Names in this site follow the Japanese custom of family name first.

April 29, 2016

Best Places to See in the Kobe Area

It may come as a surprise to hear that my present hometown Kobe is a popular tourist destination (more than 22 million annual visitors incl. day trippers)... but these are mainly Japanese tourists and they come in my view for the wrong places (and not only as tourists but also to marry - Kobe is a popular wedding ceremony destination!).

What I mean with the "wrong places" is that Japanese visitors throng to the Ijinkan, the foreigner's houses in Kitano, or to Kobe's Chinatown – both solid tourist traps, without anything of historical value to attract the serious visitor. No wonder that most foreign tourists prefer to remain among the temples of Kyoto.

That being said, there are several extremely interesting destinations in the wider Kobe area (incl. Ashiya, Takarazuka and the Hanshin area between Kobe and Osaka) that are worth giving up your Zen garden for and traveling the short distance to this port city, but these are not very well known (and perhaps a bit specialist in nature). But if you are interested in sake, architecture, literature or art, they are certainly worth your time!

Here they are:

[Kikumasamune Sake Brewery Museum (Photo Ad Blankestijn)]

1. For sake buffs: Nada Gogo - Sake breweries and brewery museums
Wedged between the green Rokko Mountains and the blue waters of Osaka Bay, the sake area of the Five Nada Districts stretches from Nishinomiya to Kobe (skipping Ashiya), with in all several tens of large and small breweries. Today, it is not such a beautiful area as it has been densely built up in a haphazard way with flats, outlets and warehouses, but you will forget this once you stand inside the breweries which often feature buildings in historical style.

In the Edo-period, it became clear that the Nada area was optimally suitable for sake brewing due to the climate (cold winds blowing down from the Rokko mountains in winter); the water (the famous Miyamizu, the iron-less, mineral-rich water found in certain wells in Nishinomiya); the streams running down from the mountains which made rice polishing by water mills possible; the availability of good rice in the immediate vicinity; and, finally, being at the seaside with good natural harbors which made transport of the sake to Edo (Tokyo) easy.

Several breweries in the area operate small museums that offer visitors a glimpse into the history, traditions and methods of the craft of sake brewing. They also give visitors ample opportunity to find out what makes Nada sake special — and to taste the difference. I will publish a full guide to the Nada Gogo on this blog, so here are just two highlights from among the museums with exhibits of traditional sake brewing tools: those of Kikumasamune and Sawanotsuru, both housed in traditional wooden buildings.

The Kikumasamune Sake Brewery Museum is located in the Mikage district. Kikumasamune was founded in 1659 by the Kano family. One of the largest breweries in Japan, it already started exports to the U.K. in 1877. Its dry-tasting sake is representative of the sake of Nada. In the museum grounds you can see a well (with the traditional mechanism for hoisting up buckets of water) as well as the water mill for rice polishing (in the Edo-period, these mills made a higher rice polishing ratio possible, which led to a clearer taste of Nada sake and therefore an advantage in the competition with other breweries which still used hand-polishing). Inside, the museum illustrates the entire brewing process with such implements as brewing vats, koshiki (steam baskets) and a sake press.

[10 min walk south of Uozaki St on the Hanshin line; 9:30-16:30; CL New Year holidays; free].

[Sawanotsuru Sake Museum (Photo Ad Blankestijn)]

The Sawanotsuru Brewery, too, is one of Japan's largest brewing companies. It was one of the first Nada brewers to start producing ginjo sakes and is known for its deep-tasting products in the dry Nada-style. The Sawanotsuru Sake Museum was carefully rebuilt after being toppled in the 1995 earthquake. During the reconstruction, part of the site was excavated and an old sake press was discovered, with large ceramic pots set in the ground to receive the pressed sake. Besides a large number of impressive brewing vats and huge sake presses, particularly beautiful is also the replica of a koji room, with the small koji boxes neatly stocked against the wall.

[10 min walk southwest from Oishi St on the Hanshin line; 10:00-16:00; CL Wednesdays, Obon holidays, New Year holidays; free]


[Entrance Yodoko Guest House (Photo Ad Blankestijn)]

2. For architecture buffs: Yodoko Guest House or "Yamamura Residence" by Frank Lloyd Wright
A private residence designed by world-famous architect Frank Lloyd Wright (1867-1959), the only private residence he designed in Japan. Now called "Yodoko Guest House," as its owner is Yodogawa Steel Works, its original name was "Yamamura Residence." The house was constructed from 1918-1924 as a summer villa for the well-heeled sake brewer Yamamura Tazaemon (of the Sakuramasamune Brewery in Uozaki, Kobe).

[Sitting room (Photo Ad Blankestijn)]

The four floors of the house have been set into the hill in symmetrical steps, so that the house is nowhere taller than two stories. From all levels there are wonderful views of Kobe Port and Osaka Bay. The house has not been built from concrete, but from blocks of soft-textured Oya stone. The design is ingenious, and the decoration inside is marvelous as well, with mahogany framework, characteristic light fixtures and square copper plates with a delicate leaf design. See my separate post about this wonderful and magical place, designed by an architect who was in love with Japan.

[10 min walk from the north side of Ashiyagawa Station on the Hankyu Line. There is a map on the website. Hours: Open on Wednesday, Saturday, Sunday and National Holidays. 10:00-16:00; fee]


[Takenaka Carpentry Tools Museum (Photo Ad Blankestijn)]

3. Also for architecture buffs: Takenaka Carpentry Tools Museum (Takenaka Daiku Dogukan)
If you have ever wondered with what technical means Japan's temples, castles and palaces were built (and who hasn't?), then it is a good idea to make your way to the Takenaka Carpentry Tools Museum in Kobe. This beautifully furbished museum offers an in-depth overview of carpentry tools, their development and how they were used to build Japan's wooden architecture. The museum owns more than 15,000 traditional tools and various materials concerning their use and development. It was set up by the Takenaka construction company which originated in a carpenter's shop established in 1612. Learn all about the ax (ono) and the adze (chona), chisel (nomi) and gimlet (kiri), saw (nokogiri), hammer (tsuchi) and plane (kanna), carpenter’s square (sashigane) and marking gauge (kebiki) and the all-important and beautiful ink pot (sumitsubo) for marking straight lines on various surfaces. This is the most beautiful tool you'll find in the museum: a thread wound around a wooden spool has a needle attached to its other end. The needle is stuck in the surface and the thread unwound to mark the straight line - as it unwinds, it passes cleverly through a small ink pot.

[3-min walk from Shinkobe St. (map on the English museum website); 9:30 – 16:30; CL Mondays (the following day when Monday falls on a national holiday ), New Year holidays, occasional days; fee.]

[Ishoan (Photo Ad Blankestijn)]

4. For literature buffs: Ishoan - the residence of Tanizaki Junichiro
Tanizaki Junichiro, Japan's foremost 20th century author, lived from 1923 to 1943 in the Ashiya-Kobe area and Ishoan is the name of the house he rented from 1936 to 1943 (the name means "leaning on pine trees" but the trees are gone as the house originally stood on a slightly different spot). Tanizaki lived here with his third wife, Matsuko, her daughter from a previous marriage and her two sisters in a menage that must have resembled that of the The Makioka Sisters. In this house Tanizaki made his (first) modern-Japanese translation of The Tale of Genji and also started writing The Makioka Sisters. Much of the action in this novel is based on events in the lives of Tanizaki and his family in the late 1930s. I am not talking about the larger plot - the work was not autobiographical but purely a work of fiction - but about the small, seemingly inconsequential details of daily existence that together give life to the novel. The house also has many small interesting details. Note the dining room table which though small, can be extended - an example of the rational simplicity Tanizaki liked. The lamp hanging from the ceiling in the sitting room is a copy of the original and expresses Tanizaki's dislike of the bright lights you usually find in Western-style rooms: as stated in his In Praise of Shadows, he preferred half-dark and shadowy spaces, so the bottom side of this lamp is closed, and the light is only indirect. This house is a magical place (see my previous, detailed post for more details)!

