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

September 27, 2016

Hyakunin Isshu (One Hundred Poets, One Poem Each): Poem 20 (Prince Motoyoshi)

Hyakunin Isshu, Poem 20

ima hata onaji
Naniwa naru
mi o tsukushite mo
awamu to zo omou


In dire distress, 
our reputation tossed about 
like a channel buoy at Naniwa -
as it doesn't make a difference anymore, 
I must see you again!

Prince Motoyoshi (890-943)

[Sumiyoshi Shrine, Osaka (Photo Ad Blankestijn)]

A passionate love poem that can be read in two ways: "I want to meet you, even if it costs me my life," or "I want to meet you, as it doesn't make a difference anymore - our reputation is anyway ruined!"

The poet, Prince Motoyoshi (Motoyoshi Shinno) was the eldest son of Emperor Yozei (poem 13). In the Tales of Yamato (Yamato Monogatari, mid-tenth c.) he appears as a suave and famous lover. In the Gosenshu (951) and other anthologies he has twenty poems. The present poem has an interesting head-note in the Gosenshu: "Sent to the Kyogoku Lady of the Wardrobe after their affair had come out." The lady in question was Fujiwara no Hoshi, daughter of Tokihira, and concubine in the service of Emperor Uda whom she bore three sons. But she also had an affair with Motoyoshi which became public knowledge. To have a relation with one of the wives of the Emperor was a form of sacrilege - as is shown in the Genji, where Genji makes the Emperor's wife Fujitsubo (who was also his stepmother) pregnant with a son, such relations could well break up the "unbroken line" of Imperial succession! Piquantly, one of the wives of Motoyoshi was a daughter of Emperor Uda, demonstrating how near-incestuous relations among Heian aristocrats often were when seen from a modern point of view - again, exactly as is described in the Genji. It was a small world, indeed.

This poem works with a pivot word (kakekotoba): mi o tsukushite mo means "even if it consumes my body," but also refers to a kind of channel-marker indicating the waterway for boats (miwotsukushi). And as the name "Naniwa" indicates, we are again at sea in Osaka. 

An important question is what "ima hata (= the modern mata) onaji," "now the same," refers to. One interpretation is that it refers to mi wo tsukushite mo: the poet doesn't mind whether he lives or dies, so great is his distress. A second interpretation links it to "na" in "Naniwa" (which then also has to be a pivot word): "na" is "name" in the sense of "reputation." The whole poem then should be understood as the lady worrying about further damage to her (or both their) reputation, and therefore reluctant to meet her lover again. This last interpretation is the most convincing according to Mostow as it fits in with the anecdotes about Motoyoshi and the Fujitsubo story in the Genji, and also accords with the pictures and illustrations in later ages based on this poem.

[Gosenshu 960]
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). 
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 -