The Moon in the Hyakunin Isshu

Crescent moon over the Puget Sound, taken in July 2021.
Crescent moon over the Puget Sound, taken in July 2021.

The Moon is not surprisingly one of the most powerful images in the Hyakunin Isshu anthology, but the myriad ways it is used as imagery shows a remarkable variety and depth. There are 43 poems in the Hyakunin Isshu that cover topics of love and romance, but only 12 that pertain to the Moon. However, within those twelve poems, and in Japanese Waka poetry as a whole, the moon itself is a very popular subject and expressed in many ways. As one book on the subject points out, the Moon expresses different themes depending on the situation:

  • Being separated from home (poem 7)
  • Waiting for one’s lover (poem 21)
  • Melancholy (poem 23)
  • Parting one’s lover (poem 30) in the morning
  • The cool moon in Summer (poem 36)
  • The moon on a clear, beautiful Autumn night. (poem 79)
  • Two people passing in the night (poem 57)
  • Loneliness of a heart-broken women (poem 59)
  • The effervescence of life (poem 68)
  • Early dawn moon and the cuckoo’s call (poem 81)
  • Human grief (poem 86)

This is only for the Hyakunin Isshu of course. For larger anthologies like the Kokinshū and the vast corpus of Chinese poetry, the Moon is a persistent symbol of so many aspects of human emotion.

But also in Japanese language, many poetic terms for the moon and its phases have arisen over time:

  • ariake (有明) – moon visible during sunrise, appears in the latter half of the lunar cycle
  • shingetsu (新月) – new moon
  • tsugomori (つごもり) – last day of the moon (i.e. new moon)
  • mikazuki (三日月) – crescent moon (lit. “third-day moon”)
  • mangetsu (満月) – full moon
  • mochiduki (望月) – full moon, 15th day of the old lunar calendar.
  • izayoizuki (十六夜月) – moon on the 16th day, just after full moon.
  • tachimachizuki (立待月) – moon on the 17th day of the cycle.
  • fushimachizuki (臥待月) – waning half-moon
  • nemachizuki (寝待月) – another term for waning half-moon

A lot of these terms are pretty obscure (some I couldn’t find in a common dictionary), while a few like mangetsu and mikazuki are used in standard Japanese.


2 responses to “The Moon in the Hyakunin Isshu”

  1. The moon, of course, is a well-recognised and well-used autumn ‘kigo’.

    Marie Marshall

    1. Hello and welcome! Thanks for the information; I’ve never actually heard the term kigo (季語) before, so I looked it up. 🙂 Yes, you’re totally right in that it’s very iconic for Autumn, though after reading a certain book recently, I was surprised by its variety of uses in Waka poetry.

      Learn something new everyday. 😀

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