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

March 28, 2016

Hyakunin Isshu (One Hundred Poets, One Poem Each): Poem 13 (Emperor Yozei)

Hyakunin Isshu, Poem 13

Tsukuba ne no
mine yori otsuru
Minanogawa
koi zo tsumorite
fuchi to narinuru


  Like the River Mina
falling down from the peak
of Mount Tsukuba,
so my longing has grown
into a deepening pool.

筑波嶺の
峰より落つる
みなの川
恋ぞつもりて
淵となりぬる

The Retired Emperor Yozei (868-949)

[Mount Tsukuba (photo Wikipedia)]

As time goes by, the poet's love grows deeper, like the deep pools in a river, which starts as a small trickle, but then expands into a wild stream.

The poet, Emperor Yozei (868-949), reigned from 876 to 884, as a child emperor. He was forced to abdicate by Regent Fujiwara no Mototsune and replaced by Emperor Koko, a son of Emperor Ninmyo. The histories transmit several anecdotes about Yozei's cruelty and mental instability, but these should probably be taken with a large grain of salt, for (as so often happened in Chinese and Japanese historiography) they may be fabrications to justify the forced abdication and whitewash the action by the Fujiwara powermonger.

After he had abdicated, Yozei led a very long life, and he often organized poetry gatherings. However, the present poem is the sole one with which he is represented in the imperial anthologies. In the Gosenshu anthology, this poem is accompanied by a head note reading "Sent to the Princess of the Tsuridono."

The "Princess of the Tsuridono" has been identified as Suishi, the daughter of Emperor Koko; the princess indeed did become the wife of Ex-Emperor Yozei, so this poem can be considered as a rare example of a love poem that actually was effective!

Mt Tsukuba stands in central Ibaraki Prefecture and has two peaks, Nantaisan and Nyotaisan. It is already sung about in the 7th c. Manyoshu. Its height is 876 meters; the Tsukuba Shrine is located on the mountain. As the mountain with its characteristic shape can be seen from afar in mainly flat Ibaraki, it is a famous landmark.

This poem uses the technique of jo-kotoba, a preface, consisting of the first three lines. "Fuchi" is a deep pool in a body of water.

[Same poem in Gosenshu 776]
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 -

March 22, 2016

Hyakunin Isshu (One Hundred Poets, One Poem Each): Poem 12 (Priest Henjo)

Hyakunin Isshu, Poem 12

amatsukaze
kumo no kayoiji
fukitoji yo
otome no sugata
shibashi todomemu 

O winds from on high,
blow shut
that path through the clouds,
so that I can detain a moment longer
these heavenly maidens' forms!

天つ風
雲のかよひ路
吹きとぢよ
乙女のすがた
しばしとどめむ

Archbishop Henjo (816-890)

[Not the Gosechi dancers, but maiko dancing at the
Miyako Odori performance]

The beauty of the dancing girls performing the Gosechi dance is such that the poet confuses them with heavenly maidens.

"O winds blowing from the heavens, close off  the paths to the clouds, as I want to enjoy a while longer the forms of these heavenly dancers!"

Not a very priestly poem, but Henjo, who later took the tonsure and reached the church rank of archbishop, wrote this presumably during his time at court, between 844 and 849. The Gosechi was a dance celebrating the harvest, performed by four to six young unmarried women from aristocratic families. Those families would compete with each other in having their most beautiful daughters take part. The Gosechi dance was an immensely popular event at court and the beautiful dancers attracted much attention - in The Tale of Genji, Yugiri, the son of Prince Genji, falls in love with a Gosechi dancer.

The custom of performing the Gosechi dance at court presumably originated in the time of Emperor Tenmu (the husband of Empress Jito of Poem 2), who, when on an excursion to Yoshino, played the koto "upon which heavenly maidens appeared dancing in the sky." Henjo praises the (real) dancers by comparing them to those heavenly maidens from the legend (a sort of "angels" in Western terms), and at the same time he praises Emperor Ninmyo by comparing his reign to that of the famous Tenmu.