[450 meters north of Uozaki St on the Hanshin line; or 150 meters north of Uozaki St on the Rokko Liner; or 900 meters south of Sumiyoshi St on the JR line; only open on Saturday and Sunday, now closed for repairs until February 2017; 10:00-16:00; free]


[Tessai Museum]

5. For art buffs: Tessai Museum
The Tessai Museum stands in the grounds of the popular Kiyoshikojin Seichoji Temple (one of the most interesting temples in the wider Kobe area, not because of its statues, architecture or gardens, but because it is a living temple and one of the few that has retained its fusion with Shinto and various folk beliefs). The museum houses a large collection of representative works of the last great Nanga or “literati painter,” Tomioka Tessai (1836–1924), a tradition that found its inspiration in the literati landscape painting of the Southern School (“Nanga”) in Yuan, Ming and Qing China. Important painters of this tradition in Japan had been Ike Taiga, Buson and Urakami Gyokudo.

Tomioka Tessai was born in Kyoto where he studied Chinese and Japanese classics. He championed traditional ways against the influx of Western ideas, also in painting, and traveled widely in Japan. He mostly lived and worked in Kyoto and was a very prolific painter with a total output of about 20,000 works. The works of his last years, after he had turned 80, are considered his best. Besides the literati style, he also worked in other styles as the “native” Yamato-e style, the folksy Otsu-e style and he made humorous haiga, haiku paintings. He was also a great calligrapher. His best works are large landscape paintings characterized by strong and free brushwork.

The collection is shown in rotating exhibitions of about fifty works each. The museum is a fitting tribute to this eccentric painter and the beautiful works he created.

[15 min walk from Kiyoshikojin St on the Hankyu Takarazuka line; 10:00-16:30; CL Mondays, irregularly for re-installation, summer / winter times, etc., so check in advance at http://www.kiyoshikojin.or.jp/en/tessai/; fee]


[Kosetsu Museum of Art (Photo Ad Blankestijn)]

6. Also for art buffs: Small museums in the Hanshin area 
The area between Osaka and Kobe ("Hanshin area"), along the various train lines that connect both cities, is characterized by the presence of many interesting private museums, set up by entrepreneurs from Osaka, who also had their residences here. Although they possess interesting collections with rare art works, these museums are easy to miss as they are only open a few weeks each spring and autumn (therefore, be sure to check if the museum is open before going there!). Here follows a brief overview of the best small museums:

Hankyu Kobe line:
Mikage: Kosetsu Museum of Art
Sitting in a quiet street close to Mikage Station, this museum houses the small (about 500 pieces) but fine collection of Murayama Ryuhei (artistic name: Kosetsu), the founder of the Asahi Newspaper. There are Chinese paintings and ceramics, Japanese paintings, Buddhist images, swords, armor, tea ceremony utensils and Korean ceramics. Exhibitions are held twice a year in spring and autumn, when about 50 objects are on view. The quality of this small collection is excellent.
[5-min walk south-east from Mikage station on the Hankyu Kobe Line; 10:00-17:00; only open in spring and autumn, check in advance; no CL during exhibitions; fee; http://www.kosetsu-museum.or.jp/]

Hankyu Kobe line:
Mikage: Hakutsuru Fine Art Museum 
Kano Jihei, president of the Hakutsuru Breweries, founded the Hakutsuru Fine Art Museum in 1931 as one of Japan’s first private museums, housed in a traditional-style building. That building from 1934 is a delight: a two-storied building in Oriental style, its roof and other design features mimicking Momoyama architecture. The main part of the 1,300 pieces strong collection is formed by Chinese art, from bronzes to ceramics and paintings. Japanese items include archaeological treasures, decorated sutras, handscrolls and screens. The museum shows a selection of about 120 pieces in two thematic exhibitions a year. (Note that this museum is different from the sake brewery museum also operated by Hakutsuru and located near Hanshin Uozaki St)
[15-min walk northeast (and uphill) from Mikage St on the Hankyu Kobe Line; 10:00-16:30; only open mid-Mar - early Jun & mid-Sept - late Nov., CL Mondays - check in advance at http://www.hakutsuru-museum.org/; fee]

[Hakutsuru Fine Art Museum (Photo Ad Blankestijn)]

Hankyu Kobe line:
Ashiyagawa: Tekisui Museum
Tekisui (“Fresh Green”) was the artistic pseudonym of banker Yamaguchi Kichirobei, who founded the Yamaguchi Bank in Osaka, and after his retirement enjoyed his hobby of collecting tea utensils and tea ceremony objects. What adds color to the collection are the other interests of Tekisui: karuta or Japanese playing cards, clay dolls and hagoita or battledores. The collection consists of about 1,500 objects.

[10-min walk from Ashiyagawa station on the Hankyu Kobe Line (in fact, not far from the Yodoko Guest House); 10:00-16:00 (enter by 15:00); CL Monday, summer, winter - check in advance; fee; http://tekisui-museum.biz-web.jp/]

Hankyu Kobe line:
Shukugawa: Kurokawa Institute of Ancient Cultures
A collection of rare artefacts from China and Japan, set up by Kurokawa Koshichi, a financier from Osaka, to administer the collection of art and antiquities of his family. As the name indicates, it is primarily a research facility. Many of the 10,000 pieces owned by the institute are rare and unusual. They are from both China and Japan. In the Chinese section, we find oracle bones, jade and bronzes from the Shang and Zhou Dynasties; belt hooks, roof tiles and tomb slabs from the Han dynasty; and bronze mirrors from all periods. From the Yuan, Ming and Qing Dynasties we have paintings and calligraphy, as well as inkstones, ink sticks, seals and rubbings. In the Japanese section we find bronze bells from the Kofun period and mirrors and roof tiles from all periods. There is also a large collection of swords and sword ornaments. Then we have a large group of sutras (Nara and Heian) and objects used in Buddhist rituals. Besides calligraphy, we also find paintings by Korin, Hoitsu, Kiitsu and Goshun.

[Take a bus from Hankyu Shukugawa St and get off at Kayando stop, then walk 800 m west (walk back in the direction from which the bus came and take the first road to the right - there is a sign also in English pointing here. Follow this road uphill). Or take a 10-min taxi from Hankyu Shukugawa St; 10:00-16:00; CL Mondays; only open during spring and autumn exhibitions, see website for dates: http://www.kurokawa-institute.or.jp/; fee]

Hankyu Takarazuka line:
Ikeda: Itsuo Art Museum
This museum houses the art objects collected by Kobayashi Ichizo (1893-1957), the founder of the Hankyu and Toho consortia of companies. The emphasis is on works related to the tea ceremony, as well as paintings by Buson and Goshun. Mr. Kobayashi was born in Yamanashi Prefecture and came to Tokyo where he joined the Mitsui Company after university. He founded his own company, the Hankyu Railway at age 34 and went on to establish the Hankyu Department Store and the Toho Movie and Theater Company not long afterwards. He set up several other business organizations as well. In the war years he served as cabinet minister, but a more enduring feat was the establishment of the Takarazuka All Girl’s Revue. From his forties he also took an interest in the tea ceremony and started a large collection of tea utensils, calligraphy and paintings for the tea room, lacquer ware and Buddhist objects. The total collection of Kobayashi Ichizo comprises 5,000 pieces, among which are fifteen important cultural properties.

