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December 18, 2016

Hyakunin Isshu (One Hundred Poets, One Poem Each): Poem 24 (Sugawara no Michizane)

Hyakunin Isshu, Poem 24

kono tabi wa
nusa mo toriaezu
momiji no nishiki
kami no mani mani


on my present journey
I couldn't bring sacred streamers
to Offering Hill
so perhaps this brocade of autumn leaves
is to the gods' liking...

Sugawara no Michizane (845-903)

[Brocade of colored leaves at Kiyomizu Temple, Kyoto 
- photo Ad Blankestijn]

A poem about the beauty of the autumn leaves at Offering Hill - a beauty typical for this place and its kami. It is a characteristic Kokinshu poem containing a witticism based on a pun between a placename (Tamukeyama) and the conceit of autumn leaves as brocade.

In the Kokinshu this poem is accompanied by a headnote which says: "Composed at Tamukeyama, when the Suzaku Retired Emperor made a trip to Nara." The Retired Emperor Suzaku was Emperor Uda (867-931; reigned 887-897); the trip in question, an elaborate excursion to Nara and Sumiyoshi, was made in 898.  

"Tabi" in the first line is a pivot word that refers both to "this time" and "at this trip," so I have translated it as "on my present journey." 

"Nusa" in line 2 refers to a wooden wand used in Shinto rituals which is decorated with many shide (zig-zagging paper streamers). They are usually white, but can also be gold, silver, or a mixture of several colors - as here where they are so to speak made of the autumn colors.  

[A nusa with white shide in the Kenkun Shrine in Kyoto
- photo Ad Blankestijn]

"Toriaezu," normally "unable to take properly," here means "unable to bring." Japanese commentators usually debate the why: could the poet not bring a proper offering because of the suddenness of Emperor Uda's excursion? This is very unlikely, considering the elaborateness of the procession. Or does Michizane mean that he could not bring a private offering as it was a public trip? 

"Tamukeyama," "Offering Hill," is not the famous Tamuke Hachiman Shrine in Nara's Todaiji, but Tamukeyama was a general name for hills where travelers made offerings to the gods for a safe journey. The poem's Tamukeyama would then perhaps be somewhere between Kyoto and Nara. 

To compare autumn leaves (koyo) to brocade (nishiki) was conventional. "Manimani" is "to the liking of."

[Kitano Tenmangu Shrine Kyoto 
- photo Ad Blankestijn]

Sugawara no Michizane (845-903) was an exceptional scholar of Chinese literature, an accomplished poet, as well as an important politician. He was born into a family of scholars, which in his time meant that they were specialists in the Chinese Classics, Dynastic Histories, etc. After passing the civil-service examination in 870, he entered the Japanese court. In 886 he was appointed governor of Sanuki Province on the island of Shikoku. Sugawara returned to Kyoto in 890 and next was promoted to a number of important posts by Emperor Uda, who used him to counterbalance the influence of the powerful Fujiwara family. By 899 he was made Minister of the Right (Udaijin), the second most important ministerial position, by Uda's son, the Emperor Daigo. But Emperor Uda had by now abdicated, and Michizane had lost his precious support. Emperor Daigo favored the Fujiwara, and in 901 Fujiwara Tokihira, Sugawara's rival, convinced the emperor that Sugawara was plotting treason. Sugawara was banished from the capital and demoted to a minor administrative post in Dazaifu on the island of Kyushu. 

[Dazaifu Tenmangu in Dazaifu, Kyushu
- photo Ad Blankestijn]

Following Sugawara's death there two years later, a series of calamities (storms, fires and violent deaths) were attributed to his vengeful spirit. To placate that spirit, Sugawara was posthumously reinstated to high rank; in addition, the Kitano Tenmangu Shrine was built in Kyoto where Michizane was worshiped as the deity Tenman Tenjin. Tenjin was originally a god of thunder related to agriculture, but since Michizane became Tenjin, this deity was transformed into the patron god of study, poetry, calligraphy and the performing arts. 

Michizane's writings include a history of Japan (written in Chinese) and two collections of Chinese poetry. There are also numerous local Tenmangu shrines throughout Japan - of which some, such as those in Osaka, Dazaifu, and Hofu are very famous - at which schoolchildren buy amulets for luck during the period of school entrance examinations in the spring. 

[Bull statue in Kitano Tenmangu, Kyoto 
- photo Ad Blankestijn]

Michizane is associated both with bulls and plum trees. Bulls because, according to legend, during Michizane's funeral procession, the bull pulling the cart bearing his remains refused to go any further than a certain spot, where later the Dazaifu Tenmangu Shrine was built. Like other Shinto deities who employ animals as spirit messengers (Inari shrines have the fox, Hachiman shrines pigeons, Kasuga shrines deer, etc.), so the bull became the typical animal of the Tenmangu shrines and one often finds fine bull statues in the shrine grounds (always lying down, as Michizane's bull refused to continue on its way).

Plum trees (ume) became associated with Michizane because he was very fond of this tree, often eulogized in Chinese poetry, and wrote a famous poem from exile in which he lamented the absence of a particular tree he had loved in his garden in the capital. According to legend, that tree then flew to Dazaifu where it still stands in front of the shrine. Tenmangu shrines often have a park with plum trees. 

[Plum blossoms in Kitano Tenmangu, Kyoto 
- photo Ad Blankestijn]

[Kokinshu 420]
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 - Poem 21 - Poem 22 - Poem 23 - Poem 24 - Poem 25 -