Ono no Komachi in card form

An illustration of the famous Heian-era poet, Ono no Komachi, from the Hyakunin Isshu

This blog is devoted to a famous poetry anthology in Japan called the hyakunin isshu (百人一首) which features 100 poems by 100 famous poets from the ancient Nara Period to the early Kamakura Period, in rough chronological order. The anthology spans about 400 years of Japanese history in other words. It is frequently studied in Japan by young and old, and even in primary school.

This is a side project of mine, while my main blog can be read here. My goal for this blog is simply:

  • To promote Japanese Waka poetry, its history and in particular the Hyakunin Isshu.
  • To post all 100 poems of the anthology. Project is currently 100% complete as of March 2014.
  • To celebrate the culture behind the Heian and Nara periods that helped shape the anthology and its poetry.

History

The Hyakunin Isshu (百人一首) is a poem anthology compiled in the 13th century by famed poet Fujiwara no Teika. After the exile of his liege lord, Emperor Gotoba, Teika eventually retired into the Buddhist monastic life, quietly researching literature and poetry of the past. However, at the request of his son’s father-in-law, Lord Utsunomiya no Yoritsuna, Teika compiled 100 poems in his own handwriting, so that they could be adorned on the silk screens of Lord Utsunomiya’s villa near Mount Ogura outside Kyoto. It was these 100 selected poems that eventually became the collection that we know today as the Ogura Hyakunin Isshu (小倉百人一首), to distinguish it from other “100 poets” collections that were popular at the time.

The anthology features 100 famous waka (和歌) or Japanese-style poems, as opposed to kanshi (漢詩) or Chinese-style poems that were also popular during that period. Haiku as we know them didn’t exist until centuries later during the medieval “samurai” period.

Within Japanese poetry, these are specifically tanka (短歌) poems in 5-7-5-7-7 syllable form, and were a popular style of poetry at that time, but even today the Waka style poem remains popular in some literary circles including the Imperial Family.

The Hyakunin Isshu Today

In Japan, the Hyakunin Isshu continues to be one of the most beloved anthologies in Japanese culture because it spans poems from Japan’s early Golden Age, the Nara and Heian Periods, and includes some very memorable poems. Children in schools often study the Hyakunin Isshu even today and games have been made around it particularly for New Year’s.

My interest began earlier in 2010 when I was looking for ways to improve my Japanese reading skills, so at the local Japanese bookstore, I picked up a copy of Chibi Marukochan’s exploration of the Hyakunin Isshu which explores the anthology from the perspective of younger, middle-school aged children (and thus easier for me to read). It was difficult to read at first, but as time went on, I became more and more absorbed in the poetry. Poetry, especially during the Nara and Heian Period, were deeply woven into the culture at the Court, and achieved a refinement not easily found in other periods of Japanese history. I was so moved by some poems, that I started writing about them in the blog, first here and then other posts followed.

This page is dedicated to this excellent anthology and includes links to other resources for those who would like to learn more, and will be updated from time to time.

English Translations

English translations of the poems, which sometimes struggle to capture the essence of the poetry. The reason why the poems are so highly praised is their clever use of double-meanings, literary phrases and inside references that don’t always translate well into other languages. However, some respectable efforts have been put forth over the century.

  • University of Virginia online edition – the most complete edition you can find online. A modified, more readable version of the classic MacCauley version. My primary source in this blog. 🙂
  • Porter’s 1909 edition – This can still be found in print and on SacredTexts.com
  • Pictures of the Heart by Joshua Mostow. This book is a more in-depth scholarly review of the poems, and their evolution over time. The translations are fantastic and more up to date than others currently available, thanks to new research by Mostow and others. Professor Mostow has also kindly given permission to use his translations for this blog. Please show your support and appreciation if you get the chance. 🙂

Authors in the Hyakunin Isshu

Famous people whose poetry are included in the anthology:

Additional Information

Here are additional links, updated as I find more information:

21 Responses to “About”

  1. this is very interesting i have always had a interest in japan .

  2. Kat said

    Thank you so much for making this blog! I’ve been interested with waka poetry and Hyakunin Isshu for more than a year now, but my Japanese isn’t good enough to read books written in Japanese about these 100 poems. Hence, I rely on any English text that I can read, online or not.

    Keep it up! I can’t wait until you finish all 100. 🙂

    • Doug 陀愚 said

      Hi Kat and welcome! Thanks very much for the input; it really means a lot.

      I too can’t wait until I hit 100. 😉

  3. I enjoy this blog so much, I have just nominated you for an Inspiring Blog Award.
    http://findingtimetowrite.wordpress.com/2012/05/29/how-deserving-am-i-of-awards/
    Please don’t think of it as an additional burden (I know it’s not easy to respond to it on a site as yours), just as a sign of appreciation.

    • Doug 陀愚 said

      Hello and thank you for the kind mention. This is a quieter blog with only a few visitors so it’s greatly appreciated. 🙂

  4. hosokawagracia said

    I’m so happy that I found this blog. I just started to translate the Hyakunin Isshu to Hungarian, so if I’ll have difficulties with the original Japanese version, I’ll take a look at your translations. 🙂
    よろしくお願いいたします。 🙂

  5. Amalie said

    The Porter translation is also available for e-book download at http://www.archive.org 🙂

  6. Natasha said

    Thank you so much for making this blog. I really love the contents:)
    I like the meanings a lot, and the “story” you wrote after it. X)

  7. Natasha said

    And please do continue your work in this blog. I really love it:)

    • Doug said

      Hi Natasha and welcome. Thanks for the encouragement. I’ve been pretty busy with a new baby coming, but I do have some posts planned soon. Please stay tuned. 🙂

  8. Tulio said

    This blog is just really great. I was going to translate the poems to portuguese and I was wondering If there would be any complications If I used Professor’s translation as a base. His translations are full of meaning! Can’t wait to truly understand the poems in japanese.

  9. penkaur said

    I was yearning for a blog like this! Utakoi, the anime brought me here, Japanese poetry and stories are just wonderful.

  10. Nyasha said

    Hi there, I’m NyNy! Just wanted to stop by and say I like your posts.
    I hope when you have the time, you can check out some of mine and comment plus I’m still writing my travel entries when I went to Korea last year. I’d appreciate if you took a look 🙂
    http://nynyonline.co.uk

  11. C said

    This is just amazing..! I spent so long searching for a blog like this, I’ve always wanted to get to know the poems and a proper translation.. Thank you!

  12. lochan said

    I am very late here but this is amazing! Thank you.

  13. Oliver said

    My interest in Japanese poetry began with haiku and senryu and grew to include haiga and tanka. (I’m also a big fan of Usagi Yojimbo!) This blog is perfect for a friendly examination of the Hyakunin Isshu. Thanks for the time you spent. 🙂

  14. aocchan said

    Thank you for this project (: It is very interesting and seems well written. I am sure it will be a pleasure to read.

  15. eismcsqrd said

    Thank you sooo much for this! This is just what I was looking for!!: )

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