Hyakunin Isshu: the iPhone app

Edit: this app no longer appears to be available, but many other great apps can be found in stead.

Recently I picked up an iPhone app for the Hyakunin Isshu, sold on iTunes as “Hyakunin Isshu – Japan Traditional 100 Poets”. This iPhone app provides all 100 poems in both Japanese and English and even provides a game where you challenge a computer opponent to find the right poem as the first lines are read. This post is a review of the app.

For $3.99 this app is rich in features. Besides the multilingual settings it also has a catalog of all 100 poems in the Hyakunin Isshu and you can have a male or female voice read it aloud in stylized format used in formal occasions. For some reason I prefer the male voice and I listen it sometimes so I can learn how to recite it correctly even though I am very tone-deaf. Sometimes the voices can be tedious because the start on every page but it is easy to turn off. All in all the interface is excellent.

The game is fun too because it simulates the game of karuta (カルタ) where a voice recites the poem and you have to find the card with the second half of the poem. At beginner level, it’s almost too easy because your opponent is slow but normal mode is a good challenge because it will grab cards as soon as the last-half of the verses are recited (the ones you can see). So you either have to know the poem or be really fast. I found I lose on normal mode, but still win a few points, so it’s challenging without being excessive either. Pretty fun. For English the poems are shown in Romaji which is easier to read without compromising the content of the poem.

The one thing that annoyed me was the pictures that came with each poem. Most of the pictures, while beautiful didn’t seem to fit the poems very well. They were all nature pictures but even in poems that used natural imagery the picture was only marginally related. It felt like the photos might have been shoe-horned in or hastily selected.

All in all though the app is quite stable, nicely designed and plenty to explore and celebrate for any fan of Japanese poetry and in particular the Hyakunin Isshu. Two thumbs up, in my opinion.


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