10 Greatest Hits of Famous Waka Songs Every Japanese Must Learn!

``Yamato Uta can be used as a seed in people's hearts and can be compared to the words of Yorozu.''
Kokin wakashu (kana preface)

This is the famous phrase at the beginning of the kana preface to Kokin Wakashu by Tsurayuki Ki.

Waka poems written from the human heart have been composed countless times.
This time, from among the huge number of songs, we would like to select 10 super famous songs and greatest hits that have had a tremendous influence and excitement not only on waka fans but also on many Japanese people!

Audio streaming of this article “Part 3: Waka’s Greatest Hits!”
Listen on Youtube
Listen on iTunes Podcast

1. “Yakumo stands, Izumo Yaegaki, build a Yaegaki in Tsumago, make that Yaegaki” (Susanoo no Mikoto)

This is a song by Susanoo no Mikoto, the younger brother of Amaterasu Omikami, the ancestor of the imperial family, and famous for the legend of the eight-pronged serpent. It is said that Susanoo composed the poem after seeing several layers of clouds rising when he was building a palace for his newlywed marriage with Princess Kushinada after defeating the eight-pronged serpent.

→Related article “A sacred place for waka! Suga Shrine New Year's visit report
→Related article “What you need to know on National Foundation Day! Emperor and Waka

This poem is said to be the origin of waka poetry in the kana preface to Kokin Wakashu by Tsurayuki Ki.

``In the land of Arara, there is nothing worse than Susano no Mikoto.In the age of the Chihayafuru gods, there was no written language for poems, and the heart of Sunaho was full of things.In the world of humans, Susanoo's life is over 30 characters, so I can read just one.Thus, I pray for the flowers, I envy the birds, I pity the mist, I have many dewful words from my heart, and I pray for various things.''
Kokin wakashu (kana preface)

The classical school of Western classical music established the basic form of the sonata, which led to the creation of great works such as symphonies and concertos that have survived to this day.
The form of waka was established as ``30 characters or more than one character'', and the history as a culture and literature common to Yamato people began here. This is a monumental poem in the history of Japanese poetry.

2. ``I saw Kagirohi standing in the field of the sun, and when I looked down, the moon was shining.'' (Kakimoto Hitomaro)

Just when the sun is about to rise in the eastern fields and the sun is about to rise, I look back and see that the moon is tilted.
The majestic and realistic style of the poem is truly representative of the Manyoshu. The singer was Hitomaro Kakimoto, who was praised as the ``Saint of Poetry'' by Tsurayuki Ki and Toshinari Fujiwara.

→Related article “Kakimoto Hitomaro ~Everyone's admired saint☆poet~

Hitomaro is the greatest figure in the history of Japanese poetry. As a court poet, he left behind songs of all genres, including elegant songs dedicated to princes, as well as tragic songs dedicated to his own wife. There are the realistic Manyo style poems mentioned earlier, and there are also the conceptual and complex so-called ancient and modern style poems. As befitting the saint of poetry, he single-handedly created most of the literary art of waka that survives today. For example, it would be comparable to the accomplishments of Bach, the father of music.

By the way, this song compares Prince Karu to the sun rising over the magnificent nature, and Prince Kusakabe, the prince's father, who died as the moon sets. Although Prince Kusakabe was the son of Emperor Tenmu, he died at the young age of 28 without ascending to the throne. Although Hitomaro feels that the youthful Prince Karu is in the next era, he is still in love with Prince Kusakabe, who he regrets.

→Related article “The attraction of Manyoshu! Kakimoto Hitomaro's Elegy and the Six Princes

3. “I want to travel all the way if I can get used to wearing Chinese robes” (Narihira Ariwara)

This is a song by Narihira Ariwara, a rare playboy and one of the Six Immortals.
This is a song about my thoughts about my beloved wife during my long journey from Kyoto.

