Russian Futurism, called Hirato Renkichi "the Marinetti of Japan," perhaps joking that he was a good publicist.

The years between 1920 and 1922 was a critical period for the short-lived Japanese Futurist movement: the first Japanese Futurist art manifesto was published by Kanbara Tai, Russian Futurists David Burliuk and Viktor Palimov moved to Japan in order to escape from the turmoil following the Russian Revolution, Fumon Gyo rebelled against the art establishment in the Nika Association to host a Futurist exhibition, Hirato Renkichi distributed the Manifesto of the Japanese Futurist Movement at multiple locations in Tokyo and the list goes on. These events also created a foundation for other radical art movements a year or two later, including Kanbara Tai's Action, Murayama Tomoyoshi's MAVO and Kinoshita Shuichiro's Sanka Association. Japanese artists and writers were actively digesting information on Futurism, Cubism, Imagism, Constructivism and Dada within a very tight timeframe. Like the urbanisation of Tokyo, the sheer volume of material on art and literature was so immense that it naturally required organisation and examination. And, of course, criticism was a vital part of processing this information.

Although Hirato Renkichi was known for his poetry and Manifesto of the Japanese Futurist Movement, he was as much an art/literary critic as he was a poet. Aside from occasional columns that he published for his poetry coteries, Hirato Renkichi also authored critical essays and manifestos that I believe were influential to both artists and writers during the historical avant-garde movements of Taisho-era Japan. I am delighted that the following critical writings by Hirato Renkichi will be available in Cha: An Asian Literary Journal for interested readers:

"On the State of the Imagists," Gendai Shiika (Modern Poetry), March 1918

"The Problem of Poetry and Prose Poetry," Gendai Shiika (Modern Poetry), June 1921

"On Analogism," Nihon Shijin (Japanese Poet), April 1922

March 4, 2018

Hirato Renkichi and Sho Sugita
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