Famous Japanese waka poems that every Japanese person should memorize. 10 Greatest Hits!

The Yamato Uta is a seed from the hearts of men, and has become the language of all things.
Kokin Waka Shu (Preface to the Poetry Anthology in Japanese under the Japanese kana syllabary)

This is a famous sentence from the beginning of the Preface to the Kokin Waka Shu by Ki no Tsuyuki.

Waka poems composed from the hearts of people have been composed countless times.
In this article, we would like to select 10 very famous waka poems, Greatest Hits, from the vast number of them, which have had a tremendous influence on and touched not only waka poem fans but also many Japanese people!

1 Yakumo gaeru Izumo Yaegaki Tsumagomi ni Yaegaki wo Tsukurumo Yaegaki wo Sono Yaegaki wo.(Susano mikoto)

This is a poem by Susano-o-no-mikoto, the younger brother of Amaterasu, the ancestral deity of the Emperor family, and famous for the legend of the eight-forked serpent. It is said that Susano no Mikoto composed this poem when he saw a cloud of clouds rising up after he had vanquished the eight-forked serpent and was building a palace for his new marriage to Princess Kushinada.

This poem is said to be the origin of waka poetry, according to the kana-suppository introduction to the Kokin Wakashu by Ki no Tsuyuki.

The poem is said to have originated from Susano-no-O-no-Mikoto, the god of the land of Aarakano-no-chi. In the days of the Chihayafuru gods, the words of the poems were not yet defined, and the hearts of the people were not yet at ease. Now that the world of man has come of age, Susano-no-Mikoto reads more than 30 letters of a poem. Thus, they have many words in their hearts to praise the flowers, envy the birds, bewail the haze, and appreciate the dew.
Kokin Waka Shu (Preface to the Japanese Classical Poetry Anthology)

In Western classical music, the basic form of “sonata” was established by the classical school, which gave birth to symphonies, concertos, and other great works that have been handed down to the present day.
In waka poetry, too, the form of “thirty too many one-character” was established, and here began the history of waka poetry as a culture and literary art common to the Yamato people. This poem is a milestone in the history of waka poetry.

2 Himugashi no yoni ni kagorohi no tachimitsu mite kaheri miho kara mita Tsuki no katabukinu(The moon is breaking the sky) (Kakinomoto Hitomaro)

A shimmering sun is rising in the eastern field and the sun is just about to rise, but when you look back, the moon is tilted.
The majestic and realistic composition is truly representative of the Manyoshu. The poem was composed by Kakinomotojinmaro, who was praised as the “sage of poetry” by Kikanuki and Toshinari Fujiwara.

Jinmaro is the greatest poet in the history of waka poetry. As a court poet, he left behind a wide variety of poems, including elegant poems dedicated to sovereigns and princes, as well as tragic, exclamatory poems to his own wife. Some of his poems are in the style of the Man’yo poems, which are realistic, while others are more conceptual and complex, in the style of the so-called Kokin style. He was truly the sage of poetry and single-handedly shaped almost all of the literary art of waka poetry that has survived to the present day. His achievements are comparable to those of Bach, the father of music.

In this poem, Emperor Karu is likened to the sun climbing up the magnificent nature, and Emperor Kusakabe, the deceased prince’s father, is likened to the setting moon. Emperor Kusakabe was the son of Emperor Temmu, but he died young at the age of 28 without ever ascending to the throne. While Hitomaro feels that the youthful Prince Karu was the next generation, his heart goes out to the regretful Kusakabe no Kohji.

3 If I were to wear a karakoromo, I would travel far and wide.(Ariwara Narihira)

This is a poem by the rare playboy Zaihara no Narihira, also one of the Rokugasen (six poets).
It is a poem about his thoughts of his beloved wife during the long journey from Kyoto.

The poem was composed in a scene from the famous ninth section of Ise Monogatari

I came to a place called Yatsuhashi, in the country of Mikawa. In a stream there, kakitsubata bloomed in an interesting manner. Set the five Chinese characters for "kakitsubata" at the top of the poem, and read the heart of the traveler.
Ise Monogatari (9th section)

As the above passage says, each phrase begins with the word “kakitsubata,” which is a technique known as “orikku. This is a technique called “orikku.

In addition, there are four kakegatari (hanging words).
The words are “ki” and “kuru,” “familiar” and “accustomed,” “skirt” and “wife,” and “zhang” and “far.