[10 min walk from Ikeda St on the Hankyu Takarazuka line; 10:00-17:00; CL Mon (except NH), NY, BE (check in advance); fee; http://www.hankyu-bunka.or.jp/]

Hankyu Imazu Line (for Takarazuka)
Kotoen: Egawa Museum of Art
The small Egawa Museum exhibits the collection of Mr Egawa Tosuke, former chairman of thr Kofuku Bank. Set up in 1973, unfortunately the museum experienced some problems in the period after Japan's economic bubble burst, and had to sell off part of its holdings. But there is still enough to see. The collection is focused on paintings (suibokuga and Edo-period literati paintings, such as work by Ike Taiga) and implements for the tea ceremony. A small but fine museum.

[5 min walk from Kotoen St on the Hankyu Imazu line; 10:00-16:00; only open for exhibitions in spring and autumn, CL Mondays; fee; http://www.egawa-mus.or.jp/]

April 22, 2016

Hyakunin Isshu (One Hundred Poets, One Poem Each): Poem 17 (Ariwara no Narihira)

Hyakunin Isshu, Poem 17

chihayaburu
kamiyo mo kikazu
Tatsutagawa
karakurenai ni
mizu kuguru to wa

千早ぶる
神代もきかず
龍田川
からくれないに
水くくるとは

Not even heard of
in the legendary age
of the mighty gods:
the River Tatsuta in scarlet
and the water flowing under it.

Or, when kuguru is read as kukuru, the last two lines become:
...
the waters of the River Tatsuta
tie-dyed in scarlet.

Ariwara no Narihira (825-880)

[Scarlet autumn leaves (Photo Ad Blankestijn)]

The beauty of the red maple leaves in autumn at the River Tatsuta.

The River Tatsuta flows through the lowlands east of the Ikoma Mountains south of Nara City. The area is famous for its maple trees and its autumn foliage and figures prominently in classical poetry.

The present poem was not actually written at the River Tatsuta, but on a screen painting of that river. The custom to write poems on screens with paintings in Yamatoe-style came up at the end of the 9th c. and was quite common in the 10th c. This is made clear by a head-note in the Kokinshu which reads: "Composed on a the topic of autumn leaves flowing down the Tatsuta River, as painted on a screen belonging to the Nijo Empress when she was still called the Mother of the Heir Apparent." In other words, the poem celebrates the success and glory of the Nijo Empress in giving birth to the Heir Apparent, with its reference to the Age of the Gods. The present poem is one of the first such "screen poems" (byobu uta); in the 10th c. both Yamatoe screens and accompanying poems were produced in large numbers.

"Chihayaburu" is a makurakotoba for the Age of the Gods. "Karakurenai" is scarlet, literally "Chinese scarlet," as this particular color nuance probably came from China.

The meaning of the last two lines changes depending on whether one reads the verb as kukuru or kuguru. Kukuru is probably the original reading, meaning "to tie-dye." So the waters of the Tatsuta look as if they have been tie-dyed in scarlet - tie-dyeing was a technique that came up in the 8th c., in which cloth was bound, folded or compressed to achieve different colored patterns. This is quite a complex and refined comparison (mitate). But in later centuries (and also in the time of Hyakunin Isshu compiler Fujiwara Teika) the verb was read kuguru which means "to pass under," resulting in the interpretation of blue water flowing under the surface covering of the fallen red foliage. And that is also beautiful.

[Narihira looking for the ghost of Ono no Komachi, by Yoshitoshi (Photo Wikipedia)]

The courtier and poet Ariwara no Narihira (825-880) was counted both among the Six and Thirty-six Poetic Immortals. He was also thought to be the protagonist of the mid 9th c. Ise Monogatari (The Ise Stories), which formed around a collection of his poems, and was inspired by his many renowned love affairs. The grandson of two emperors (Heizei and Kanmu), he was a model of the handsome, amorous nobleman. Various imperial anthologies contain almost 90 of his poems. Donald Keene has remarked about him: "Narihira combined all the qualities most admired in a Heian courtier: he was of high birth, extremely handsome, a gifted poet, and an all-conquering lover. He was probably also an expert horseman, adept in arms, and a competent official. These aspects of his life are not emphasized in the Tales of Ise, but they distinguish Narihira from other heroes of Heian literature, including Prince Genji." But because of his many love affairs he was also criticized in contemporary records as "unrestrained in self-indulgence." He would perhaps have been the perfect lover for Ono no Komachi, but there is no indication that they ever met, although speculation has always been rife.

[Also included in Kokinshu 294]
References: Pictures of the Heart, The Hyakunin Isshu in Word and Image by Joshua S. Mostow (University of Hawai'i Press, 1996); Traditional Japanese Poetry, An Anthology, by Steven D. Carter (Stanford University Press, 1991); Hyakunin Isshu by Inoue Muneo, etc. (Shinchosha, 1990); Genshoku Hyakunin Isshu by Suzuki Hideo, etc. (Buneido, 1997); Ogura Hyakunin Isshu at Japanese Text Initiative (University of Virginia Library Etext Center); Hyakunin Isshu wo aruku by Shimaoka Shin (Kofusha Shuppan); Hyakunin Isshu, Ocho waka kara chusei waka e by Inoue Muneo (Chikuma Shoin, 2004); Basho's Haiku (2 vols) by Toshiharu Oseko (Maruzen, 1990); The Ise Stories by Joshua S. Mostow and Royall Tyler (University of Hawai'i Press, 2010); Kokin Wakashu, The First Imperial Anthology of Japanese Poetry by Helen Craig McCullough (Stanford University Press, 1985); Kokinshu, A Collection of Poems Ancient and Modern by Laurel Rasplica Rodd and Mary Catherine Henkenius (University of Tokyo Press, 1984); Kokin Wakashu (Shogakkan, 1994); Shinkokin Wakashu (Shogakkan, 1995); Taketori Monogatari-Ise Monogatari-Yamato Monogatari-Heichu Monogatari (Shogakkan, 1994). 
Hyakunin Isshu Introduction - Poem 1 - Poem 2 - Poem 3 - Poem 4 - Poem 5 - Poem 6 - Poem 7 - Poem 8 - Poem 9 - Poem 10 - Poem 11 - Poem 12 - Poem 13 - Poem 14 - Poem 15 - Poem 16 - Poem 17 - Poem 18 - Poem 19 - Poem 20 -

April 15, 2016

Hyakunin Isshu (One Hundred Poets, One Poem Each): Poem 16 (Ariwara no Yukihira)

Hyakunin Isshu, Poem 16

tachiwakare
Inaba no yama no
mine ni ouru
matsu to shi kikaba
ima kaerikomu

立ち別れ
いなばの山の
峰に生ふる
まつとしきかば
今かへりこむ

Even if I depart now
and leave for Mount Inaba,
on whose peak grow pines,
if I hear you pine for me
I will right away hurry back!

Ariwara no Yukihira (818-893)

[Pine tree in the mountains (Photo Wikipedia)]

Regret about the parting from friends in the capital when being sent as governor to the provinces. The poet stresses how difficult it is for him to leave. This poem was probably written during the farewell party held for the poet. 

The courtier, bureaucrat and poet Ariwara no Yukihira (818-893) was the scholarly older brother (by a different mother) of Ariwara no Narihira (Poem 17) and a grandson of Emperor Heizei, via Prince Abo. He reached the court rank of Chunagon, middle counselor. Four authentic poems have been preserved in the Kokinshu, and four more in the Gosenshu. The present poem was written in 855 when Yukihira was sent to serve as governor of Inaba Province (now part of Tottori Prefecture). Provincial governor was a middle-ranking position, financially not unattractive, but unpopular as it meant one had to leave the bright lights (and career possibilities) of the capital. 

The poem contains two pivot words (kakekotoba). Mount Inaba (a mountain in Inaba Province, close to the seat of the provincial government) is also a pun on "inaba," "even if I depart." And "matsu" in line four means both "pine tree" and "to wait" - or "to pine." Additionally, the first three lines form a jokotoba (preface) to "matsu." Note that the pine tree standing lonely on the mountain is also a symbol for the loneliness of the poet in Inaba Province.

