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

January 8, 2016

Hyakunin Isshu (One Hundred Poets, One Poem Each), Poem 2 (Empress Jito)

Hyakunin Isshu, Poem 2

haru sugite
natsu kinikerashi
shirotae no
koromo hosutefu
ama no kaguyama

春過ぎて
夏来にけらし
白妙の
衣ほすてふ
天の香具山

Spring has gone away, and
summer come, it seems, 
for I hear they are drying 
robes of white mulberry cloth
on Heavenly Mount Kagu!

[Grave of Empress Jito and Emperor Tenmu
in the Asuka area (Kashihara)]

A poem expressing the freshness of early summer. 

Shirotae means white robes made from the fibers of the paper mulberry, typically thin and airy clothes for summer. These have presumably been laid out to bleach against the green of Mt Kagu. Shirotae is also a pillow word (makurakotoba) for things that are very white, such as koromo, "garments." Many commentators take this however as a metaphor:
- for rising mists, meaning that the mountain now can be clearly seen;
- or on the contrary, for mists covering the mountain;
- or for nanohana, white deutzia flowers covering the hillside.

[Mt. Kagu seen from the south (photo Wikipedia)]

"Heavenly" Mt Kagu is one of the "Three Mountains of Yamato" ("Yamato Sanzan," with Mt Unebi and Mt Miminashi). All three are in fact low hills - Mt Kagu is only 152 meters high - but as they rise directly out of the plain, they were important landmarks. All three hills figure prominently in the poetry of the time. They were also pivots of cosmic forces, for on the day of the winter solstice the sun would set right over Mt Unebi, and rise that same day over Mt Kagu, thereby symbolically linking these mountains to the imperial power. In addition, Mt Kagu was associated with the legend of the Sun Goddess, who once hid in a grotto (presumably located on the mountain) and withheld her light from the world, until she was enticed out of her cave. 


The author is Empress Jito (645-703), the daughter of Emperor Tenji, and the wife of Emperor Tenmu, who was Tenji's younger half brother; after Tenmu's death, she gained control of state affairs and, following the death of the crown prince, formally ascended the throne as reigning empress in 690, one of the very few women to occupy the chrysanthemum throne. During her reign she was responsible for enacting Japan's first set of administrative and penal laws, the so-called Asuka Kiyomihara Code. After eleven years, she gave up the throne in favor of her grandson (Emperor Monmu). She was the first Japanese monarch to be cremated in Buddhist fashion after her death; with her husband, Emperor Tenmu, she had been involved in building the Yakushiji Temple. She moved the court to Fujiwara no Miya, which was located immediately northwest of Mt Kagu (the then capital Fujiwara-kyo encompassed all Three Mountains of Yamato) - so in the present poem she is writing about a scene before her eyes.

The first poem in the Hyakunin Isshu was by an Emperor and set in autumn; this second poem by imperial hand is set in early summer, thus demonstrating that the seasons are progressing in good order, something which in Sino-Japanese philosophy points at virtuous rule.

[Also included in: Manyoshu I:28; Shinkokunshu 175] 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).