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June 2, 2017

Hyakunin Isshu (One Hundred Poets, One Poem Each): Poem 25 (Fujiwara no Sadakata)

Hyakunin Isshu, Poem 25

na ni shi owaba
Osakayama no
hito ni shirarede
kuru yoshi mo gana


If its name is true,
"come sleep vine" of "Meeting Slope Hill,"
isn't there some way
without anyone knowing
that it can reel me in to you?

Fujiwara no Sadakata (873–932)

"Osakayama" does not refer to Osaka, but points again at the "Ausaka" or "Meeting Slope" on the highway between present-day Kyoto and Otsu, which also figures prominently in poem 10.

[Marker of "Meeting Slope"]

Sanekazura is a specific Japanese plant, "Kadsura Japonica." It has deep green, glossy leaves and is cultivated as an ornamental plant in gardens. Extract from this plant is also used for traditional Japanese washi paper making. In our poem only its rope-like quality is alluded to, its ability to "pull" the poet towards his beloved. There is however a second sly allusion here: the name of the plant starts with the elements "sa ne" which can also mean "come, sleep!," so this becomes a rather open declaration of the poet's intention.

"Kuru" in the last line means "to come," but is a homonym with another kuru which means "to reel in."

There is a head-note attached to the poem which reads "Sent to a woman's house." It was usual to attach poems sent to others to some object, as a flower, and in this case the poem was probably attached to an actual piece of the Kadsura Japonica vine.

Although some commentators / translators interpret the last line in the sense that it is the poet who is "reeling in" his beloved, like a vine, in the actual Heian situation that was impossible. As we saw in earlier poems, women of status kept separate residences where they were visited not only by lovers, but even by their husbands; aristocratic women were quite immobile and never left their houses, certainly not for trysts - the only exception were pilgrimages to Kannon temples.

Fujiwara no Sadakata, also known as Sanjo Udaijin or Sanjo Minister of the Right, was the son of Fujiwara no Takafuji, and the cousin and father-in-law of Fujiwara no Kanesuke (poem 27). His son Asatada was also a poet (see poem 44).

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).