[Ariwara no Yukihira in exile on Suma Beach, with the two fishing girl sisters, by Yoshitoshi (Photo Wikipedia)]

Mostow tells that Yukihira was in the first place known for his exile to Suma (in present-day Kobe), where he presumably had a love affair with two fisher girls, Matsukaze and Murasame. The sisters waited in vain for Yukihira after he had returned to the capital Heiankyo (Kyoto). This story was picked up in the Noh play Matsukaze and also led to a popular change in interpretation of the present poem: instead of reading it as written when Yukihira left Heiankyo to go to Inaba, it was interpreted as written when Yukihira was leaving Inaba, to return to the sisters on the beach of Suma (although this disregards the opening line!). Yukihira's exile in Suma may also have inspired Murasaki Shikibu to have her hero Genji exiled to the same place in the Suma and Akashi chapters of the The Tale of Genji.

[Also included in Kokinshu 365]
References: Pictures of the Heart, The Hyakunin Isshu in Word and Image by Joshua S. Mostow (University of Hawai'i Press, 1996); Traditional Japanese Poetry, An Anthology, by Steven D. Carter (Stanford University Press, 1991); Hyakunin Isshu by Inoue Muneo, etc. (Shinchosha, 1990); Genshoku Hyakunin Isshu by Suzuki Hideo, etc. (Buneido, 1997); Ogura Hyakunin Isshu at Japanese Text Initiative (University of Virginia Library Etext Center); Hyakunin Isshu wo aruku by Shimaoka Shin (Kofusha Shuppan); Hyakunin Isshu, Ocho waka kara chusei waka e by Inoue Muneo (Chikuma Shoin, 2004); Basho's Haiku (2 vols) by Toshiharu Oseko (Maruzen, 1990); The Ise Stories by Joshua S. Mostow and Royall Tyler (University of Hawai'i Press, 2010); Kokin Wakashu, The First Imperial Anthology of Japanese Poetry by Helen Craig McCullough (Stanford University Press, 1985); Kokinshu, A Collection of Poems Ancient and Modern by Laurel Rasplica Rodd and Mary Catherine Henkenius (University of Tokyo Press, 1984); Kokin Wakashu (Shogakkan, 1994); Shinkokin Wakashu (Shogakkan, 1995); Taketori Monogatari-Ise Monogatari-Yamato Monogatari-Heichu Monogatari (Shogakkan, 1994). 
Hyakunin Isshu Introduction - Poem 1 - Poem 2 - Poem 3 - Poem 4 - Poem 5 - Poem 6 - Poem 7 - Poem 8 - Poem 9 - Poem 10 - Poem 11 - Poem 12 - Poem 13 - Poem 14 - Poem 15 - Poem 16 - Poem 17 - Poem 18 - Poem 19 - Poem 20 -

April 6, 2016

Hyakunin Isshu (One Hundred Poets, One Poem Each): Poem 15 (Emperor Koko)

Hyakunin Isshu, Poem 15

kimi ga tame
haru no no ni idete
wakana tsumu
waga koromode ni
yuki wa furitsutsu

君がため
春の野に出でて
若菜つむ
わが衣手に
雪はふりつつ

For your sake
I went into the fields of spring
to pick young greens,
while on the sleeves of my robe
the snow kept falling.

Emperor Koko (830-887, r. 884-887)

[Fields in early spring at the foot of Mt Nijo, Nara (Photo Ad Blankestijn)]

A poem sent with a gift of young greens.

Picking young greens in the fields and eating these was a romantic custom of the palace that formed part of the New Year festivities. It was considered to guarantee good health in the new year and is the predecessor of the modern custom the eat Seven Herb Porridge (nanakusa-gayu) on January 7. In the modern case, small amounts of seven different herbs are added to the porridge and these may well have been similar to the greens picked in the Heian period: nazuna or shepherd's purse, hakobe or chickweed, seri or water dropworth, gogyo or cudweed, hotokenoza or henbit, suzuna or turnip and daikon or white radish.

[The modern Nanakusa herbs (Photo Wikipedia)]

The poet, Emperor Koko, was the third son of Emperor Ninmyo and placed on the throne at the age of 55 by the Fujiwara regent Mototsune to replace Emperor Yozei (see Poem 13). It was in his reign that the politically powerful system of the Fujiwara regency was instituted. He has 14 poems in imperial anthologies. 

The Kokinshu includes a head note for this poem, stating that it "was sent together with young greens to someone when the emperor was still a prince." The addressee is unknown. Sending such greens formed a wish for good luck and longevity to the receiver in the new year.

[Same poem in Kokinshu 21]
References: Pictures of the Heart, The Hyakunin Isshu in Word and Image by Joshua S. Mostow (University of Hawai'i Press, 1996); Traditional Japanese Poetry, An Anthology, by Steven D. Carter (Stanford University Press, 1991); Hyakunin Isshu by Inoue Muneo, etc. (Shinchosha, 1990); Genshoku Hyakunin Isshu by Suzuki Hideo, etc. (Buneido, 1997); Ogura Hyakunin Isshu at Japanese Text Initiative (University of Virginia Library Etext Center); Hyakunin Isshu wo aruku by Shimaoka Shin (Kofusha Shuppan); Basho's Haiku (2 vols) by Toshiharu Oseko (Maruzen, 1990); The Ise Stories by Joshua S. Mostow and Royall Tyler (University of Hawai'i Press, 2010); Kokin Wakashu, The First Imperial Anthology of Japanese Poetry by Helen Craig McCullough (Stanford University Press, 1985); Kokinshu, A Collection of Poems Ancient and Modern by Laurel Rasplica Rodd and Mary Catherine Henkenius (University of Tokyo Press, 1984); Kokin Wakashu (Shogakkan, 1994); Shinkokin Wakashu (Shogakkan, 1995); Taketori Monogatari-Ise Monogatari-Yamato Monogatari-Heichu Monogatari (Shogakkan, 1994).
Hyakunin Isshu Introduction - Poem 1 - Poem 2 - Poem 3 - Poem 4 - Poem 5 - Poem 6 - Poem 7 - Poem 8 - Poem 9 - Poem 10 - Poem 11 - Poem 12 - Poem 13 - Poem 14 - Poem 15 - Poem 16 - Poem 17 - Poem 18 - Poem 19 - Poem 20 -

April 3, 2016

Best Cherry Blossom Spots in Kyoto

Where can you find the best hanami spots in Kyoto?

Here are my five favorite cherry blossom locations:

[The canal in Okazaki Park]

1. Okazaki Park, Keage Incline and Tetsugaku no Michi
This is my favorite walk because of the great variety of scenery, the many, different cherry blossoms, and the combination of "industrial archaeology" with ancient temples. For starters, in Okazaki Park (which is easily reached from Jingumichi St on the Tozai subway line) you have a nice scene of cherry trees along the canal which runs next to Niomondori, south of the Kyoto Municipal Museum of Art. (In April, boat rides on the canal are available).


[The Keage Incline]

Follow Niomondori east; just before the crossing with Shirakawadori you will see the Lake Biwa Canal Museum and in this area you'll also find a staircase where you can go down to the starting point of the Incline (see my article about the Incline and Lake Biwa Canal Museum, a hydro-electric engineering project from the Meiji-period that was to bring water from Lake Biwa to Kyoto for irrigation and electricity generation). Follow the Incline all the way up, past the boats, and you will walk between the cherry trees that have been planted on both sides of the Incline (see here for another post with more photos). At the very end, above Keage Station, is a park with a statue of the young engineer Tanabe Sakuro, who was in charge of this project; here you can also have a picnic if you have brought a bento. This finishes the first leg of the walk and you can return by going down to Keage Station (Tozai line); when you still have stamina left and want to continue, pass through the tunnel below the Incline and enter the grounds of Nanzenji.

