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

March 6, 2016

Hyakunin Isshu (One Hundred Poets, One Poem Each), Poem 10 (Semimaru)

Hyakunin Isshu, Poem 10

koreyo kono
yuku mo kaeru mo
shiru mo shiranu mo
Ausaka no Seki


This is that place
where people come and go,
parting time and again,
both friends and strangers,
the Barrier of Meeting Slope.

Semimaru (10th c.?)

["Osaka" or "Meeting Slope" between Kyoto and Otsu; the smaller road to the right is a section left of the old Tokaido]

"Meeting is the beginning of parting," as is clear when observing the flow of people at the Osaka Barrier.

The Osaka Barrier ("Meeting Slope", originally written as "Ausaka" and not connected at all with the city of Osaka!) is a historical spot. It formed the border between the old capital Heiankyo (now Kyoto) and the province of Omi (now Shiga Prefecture, with as capital Otsu), where the road to eastern Japan started. It formed the entrance to Kyoto (the Tokaido also passed through it) and was a crucial traffic artery, apparently already busy in the ninth century.

[Heavy traffic in the narrow pass, close to the site of the Osaka Barrier]

Today it still is, as both Route No. 1, the Keihan line and the Meishin Expressway struggle for space in the narrow pass, while the JR Tokaido and Shinkansen lines use tunnels bored through the mountain. The only difference is that people on foot are seldom now, you only see cars swishing by...

[Monument at the site of the ancient Osaka Barrier]

The poem aptly paints the hustle and bustle of the Barrier by use of contrast: people setting out on a journey and others who are coming back, the many farewells but also meetings (as indicated by the name Meeting Slope), the passing by of people who know each other and those who are complete strangers. One meets in order to part and says goodbye in order to meet again... the world is in a constant flux, a truly Buddhist view of life.

[Semimaru playing his lute
by Yoshitoshi]

Semimaru, the purported poet, is a legendary figure who may have been based on a blind musician who lived in the second half of the 9th c. He was a skilled biwa player and rumor has it that he even was of royal birth... but such is indeed the stuff of legend. The recluse who supposedly lived in a hut near the Osaka Barrier also figures in several Noh plays. There are three Seki-no-Semimaru Shrines along the road that leaves Otsu for Kyoto. The Shimo-Sha Shrine is the largest and stands closest to Otsu (just a 10 min walk from Otsu St.).

[Semimaru Shrine, Otsu]

(Includes parts from my previous post about this poem)

[Same poem included in Gosenshu, 1089]
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 -