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

April 2, 2016

Hyakunin Isshu (One Hundred Poets, One Poem Each): Poem 14 (Minamoto no Toru)

Hyakunin Isshu, Poem 14

Michinoku no
shinobu mojizuri
tare yue ni
midare someishi
ware naranaku ni


That my love has become confused
like the tangle-patterned prints
of Shinobu from the far north,
is not my fault,
but only because of you!

Minamoto no Toru (822-895)

[Mojizuri Stone in the Mojizuri Kannon temple, Fukushima]

The poet complains that it is not his fault that he has fallen into a forbidden love, but the "fault" of the lady in question who is just too attractive. In the Heian-period, a forbidden or secret love was love for the wife of another man, or for a lady of a much higher rank than one's own.

"Michinoku," the area mentioned in the poem, is the eastern part of the Tohoku region; "Shinobu" is an actual place name for a locality which now lies in the outskirts of Fukushima city.

"Shinobu-mojizuri" refers to an ancient dyeing process in which moss fern (shinobu) was rubbed into cloth, creating a "wild" pattern; shinobu is also a pivot word with as second meaning "to love secretly." The whole phrase "Michinoku no / shinobu mojizuri" is a preface (jo) to the word midare, disordered.

"The tangle-patterned prints of Shinobu from the far north" are symbolic for a heart moved by love - just as the prints were pressed on textiles, so the heart of the poet has been imprinted with feelings of love; and just as the prints are tangle-patterned, so his heart is confused (or wild).

That does not exhaust the many rhetorical tricks of this poem, for "some" in "somenishi" is also a pivot word meaning both "to dye" and "to begin." In the meaning "to dye" it moreover provides engo or word association back to shinobu of which we already noted the double meaning of a "fern" and "secret or forbidden love."

[Mojizuri Kannon Temple in Fukushima]

The poet is Minamoto no Toru (822-95), the luxury-loving son of Emperor Saga, who had been made a commoner with the family name "Minamoto" (or Genji), just like the fictional Genji in the Genji Monogatari (in fact, Minamoto no Toru may have provided one of the models for the character of Genji). He became an official of the highest rank and was known as "the Riverbank Minister of the Left" (Kawara Sadaijin) after a huge mansion he had built on the west bank of the Kamo River in Kyoto, where he hosted poetry gatherings. There was also a large garden where he evoked a romantic scene at Matsushima Bay in Tohoku by boiling vats of salt water (like the people in that area did for salt production). He was therefore considered a model of courtly elegance (furyu).

In fact, the above poem gave rise to the (undoubtedly fictional) story that he had indeed traveled to far-away northeastern Japan on some official business. In the village of Shinobu, known for its production of the unusual fern-type kimono design, he fell in love with a local woman and delayed his return to the capital. Eventually he had to leave and that is when he supposedly wrote the poem about his love confusion.

But although this story is undoubtedly untrue and Minamoto no Toru probably never left the capital, it became a famous utamakura (an allusive place-name used in waka poetry).

[Minamoto no Toru (Photo Wikipedia)]

As the famous haiku poet Basho centuries later undertook his trip to the north described in Oku no Hosomichi to visit the utamakura of that region, he also came to Shinobu and the Mojizuri Stone and wrote the following haiku:

The skilled hands picking up 
rice seedlings remind me of the 
making of tangle-patterned cloth in the past.

[Sanae toru / temoto ya mukashi / shinobu-zuri]

He visited in spring and saw how the local women were setting out rice seedlings in the paddies - this reminded him that in the past those same skilled hands had been making the "tangle-patterned prints" of Shinobu.

[Basho statue in the grounds of the Mojizuri Kannon Temple]

In Shinobu in the outskirts of Fukushima City now stands a small Kannon temple. In the grounds lies a big rock, the Mojizuri Stone, which supposedly was used to rub the fern patterns into the cloth. It also figures in a continuation of the story of the village woman loved by Minamoto no Toru: after she visited this Kannon temple for 100 days, she was allowed to see the face of her far-away lover, as in a mirror, in the Mojizuri Stone...

To make things more complicated, this poem is also quoted in quite a different context in the first story in The Ise Stories (Ise Monogatari), where a man, hunting in the village of Kasuga in Nara, through a crack in their fence spies on two lovely sisters and sends them a poem written on a piece of the hem of his hunting cloak - which happened to be printed with a Shinobu leaf-tangle pattern. The present Hyakunin Isshu poem is then quoted as the answer from the sisters. 

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 -