[The Philosopher's Path, Tetsugaku no Michi]

There are occasional cherry trees here, but the nice part of the walk is Tetsugaku no Michi (the Philosopher's Path, named after Kyoto University professor Nishida Kitaro who liked to stroll here), starting past Eikando temple, where in 1922 cherry trees were planted along the stream by painter Hashimoto Kansetsu who lived here in the neighborhood. The path is a bit narrow, so avoid the weekends. Near the northern end of the path, you will find a few interesting temples. Reikanji (a nunnery with an excellent collection of dolls) and Anrakuji (a temple with an interesting legend about two disciples of Honen and the palace ladies they converted) have special openings (Reikanji the first week of April, Anrakuji on Saturdays during the first ten days of April) and Honenin, which always has part of its garden open, in addition opens its Main Hall and Abbot's garden to visitors during the first week of April. A nice bonus to the sakura along the Philosopher's Path.


[Cherry blossoms and pagoda in Ninnaji Temple]

2. Ninnaji Temple and Hirano Shrine
Ninnaji is famous for its late blossoming yaezakura, so plan this as your late-in-season hanami. Called "Omuro-zakura," the trees do not grow taller than just two meters and the branches hang low, so it feels as if you are wading through low hanging blossom clouds! It is also interesting to see the pagoda of Ninnaji temple rise up from these blossom clouds. Here is another post on Ninnaji's cherry blossoms. (If you like Buddhist art, also have a look at the wonderful sculptures in the Ninnaji Museum).

[Blossoms and stone statues in Rengeji Temple]

Don't forget to drop by at Rengeji, a small temple to the east of Ninnaji, which has some interesting stone statues sitting amid the blossoms.

An easy way to get to Ninnaji is to take the Keifuku Electric Railroad to Omura Ninnaji Station.

[Heian court ladies during the Cherry Blossom Festival of the Hirano Shrine]

If you can plan your visit to Ninnaji on April 10, you can take the Keifuku Line to its terminus, Kitano Hakubaicho, and then walk north along Nishiojidori until you reach the Hirano Shrine (on the east side of Nishiojidori after passing the crossing with Kamitachiuridori). The Hirano Shrine is famous for its yozakura, which are lighted up in the evening, but the best event to see here is the Cherry Blossom Festival (Okasai) on April 10, which features a mikoshi procession of people dressed in Heian court dress - the colorful costumes make a nice contrast with the blossoms. It starts at 10:00; the mikoshi return in the early afternoon, so you can also first go to Ninnaji.


[Cherry blossoms and tulips in Kyoto Botanical Garden]

3. Kyoto Botanical Park and Nakaragi no Michi, on the bank of the Kamo River
The 24,000 sq.m. large Kyoto Botanical Park stands in northern Kyoto, along the banks of the Kamo River, and incorporates an original piece of woodland. There are 500 cherry trees, of the varieties Somei, Yoshino and Shidarezakura. They stand along the paths and in grassy areas and you are allowed to picnic under the trees, although alcohol is forbidden. But as this is a botanical garden, you have other flowers as well. I particularly like the combination of the red tulips at the entrance to the gardens with the backdrop of pink cherries.

[Nakaragi no Michi alongside the Kamo River]

The best way to enter the botanical gardens is the north exit, as this is immediately next to Kitayama Station on the subway line. See my post about these gardens with more pictures here. Again, there is an interesting bonus: next to the north gate stands the Kyoto Garden of Fine Arts, a plaza with walls of cascading water, designed by Ando Tadao in his familiar style of smooth concrete, where eight famous paintings of world art have been copied on large ceramic tiles (see my post about this museum).

And finally, take a stroll along the path running between the botanical gardens and the Kamo River, called "Nakaragi no Michi" - here, too, are some beautiful cherry blossoms. There are benches here, so you can sit down and enjoy the river scenery (and finally break open your cup sake).


[Cherry blossoms and boats in Arashiyama]

4. Arashiyama (and Seiryoji)
Arashiyama (or Ranzan in Chinese-style reading, as found in the names of hotels and restaurants) means "Storm Mountain" so at first sight it would not seem one of the most scenic spots in Kyoto, but that is only the name of the 381 m. tall mountain that rises up steeply on the right bank of the Hozu River here. Arashiyama is a popular cherry blossom spot, and the old-fashioned Togetsukyo Bridge spanning the river here can get crowded, but as it happens the nicest blossom viewing spot is from the extensive (and not crowded) Kameyama Park (on the east bank). From the hill at the back of the park, you have a great view over the steep gorge of the Hozu River, where the sakura hang as pink clouds on the mountain slope. The trees were planted here at the order of the 9th c. Emperor Saga, who had them brought from the sacred groves in Yoshino.

[Gorge of the Hozu River]

The beauty is in the valley with its steep wooded cliffs, the river with the flat-bottomed boats that carry tourists via the gorge from Kameoka, the old-fashioned Togetsukyo bridge that spans it, the temples and their gardens, and the quiet countryside behind it all. Read more in my previous article on sakura in Arashiyama.

[Kyogen performance in Seiryoji]

And again we have a bonus: Seiryoji Temple, where on April 3, 9 and 10 the Saga Dainenbutsu Kyogen is held, a unique ancient religious theater performance, started by the Buddhist monk Enkaku in the hope of seeing his deceased mother again. The performances which begin at 13:30, 14:30 and 15:30 are free. In the same period, the birth of the Buddha (which took place on April 8) is celebrated at Seiryoji. In addition, the treasure hall with great statues is also open. Don't forget to see the Chinese-style Shaka statue in the main hall.

Seiryoji is 15 minutes by foot from JR Sanin Main Line Saga-Arashiyama Station; Arashiyama can be reached from the same station, or from the Arashiyama Hankyu and Keifuku stations.


[Weeping cherry tree in Shojiji]

5. Oharano with Shojiji and Shoboji temples
Finally, a "hidden spot," that is to say, a hanami spot where you will find very few other visitors and almost certainly no tourists. In Oharano, in Kyoto's Western Hills, you will find a cluster of temples: Shojiji, Hobodaiin, Shoboji and the Oharano Shrine. Shojiji is nicknamed "hana no tera," "Blossom Temple," and features a cherry tree presumable planted by the poet Saigyo when he was head of the temple (in reality, it is a descendant of that tree). Saigyo is known for the many poems he wrote about cherry blossoms, and also for his wish to die under a cherry tree in the blossom season - a wish that seems to have been fulfilled to the letter. Shojiji also has some good weeping cherry trees, and an interesting array of Buddhist statues in its small museum. Even more interesting statues - a very sensual Boddhisattva statue - can be found in neighboring Hobodaiin.


[Single blossoming tree with borrowed scenery in the modern garden of Shoboji]

But for more blossom beauty, you'll have to walk to another temple in this area, Shoboji. Sit down on the veranda and observe the garden, which incorporates the Eastern Hills lying on the horizon as borrowed scenery (shakkei). It was a masterful stroke of the garden designer to plant just one slender cherry tree right in the middle of this scenery, as a foreground to the borrowed landscape. The rocks in the (modern) garden form a sort of intermediaries that lift the eyes above the low garden wall and then on towards the distant mountain scenery.

The temples in this area, far from the path trodden by tourists, are very quiet, making this the ideal place to enjoy cherry blossoms.

You can reach these temples by first taking the JR to JR Mukomachi Station or the Hankyu line to Hankyu Higashi-Muko Station, and then either a bus to Minami-Kasugamachi (after which it is a 15-min walk) or a bus to Rakusaikokomae (20-min walk). There is about one bus per hour.

