The pseudo mathematical determined ill-fate of Sakutaro Hagiwara.


“Although on the outside I was blessed with perfect good fortune, in reality my life … has been but a succession of dark and weary pessimism …” (Hagiwara quoted by Hayes, 1996, p. 34).

In the extended introduction of Sakutaro Hagiwara, we introduced the ill-fate that pervaded Sakutaro’s life. In the introduction we underlined that this ill-fate, a fate he felt succumbed to, instigated his affiliation with European nihilistic philosophy (Nietzsche, Schopenhauer) and the poems of Baudelaire, Verlaine and Mallarmé.

dscn2154In this short article we aim to explore the way Sakutaro Hagiwara gave expression to this/his fate. It should come as no surprise that Sakutaro “saw signs” that proved his ill-fated destiny. He sought to prove his ill-fate, his destiny, … . We could even propose that he sought, by proving his fate, a valid reason for the existential despair and anxiety he experienced. In the extended introduction we also explicated that his fate is intrinsically connected with “poetic temperament”; And that being a poet for Sakutaro was in a way fated by his ill-fate.

Before formulating certain aspects on how Sakutaro saw his fate proven, we are obliged to explore the yin-yang theory. The yin-yang theory presented here is just a mere general overview of the theory and is thus only an introduction.

Yin-Yang: Chinese thought in early Japan

How did Yin-Yang end up in Japan (note 1).

The yin-yang theory came to Japan though the introduction of the Confucianism of the Han dynasties. This Han Confucianism, which was introduced to Japan in the sixth or seventh century “represented [, as implicated by the previous sentence,] more than the essential ethical teachings of Confucius and his early followers (Sources of Japanese tradition, vol. 1. p. 64)”. It represented more than the essential teachings for the simple reason that Confucianism had to battle with other philosophies for official favor. In effect Confucianism absorbed a lot from other philosophies, e.g. the Daoist and Five Elements or Ying-Yang schools and integrated the Yin-Yang theory as an integral part of its ideology. The most important idea that became integrated into Han-Confucianism was the aspect of harmony between Yin and Yang, an aspect that accounted for much of the central emphasis on harmony in Chinese life and thought – this yin-yang harmony reinforced the doctrine of the Mean common to Confucianism, Taoism and Buddhism (Chan, 1969).

We can see the influence in yin-yang theory easily in the record of ancient matters, an important book in Japanese mythology, for example:

“Now when chaos had begun to condense, but force and form were not yet manifest, and there was nought named, nought done, who could know its shape? Nevertheless Heaven and Earth first parted, and the Three Deities performed the commencement of creation; the Passive and the Active essences then developed, and the Two Spirits became the ancestors of all things (Chamberlain, 1923, p. 4. Italics added)”.

The passive and active essences in the above citation are another way of formulating the Yin and Yang principles. But the influence of Ying-Yang theory doesn’t stop there. The prevalence of paired male and female deities as Izanagi and Izanami seem to indicate that the record of ancient matters was written with the yin and yang principles in mind. The Yin-Yang principles where also used to establish the legitimacy of the claim of Emperor Tenmu and his descendants to the throne – which may well been the main purpose of the Records of Ancient Matters. The following quotation underlines this aspect: Tengu, among other things, ‘‘held the mean between the Two Essences [yin and yang], and regulated the order of the Five Phases’’ (note 2 and see below) (Chamberlain, 1923, p. 10).

The yin-yang theory, with the Five Phases, provided a frame to explain both physical and spiritual phenomena of the universe. Han Confucianism and Yin-Yang were integrated in Japanese culture with little to no opposition. These view remained unchallenged until modern times. Other ways the theory marked the Japanese culture are for instance the choosing of lucky days by yin-yang methods; and the attention to zodiacal sign under which a person was born when arranging marriages.

Yin-yang: a short introduction.

In the beginning Yin only referred to the shady side of a natural landscape, while Yang referred to the sunny side. Over time the meaning of these signifiers extended to indicate everything that is comprised of natural counterparts e.g. wetness-dryness, passivity-activity, femininity and masculinity, … . yinyangThese natural counterparts are nothing other than complementary opposites: “they are totally different and yet naturally complete each other: neither could exist by itself, because each gives both existence and meaning to the other” (Kirkland, 2004, p. 221). Other examples of complementary opposites can be found in The Encyclopedia of Taoism (vol 1, p. 52):  “Earth-Heaven, Child–Father, Autumn-Spring, Younger brother-Elder brother, Winter-Summer, Younger-Older, Night-Day, Base-Noble, Small states-Large states, narrow-minded-Broad-minded, Unimportant states-Important states, Mourning-Taking a wife/begetting a child, Non-action-Action, Being controlled-Controlling others by others, Woman-Man, Receiving-Giving”.

