Fujiwara no Teika's gravesite at Shokoku-ji Temple in Kyoto.  Photo courtesy of Wikipedia.

Fujiwara no Teika’s gravesite at Shokoku-ji Temple in Kyoto. Photo courtesy of Wikipedia.

At last, faithful readers, we come to the final poem of the Hyakunin Isshu, composed by the anthology’s compiler himself!

こぬ人を Konu hito wo
まつほの浦の Matsuo no ura no
夕なぎに Yunagi ni
やくやもしほの Yaku ya moshio no
身もこがれつつ Mi mo kogaretsutsu

Which Professor Mostow translates as:

For the man who doesn’t come
I wait at the Bay of Matsuo—
in the evening calm
where they boil seaweed for salt,
I, too, burn with longing!

This poem was composed by Fujiwara no Teika (1162-1241), or alternatively Fujiwara no Sadaie. He is considered one of the greatest poets in all of Japanese history. Teika was the compiler of this Hyakunin Isshu anthology and was also one of the major compilers of the official Shin Kokin Wakashū anthology. As alluded in other posts his influence and talent and his family’s influence were so great that the family virtually monopolized the Court poetry for centuries to come. But we’ll talk more about that shortly.

Fujiwara no Teika, in selecting 100 poems for this anthology, selected this one out of hundreds if not thousands he had composed in his career. But why this poem?

Like many of the later poems in the anthology (poem 90, 91 and 94), this poem alludes to a much older one. In this case, it alludes all the way back to the original anthology in Japan, the Manyoshu. Unlike later anthologies, the Manyoshu was a loose connection of poems 400 years before Teika, but the particular poem he alludes to was written from the perspective of a man whose love was burning for a woman like the boiling of seaweed at Matsuo Bay. As you can see, Teika reversed the perspective to be that of a woman while still alluding to the original. Additionally though, Teika gives his poem a sadder tone than the original, which came to be a hallmark of Teika’s style.

Incidentally, Matsuo Bay (written as Matsuho 松帆 here) is on the very northern tip of the famous Awaji Island in the Inland Sea. It is a scenic part of Awaji Island, and even has its own homepage. The technique of extracting salt by boiling seaweed, or moshio (藻塩) is a time-honored tradition in Japan, and the seaweed gives the salt a special flavor. There’s a really good article about it here.

Fujiwara no Teika was a master of expressing yūgen (幽玄) or subtle, profound beauty in his poetry. This kind of subtle beauty centuries later came to influence other arts in time in Japan including No theater, tea-ceremony, etc.

But who was Fujiwara no Teika?

He was born from an illustrious family of poets though a minor branch of the powerful Fujiwara clan. His grandfather was Fujiwara no Toshitada and his father was Shunzei (poem 83). As a youth, Teika was a sickly boy but as the eldest son, he was obligated to carry on the family legacy. Unfortunately due to complex court politics, Teika was overlook for much of his early life. However after a fortunate turn of events, he was noticed by Emperor Go-Toba (poem 99) who eventually commissioned him to compile two new anthologies: the Shin Kokin Wakashū.

Over time though, Teika and Emperor Gotoba disagreed over poetry and the anthology, leading an increasingly distant and cold relationship. Teika found Gotoba overbearing, while Gotoba didn’t care for Teika’s free-wheeling style. At times, Teika and Gotoba openly criticized one another through poetry, or in their diary entries, and eventually Gotoba banished Teika for a year. Teika meanwhile became closer to Gotoba’s son who later became Emperor Juntoku (poem 100), while Gotoba became increasingly occupied with the martial arts, and with wresting power back from the samurai rulers in Kamakura.

Unfortunately for Emperor Gotoba, his meager forces were utterly routed by the Kamakura army, and Gotoba was sent into exile (since it was sacrilege to kill the Emperor) along with his immediate family. Teika was not involved in the war, so he remained in Kyoto, and even reached the Imperial post of Middle Counselor. During this time, he also completed another Imperial anthology, the Shin Chokusen Wakashū, which shows more of his down-to-earth later style.

Finally though, his health declined from old age and from the famine at the time, so he retired and took Buddhist tonsure. It was during his final years in a Buddhist monastery that he was invited by his son’s father-in-law, Lord Utsunomiya no Yoritsuna, to his villa at Mount Ogura near Kyoto.

