Yone Noguchi

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Yonejirō Noguchi

Also Known As: "Yone Noguchi"
Birthdate: (72)
Death: 1947 (72)
Immediate Family:

Ex-husband of Leonie Gilmour
Father of Isamu Noguchi

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Immediate Family

About Yone Noguchi


Yone Noguchi, or Yonejirō Noguchi, born 野口 米次郎 / Noguchi Yonejirō (December 8, 1875 - July 13, 1947), was an influential Japanese writer of poetry, fiction, essays, and literary criticism in both English and Japanese. He was the father of the sculptor Isamu Noguchi.

Early life

Noguchi was born in the town of Tsushima, near Nagoya. He attended Keio University but left before graduating to travel to San Francisco in 1893. There, Noguchi joined a newspaper run by Japanese exiles associated with the Freedom and People's Rights Movement and worked as a domestic servant. He spent some months studying at a preparatory school for Stanford and working as a journalist before determining, after a visit to the Oakland hillside home of Joaquin Miller, his true vocation of poet. Miller welcomed and encouraged Noguchi and introduced him to other San Francisco Bay area bohemians, including Gelett Burgess (who published Noguchi's first verses in his magazine, The Lark), Ina Coolbrith, Edwin Markham, Adeline Knapp, Blanche Partington, and Charles Warren Stoddard. Noguchi weathered a plagiarism scandal in 1896 to publish two books of poetry in 1897, and remained an important fixture of the Bay Area literary scene until his departure for the East Coast in 1900.


From 1900 to 1904, Noguchi's primarily base was New York City. There, with the help of Leonie Gilmour, he completed work on his first novel, The American Diary of a Japanese Girl, and a sequel, The American Letters of a Japanese Parlor-Maid. He then sailed to England, where he self-published and promoted his third book of poetry, From the Eastern Sea, and formed connections with leading literary figures like William Michael Rossetti, Laurence Binyon, William Butler Yeats, Thomas Hardy, Laurence Housman, Arthur Symons and the young Arthur Ransome. His London success brought some attention on his return to New York in 1903, and he formed productive new friendships with American writers like Edmund Clarence Stedman, Zona Gale, and even Mary MacLane, but he continued to have difficulty publishing in the United States. This changed with the onset of the Russo-Japanese War in 1904, when Noguchi's writings on various aspects of Japanese culture were suddenly in great demand among magazine editors. He was able to publish a number of seminal articles at this time, including "A Proposal to American Poets," in which he advised American poets to "try Japanese hokku."

Having (he thought) ended a brief, secret marriage to Leonie Gilmour in the early months of 1904, Noguchi made plans to return to Japan, with the intention of marrying another romantic interest, Washington Post reporter Ethel Armes. He returned to Japan in August 1904, and became a professor of English at his alma mater, Keio Gijuku, the following year, but his marriage plan was spoiled when it became known that Leonie Gilmour had given birth to Noguchi's son (the future sculptor Isamu Noguchi) in Los Angeles. In 1907, Leonie and Isamu joined Noguchi in Tokyo, but the reunion proved short-lived, mainly because Noguchi had already acquired a Japanese wife before their arrival. He and Leonie separated for good in 1909, although Leonie and Isamu continued to live in Japan.

Noguchi continued to publish extensively in English after his return to Japan, becoming a leading interpreter of Japanese culture to Westerners, and of Western culture to the Japanese. His 1909 poem collection, The Pilgrimage, was widely admired, as was a 1913 collection of essays, Through the Torii. In 1913, he made his second trip to England to lecture at Magdalen College, Oxford at the invitation of poet laureate, Robert Bridges. He was hailed in the pages of Poetry magazine as a pioneering modernist, thanks to his early advocacy of free verse and association with modernist writers like Yeats, Ezra Pound, Richard Aldington, and John Gould Fletcher. In 1919, he made a transcontinental lecture tour of America. By the early 1920s, however, his work had fallen once again into critical disfavor, and he subsequently devoted his English efforts to studies of Ukiyoe, while beginning a somewhat belated career as a Japanese language poet. All of his later books were published in Japan, for Noguchi encountered stiff resistance from American publishers in the 1930s, despite the support of a few sympathetic editors like Marianne Moore.

Late Life

Noguchi's politics usually followed prevailing Japanese tendencies. In the 1920s, following the leftist turn of Taishō democracy, he published in leftist magazines like Kaizo, but the 1930s, he followed the country's turn to the right. Partly as a result of his friendship with leading Indian intellectuals like Rabindranath Tagore, Sarojini Naidu, and Rash Behari Bose, Noguchi was sent to India in 1935 to help gain support for Japanese objectives in East Asia, but by the time of the infamous exchange of letters between Noguchi and Tagore in 1938, there seemed little hope of gaining international understanding for Japan's increasingly militant imperialism. During the Second World War, Noguchi supported the Japanese cause, advocating a no-holds-barred assault on the Western countries he had once admired. After the war, he succeeded in reconciling with his estranged son Isamu before dying of stomach cancer on July 13, 1947.

Critical evaluations

Critical evaluations of Noguchi, while varying drastically, have frequently stressed the enigmatic character of his work. Arthur Symons referred to him as a "scarcely to be apprehended personality." Arthur Ransome called him "a poet whose poems are so separate that a hundred of them do not suffice for his expression." Ezra Pound, on first reading The Pilgrimage in 1911 wrote that "His poems seem to be rather beautiful. I don't quite know what to think about them." Nishiwaki Junzaburo wrote, "Most of his earlier poems have always seemed to me so terrific, so bewildering, as to startle me out of reason or system."

Noguchi may be considered a cross-cultural, transnational, or cosmopolitan writer. His work may also be considered, albeit somewhat more problematically, within the national literatures of Japan and the United States (see Japanese literature, American literature). Noguchi has recently gained attention in Asian American studies due to the increasing interest in transnationalism.

Yone Noguchi is played by Nakamura Shido in the film Leonie (2010).

Books in English by Yone Noguchi


Contributions to Periodicals

Noguchi contributed to numerous periodicals in the United States, Japan, England, and India, including: The Academy, Blackwood's, The Bookman (London), The Bookman (New York), The Calcutta Review, The Chap-Book, Chūōkōron, The Conservator, The Dial, The Double-Dealer, The Egoist, The Graphic, The Japan Times, Kaizō, The Lark, Leslie's Monthly, Mainichi Shinbun, The Modern Review (Calcutta), Myōjō, The Nation (London), The Nation (New York), The Philistine, Poetry Magazine, Poet Lore, The Poetry Review, The Reader Magazine, Sunset Magazine, T'ien Hsia Monthly, T.P.'s Weekly, Taiyō, Teikoku Bungaku, The Visva-Bharati Quarterly, The Westminster Gazette, and Yomiuri Shinbun.

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Yone Noguchi's Timeline

November 17, 1904
Age 29
Age 72