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

April 6, 2016

Hyakunin Isshu (One Hundred Poets, One Poem Each): Poem 15 (Emperor Koko)

Hyakunin Isshu, Poem 15

kimi ga tame
haru no no ni idete
wakana tsumu
waga koromode ni
yuki wa furitsutsu


For your sake
I went into the fields of spring
to pick young greens,
while on the sleeves of my robe
the snow kept falling.

Emperor Koko (830-887, r. 884-887)

[Fields in early spring at the foot of Mt Nijo, Nara]

A poem sent with a gift of young greens.

Picking young greens in the fields and eating these was a romantic custom of the palace that formed part of the New Year festivities. It was considered to guarantee good health in the new year and is the predecessor of the modern custom the eat Seven Herb Porridge (nanakusa-gayu) on January 7. In the modern case, small amounts of seven different herbs are added to the porridge and these may well have been similar to the greens picked in the Heian period: nazuna or shepherd's purse, hakobe or chickweed, seri or water dropworth, gogyo or cudweed, hotokenoza or henbit, suzuna or turnip and daikon or white radish.

[The modern Nanakusa herbs]

The poet, Emperor Koko, was the third son of Emperor Ninmyo and placed on the throne at the age of 55 by the Fujiwara regent Mototsune to replace Emperor Yozei (see Poem 13). It was in his reign that the politically powerful system of the Fujiwara regency was instituted. He has 14 poems in imperial anthologies. 

The Kokinshu includes a head note for this poem, stating that it "was sent together with young greens to someone when the emperor was still a prince." The addressee is unknown. Sending such greens formed a wish for good luck and longevity to the receiver in the new year.

[Same poem in Kokinshu 21]
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 (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).
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 -