Lord Utsunomiya asked Teika to compile 100 poems in his own hand, so that they could be adorned on the silk screens of his villa, and these 100 eventually became the collection that we know today.

After Teika died at the age of 80, his grandchildren formed into three rival schools of Waka poetry that dominated the poetry scene for centuries:

  • Nijō School (nijō-ha 二条派) – the conservative and dominant school at first. Over time, a series of misfortunes eventually caused the school to decline and fade by the medieval period in Japanese history.
  • Reizei School (reizei-ke 冷泉家) – the more liberal branch, but a few generations later became the dominant branch. By the middle of the Muromachi Period, two branches had formed: the upper Reizei school (kamireizei 上冷泉家) and the lower Reizei school (shimoreizei 下冷泉家), which the upper school prevailing in the long-run. This school still maintains a large compound in Kyoto to this day.
  • Kyōgoku School (kyōgoku-ha 京極派) – this school died out in only a couple generations.

But more importantly, the legacy of Fujiwara no Teika is in his celebrated poetry anthologies, and especially this one. Even today, many kids in Japan enjoy playing uta-garuta in school competitions, and there are even Japanese anime about the Hyakunin Isshu.

And of course readers like yourself. This was a originally a little experiment of mine, but I have enjoyed your readership, your comments, and of course your support. Thank you everyone from the bottom of my heart.

As this is the 100th and final poem of the Hyakunin Isshu, that is all I have to offer on this blog. I may take it up again sometime in the future and cover other anthologies like the Kokinshu and the Shinkokinshu, but for now, I decided that I prefer to leave it as it is.

All good things must come to an end, after all.

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A Cold Mat: Poem 91

February 19, 2014

White (3235665151)

A fitting poem for winter and those who somehow missed out on Valentine’s Day recently:

きりぎりす Kirigirisu
鳴くや霜夜の Naku ya shimoyo no
さむしろに sa mushiro ni
衣かたしき koromo katashiki
ひとりかも寝む hitori kamo nen

Which Professor Mostow translates as:

When the crickets
cry in the frosty night,
on the cold reed-mat,
spreading out my robe just for one,
must I sleep all alone?

This sad, miserable poem was ironically composed by a famous poet of his era named Fujiwara no Yoshitsune (1169-1206) whose grandather was Jien (poem 95). He was another member of the elite poetry family, the Mikohidari (see Jakuren poem 87) and was very well-represented in the Shin Kokin Wakashū poetry anthology which he was an editor. Elsewhere, as a scion of the Fujiwara family, he served as regent to the young Emperor Tsuchimikado.

Astute readers may have noticed that this poem sounds similar, especially in Japanese, to a very early poem in the anthology by Hitomaro (poem 3). Even the last line is the same.

But part of the poem also seems similar to another poem in the Shin Kokin Wakashū according to Professor Mostow, which relates to cold reed-mats and waiting alone. So, in a sense, this poem blends two famous poems and adds the novelty of crickets.

But as we’ve seen with poem 90, it was an accepted practice at the time to write poetry which allude to older poems in the poems. Indeed, as the author of the blog, I admit I kind of enjoyed this poem more when I noticed the final line and realized I had heard it before.

Yoshitsune certainly never had to spend a night in the cold as a member of the elite Fujiwara family, but his ability to weave old poetry verses together and paint such a sad picture help explain why he was such a famous poet.

Matsushima miyagi z

This poem is a clever variation on the “sleeves wet with tears” poems we often see in the Hyakunin Isshu:

見せばやな Misebaya na
雄島のあまの Ojima no ama no
袖だにも Sode dani mo
ぬれにぞぬれし Nure ni zo nureshi
色はかはらず Iro wa kawarazu

Which Professor Mostow translates as:

How I’d like to show him!
The sleeves of the fishermen
of Male Island
when it comes to wet, are wet indeed,
but their color doesn’t change!

The author of this poem is Inpumon In no Taiyu (1131 ~ 1200 ?) who served Princess Ryōshi, the daughter of Emperor Go-Shirakawa. Princess Ryōshi was also known as Inpumon-in (殷富門院) hence the name here. Taiyu was an accomplished poet and another member of the elite “Garden in the Poetic Forest” group (see poem 85).