April 2, 2016

Hyakunin Isshu (One Hundred Poets, One Poem Each): Poem 14 (Minamoto no Toru)

Hyakunin Isshu, Poem 14

Michinoku no
shinobu mojizuri
tare yue ni
midare someishi
ware naranaku ni

みちのくの
しのぶもぢずり
誰故に
乱れそめにし
我ならなくに

That my love has become confused
like the tangle-patterned prints
of Shinobu from the far north,
is not my fault,
but only because of you!

Minamoto no Toru (822-895)

[Mojizuri Stone in the Mojizuri Kannon temple, Fukushima (Photo Ad Blankestijn)]

The poet complains that it is not his fault that he has fallen into a forbidden love, but the "fault" of the lady in question who is just too attractive. In the Heian-period, a forbidden or secret love was love for the wife of another man, or for a lady of a much higher rank than one's own.

"Michinoku," the area mentioned in the poem, is the eastern part of the Tohoku region; "Shinobu" is an actual place name for a locality which now lies in the outskirts of Fukushima city.

"Shinobu-mojizuri" refers to an ancient dyeing process in which moss fern (shinobu) was rubbed into cloth, creating a "wild" pattern; shinobu is also a pivot word with as second meaning "to love secretly." The whole phrase "Michinoku no / shinobu mojizuri" is a preface (jo) to the word midare, disordered.

"The tangle-patterned prints of Shinobu from the far north" are symbolic for a heart moved by love - just as the prints were pressed on textiles, so the heart of the poet has been imprinted with feelings of love; and just as the prints are tangle-patterned, so his heart is confused (or wild).

That does not exhaust the many rhetorical tricks of this poem, for "some" in "somenishi" is also a pivot word meaning both "to dye" and "to begin." In the meaning "to dye" it moreover provides engo or word association back to shinobu of which we already noted the double meaning of a "fern" and "secret or forbidden love."

[Mojizuri Kannon Temple in Fukushima (Photo Ad Blankestijn)]

The poet is Minamoto no Toru (822-95), the luxury-loving son of Emperor Saga, who had been made a commoner with the family name "Minamoto" (or Genji), just like the fictional Genji in the Genji Monogatari (in fact, Minamoto no Toru may have provided one of the models for the character of Genji). He became an official of the highest rank and was known as "the Riverbank Minister of the Left" (Kawara Sadaijin) after a huge mansion he had built on the west bank of the Kamo River in Kyoto, where he hosted poetry gatherings. There was also a large garden where he evoked a romantic scene at Matsushima Bay in Tohoku by boiling vats of salt water (like the people in that area did for salt production). He was therefore considered a model of courtly elegance (furyu).

In fact, the above poem gave rise to the (undoubtedly fictional) story that he had indeed traveled to far-away northeastern Japan on some official business. In the village of Shinobu, known for its production of the unusual fern-type kimono design, he fell in love with a local woman and delayed his return to the capital. Eventually he had to leave and that is when he supposedly wrote the poem about his love confusion.

But although this story is undoubtedly untrue and Minamoto no Toru probably never left the capital, it became a famous utamakura (an allusive place-name used in waka poetry).

[Minamoto no Toru (Photo Wikipedia)]

As the famous haiku poet Basho centuries later undertook his trip to the north described in Oku no Hosomichi to visit the utamakura of that region, he also came to Shinobu and the Mojizuri Stone and wrote the following haiku:

The skilled hands picking up 
rice seedlings remind me of the 
making of tangle-patterned cloth in the past.

[Sanae toru / temoto ya mukashi / shinobu-zuri]

He visited in spring and saw how the local women were setting out rice seedlings in the paddies - this reminded him that in the past those same skilled hands had been making the "tangle-patterned prints" of Shinobu.

[Basho statue in the grounds of the Mojizuri Kannon Temple (Photo Ad Blankestijn)]

In Shinobu in the outskirts of Fukushima City now stands a small Kannon temple. In the grounds lies a big rock, the Mojizuri Stone, which supposedly was used to rub the fern patterns into the cloth. It also figures in a continuation of the story of the village woman loved by Minamoto no Toru: after she visited this Kannon temple for 100 days, she was allowed to see the face of her far-away lover, as in a mirror, in the Mojizuri Stone...

To make things more complicated, this poem is also quoted in quite a different context in the first story in The Ise Stories (Ise Monogatari), where a man, hunting in the village of Kasuga in Nara, through a crack in their fence spies on two lovely sisters and sends them a poem written on a piece of the hem of his hunting cloak - which happened to be printed with a Shinobu leaf-tangle pattern. The present Hyakunin Isshu poem is then quoted as the answer from the sisters. 

References: Pictures of the Heart, The Hyakunin Isshu in Word and Image by Joshua S. Mostow (University of Hawai'i Press, 1996); Traditional Japanese Poetry, An Anthology, by Steven D. Carter (Stanford University Press, 1991); Hyakunin Isshu by Inoue Muneo, etc. (Shinchosha, 1990); Genshoku Hyakunin Isshu by Suzuki Hideo, etc. (Buneido, 1997); Ogura Hyakunin Isshu at Japanese Text Initiative (University of Virginia Library Etext Center); Hyakunin Isshu wo aruku by Shimaoka Shin (Kofusha Shuppan); Basho's Haiku (2 vols) by Toshiharu Oseko (Maruzen, 1990); The Ise Stories by Joshua S. Mostow and Royall Tyler (University of Hawai'i Press, 2010); Kokin Wakashu, The First Imperial Anthology of Japanese Poetry by Helen Craig McCullough (Staford University Press, 1985); Kokinshu, A Collection of Poems Ancient and Modern by Laurel Rasplica Rodd and Mary Catherine Henkenius (University of Tokyo Press, 1984); Kokin Wakashu (Shogakkan, 1994); Shinkokin Wakashu (Shogakkan, 1995); Taketori Monogatari-Ise Monogatari-Yamato Monogatari-Heichu Monogatari (Shogakkan, 1994).
Hyakunin Isshu Introduction - Poem 1 - Poem 2 - Poem 3 - Poem 4 - Poem 5 - Poem 6 - Poem 7 - Poem 8 - Poem 9 - Poem 10 - Poem 11 - Poem 12 - Poem 13 - Poem 14 - Poem 15 - Poem 16 - Poem 17 - Poem 18 - Poem 19 - Poem 20 -

March 28, 2016

Hyakunin Isshu (One Hundred Poets, One Poem Each): Poem 13 (Emperor Yozei)

Hyakunin Isshu, Poem 13

Tsukuba ne no
mine yori otsuru
Minanogawa
koi zo tsumorite
fuchi to narinuru


  Like the River Mina
falling down from the peak
of Mount Tsukuba,
so my longing has grown
into a deepening pool.

筑波嶺の
峰より落つる
みなの川
恋ぞつもりて
淵となりぬる

The Retired Emperor Yozei (868-949)

[Mount Tsukuba]

As time goes by, the poet's love grows deeper, like the deep pools in a river, which starts as a small trickle, but then expands into a wild stream.

The poet, Emperor Yozei (868-949), reigned from 876 to 884, as a child emperor. He was forced to abdicate by Regent Fujiwara no Mototsune and replaced by Emperor Koko, a son of Emperor Ninmyo. The histories transmit several anecdotes about Yozei's cruelty and mental instability, but these should probably be taken with a large grain of salt, for (as so often happened in Chinese and Japanese historiography) they may be fabrications to justify the forced abdication and whitewash the action by the Fujiwara powermonger.

After he had abdicated, Yozei led a very long life, and he often organized poetry gatherings. However, the present poem is the sole one with which he is represented in the imperial anthologies. In the Gosenshu anthology, this poem is accompanied by a head note reading "Sent to the Princess of the Tsuridono."

