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

February 16, 2016

Hyakunin Isshu (One Hundred Poets, One Poem Each), Poem 8 (Priest Kisen)

Hyakunin Isshu, Poem 8

waga iho wa
miyako no tatsumi
shika zo sumu
yo wo Ujiyama to
hito wa iunari

わが庵は
都のたつみ
しかぞすむ
世をうぢ山と
人はいふなり

Although I live contentedly 
in my hut to the southeast 
of the capital,
it seems people call it 
"Grief Mountain." 

Priest Kisen (early 9th c.)


[Scenery in Uji]

A contented life as hermit in Uji.

Thanks to the use of an intricate kakekotoba (pivot word), this poem is almost impossible to translate. In the last two lines ("yo wo Ujiyama to / hito wa iu nari") in fact two different sentences have been overlaid, playing with the fact that the "u" in the name Uji (or Ujiyama, Mt Uji) can also mean "bitter." So the poet says "yo wo u," "the world is bitter," and at the same time "Ujiyama to hito wa iu nari," "it seems people call it Ujiyama." Both the Uji River and Uji Mountain were associated with gloom, as many now famous scenic spots were in the past, as they were more lonely and distant than at present. The meaning of the poem, however, is contrary to that: the poet says that he lives contentedly in his hermitage in Uji, southeast of Kyoto. People of the world (or worldly people) may think that he leads a life of bitterness and difficulty, without the amenities of the capital, but on the contrary, to him life in the world is full of bitterness.

[Byodoin Temple, Uji, Kyoto Pref.]

For modern eyes, Uji (a city in southern Kyoto Prefecture) boasts a striking natural setting, with attractions as the scenic Uji riverside, but also several famous temples, as Byodoin with its Phoenix Hall built in 1053 and its wonderful Amida statue, or Manpukuji, the head temple of the Obaku Zen sect built in Chinese Ming style in 1661; famous is also the Ujigami Shrine built in 1060. The last ten chapters of the classical novel The Tale of Genji have been situated in Uji as well. And, finally, Uji is famous for its green tea.


Priest Kisen is a legendary figure, just like Sarumaru of Poem 5. Although his name is mentioned in the preface to the Kokinshu (Ki no Tsurayuki, the compiler, choose him as one of the Six Poetic Sages, Rokkasen), only this one poem can be firmly attributed to him and nothing is known about his life - but that fits a hermit, of course.

[Same poem in Kokinshu 983]
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 -