The poem here, according to Mostow, is a 200-year old rebuttal of an earlier poem that celebrates the “wet sleeves” of the fisherman of Matsushima, but saying “if you think their sleeves are wet, mine are even more wet and stained with blood-red tears!” We’ve seen other “sleeves wet with tears” poems in the Hyakunin Isshu, namely poem 65, poem 72, and my favorite poem 42. But Taiyu takes this one to a new level, I think. 🙂

Regarding the location, “Male Island” (雄島) is one of 200+ tiny islands in a famous island chain called Matsushima (松島) in modern-day Miyagi Prefecture. The photograph is of Matsushima at sunset. As you can see, the islands are all pretty small, and very scenic, and each has their own unique name. However, in the 2011 Great Tohoku Earthquake, the area was badly devastated and still recovering.

In any case, poets from antiquity and centuries later used Matsushima in their poetry and it’s easy to see why.

One other point worth mentioning is that this poem, and poem 89 use a clever trick in Japanese poetry called kugire (句切れ). The idea is to add a single syllable in there, usually on the first line, in order to add impact, but also help divide the poem more cleanly along the standard 5-7-5-7-7 lines in Waka poetry.

In this poem the kugire is on the first line, at the end: 見せばや (mi-se-ba-ya-na), while in poem 89 it is 玉の緒 (ta-ma-no-o-yo). You can see this technique centuries later in Japanese haiku, such as the famous poem by Basho in the year 1686:

古池 Fu-ru-i-ke-ya
蛙飛びこむ Ka-wa-zu-to-bi-ko-mu
水の音 Mi-zu-no-o-to

an ancient pond / a frog jumps in / the splash of water

This haiku was composed 500+ years after the poems of the Hyakunin Isshu, but it’s interesting how some poetic-devices never quite get old. 😉

Phragmites in Amsterdam 2013

If you like word-play, you’ll enjoy this poem quite a bit:

難波江の Naniwa-e no
芦のかりねの Ashi no karine no
一夜ゆへ Hitoyo yue
身をつくしてや Mi wo tsukushite ya
恋わたるべき Koi wataru beki

Which Professor Mostow translates as:

Due to that single night
of fitful sleep, short as a reed’s joint cut at the root
from Naniwa Bay,
am I to exhaust myself, like the channel markers
passing my days in longing?

This poem was composed by Lady Bettō (dates unknown), who served in the house of Empress Seishi, whose husband was Emperor Sutoku. Lady Bettō was also the daughter of Minamono no Yoshitaka.

Although the life of Lady Bettō is relatively unknown, and she doesn’t appear in many anthologies, Professor Mostow points out that her poem is quite a technical feat. There are a lot of “pivot words”, or words that can either refer to the previous statement, or the latter one:

  • karine can mean cutting a root (刈り根) or a brief nap (仮寝) such as when travelling.
  • hitoyo can mean either a single segment of a reed (一節) or a single night (一夜).
  • mi wo tsukushi can mean either to exhaust one’s body (身を尽くし) or one of the famous barriers in Osaka Bay (澪標, see poem 20)

The poem itself uses many familiar themes too. We’ve seen a lot of poems that feature Osaka Bay, called Naniwa in ancient times, including poem 20, poem 19 and poem 72 among others. Similarly, we see references to reeds, just as we do in poem 39 and poem 19 (again).

What makes this poem stand out is the excellent use of word-play throughout. On the surface, it looks like just another love poem, but Lady Bettō knew what she was doing. 😉

Murasaki Shikibu Nikki Emaki (Hinohara - scene 3) painting only

Where as the last love poem expressed love and anxiety after a first-meeting, this poem is quite a different story:

夜もすがら Yo mo sugara
物思ふ頃は Mono omou koro wa
明けやらぬ Ake yaranu
ねやのひまさへ Neya no hima sae
つれなかりけり Tsure nakari keri

Which Professor Mostow translates as:

All through the night
recently, as I dwell on things,
even the gap between the doors
of my bedroom, which does not lighten,
seems cruel and heartless to me.

The author is a Buddhist monk named Shun’e Hōshi (俊恵法師, “Dharma Master Shun’e”) who was the son of Minamoto no Toshiyori (poem 74) and grandson of Minamoto no Tsunenobu (poem 71). Though he had taken tonsure, Shun’e was quite a social figure and gathered many poets and writers around him and his residence called the Karin’en (歌林苑, “Garden in the Poetic Woods”). According to Professor Mostow, one of his students was a famous writer named Kamo no Chōmei who wrote the “Account of a Ten Foot Hut” or Hōjōki.

This poem is another example of when a poem expressing a woman’s anguish is written by a man, presumably on a set topic for a poetry contest. Other examples include poem 18 and poem 21. Obviously being able to express a woman’s feelings, namely that of a jilted lover, so well from a male author was not an easy task, and was a mark of excellent poetic skill. Not surprisingly Shun’e is counted among the Later Six Immortals of Poetry. Similarly, this is probably why Kabuki actors who play women’s parts are so highly revered.

Disheleved: Poem Number 80

October 25, 2013

Courbet Gypsy in Reflection

A clever morning-after love poem that I felt was fun to share:

長からむ Nagakaran
心もしらず Kokoro mo shirazu
黒髪の Kurokami no
みだれてけさは Midarete kesa wa
物をこそ思へ Mono wo koso omoe

Which Professor Mostow translates:

I do not even know
how long your feelings will last.
My long black hair
is all disheveled and, this morning,
my thoughts too are in a tangle!

The author of this poem is Lady Horikawa of the Taikenmon In (dates unknown). She served in the court of Empress Taiken who was the consort to Emperor Toba, and was the mother of Emperor Sutoku (poem 77) who was later exiled.

The use of imagery of “disheveled hair” was a common device often used by women, or writing poetry about women, to express feelings of frustration or anxiety.

As we’ve seen before, morning-after poems were very popular at this time in Japan as many of the aristocracy of the Heian Court would have love trysts between each other. Often the first meeting was the morning important, not surprisingly. It set the tone for the rest of the relationship, so a meeting like this was often celebrated in poetry.

Of course, there was another side to these trysts in the Heian Period too.

Waning Moon

Another Autumn moon poem, but with an interesting twist:

なげけとて Nageke tote
月やは物を Tsuki ya wa mono wo
思はする Omowasuru
かこちがほなる Kakochi gao naru
わがなみだかな Waga nami dakana

Which Professor Mostow translates as:

“Lament!” does it say?
Is it the moon that makes me
dwell on things? —No, and yet,
look at the tears flowing down
my reproachful face!

This poem was composed by the Dharma Master Saigyō (1118-1190) a famous Buddhist monk and poet from the era. Saigyo’s story is interesting in of itself. In his youth, his name was Sato no Norikiyo and he was a promising young man in the Heian Court, and caught the attention of Emperor Toba, Emperor Sutoku (poem 77) and also Taira no Kiyomori, the most powerful man at the time and who later became a villain in the famous Tales of the Heike and a recent drama on Japanese TV.

However, Norikiyo grew disillusioned with the nasty politics and infighting in the Court, and abruptly decided to throw it all away. He left behind his career, his wife and children1 and became a wandering mendicant. He took on the Buddhist name Saigyo (西行) and stayed at the famous mountain-monastery of Koyasan for monastic training. Later, he returned to the capitol to find everything had changed. The Hogen Rebellion had destroyed much of the capitol, Emperor Sutoku was exiled (having lost), and Kiyomori ruled as a warlord. A few years later, Kiyomori and the entire Heike clan were utterly destroyed in the famous Genpei War which also spelled the Heian Court and the Heian Period. What might have happened had Norikiyo had stayed and followed his career, rather than leave the capitol?

In any case, with the new samurai government at Kamakura (the Kamakura Period), things settled down in Japan and Saigyo traveled around, devoting his life to writing poetry to lament the loss of his former patrons, beautiful nature in Japan, and about life in general. He finally settled down in the outskirts of Osaka, and passed away at the age of 73. It was said that when he passed away, the cherry blossoms were in full bloom and that he died on the same day that Shakyamuni Buddha died (February 15th according to solar calendar).

He was also friends with Shunzei (poem 83), according to Professor Mostow.

Anyhow, this poem is, according to Professor Mostow, possibly inspired by a poem by famous Chinese poet Bo Juyi and is supposed the express the feelings of a resentful lover. Is the moon making him/her tearful? Maybe, maybe not, but gazing up at the moon brings them such sadness anyway.

