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

January 6, 2016

Hyakunin Isshu (One Hundred Poets, One Poem Each), Poem 1 (Emperor Tenji)

Hyakunin Isshu, Poem 1

aki no ta no
kariho no iho no
toma wo arami
waga koromode wa
tsuyu ni nuretsutsu


Because of the rough thatch
of the hut, the temporary hut,
in the autumn fields,
the sleeves of my robe
are always getting wet with dew.

[Rice harvesting in autumn]

A tranquil pastoral scene in late autumn. 

Kariho no iho: kariho is a contraction of kari-iho, "temporary hut." As the hut is mentioned doubly, some commentators (possibly also Fujiwara Teika, the compiler of the Hyakunin Isshu) consider kariho as a pivot word (kakekotoba) with the double meaning of "reaped ears of grain." A "temporary hut" was a makeshift structure in which farmers at night kept watch over the fields during the harvest season, to prevent humans or animals from stealing the rice.

The "dew" in the last line may imply tears (of loneliness or lost love) as well.

Teika ascribes the poem to Emperor Tenji (626-672; name also spelled Tenchi), the son of Emperor Jomei. As crown prince, called Naka no Oe, he broke the power of the Soga clan with the help of Fujiwara no Kamatari, and was also responsible for the Taika Reforms, reorganizing the government on the Chinese model. For many years he continued to rule as regent, even after the death of his mother Empress Saimei, and only was formally enthroned in 668. As Emperor he moved the capital to Omi (now Otsu in Shiga Pref.) and promulgated the Omi Code of Laws. Omi served for five years as the capital.

The ascription of the present poem to Emperor Tenji is however dubious: a similar poem in fact appears in the Manyoshu where it is anonymous. It was first ascribed to Emperor Tenji in the Gosenshu anthology from the mid-tenth century, probably based on a tradition or document outside Manyoshu.

But Teika clearly believed that Emperor Tenji was the author and he must have put the present poem consciously in first position in his anthology: after all, Emperor Tenji was revered as the progenitor of the imperial line and this poem could be interpreted as an expression of the "model" emperor's compassion for the lot of the common peasants.

The poem however says little about the harshness of work in the fields but rather focuses in aristocratic fashion on the beautiful "yugen" aspect of lonely tranquility in late autumn. As such, it has always been much admired.

There are three places associated with Emperor Tenji in Kyoto and Otsu: in Miidera ("Temple of the Three Wells" or, written differently, "Temple of the August Well") in Otsu one finds a well, the Akai, which was supposedly used to supply the water for bathing three newly born imperial infants, the later emperors Tenji, Tenmu and Jito (of course, this is pure legend as they were born in a palace in Asuka, far removed from Otsu); in Yamashina, close to Misasagi Station, one finds the imperial tomb of Emperor Tenji; and in Otsu stands the Omi Jingu, a shrine of state Shinto built in the Meiji-period to honor Emperor Tenji.

[Also included in: Gosenshu 301]
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).