The "Princess of the Tsuridono" has been identified as Suishi, the daughter of Emperor Koko; the princess indeed did become the wife of Ex-Emperor Yozei, so this poem can be considered as a rare example of a love poem that actually was effective!

Mt Tsukuba stands in central Ibaraki Prefecture and has two peaks, Nantaisan and Nyotaisan. It is already sung about in the 7th c. Manyoshu. Its height is 876 meters; the Tsukuba Shrine is located on the mountain. As the mountain with its characteristic shape can be seen from afar in mainly flat Ibaraki, it is a famous landmark.

This poem uses the technique of jo-kotoba, a preface, consisting of the first three lines. "Fuchi" is a deep pool in a body of water.

[Same poem in Gosenshu 776]
References: Pictures of the Heart, The Hyakunin Isshu in Word and Image by Joshua S. Mostow (University of Hawai'i Press, 1996); Traditional Japanese Poetry, An Anthology, by Steven D. Carter (Stanford University Press, 1991); Hyakunin Isshu by Inoue Muneo, etc. (Shinchosha, 1990); Genshoku Hyakunin Isshu by Suzuki Hideo, etc. (Buneido, 1997); Ogura Hyakunin Isshu at Japanese Text Initiative (University of Virginia Library Etext Center); Hyakunin Isshu wo aruku by Shimaoka Shin (Kofusha Shuppan); Basho's Haiku (2 vols) by Toshiharu Oseko (Maruzen, 1990); The Ise Stories by Joshua S. Mostow and Royall Tyler (University of Hawai'i Press, 2010); Kokin Wakashu, The First Imperial Anthology of Japanese Poetry by Helen Craig McCullough (Staford University Press, 1985); Kokinshu, A Collection of Poems Ancient and Modern by Laurel Rasplica Rodd and Mary Catherine Henkenius (University of Tokyo Press, 1984); Kokin Wakashu (Shogakkan, 1994); Shinkokin Wakashu (Shogakkan, 1995); Taketori Monogatari-Ise Monogatari-Yamato Monogatari-Heichu Monogatari (Shogakkan, 1994).
Hyakunin Isshu Introduction - Poem 1 - Poem 2 - Poem 3 - Poem 4 - Poem 5 - Poem 6 - Poem 7 - Poem 8 - Poem 9 - Poem 10 - Poem 11 - Poem 12 - Poem 13 - Poem 14 - Poem 15 - Poem 16 - Poem 17 - Poem 18 - Poem 19 - Poem 20 -

March 22, 2016

Hyakunin Isshu (One Hundred Poets, One Poem Each): Poem 12 (Priest Henjo)

Hyakunin Isshu, Poem 12

amatsukaze
kumo no kayoiji
fukitoji yo
otome no sugata
shibashi todomemu 

O winds from on high,
blow shut
that path through the clouds,
so that I can detain a moment longer
these heavenly maidens' forms!

天つ風
雲のかよひ路
吹きとぢよ
乙女のすがた
しばしとどめむ

Archbishop Henjo (816-890)

[Not the Gosechi dancers, but maiko dancing at the
Miyako Odori performance]

The beauty of the dancing girls performing the Gosechi dance is such that the poet confuses them with heavenly maidens.

"O winds blowing from the heavens, close off  the paths to the clouds, as I want to enjoy a while longer the forms of these heavenly dancers!"

Not a very priestly poem, but Henjo, who later took the tonsure and reached the church rank of archbishop, wrote this presumably during his time at court, between 844 and 849. The Gosechi was a dance celebrating the harvest, performed by four to six young unmarried women from aristocratic families. Those families would compete with each other in having their most beautiful daughters take part. The Gosechi dance was an immensely popular event at court and the beautiful dancers attracted much attention - in The Tale of Genji, Yugiri, the son of Prince Genji, falls in love with a Gosechi dancer.

The custom of performing the Gosechi dance at court presumably originated in the time of Emperor Tenmu (the husband of Empress Jito of Poem 2), who, when on an excursion to Yoshino, played the koto "upon which heavenly maidens appeared dancing in the sky." Henjo praises the (real) dancers by comparing them to those heavenly maidens from the legend (a sort of "angels" in Western terms), and at the same time he praises Emperor Ninmyo by comparing his reign to that of the famous Tenmu. 


Henjo (816-890), originally named Yoshimine no Munesada, was a courtier and waka poet at the court of Emperor Ninmyo, which he entered in 844. Emperor Kanmu was his paternal grandfather and both Ariwara no Narihira and Emperor Ninmyo were his cousins. When the emperor died suddenly in 849, Henjo took vows as a priest of the Tendai school. He studied for two decades at Enryakuji Temple on Mt Hiei with the famous priests Ennin and Enchin. Meanwhile, he also participated in literary activities at the court. He used the temple Unrinin in Murasakino as his residence close to the capital (it occupied much of the terrain which now belongs to Daitokuji). In 885 he attained the rank of Sojo, archbishop. Despite that, he was also rumored to have had a love affair with Ono no Komachi (see Poem 9). Henjo is counted among both the Six and Thirty-six Poetic Immortals and has 35 poems in the Kokinshu and later anthologies.

[Same poem in Kokinshu 872]
References: Pictures of the Heart, The Hyakunin Isshu in Word and Image by Joshua S. Mostow (University of Hawai'i Press, 1996); Traditional Japanese Poetry, An Anthology, by Steven D. Carter (Stanford University Press, 1991); Hyakunin Isshu by Inoue Muneo, etc. (Shinchosha, 1990); Genshoku Hyakunin Isshu by Suzuki Hideo, etc. (Buneido, 1997); Ogura Hyakunin Isshu at Japanese Text Initiative (University of Virginia Library Etext Center); Hyakunin Isshu wo aruku by Shimaoka Shin (Kofusha Shuppan); Basho's Haiku (2 vols) by Toshiharu Oseko (Maruzen, 1990); The Ise Stories by Joshua S. Mostow and Royall Tyler (University of Hawai'i Press, 2010); Kokin Wakashu, The First Imperial Anthology of Japanese Poetry by Helen Craig McCullough (Staford University Press, 1985); Kokinshu, A Collection of Poems Ancient and Modern by Laurel Rasplica Rodd and Mary Catherine Henkenius (University of Tokyo Press, 1984); Kokin Wakashu (Shogakkan, 1994); Shinkokin Wakashu (Shogakkan, 1995); Taketori Monogatari-Ise Monogatari-Yamato Monogatari-Heichu Monogatari (Shogakkan, 1994).
Hyakunin Isshu Introduction - Poem 1 - Poem 2 - Poem 3 - Poem 4 - Poem 5 - Poem 6 - Poem 7 - Poem 8 - Poem 9 - Poem 10 - Poem 11 - Poem 12 - Poem 13 - Poem 14 - Poem 15 - Poem 16 - Poem 17 - Poem 18 - Poem 19 - Poem 20 -

March 15, 2016

A Kobe Tragedy: The Story of Unai

One of the most "famous" legends from Kobe ("famous" within quotation marks as almost nobody today has heard of it), is the tragic story of Unai, the so-called "marriage-refusing maiden." For us living CE 2016 it is a weird story, but it seems to have haunted the imagination of the ancient Japanese. The Kobe legend inspired several 8th c. Manyoshu poems as well as the Kan'ami Noh play Motomezuka. In addition, the basic version of the legend can be read in the poem-tale collection Yamato Monogatari, dating from the mid-tenth century.

