Sunday, June 3, 2012

Yōken Setsu (On Western Dogs)

Phillip Franz von Siebold, some types of Japanese dogs (ca. 1823-30)

    Western dogs are the best of animals and often do what people cannot.  Let me explain.  Japanese dogs only help in hunting, and scare away burglars at night.  However, Western dogs save people from drowning, and rescue travelers buried under heavy snow in cold countries.  People use them to pull sleds and deliver letters.  I have not room to enumerate their virtues.  How much superior, then, are Western dogs to Japanese dogs!  The virtues of Western dogs are truly great. [1]

  [1]  This charming, enlightening  text is the earliest surviving piece of prose written by the Japanese poet, novelist, journalist and essayist, Masaoka Shiki (1867-1902).   Shiki wrote this essay, Yōken Setsu (On Western Dogs) as a thirteen-year old public school student.  We are fortunate that Shiki took his writing seriously from an early age and collected copies of his work, sometimes publishing them along with the poetry and prose of friends in small magazines they created.


John Emms, St. Bernards to the rescue, ca. 1913


  1. All my life I wanted a St. Bernard.

  2. That said, I realize that may be because I've spent my life looking (to no avail) for someone to rescue me. I've come to terms with that fact that no one will rescue me and it's up to me to keep my life moving forward. But your post gave me a bit of insight I had never realized before.

    Once again, thank you.

  3. I'm glad. Discovering Shiki's work recently has been really wonderful. An amazingly talented man, he died far too young of tuberculosis. Like another invalided artist I admire, Denton Welch, the physical challenges and limitations Shiki faced seemed to amplify his other senses. A good short biography with excerpts from his work appears in Janine Beichman's book called (I think), Masaoka Shiki, His Life and Work, which is available on Amazon. Shiki is really something. Phillip Franz von Siebold, by the way, was a Swiss doctor who spent some time in Japan in the early 19th century and recorded some beautiful images of Japanese dogs. Curtis

  4. no doubt Japanese dogs now know how to keep their owners feet warm too. pgt

  5. Hi Gaye. When I read Shiki's beautifully straightforward and bold account, it reminded me of the directness my daughter showed when she composed a short speech (published here: about visiting the Loch Ness and wanting to become a cryptozoologist. I hope you're doing well. The things you post amaze me. I'm currently trying either to get my ducks in a row or circle my wagons -- I can't figure out which. Curtis