The doctrines of Yin-Yang and the Five Agents are early attempts to work out a metaphysics and a cosmology (Chan, 1969). The Yin-Yang doctrine means that there are two basis aspects of reality, two cosmic principles within the world of nature and human activity (Kirkland, 2004). The concepts consists of the idea that all things and events are produced by two forces, which make up one main complementary opposite. Yin, the female, negative, passive, weak, and destructive principle, is the first force, while Yang, the male positive, active, strong, and constructive principle, is the second (Chan, 1969). The theory of the Five Elements (Metal, Wood, Water, Fire, and Earth) – the elements are also to be understood as forces, adds the aspects of rotation (i.e. that things succeed one another as the Five Agents take their turns) to the Yin-Yang theory (Chan, 1969).

Yin-Yang and the Five Agents thus makes up a dynamic; “And the end is an ordered nature rather than chaos. In point of process, there is contradiction as well as harmony, and in point of reality, there is unity in multiplicity. The apparent dualism and pluralism are, in each case, a dynamic monism through the dialectic” (Chan, 1969, p. 245). The thinker who is usually credited as the one who combined Ying and Yang, which were at first two independent currents, into one is Tsou Yen (305 BC – 240 BC). The Yin-Yang theory should thus not be understood as a dualism; it’s a unity composed of a dialectical relationship between two forces; the one is the expression of the other, both are operating in cycles of rise and fall and in a universal pattern, which unites man and Nature. When this aspect of correspondence was integrated into the realm of politics, a cyclical philosophy of history as well as the idea of a mutual influence between man and Nature emerged. This mutual influence of man and Nature is subtly hinted at in the doctrine of the Mean where it is said that ‘When a nation or family is about to flourish, there are sure to be lucky omens. When a nation or family is about to perish, there are sure to be unlucky omens’ (Chan, 1969). While the confucianists intended this to be an integral part to moral education, the theory led to fatalism and much superstition.

What’s also important to underline is that the relation between Yin and Yang was not antagonistic at first. In ancient and medieval China Yin and Yang were always “understood as existing in harmonious balance” (Kirkland, 2004, p. 222). Of course this doesn’t mean that other interpretations of Yin and Yang didn’t underline the antagonistic nature of the relationship. Only in “late imperial times did it become common for Chinese writers to attach positive associations to yang and negative associations to yin (Kirkland, 2004, p.222)”. The translation of Yin and Yang in the ABC Chinese-English Comprehensive Dictionary (DeFrancis, 2003, p. 1147, p. 1108) proves that those positive/negative associations are still present today (note 3):

Yin or :  [philosophy] negative/passive/female principle in nature (…) the moon shaded orientation covert; concealed; hidden vagina penis of the netherworld negative north side of a hill south bank of a river reverse side of a stele (…) overcast sinister; treacherous

Yang or : [Chinese philosophy] positive/active/male principle in nature the sun male genitals in relief open; overt belonging to this world [linguistics] masculine south side of a hill north bank of a river.

The pseudo mathematical yin-yang; Sakutaro’s proven fate.

The explanation of the theory above reveals already two important aspects concerning how Sakutaro would prove his ill-fate. On the one hand, our explanation as such reveals the fact that Sakutaro will use the yin-yang theory. On the other hand, we saw that the seeing of signs/omens became an inherent feature of the Yin-Yang theory, via the idea of mutual influence of man and Nature. This idea is hinted at in the Doctrine of the mean: ‘When a nation or family is about to flourish, there are sure to be lucky omens. When a nation or family is about to perish, there are sure to be unlucky omens’ (Chan, 1969). This aspect of omens marked the Japanese culture too as is evidently shown by the use of yin-yang methods for choosing lucky days and the attention to zodiacal sign under which a person was born when arranging marriages.

This of course leads us to pose the following questions: If the confucianist theory of the doctrine of the Mean already led to fatalism and superstition, in which way did the European nihilistic philosophy, for Sakutaro, relate to this yin-yang theory; In which way was this nihilistic philosophy a better expression of Sakutaro’s existential despair and anxiety; and is it not because his affiliation with European nihilistic philosophy and poetry, that the fatalism in yin-yang theory, the doctrine of the mean, could take on its full meaning? Although these questions will remain unanswered (for now), it’s nevertheless a certainty that both the yin-yang theory and the nihilistic philosophy influenced the subjective constitution of Sakutaro.