Henjo (816-890), originally named Yoshimine no Munesada, was a courtier and waka poet at the court of Emperor Ninmyo, which he entered in 844. Emperor Kanmu was his paternal grandfather and both Ariwara no Narihira and Emperor Ninmyo were his cousins. When the emperor died suddenly in 849, Henjo took vows as a priest of the Tendai school. He studied for two decades at Enryakuji Temple on Mt Hiei with the famous priests Ennin and Enchin. Meanwhile, he also participated in literary activities at the court. He used the temple Unrinin in Murasakino as his residence close to the capital (it occupied much of the terrain which now belongs to Daitokuji). In 885 he attained the rank of Sojo, archbishop. Despite that, he was also rumored to have had a love affair with Ono no Komachi (see Poem 9). Henjo is counted among both the Six and Thirty-six Poetic Immortals and has 35 poems in the Kokinshu and later anthologies.

[Same poem in Kokinshu 872]
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 -

March 15, 2016

A Kobe Tragedy: The Story of Unai

One of the most "famous" legends from Kobe ("famous" within quotation marks as almost nobody today has heard of it), is the tragic story of Unai, the so-called "marriage-refusing maiden." For us living CE 2016 it is a weird story, but it seems to have haunted the imagination of the ancient Japanese. The Kobe legend inspired several 8th c. Manyoshu poems as well as the Kan'ami Noh play Motomezuka. In addition, the basic version of the legend can be read in the poem-tale collection Yamato Monogatari, dating from the mid-tenth century.

[Otomezuka, near Ishiyagawa St on the Hanshin line in Kobe]

Let's start with the Kobe legend. A young women, called Unai, was torn between two particular suitors, without being able to make a choice (she should have done like Miriam Hopkins in Design for a Living (1933) by Ernst Lubitsch, who takes both her lovers Frederic March and Gary Cooper!). Unai has been named after the village in the Ashiya area where she hailed from (deriving from the term "unabara," which means "vast ocean"), and one of her lovers came from the same village. The other one came from Chinu, on the coast SE of Osaka. Unai did not know what to do - both young men were equally wonderful and she just couldn't make a choice. To decide the case, in the Noh play she has the suitors compete by shooting at waterbirds on the Ikuta River. But both arrows strike the same bird, even simultaneously... and Unai in despair throws herself into the river.

This will shock modern readers: there seems to be no psychological justification for her suicide. Perhaps it is an extreme example of what the Japanese call "enryo," "deference to others." Unai apparently felt bad that these fine young men were fighting each other on her behalf and thought that she could solve the matter by removing herself from the equation. Rather than bring unhappiness to those who loved her, she ended her own life. (By the way, this situation is mirrored in The Tale of Genji, where Ukifune is unable to choose between Kaoru and Niou and decides to drown herself in the Uji River - without, by the way, succeeding for she is saved.)

But that was a miscalculation: both lovesick suitors immediately followed her in death...

[Otomezuka]

People later built her grave on the coast. That is now - still according to legend - the Otomezuka tomb in Higashinada-ku, Kobe. At some distance, on both sides, the tombs of the two suitors have been placed. (Of course, these graves are really kofun, keyhole graves from the 4th century, where local potentates were buried. The legend was later attached to such pre-existing graves).

The best poem version is by Takahashi no Mushimaro (active 720s-730s), who was known for his poems on travel and various local legends. As Edwin Cranston says in the introduction to his translation, Mushimaro recasts the three suicides in terms of flight and pursuit and so manages to convey the blindness of passion.

The Noh play Motomezuka ("The Sought-for Grave") goes one step further than the Manyoshu poem and Yamato Monogatari story by showing us the afterlife of Unai. A priest, who is traveling through the Ikuta area, meets the ghost of Unai and listens to her sad story. The landscape is suitable desolate: although already the season of picking the green spring-shoots, the Kobe countryside is still unnaturally bleak and wintry. We hear the sad story of Unai told by her ghost. She adds that she now suffers torment in Buddhist Hell as punishment for her "offense" (the "offense" presumably being that she was held responsible for the deaths of her lovers, an instance of the misogynistic side of the Buddhism). Despite the priest's earnest prayers, the ghost finally vanishes into the darkness of Unai's tomb, making a mockery of its location, "Ikuta" (which after all means "Field of Life"). Indeed, a sad and strange story...