[Otomezuka, near Ishiyagawa St on the Hanshin line in Kobe]

Let's start with the Kobe legend. A young women, called Unai, was torn between two particular suitors, without being able to make a choice (she should have done like Miriam Hopkins in Design for a Living (1933) by Ernst Lubitsch, who takes both her lovers Frederic March and Gary Cooper!). Unai has been named after the village in the Ashiya area where she hailed from (deriving from the term "unabara," which means "vast ocean"), and one of her lovers came from the same village. The other one came from Chinu, on the coast SE of Osaka. Unai did not know what to do - both young men were equally wonderful and she just couldn't make a choice. To decide the case, in the Noh play she has the suitors compete by shooting at waterbirds on the Ikuta River. But both arrows strike the same bird, even simultaneously... and Unai in despair throws herself into the river.

This will shock modern readers: there seems to be no psychological justification for her suicide. Perhaps it is an extreme example of what the Japanese call "enryo," "deference to others." Unai apparently felt bad that these fine young men were fighting each other on her behalf and thought that she could solve the matter by removing herself from the equation. Rather than bring unhappiness to those who loved her, she ended her own life. (By the way, this situation is mirrored in The Tale of Genji, where Ukifune is unable to choose between Kaoru and Niou and decides to drown herself in the Uji River - without, by the way, succeeding for she is saved.)

But that was a miscalculation: both lovesick suitors immediately followed her in death...

[Otomezuka]

People later built her grave on the coast. That is now - still according to legend - the Otomezuka tomb in Higashinada-ku, Kobe. At some distance, on both sides, the tombs of the two suitors have been placed. (Of course, these graves are really kofun, keyhole graves from the 4th century, where local potentates were buried. The legend was later attached to such pre-existing graves).

The best poem version is by Takahashi no Mushimaro (active 720s-730s), who was known for his poems on travel and various local legends. As Edwin Cranston says in the introduction to his translation, Mushimaro recasts the three suicides in terms of flight and pursuit and so manages to convey the blindness of passion.

The Noh play Motomezuka ("The Sought-for Grave") goes one step further than the Manyoshu poem and Yamato Monogatari story by showing us the afterlife of Unai. A priest, who is traveling through the Ikuta area, meets the ghost of Unai and listens to her sad story. The landscape is suitable desolate: although already the season of picking the green spring-shoots, the Kobe countryside is still unnaturally bleak and wintry. We hear the sad story of Unai told by her ghost. She adds that she now suffers torment in Buddhist Hell as punishment for her "offense" (the "offense" presumably being that she was held responsible for the deaths of her lovers, an instance of the misogynistic side of the Buddhism). Despite the priest's earnest prayers, the ghost finally vanishes into the darkness of Unai's tomb, making a mockery of its location, "Ikuta" (which after all means "Field of Life"). Indeed, a sad and strange story...

[Another version of the same tale, called "the Maiden Tegona of Mama," is set in Ichikawa near Tokyo and has also inspired several Manyoshu poems.]
References: A Waka Anthology, Volume One: The Gem-Glistening Cup by Edwin A. Cranston (Stanford, 1993) contains a translation and discussion of the poem by Mushimaro; 20 Plays of the No Theatre by Donald Keene (Columbia, 1970) contains a translation of the Noh play Motomezuka. The Yamato Monogatari has been translated by Mildred Tahara as Tales of Yamato: A Tenth-Century Poem-Tale (Hawaii, 1980).

March 12, 2016

Hyakunin Isshu (One Hundred Poets, One Poem Each), Poem 11 (Ono no Takamura)

Hyakunin Isshu, Poem 11

wata no hara
yaso shima kakete
kogi-idenu to
hito ni wa tsugeyo
ama no tsuribune

わたの原
八十島かけて
こぎ出ぬと
人には告げよ
あまのつり舟

That I have rowed out
over the broad sea plain,
heading towards the innumerable isles,
please tell my beloved one,
you fishing boats of the sea-folk!

[The sea off Shimane Pref., leading to the Oki Islands]

A poem about the sadness, loneliness and worries of an exile. 

"That I have rowed out with the innumerable islands on the wide sea as my target, please, fishing boats, tell that the one left behind in the capital!"

[Cliffs in the Oki Islands]

Yasoshima (lit. "eighty isles," in the sense of "innumerable islands") stands for the Oki Islands., an archipelago of about 180 islands 50 to 90 kilometers north of the Shimane Peninsula. The two main islands are Dozen and Dogo. From an early time the islands were used as a place of exile for political prisoners, of whom the most famous ones were the emperors Gotoba (who died there) and Godaigo, a few centuries after Ono no Takamura. There are therefore many historical remains. The isles are now part of the Daisen-Oki National Park. The inhabitants live mainly from fishing and cattle raising. Lafcadio Hearn visited the islands in 1892, spending a month there, and wrote about his experiences in Glimpses of Unfamiliar Japan.

[The Oki Islands are known for bull fights, not between an armed man and an animal, but much fairer, between bull and bull]

The "person" (hito ni wa) to whom the message of the poet about his indeed having left in exile has to be given, has been a matter of speculation. Some believe this to have been the poet's aged mother, taking the poem in the Confucian sense of filial piety, but more popular is the idea that it refers to a woman at court with whom Takamura had an affair (it is then also thought that that affair was in fact the main reason for his exile - just as Prince Genji in The Tale of Genji had to go into exile to Suma because of his affair with Oborozukiyo).

Note that the "fishing boats of the sea-folk" (ama no tsuribune) have been personified in what can only be an ironic fashion, for these fishermen will - in contrast to the poet - soon return to their safe harbor. 
The courtier and scholar Ono no Takamura (802-853) was in the first place famous for his poetry in Chinese (of which however very little has been preserved). Because of his knowledge of Chinese, he was asked by the government to join the 837 embassy to Tang China, but as he refused (such trips were dangerous and like Abe no Nakamaro of Poem 7, many never returned) he was exiled to the lonely Oki Islands off the coast of present-day Shimane Pref. - this is the official explanation for his exile. Two years later he was allowed to return to Heiankyo and he eventually reached the court position of imperial adviser (sangi). Twelve of his Japanese poems are extant, among which six in the Kokinshu. Takamura was known for his love of archery and horsemanship and became the subject of various romantic tales, including a romance about his love life. He also played a role in a number of odd legends, such as that every night he would climb down a well to visit Hell and help King Enma to judge sinners.

[Same poem in Kokinshu 407]
References: Pictures of the Heart, The Hyakunin Isshu in Word and Image by Joshua S. Mostow (University of Hawai'i Press, 1996); Traditional Japanese Poetry, An Anthology, by Steven D. Carter (Stanford University Press, 1991); Hyakunin Isshu by Inoue Muneo, etc. (Shinchosha, 1990); Genshoku Hyakunin Isshu by Suzuki Hideo, etc. (Buneido, 1997); Ogura Hyakunin Isshu at Japanese Text Initiative (University of Virginia Library Etext Center); Hyakunin Isshu wo aruku by Shimaoka Shin (Kofusha Shuppan); Basho's Haiku (2 vols) by Toshiharu Oseko (Maruzen, 1990); The Ise Stories by Joshua S. Mostow and Royall Tyler (University of Hawai'i Press, 2010); Kokin Wakashu, The First Imperial Anthology of Japanese Poetry by Helen Craig McCullough (Stanford University Press, 1985); Kokinshu, A Collection of Poems Ancient and Modern by Laurel Rasplica Rodd and Mary Catherine Henkenius (University of Tokyo Press, 1984); Kokin Wakashu (Shogakkan, 1994); Shinkokin Wakashu (Shogakkan, 1995); Taketori Monogatari-Ise Monogatari-Yamato Monogatari-Heichu Monogatari (Shogakkan, 1994).
Hyakunin Isshu Introduction - Poem 1 - Poem 2 - Poem 3 - Poem 4 - Poem 5 - Poem 6 - Poem 7 - Poem 8 - Poem 9 - Poem 10 - Poem 11 - Poem 12 - Poem 13 - Poem 14 - Poem 15 - Poem 16 - Poem 17 - Poem 18 - Poem 19 - Poem 20 -