One way the influence of the yin-yang theory and the aspect of the omen shows itself is in Sakutaro Hagiwara’s little essay “about my name’/’The story of my name’/nameanohanashi/名前の話”. For Sakutaro a man’s name, which is a signifier, reflected the character of the person ‘wearing’ the given signifier and could even mould his destiny. In ‘the story of my name’ he underlines this idea by recounting stories of friends whose future had taken a positive turn or who were miraculously cured of an illness when they changed their names. It thus comes as no surprise that Sakutaro, in this essay, analyzes his name so as to be able to proof his ill-fate. He aims to proof his ill-fate by reading/analyzing his name, or more precise the kanji’s of which it is composed, through the lens of the yin-yang theory (note 4).

The first kanji which forms the name Sakutaro is the kanji for Saku: 朔. ‘Saku/朔’ means the first day of the (lunar) month (Halpern, 2002). In the past people would use ‘sakujitsu’ to denote the first day of the month. The reason why his parents choose this kanji is very simple; the choose it due to the fact Sakutaro was born on the first of the month. Sakutaro underlines that 朔, saku, means new birth – the first fruit of the season. As is clearly indicated by the complementary opposites we mentioned above and as introduced by sakutaro in his essay,  birth, a new beginning, is associated with yang, the positive life force.

The other two Kanji’s form the kanji – they have to be viewed as one kanji – for taro: 太郎, which is a suffix used to form male names and to denote the eldest son or first born son (Halpern, 2002). For Sakutaro this kanji also refers back to birth and is thus associated with Yang. If we combine the kanji’s together, sakutaro/ 朔太郎 just means the first son born on the first of the month, referring only the reality of the birth.

But for Sakutaro his name was more than only the emblem that referred to the reality of his birth. He felt, thought that the two positives, the plus/yang of Saku and the plus/yang of Taro, added up to a minus/Yin. This plus times plus equals minus is in fact the reversal of the mathematical minus times minus equals a plus. Sakutaro thus forces his own understanding of the yin-yang duality into a pseudo mathematical formula which produces the result he wants/expects. The ‘Saku/yang’ times ‘taro/yang’ forms ‘Sakutaro/Yin’, a signifier that is nothing other than the negative symbol of his ill-fate.  Of course if Sakutaro would’ve used real mathematics and have a better understanding of Yin-Yang theory, he would never been able to prove his ill-fate, he would have never been able to underline his idea that the negative feminine Yin governed his life. Nevertheless the bricolage Sakutaro uses to analyze his own name validates our idea that the feeling of being subjected to an ill-fate was deeply rooted in Sakutaro’s subjective structure. In other words, this thin substantiation was only a way to give an expression to his own conviction.


Note 1) The following is chiefly based on the information found in “sources of Japanese tradition, volume 1.”

Note 2) For more information on the five phases, see sources of Japanese tradition, volume 1, pg. 67.

Note 3) We obviously seen the sexual aspects in the translations of Yin-Yang. An interesting question to research would be in which ways these sexual translations of Yin-Yang affected sexuality.

Note 4) It’s funny to note that Sakutaro recounts stories of people who changed their names. The lack of the idea to change his own name as to divert his ill-fate, shows, for us, how deeply rooted this ill-fate pervaded his subjective structure. We should thus ask ourselves if Sakutaro’s subjective structure is a melancholic one or not.


Chamberlain, B. H. (trans.) (1932). Translation of the ‘Ko-ji-ki’, or Records of Ancient Matters”. (2nd edition). Kobe: J. L Thompson and Co. Ltd.

Chan, W.T. (1969). A source book in Chinese philosophy. New Jersey: Princeton university press.

de Bary,  W.T. (ed.) (2002). Sources of Japanese Tradition, Volume One: From Earliest Times to 1600. 2nd edition. New York: Columbia University Press.

Hagiwara, S. (2006/01/13). 名前の.話Retrieved on 27/08/2014:

Hayes, C. (1996). A Stray Dog Howling at The moon: A Literary Biography of Hagiwara Sakutaro (1886-1942). Doctoral dissertation. (unpublished).

Halpern, J. (ed.) (2002). Kodansha Kanji Learner’s Dictionary (New ed.). New York: Kodansha America.

John DeFrancis, ed., ABC Chinese-English Comprehensive Dictionary, University of Hawaii Press, 2003, 1147, 1108.

Kirkland R. (2005). Taoism: The Enduring Tradition. New York and London: Routledge.

Predagio, F. (ed.) (2008). Encyclopedia of Taoism. Vol. 1 and vol. 2. London and New York: Routledge.


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