What is Kokin Wakashu? ~Understanding the origins of Japanese beauty~

What is Kokin Wakashu? It is simply a "crystal of beauty."
In other words, talking about Kokinshu is the same as talking about beauty.

To put it simply, it was the first imperial collection of waka poems compiled in the fifth year of Engi (905 A.D.) by Emperor Daigo's imperial order by Tomonori Ki, Tsurayuki Ki, Mitsune Bongochi, Tadami Mibu, and others. The total number of poems was around 1,100, and it was arranged in 20 volumes, modeled after the Manyoshu, and its structure, with kana and true names, became the model for later imperial collections of waka. We named this “Kokin Wakashu”!

Its biggest feature is the arrangement of songs over time. There is a chronological arrangement in some parts of the Manyoshu (Volumes 1 and 2), but in the Kokinshu, this arrangement is the essence of the poetry collection, and the value of the collection of poems is maximized. Masu.

→Related article “Get to know the representative songs, style, selectors, and history of Manyoshu!

As an example, let's look at a few poems from Volume 1 (Spring).

1 “Spring is here in the year, and the year is as good as last year, as it is this year” (Motokata Ariwara)
2 “The frozen water in my sleeves makes me dazzled by today’s spring wind” (Ki Tsuneyuki)
3 "Spring haze is rising, Izukomi Yoshino's snow is falling on the mountains of Yoshino" (Yomito Shirazu)

The new year begins, the spring breeze blows, and snow falls in the mist...

Next is Volume 11 (Love).

469 “When the firebirds sing, the iris grass in May will fall in love that I don’t even know about.” (Yomito Shirazu)
470 “The white dew that listens only to sound should rise at night and disappear without thinking during the day” (Sose Hoshi)
471 “The Yoshino River is rolling and the water moves swiftly, making people think of others” (Ki Tsurayuki)

I realize that I'm in love with someone I only know through rumors, and my days of worrying begin...

In this way, in the Kokinshu, the poems are close to each other, and human affairs naturally change and change slowly.

What is beauty? Many philosophers and artists have tackled this metaphysical question.
The Kokin Wakashu's answer to this question was the human emotions expressed in the face of the change of time.

This can be seen naturally in an excellent poem, even if it is not due to the virtuosity of arrangement.

46 ``If you put a plum or incense on your sleeve and keep it as a keepsake, it's better to keep it as a keepsake in spring.'' (Yomito Shirazu)
53 “If there were no cherry blossoms in the world, the heart of spring would be better off.” (Narihira Ariwara)
84 "Flowers fall silently on a spring day when the light shines in the distance" (Tomonori Ki)

The universe is constantly changing, and life is an impermanent life that is plagued by birth, old age, illness, and death.
Insane people try to stop time in defiance of this absolute truth. It's an unfulfilled wish, a tremendous and useless struggle. But even then, humans never stop seeking...

Conflict, emptiness and despair! In fact, the beauty of Kokin Wakashu comes from the ``aspiration that will never come true.''

I hope you can understand the essence of the beauty that shines in the anthologies of ancient and modern Japanese poetry. It makes sense that this collection has two major themes (subtate): the four seasons and love.

→Related article “The true nature of waka: Once-in-a-lifetime encounters and the scars of struggle

By the way, when asked, ``What is special about Japan?'' some people answer, ``It has four seasons,'' but there are many countries that have four seasons. But many Japanese people believe that, why?
This is because Japanese culture is based on an attachment to the four seasons and a sense of beauty that was established in the Kokinshu.

In this way, the stories told by Kokin Wakashu established a common aesthetic sense among Japanese people.

Also, some people may see characteristics of Japanese people in so-called ``relaxation''. This comes from the values woven into the ``love songs'' of the Kokinshu.
If ``love'' is the feeling of fulfillment that comes from seeking mutual satisfaction, ``love'' is the feeling of longing that can never be obtained even if you seek for it. A woman who waits, a man who waits. A man and a woman who keep passing each other are never brought together and just put their hopes in their dreams. It was the Kokinshu that established this receptive, submissive lyricism of love as ``aware.''

→Related article “A short story that explains everything about the cruel love poems of Kokinshu.

Murasaki Shikibu's ``The Tale of Genji'', Matsuo Basho's ``Sarumon'', Koyo Ozaki's ``Golden Yasha'', Ichiyo Higuchi's ``Thirteen Nights'', and Yukio Mishima's ``The Sea of Fertility''. In addition to these representative works of literature, Japanese culture in a narrow sense such as literature, calligraphy, painting, and performing arts, as well as our sense of the seasons and love in our daily lives, all of us Japanese live our lives based on the aesthetic sense woven into the Kokin Wakashu. It is no exaggeration to say that Kokin Wakashu is the bible of Japanese culture!


Ki Tsurayuki wrote this in the ``Kana Preface'' of the Kokin Wakashu.

``For a moment, time passes, and joy and sorrow and joy and sadness pass through the air.'' Those who know the words of this song and the meaning of the song (omitted), and who obtain this heart, look up to the moon as if they were looking at the moon in the sky. Maybe I should stop now.”
Kokin wakashu (kana preface)

If you think of old Japan like looking up at the moon in the sky, it's hard not to fall in love with the era when Kokin Waka anthology was created...

→Related article “I interviewed Tsurayuki-sama ~Anthology of Kokin Waka Poems translated by Kana Junran~

Kokin Wakashu is not a relic of the distant past. As long as we have the heart to love singing, they will always welcome us. Warm.

So let's all explore the depths of Japanese beauty through waka!

"Poetry party/Waka class

(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!