Yeats and Japan Panel

Yeats and Japan Panel

This panel takes three distinct perspectives in its discussion of the fruitful relationship between W. B. Yeats and Japanese cultural traditions and Japanese contemporary writers.


W. B. Yeats and Kenzaburo Oe

Ryoji Okuda (Japan Yeats Society)

Yeats’s poems have influenced Japanese literature for over a hundred years since their introduction in Japan in the early 20th century. Among the many Japanese poets and novelists inspired by his poems is the influential writer Kenzaburo Oe, who won the Nobel Prize of Literature in 1994. It becomes evident that Oe is an ardent admirer of Yeats when reading, for example, his novel Moeagaru Midorino Ki (The Flaming Green Tree Trilogy, 1998), in which he frequently mentions Yeats. Even the title of this novel is a partial quotation of a stanza from Yeats’s poem “Vacillation.” Oe explicitly stated in his Nobel Prize speech that he felt more affinity with Yeats than with his compatriot Yasunari Kawabata, and that Yeats was the writer in whose footsteps he would like to follow. In my analysis of Yeats’s poems and Oe’s novels, I explore and clarify how Yeats’s poems have influenced the works of Oe and inspired the Japanese writer to follow in his footsteps.


W. B. Yeats and the Noh

Yoko Sato (Tokyo University of Agriculture and Technology)

It is well known that Yeats's encounter with the Japanese Noh played the role of a powerful catalyst in his development as a playwright of ritualistic dramas. Conversely, Japanese writers have been prompted to create new Japanese Noh dramas inspired by Yeats’s Noh plays. Based upon Yeats’s At the Hawk’s Well, Mario Yokomichi wrote The Hawk’s Spring (1949) and later The Hawk Princess (1967), which continue to be performed by Japanese Noh actors. More recently the contemporary Japanese poet Mutsuo Takahashi wrote another The Hawk’s Well (1990), a modern Noh play. Yeats’s The Dreaming of the Bones, based upon the Noh play Nishikigi, led to Masaru Sekine’s 2012 adaptation of The Dreaming of the Bones in collaboration with Noh and kyogen actors and opera singers. I would like to discuss some of the interesting structural transformations that happen during the process of these cross-cultural adaptations and inventions. I would also like to point out that by using a Noh framework as an imaginative device, both Yeats and Japanese actors & writers have made a creative attempt to explore the realms beyond their own literary traditions.


W.B. Yeats and Kyogen

Akiko Manabe (Shiga University)

W.B. Yeats wrote a series of dramas, influenced by his exposure to Japan’s classical theatrical repertoire of Noh. While Noh plays generally deal with serious or tragic matters, the drama known as kyogen, performed mainly in the interludes between Noh plays, is comic or farcical. Through his encounters with Michio Ito, Torahiko Kori and Tamijuro Kume in London as he was searching for new material, Yeats was introduced to kyogen, culminating in the production of The Cat and the Moon. Just before his meeting with these Japanese artists, Yeats was introduced to the writings of Ernest Fenollosa by Ezra Pound, which gave him a sense of Japanese classical theatre in general, and more specifically, the kyogen Kikazu Zato. In this paper, I will first examine how Yeats’s understanding of kyogen contributed to his own experimentation with a new kind of dramatic genre. In the process, I hope to show the affinity between Yeats’ poetics or principles of life and the philosophy flowing deep inside kyogen itself. After exploring how individualism and communal harmony is reflected in both Noh and kyogen, I will discuss the meaning of these two fundamental trajectories—the Individual and the Communal––in Yeats’s “kyogen”-inspired drama.