What is the meaning of composing waka in modern times?

In recent years, there has been a "Reiwa tanka boom." One article stated, ``More and more young people are composing their own songs using pop words and posting them on SNS.'' However, this is just a ``Tanka'', and ``Waka'' is still in the state of ``a buried tree that no one knows about''.

→“Compare and understand the difference between waka and tanka!

In these modern times, is there any point in daring to compose traditional waka? In the world of Japanese traditional culture and crafts, the modern-day inheritors say, ``We inherit traditional techniques and arrange them in a new, modern way.'' Behind these statements, I see the negative effects of modern ``progressivism,'' which says that tradition cannot remain as tradition and must be updated to suit the times.

In fact, even among second-hand poets, there were some who were filled with a sense of impatience, thinking, ``I have to create new songs.''

Even when I looked into the matter and expressed my thoughts, there was not a verse left behind, and I could not find any words that would keep me going. How can we intercede even for the rare people of the last world?
(Toshiyori Shirin)

However, ``newness'' is not the essence of ``waka''. The first people to notice this were Fujiwara Toshinari and Teika, poets who were active from the end of the Heian period to the beginning of Kamakura. They were the first to establish ``classicism'' in the history of waka poetry, advocating that the ``Kokin Wakashu'' was the holy book of waka poetry, and asserting that if you look up to it and compose songs with faith, you will naturally produce excellent poems. Did.

In the modern era of the Meiji era, ``progress'' is considered good, and we take it for granted that ``tomorrow will be better than today'' without doubting it. In this respect, classicism that clings to the past is a foolish idea, and the naive statement that ``Kokin Wakashu'', the classic of classics, is an extremely ``junior collection'' appears.

→“A book for reading poems (Aozora Bunko)

However, the ``classicism'' that Toshinari and Teika proposed was not simply an idea of ``respecting the old.'' They looked at as many documents as Masago, including ancient songs (Kikiki songs and Manyoshu), numerous old and second-hand poetry collections and stories, and collections of Chinese poetry such as the collection of poems written by the Bai clan. He preached that we should revere "Kokin Wakashu."

So what's in the "Kokin Wakashu"? It is the ``original spirit'', the ``original spirit'', that is, the ``aesthetic nature'' of all things. The main premise here is that ``waka'' is a literary art that pursues ``beauty.''

→“What is waka? "Yamato's music oriented towards beauty (everyone gets along well)"

The ``Kokin Wakashu'' is a collection of poems that have been carefully selected for their good and bad qualities, so this is a collection of poems that shows universal beauty and is the crystallization of the ``original heart.'' Therefore, if you look up to and believe in the "Kokin Wakashu" with all your heart, you will be able to experience the beauty of waka and Yamato (Japan)! In this way, Toshinari and his colleagues viewed the Kokin Wakashu as the sacred text of waka.

Afterwards, during the reign of Emperor Engishi, Tomonori, Ki no Tsurayuki, Mitsune Bonkouchi, and Tadami Mibu, among others, heard that they were deeply involved in this path, and ordered that the Kokinshu be selected and dedicated to it. I can't stand it. From the time of this collection, once the good and bad of a song have been determined, the essence of the song is something we should simply look up to the Kokinshu and believe in.
(Korokufuutaisho Volume 1)

The purpose of ``Modern Tanka'' is, so to speak, ``the expression of one's self.'' Therefore, a ``good song'' is a ``unique song that no one else can sing, that only you can sing.''

*The pursuit of novelty in tanka includes the introduction of slang and colloquialism, breaking the rhythm of phrases and crossing phrases, and the next... We now have no choice but to abandon the 31 characters.

However, ``waka'' is different. As I have said many times before, the purpose of waka is the pursuit of beauty. Therefore, the subject of the poem and the lyrics (meter) to be expressed have already been carefully selected (Kokinshu stipulated this). Therefore, a ``good song'' in ``Waka'' is a beautiful song, and it has nothing to do with whether it is old or new.

*This is where I think that ``waka'' is not literature, but ``path'', that is, ``poetry''.

Now, as much as I have talked about this passionately, the truth is that the presence or absence of beauty in waka is just the starting point for a good song. Toshinari recognized that ``beauty'' comes in many forms, evaluating it as ``subtle,'' ``gloss,'' and ``excellent,'' and he also sought for the poet's own deep sense of serenity in this. In other words, even if we say, ``imitate the classics,'' it is not acceptable to imitate old poems; this is where we can find the significance of ``waka,'' such as the difficulty of ``waka'' and the challenge of composing it.

*In this sense, we can understand that Saigyo is a truly great poet. In fact, the ``Shin Kokin Wakashu'' contains the largest number of poems written by Saigyo, 94.

Do you understand the meaning of composing ``Waka'' in modern times? It means facing the true nature of beauty, communicating with one's own heart, and finding true beauty.

(Written by Uchida Engaku, a poet)

Learn the basics of waka poetry and try reciting it!

We are holding a "Utajuku" with the goal of learning from representative classical works and being able to compose traditional "Waka" on an individual basis!

季刊誌「和歌文芸」
令和六年冬号(Amazonにて版販売中)

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