Saigyo’s talent with poetry and his interesting life story have certainly helped him earn a place in the Hyakunin Isshu, but also inspired many later poets such as Basho and others. Basho the Haiku master, in his travels, went to visit places frequented by Saigyo among others.

A typhoon approaching Hong Kong, courtesy of Wikimedia.

Even the Hyakunin Isshu has its comedic moments:

うかりける Ukarikeru
人をはつせの Hito wo hatsuse no
山おろしよ Yama oroshiyo
はげしかれとは Hageshikareto wa
祈らぬものを Inoranu mono wo

Which Professor Mostow translates as:

“Make that heartless
woman, O mountain storm
of Hatsuse Temple—
crueller still!”—this is not
what I prayed for, and yet…

The author is Lord Minamoto no Toshiyori (1055-1129) who is the author of Tsunenobu (poem 71) and father of Shun’e (poem 85) and was one of the leading poets of his day, plus he helped compile the Imperial Anthology the Kinyōshū, as well as many poems of his own in various anthologies. He was also a leading poet of his era, along with Mototoshi (poem 75).

As Professor Mostow explains, Fujiwara no Teika, who compiled the Hyakunin Isshu, valued this poem very highly because of its depth of feeling and excellent word choices. As the anthology explains, the poem was written out of frustration after having prayed to be able to meet a certain woman, and somehow she became even more resistant.

The name “Hatsuse Temple” is another name for a famous Buddhist temple in Nara, Japan called Hasedera. Hasedera is very well-known in Japan, and apparently was a frequent pilgrimage site for lovers and those with romantic interests. If you ever do happen to be in Japan, especially in the Nara area, I’d highly recommend visiting Hasedera temple.

Sal plage

This is a more light-hearted poem in contrast to the previous one:

音にきく Oto ni kiku
高師の浜の Takashi no hama no
あだ浪は Adanami wa
かけじや袖の Kakeji ya sode no
ぬれもこそすれ Nure mo koso sure

Which Professor Mostow translates as:

Known far and wide,
the unpredictable waves
of Takashi’s beach—
I will not let them catch me—
For I’d be sorry should my sleeves get wet!

The author of this poem is only known as “Kii of Princess Yūshi’s Household” (dates unknown). She served in the household of Imperial Princess Yūshi, and was the daughter of Taira no Tsunekata and one Lady Koben. The salon of Princess Yūshi included a number of poets and writers and it seems Kii was no exception. She participated in a number of poetry contests and her poems appear in various anthologies.

Speaking of contests, Professor Mostow explains that this poem actually was intended as a response to another poem in a competition held by Retired Emperor Horikawa. Kii was 70 years old at the time according to another source, which is impressive given that she expresses young love so easily after all these years.

But where is Takashi beach? I checked and it seems to be a famous beach in Osaka Bay, near modern-day Takaishi City in the Osaka Metropolitan Area.

Intresting fact: the other poem she was responding to, was written by none other than the grandfather of Fujiwara no Teika, who is the compiler of the Hyakunin Isshu anthology. Interesting how things tie together the way they do. 🙂

Ryokan-hakone-en-4

This clever little poem shows the battle of the sexes as it existed 1,000 years ago:

春の夜の Haru no yoru no
夢ばかりなる Yume bakari naru
手枕に Tamakura ni
かひなく立たむ Kainaku tatan
名こそ惜しけれ Na koso oshikere

Which Professor Mostow translates as:

With your arm as my pillow
for no more than a brief
spring night’s dream,
how I would regret my name
coming, pointlessly, to ‘arm!

The author, known as the Suō Handmaid (dates unknown), was so named because her father was governor Suō Province. As mentioned before, this was a common sobriquet used by female authors, so their real names are rarely known. This is another poem that speaks to the importance of a woman’s reputation in the ancient Court of Japan, just like the last poem, Poem 65. However, this one is much more playful and shows a lot of wit.

According to the back-story, there was a social gathering at the Nijō-In (二条院), the woman’s quarters at the palace. The woman there were relaxing, and the author of this poem said, “I wish I had a pillow”. At that moment, one Fujiwara no Tadaie happen to walk by, and hearing this stuck his arm through the curtains and said, “Here, takes this as your pillow!”.

In reply, the author composed this poem. As Professor Mostow points out, the word for arm here (kaian) is a pun for pointless (kainaku).

People flirted pretty clever back in those days. 🙂