There are four “koromo” compounds.
Ki” and “nare”, “tsuma” and “haru

Furthermore, the pillow word “karakoromo” (唐衣)

In addition, there is an introductory phrase connected by a hanging word
Karakoromo: “While wearing karakoromo” → “nare

The rhetoric of the waka poem is so full of rhetorical devices that even Paganini would be stunned by the superb technique of this piece.

4 The color of the flowers may fade away, but itazura wa itazura wa my body in the world, while I long for it.(Ono Komachi)

This is a poem by Ono no Komachi, a well-known poet and one of the six poets of the Hyakunin Isshu (One Hundred Poems). Although famous as one of the 100 poems of the Hyakunin Isshu, it is no exaggeration to say that this poem symbolizes the Kokin Waka Shu and waka poetry itself.
Cherry blossoms are the flower among flowers. It is the ultimate in beauty. However, impermanence is inevitable, and even cherry blossoms are doomed to grow old and fall. Waka poetry is a movement that tries to capture this impermanence of beauty, and Komachi’s poem accomplishes this beautifully.

Fujiwara no Teika, in his treatise on waka, asserted that the core of waka is the “lingering emotion and bewitching beauty,” and he looked to Ono no Komachi as a model for his work. The refined and graceful feminine melody, similar to that of Mendelssohn’s “Violin Concerto,” is the achievement of waka poetry.

5 Smell the plum blossoms when the east wind blows, for they have no master, and do not forget spring.(Sugawara Michizane)

Sugawara no Michizane is enshrined at Dazaifu Tenmangu Shrine and is famous as the god of learning. Because of his scholarship, he was highly valued by Emperor Uda, and was promoted to the position of Minister of the Right in the Daigo dynasty. However, his rapid rise to power led to antagonism, and he was finally transferred to Dazaifu, where he died.
This poem is said to have been composed on his departure for Dazaifu, as if he were speaking to a plum tree in his residence. Incidentally, this plum tree flew to Dazaifu in pursuit of her husband! This is called the “legend of the flying plum tree. One of the three major Kabuki plays, “Sugawara Denju Tenarai Kagami” is based on this legend.

Michizane absorbed both Chinese and Japanese styles and breathed new life into waka poetry. An analogy is Dvorak’s Ninth Symphony, which connected Bohemian and Native American music. Michizane, who was so skilled in Chinese poetry that he compiled his own collection of Chinese poems, nurtured the spirit of Chinese poetry in waka poetry. After the abolition of the Japanese envoys to the Tang Dynasty in accordance with Michizane’s opinions, Japan’s “New World,” or national-style culture, accelerated.

6 Sode hijite musubi shimizu no kohoru wo haru tachi tsukefu no kaze ya tokurumu.(Kino Tsurayuki)

This is the second poem in the spring section of the Kokin Wakashu by Ki no Tsuyuki, a representative selector of the Kokin Wakashu.
The season is summer, and the wind of Risshun is melting the water frozen in winter that I have soaked my sleeves in and scooped. In this single poem, the four seasons are represented as summer, winter, and spring.

The two major themes of the Imperial Anthology of Japanese Poetry are “four seasons” and “love. The four seasons are the transitions of spring, summer, autumn, and winter, and love is the process from the first love to the breakup of a relationship. Although the selection of poems was part of the compiler’s job, the arrangement of the poems was the key to the composition, and was the showcase of his skill.

However, the changing of the four seasons is essentially a mere passing thing. However, Kan’yuki and his colleagues artificially classified them according to the scale of “beauty. This is the same as the musical scale, which classifies sounds according to a certain standard in order to create music.
It was not composers who created scales, but mathematicians such as Pythagoras and Mersenne. Kan’yuki was probably more of an intellectual scholar than an artist.

7 This world is my world, I think, and the moon is not far away.(Fujiwara Michinaga)

In the year 1,000 A.D., when the Tale of Genji and The Pillow Book and other works of women’s culture were flourishing, Fujiwara no Michinaga, the left minister of the imperial court, allowed his eldest daughter, Akiko, to enter the service of Emperor Ichijo as a courtesan. Since Emperor Ichijo already had a predecessor, Sadako, this created an unprecedented situation of one emperor and two empresses. Incidentally, Murasaki Shikibu served as the wife of Akiko, and Seisho Nagon served as the wife of Sadako.
Michinaga’s scheming continued. He went to great lengths to create a “family of three empresses” by making his second daughter, Yenko, the second wife of Emperor Sanjo, and his fourth daughter, Ieiko, the second wife of Emperor Goichijo. The Fujiwara regency, which had begun with Kamatari Nakatomi, finally reached its climax with the succession of Fuhito and Yoshifusa. This is a poem by Fujiwara no Michinaga himself, who rose to the rank of emperor.

