Jūkichi Yagi
(Japan, 1898–1927)   
Jūkichi Yagi

Jūkichi Yagi was born in 1898 in the outskirts of Tokyo as the second son of a farmer's family. While in high school, Jūkichi started reading the Bible and soon became a devout Christian. Upon graduating the Tokyo High Normal School at the age of 23, he was assigned to another Normal School in Hyogo Prefecture as an English teacher. It was there that Jūkichi started writing poetry prolifically – but only as the expression of his Christian belief.

He married Tomiko, then aged 18, in 1923, and the couple had their first child, a daughter, Momoko, a year later. The year 1925 saw the publication of his first book, Autumn’s Eye, and the birth of his son, Yōji. Jūkichi then joined a poetry group in Tokyo and started contributing his poems to several magazines. Such literary activities, however, did not last for more than a year: he developed tuberculosis in 1926 and became bed-ridden until his death in the following year at the age of 29.

In 1928 Jūkichi’s second book, Poor Believers, which comprised of poems he had selected before his death, was published. Momoko died young in 1937; Yōji died several years later. Their mother, Tomiko, remarried Hideo Yoshino, a tanka poet, who was himself a tuberculosis patient and a widower with four children.  Tomiko, with the help of Yoshino and his children, drew up the complete inventory  of all the unpublished manuscripts by her late husband and published The Complete Poems of Jūkichi Yagi in 1959. In the meanwhile, other editions of his poems were also published, some of which have continued to be reprinted to this day.

The themes which are predominant in the poems of Jūkichi Yagi are God and death. Poetry to him was more than anything a means through which to praise Jesus Christ and to fight against the fear of dying.  The series of fragmented poems Jūkichi wrote in his last days (one of which is presented here) naturally shows those characteristics most clearly:

O Heavenly Father,
please save this feeble body and soul
and let me work on behalf of the light of God and Christ


what can I do?


Days of Purgatory
Days of Purgatory

(from ‘MS Note D’, 1926)

The extraordinary simplicity of Jūkichi’s poems, a poetic equivalent of naïve paintings, was not so much a hallmark of his literary ‘style’ as the manifestation of his religious belief that his poetry should serve not literature itself, but God, simply and honestly:

If just now
I hunted for love,
then my poetry would flare up brilliantly,

its soul would die.

(from ‘MS Note: Steeped in Utter Desolation’, 1924)  

And yet his poems transcend the religious ground and reach the heart of ordinary men and women in Japan, where Christianity is practised only by a fraction of its population. Jūkichi Yagi, still gaining a constant readership even 80 years after his death, creates sensitive and complex music through simple and unpretentious expression, such as in one of his most famous poems about a koto, a zither-like musical instrument:

If you lay a plain koto
in this brightness
it will begin playing quietly,
unable to endure autumn’s beauty.

(from ‘A Plain Koto’)

© Yasuhiro Yotsumoto


Autumn’s Eye, Shinchosha, Tokyo, 1925
Poor Believers, Nogikusha, Tokyo, 1928
Selected Poems of Jūkichi Yagi, Sangabo, Tokyo, 1942
Selected Poems of
Jūkichi Yagi, Sogensha, Tokyo, 1948
Kami o yobou (Let’s call God), Shinkyo Publishing, Tokyo, 1950
The Complete Poems of
Jūkichi Yagi, Yayoi Shobo, Tokyo, 1959
The Complete Works of Jūkichi Yagi (in 3 volumes), Chikuma Shobo, Tokyo,  1982
The Complete Poems of Jūkichi Yagi (in 2 paperback volumes), Chikuma Shobo, Tokyo, 1988
Selected Pomes of
Jūkichi Yagi, Shichosha, Tokyo, 1988
Autumn's Eye, Japan Library Center, Tokyo, 1999
The Complete Works of Jūkichi Yagi (revised in 4 volumes), Chikuma Shobo, Tokyo,  2000


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