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

January 13, 2016

Hyakunin Isshu (One Hundred Poets, One Poem Each), Poem 4 (Yamabe no Akahito)

Hyakunin Isshu, Poem 4

Tago no ura ni
uchi-idete mireba
shirotae no
Fuji no takane ni
yuki wa furitsutsu


As I come out
on the seashore of Tago and look,
I see the snow constantly falling
on the lofty peak of Fuji
white as mulberry cloth

Yamabe no Akahito (fl 724-736)

[Mt Fuji]

This poem gives a picture postcard view of the snowy peak of Mt Fuji.

Tago no ura is a coastal area near the mouth of the river Fujikawa in Suruga (Shizuoka Pref.). The coast here offers a beautiful view of Mt Fuji. 

[Tago no ura photographed by Adolfo Farsari (1841 - 1898)]

Shirotae is a pillow word meaning pure whiteness (lit. white cloth made out of a kind of paper mulberry) - we already came across it in Poem No 2.

In the 20th c. this poem was often criticized as not being realistic. After all, it is impossible to see snow falling on Mt Fuji from far away Tago Bay (and anyway, when snow falls on a mountain it is covered by such heavy clouds, that you can't even see the mountain). The intention of the poet is of course just to emphasize the snowy whiteness of Fuji's peak.

[Yamabe no Akahito by Utagawa Kuniyoshi]

The poet is Yamabe no Akahito (early 8th c.), who lived somewhat later than the previous poet, Kakinomoto no Hitomaro, and is also regarded as one of the Thirty-six Poetic Immortals. He is considered as one of the most important poets of the Manyoshu ("The Collection of Ten Thousand Leaves," which was compiled ca 759), which contains 37 tanka and 12 choka by him. A court official, he was one of the last "poets laureate" who composed poetry commemorating events in the imperial house and excursions of the sovereign. All his surviving poems were written during the reign of Emperor Shomu (701-756; r 724-749). He evidently made several long journeys, as he composed poems on various famous sites, as in the present case on Mt Fuji. He is therefore considered as the great nature poet of the Manyoshu.

[Also included in: Shinkokinshu, Winter 675]
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).