Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Hyakunin Isshu (One Hundred Poets, One Poem Each), Poem 1 (Emperor Tenji)

Hyakunin Isshu, Poem 1

aki no ta no
kariho no iho no
toma wo arami
waga koromode wa
tsuyu ni nuretsutsu


because of the rough thatch
on my makeshift hut
near the autumn rice fields
the sleeves of my robe
are getting moistened with dew

[Rice harvesting in autumn]

  • Kariho no iho: kariho is a contraction of kari-iho, "temporary hut." As the hut is mentioned doubly, some commentators (possibly also Fujiwara Teika, the compiler of the Hyakunin Isshu) consider kariho as a pivot word (kakekotoba) with the double meaning of "reaped ears of grain." A "temporary hut" was a makeshift structure in which farmers at night kept watch over the fields during the harvest season, to prevent encroachment by deer and other animals.
  • Toma wo arami: Toma is a roof made of thatch. When mi follows the stem of an adjective, it indicates reason. 
  • Koromode: sleeves
  • Tsuyu ni nuretsutsu: -tsutsu indicates on ongoing process. The "dew" in the last line may imply tears (of loneliness or lost love) as well (this would become a hackneyed image in classical poetry). 
  • Pastoralism would become a dominant mood of appreciating nature and the lives of simpler people among the Nara aristocracy in the 8th c. But we should also realize that Japanese royalty lived in unpretentious thatched buildings until the 7th c.
The poems in the Hyakunin Isshu are in chronological order and the first seven poems date from the Asuka and Nara periods (7th and 8th centuries), the age of the Manyoshu.

The above is a poem admired for its evocation of the mood of autumn sadness. Teika ascribes the poem to Emperor Tenji (626-672; name also spelled Tenchi), the son of Emperor Jomei, but that ascription is dubious: a similar poem in fact appears in the Manyoshu where it is anonymous. It was first ascribed to Emperor Tenji in the Gosenshu anthology from the mid-tenth century, probably based on a tradition or document outside Manyoshu.

[Emperor Tenji by Utagawa Kuniyoshi (1845–1848)]

But Teika clearly believed that Emperor Tenji was the author and he must have put the present poem consciously in first position in his anthology: after all, Emperor Tenji was revered as the progenitor of the imperial line (all emperors in the Heian period stemmed from his blood line), and the connection between poetry and the imperial house was important to Teika. This poem could be interpreted as an expression of the "model" emperor's compassion for the lot of the common peasants, who had to live in leaking huts.

The poem however says little about the harshness of work in the fields but rather focuses in aristocratic fashion on the beautiful "yugen" aspect of lonely tranquility in late autumn. As such, it has always been much admired. The interesting thing is that while in classical Japanese poetry wet sleeves are usually associated with tears, because of an unhappy love affair, here the political aspect is paramount. Not all critics agree, however, and some read it as a love poem (Emperor Tenji was said to have competed for the hand of Princess Nukata with his brother and successor, Emperor Tenmu, but there is no proof for such a reading).

The poet
As crown prince, called Naka no Oe, Emperor Tenji broke the power of the Soga clan with the help of Fujiwara no Kamatari, and was also responsible for the Taika Reforms, reorganizing the government on the Chinese model. For many years he continued to rule as regent, even after the death of his mother Empress Saimei, and only was formally enthroned in 668. As Emperor he moved the capital to Omi (now Otsu in Shiga Pref.) and promulgated the Omi Code of Laws. Omi served for five years as the capital.

There are three places associated with Emperor Tenji in Kyoto and Otsu. They can easily be visited together as they are all three located on the Keihan line to and in Otsu:

[Omi Jingu]
  • In Otsu stands the Omi Jingu, a shrine built in the Meiji-period to honor Emperor Tenji, who made Otsu for five years the capital of Japan. The shrine stands at a beautiful forested spot above Lake Biwa. There is small clock museum (Emperor Tenji is credited with having set up a water clock in his capital) and because the first poem in the Hyakunin Isshu is by Emperor Tenji, the shrine also organizes various karuta events throughout the year (the most important is the Karuta Festival in early January). See the website for more information:

    Omi Jingu is a 10 min walk from Omi Jingu-mae Station on the Keihan Ishiyama-Sakamoro line.

[Akai in Miidera]
  • In Miidera ("Temple of the Three Wells" or, written differently, "Temple of the August Well"), also in Otsu, one finds a well, the "Akai," which was supposedly used to supply the water for bathing of three newly born imperial infants, the later emperors Tenji, Tenmu and Jito (of course, this is pure legend as they were born in a palace in Asuka, far removed from Otsu), but Miidera is a great temple. Besides the Akaiya, there are for example the Main hall, which has national treasure status and interesting Buddhist statues, the bell tower with legendary bell, the scripture house, and the Kannon Hall from which there is a great view over Lake Biwa. See

    Miidera (Onjoji) is a 10 min walk from Miidera Station on the Keihan Ishiyama-Sakamoto line.

    [Emperor Tenji's tomb]

  • In Yamashina in Kyoto one finds the imperial tomb of Emperor Tenji. The grounds are huge and full of tall trees, but the mausoleum is quite unassuming. By going around the mausoleum (by first returning to the entrance, as part of the grave area is off-limits), you can go around to the Biwa Canal path which lies north of the mausoleum, and which is a nice walking path (in both directions). It is famous for its cherry blossoms. There is also an interesting temple, Daihonzan Hongokuji. 

    The Emperor Tenji Mausoleum (Tenji Tenno Ryo) is close to Misasagi Station on the Tozai line of the Kyoto subway (which links to the Keihan line to Otsu at Yamashina Station). Walk east along the main street and you'll see the entrance on your right.

References: Pictures of the Heart, The Hyakunin Isshu in Word and Image by Joshua S. Mostow (University of Hawai'i Press, 1996); One Hundred Poets, One Poem Each, by Peter MacMIllan (Penguin Classics); 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); Chishiki Zero kara no Hyakunin Isshu, by Ariyoshi Tamotsu (Gentosha); Hyakunin Isshu Kaibo Zukan, by Tani Tomoko (X-Knowledge);  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).

The photos of rice harvesting and Miidera are my own.
Emperor Tenji's tomb: public domain at Wikimedia Commons.
Omi Jingu: KENPEI, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons