Akiko in Paris

Photo courtesy Bunka Gakuin. 文化学院蔵

What difficulty,
I ask, remains to me now
when it comes to love?
I am here, having traveled
seven thousand miles, alone.

恋するにむつかしきこと何のこる三千里さへ一人にて来し

Akiko Yosano (1878-1942), poet, critic, translator, teacher, feminist, mother, wife, world traveler. This woman has fascinated and intimidated me for more than three decades. I wrote my senior thesis about her, and was most intrigued by one episode of her life: In 1912, she traveled from Tokyo to Paris by herself.

Her husband Hiroshi, also a poet, was already in Paris. She had funded his trip and six months later had raised enough money to join him. They spent four months together in Europe before she sailed home from Marseille.

Cover and case for Pari yori (From Paris), Akiko & Hiroshi’s account of Europe trip; at Yosano Akiko Museum

Cover and case for Pari yori (From Paris), Akiko & Hiroshi’s account of Europe trip; at Yosano Akiko Museum

It was unusual for Japanese women to travel outside the country back then, never mind to travel alone, and unheard-of for a mother of young children to do so. At the time of her trip, Akiko had seven children under the age of ten. (She would eventually have 12 children).

Even as a childless 22-year-old college student, I remember thinking, Wow, who does this? Ten years later, when I had two children of my own, I was still asking this question. Only then the idea of leaving one’s kids for so long felt simultaneously more impossible yet also more appealing. This would make a great book, I thought.

In 2017, I recreated Akiko’s Japan-to-Paris trip, taking a ferry, as she did, from western Japan to Vladivostok, then the Trans-Siberian Railway to Moscow, then another train to Paris. Significantly, I didn’t do this until my youngest child had graduated from high school. I shared a lot about the journey in a series of blogs that begins here.

Now I’m deep into writing the novel inspired by that transgressive 1912 journey. It’s another slow, research-intensive project, like Landfalls. So don’t hold your breath. But if I have any news about it, I’ll share it here.