This poem is extremely rare in waka poetry, in which the main line of the poem is to quietly sing of the tragic feelings of the deceased. Wagner’s “Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg” is a perfect example of the grandiose sense of omnipotence. The sight of Michinaga, the Meistersinger of the Heian period, singing the song with great eloquence is just what you would expect from him.

8 Sehayabayami iwa ni sareru takigawa no watte mo sue ni aeimu mishimu. (Sutokuin)

Life is a torrent. Even though I am torn apart from you, I still wish to meet you someday.
This is a poem from the “Koi” section of the “Waka Shu (Anthology of Poems)” which he himself ordered to be compiled into an imperial anthology. However, few people would consider this poem a love poem.

Among the many members of the imperial family, Prince Sutokuin is the most tragic. She was shunned by her father, the Emperor Toba, as an “uncle and son,” that is, the son of Waitikenmon’in, the Emperor Toba’s second-in-command, and his grandfather, the Emperor Shirakawa.
When his adopted son, Prince Tainin (Emperor Konoe), came to the throne, he was unable to administer the imperial rule because he was designated as the “Crown Prince” in the proclamation of his accession to the throne.

After Emperor Toba’s death, the internal conflicts among the Emperor’s family, the regents, and the warrior class finally came to light. This was the Hogen Rebellion. Defeated in the Hogen Rebellion, Prince Sutokuin was exiled to Sanuki and never set foot in the capital again, dying eight years later at the age of 46.
She died eight years after the rebellion at the age of forty-six. His wish, which he even wrote in a poem, was never fulfilled.

The “Hogen Monogatari” describes an episode of the court in Sanuki.

He cut off the tip of his tongue, and with the blood that flowed from it, he wrote an oath in the back of the Mahayana sutra.
Hogen Monogatari (Tale of Hogen)

The Prince Sutokuin had turned into a demon king!
This is truly Schubert’s “The Demon King,” an irredeemable story with a hair-raising melody. Once you hear it, you will never be able to get it out of your mind.

9 Wish to die in spring under the flowers, in that Kisaragi no Mochiguki no Koro. (Saigyo)

Saigyo, who served Toba no Iin as a north-facing warrior, was called Sato Yoshikiyo, and after becoming a monk, he changed his name to Saigyo. He was a close friend of the Kujo family, led by Fujiwara no Toshinari, and was the most important poet of the late Heian period, with 94 poems included in the Shinkokin Wakashu, the largest number of poems by a single poet. His way of life as a sukiya poet influenced many Japanese, including haiku poets such as Matsuo Basho.

This poem is a “requiem” to himself, a monk who pursued an ideal of “beauty” to the end. It is not that of the famous Mozart, but that of Fauré, who spoke of “a joyful openness to eternal bliss.

According to “Jikuge Guso,” a private collection by Fujiwara no Teika, Saigyo perished in the 6th year of Bunji, on a full moon day with cherry blossoms in full bloom, as he had wished. At that time, Saigyo became a legend.

10 Looking around, there were neither flowers nor autumn leaves.(Teika Fujiwara)

The feeling of loneliness at dusk in autumn is the same today as it has always been.
This poem, also known as the “Three Evenings Poem,” was written by Fujiwara no Teika, a poet who selected poems for the “New Kokin Wakashu” and the “New Imperial Anthology of Japanese Poetry” and who later formed the foundation of the poetic schools (Nijo, Kyogoku and Reizei). According to “Nanpo-roku,” a book of secrets on wabi tea written by Takeno Shao’o, the teacher of tea master Sen no Rikyu, this poem by Teika is the heart of “wabi.

The beauty of being or not being.
This is the aftermath of Debussy’s “Suite Bergamasque, Moonlight,” which is performed almost entirely in pianissimo.

Encore Yume no ukihashi todaeshite mine ni naru yokogumo no sora.(Teika Fujiwara)

It is said that Teika, who excelled at capturing the true meaning of poetry, wrote picturesque and narrative poems. This poem is probably the best example. While taking Mibu Chuhou’s “Wind blow, white clouds that fall on the peaks, Tate tsurenaki kimi ka kokoro ka” as the original poem, he reconstructed it with an awareness of the world of “Yume no ukihashi,” the final section of The Tale of Genji.

Teika multiplied the world of the original poem to create a complex and delicate tone that is out of this world. The sensual dreaminess of “Prelude to the Pastoral Afternoon” is a perfect example. Teika and Debussy have something in common.

(Writer: Waka DJ Ucchi)