[Another version of the same tale, called "the Maiden Tegona of Mama," is set in Ichikawa near Tokyo and has also inspired several Manyoshu poems.]
References: A Waka Anthology, Volume One: The Gem-Glistening Cup by Edwin A. Cranston (Stanford, 1993) contains a translation and discussion of the poem by Mushimaro; 20 Plays of the No Theatre by Donald Keene (Columbia, 1970) contains a translation of the Noh play Motomezuka. The Yamato Monogatari has been translated by Mildred Tahara as Tales of Yamato: A Tenth-Century Poem-Tale (Hawaii, 1980).

March 12, 2016

Hyakunin Isshu (One Hundred Poets, One Poem Each), Poem 11 (Ono no Takamura)

Hyakunin Isshu, Poem 11

wata no hara
yaso shima kakete
kogi-idenu to
hito ni wa tsugeyo
ama no tsuribune

わたの原
八十島かけて
こぎ出ぬと
人には告げよ
あまのつり舟

That I have rowed out
over the broad sea plain,
heading towards the innumerable isles,
please tell my beloved one,
you fishing boats of the sea-folk!

[The sea off Shimane Pref., leading to the Oki Islands - photo Ad Blankestijn]

A poem about the sadness, loneliness and worries of an exile. 

"That I have rowed out with the innumerable islands on the wide sea as my target, please, fishing boats, tell that the one left behind in the capital!"
[Cliffs in the Oki Islands - photo Wikipedia]

Yasoshima (lit. "eighty isles," in the sense of "innumerable islands") stands for the Oki Islands., an archipelago of about 180 islands 50 to 90 kilometers north of the Shimane Peninsula. The two main islands are Dozen and Dogo. From an early time the islands were used as a place of exile for political prisoners, of whom the most famous ones were the emperors Gotoba (who died there) and Godaigo, a few centuries after Ono no Takamura. There are therefore many historical remains. The isles are now part of the Daisen-Oki National Park. The inhabitants live mainly from fishing and cattle raising. Lafcadio Hearn visited the islands in 1892, spending a month there, and wrote about his experiences in Glimpses of Unfamiliar Japan.

[The Oki Islands are known for bull fights, not between an armed man and an animal, but much fairer, between bull and bull - photo Ad Blankestijn]

The "person" (hito ni wa) to whom the message of the poet about his indeed having left in exile has to be given, has been a matter of speculation. Some believe this to have been the poet's aged mother, taking the poem in the Confucian sense of filial piety, but more popular is the idea that it refers to a woman at court with whom Takamura had an affair (it is then also thought that that affair was in fact the main reason for his exile - just as Prince Genji in The Tale of Genji had to go into exile to Suma because of his affair with Oborozukiyo).

Note that the "fishing boats of the sea-folk" (ama no tsuribune) have been personified in what can only be an ironic fashion, for these fishermen will - in contrast to the poet - soon return to their safe harbor. 
The courtier and scholar Ono no Takamura (802-853) was in the first place famous for his poetry in Chinese (of which however very little has been preserved). Because of his knowledge of Chinese, he was asked by the government to join the 837 embassy to Tang China, but as he refused (such trips were dangerous and like Abe no Nakamaro of Poem 7, many never returned) he was exiled to the lonely Oki Islands off the coast of present-day Shimane Pref. - this is the official explanation for his exile. Two years later he was allowed to return to Heiankyo and he eventually reached the court position of imperial adviser (sangi). Twelve of his Japanese poems are extant, among which six in the Kokinshu. Takamura was known for his love of archery and horsemanship and became the subject of various romantic tales, including a romance about his love life. He also played a role in a number of odd legends, such as that every night he would climb down a well to visit Hell and help King Enma to judge sinners.

[Same poem in Kokinshu 407]
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 -

March 6, 2016

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

Hyakunin Isshu, Poem 10

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

これやこの
行くも帰るも
別れては
知るも知らぬも
逢坂の関

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 -