→Related article “Narihira Ariwara ~A playboy who continues to be loved~

The poem was a scene from the 9th section of the Tale of Ise, the ``Higashidori''.

"I was in a place called Yatsuhashi in Mikawa Province. In that stream, there was an interesting flower called Kakitsubatai. Place the five characters "Kakitsubatai" on top of a poem to refresh your traveler's heart."
Ise Monogatari (9th stage)

As it says, if you read the beginning of each phrase, it becomes ``ka・ki・tsu・ba・ta''. This is a technique called ``oriku.''
→Related article “Introductory Waka Poetry Class Oriku

In addition, there are 4 interjections
“arri” and “come”, “familiar” and “accustomed”, “褄” and “wife”, “hari” and “haruka”
→Related article “Introductory waka poetry class

There are 4 related words for “robe”
"Ki", "Nare", "Tsuma", "Haru"
→Related article “Introductory class on waka poetry

Furthermore, the pillow word “karakoromo”
→Related article “Introductory class on waka poetry

In addition, prepositions connected by phrases
“Wearing a Karagi” → “Nare”
→Related article “Introduction to Waka Poetry Class

It is filled with the rhetorical techniques of waka poetry, and has a transcendental skill that would make even Paganini lose his nerve.

4. “The color of the flowers is a constant pain in the wind, and the colors of the flowers are a constant in my life.” (Ono Komachi)

This is a song by Ono Komachi, the well-known Rokukasen. It is also famous as the Hyakunin Isshu poem, and it would not be an exaggeration to say that this song symbolizes the ancient and modern waka collection and waka itself.
A flower among flowers, cherry blossoms. It is the pinnacle of beauty. However, impermanence is inevitable, and the cherry blossoms are destined to grow old and fall. Waka is a movement that attempts to capture this impermanent beauty, and Komachi's poems accomplish this perfectly.

In his theory of poetry, Fujiwara Teika stated that ``bewitching emotions'' were the core of poetry, and he sought the model for this from Ono Komachi. A sophisticated and elegant feminine melody similar to Mendelssohn's Violin Concerto, this is the ultimate goal of waka.

→Related article “Ono Komachi - The sun burns quietly! Master of beautiful love songs
→Related article “Bewitching and bewitching Ono Komachi

5. “The east wind blows, let’s smell the plum blossoms, without the Lord, don’t forget spring” (Sugawara Michizane)

Michizane Sugawara is enshrined at Dazaifu Tenmangu Shrine and is famous as the god of learning. Due to his high level of knowledge, he was highly regarded by Emperor Uda, and was even promoted to Minister of the Right in the Daigo Dynasty. However, his rapid advancement in the ranks caused a backlash, and he was eventually demoted to Dazaifu, where he died.
It is said that this song was written to speak to the plum tree inside the mansion on the way to Dazaifu. By the way, this plum flew all the way to Dazaifu chasing its owner! This is called "Tobiume Legend". One of the three major Kabuki plays, ``Sugawara Denju Teshukan'' is based on this legend.

Michizane absorbed both the Chinese and Japanese styles and breathed new life into waka poetry. An analogy would be Dvorak's Ninth Symphony, which connects Bohemian and Native American music. Michizane was so adept at Chinese poetry that he wrote several collections of Chinese poetry, and he cultivated the spirit of Chinese poetry through waka. After Michizane's opinion led to the abolition of the envoys to Tang, Japan's ``New World'' or national style culture accelerated.

→Related article “Michizane Sugawara ~In A Silent Way where the lips of tragedy blow~

6. “The sleeves are closed, and the water is falling, and the wind is shining in spring, and the wind is dazzling” (Ki Tsurayuki)

This is the second poem in the spring collection of Kokin Wakashu by Ki Tsurayuki, a representative selection of Kokin Wakashu.
It's summer, and the first breeze of spring is melting the water that froze in the winter when we soaked our sleeves. In this one poem, the four seasons of summer, winter, and spring come together.

The two major themes of the imperial selection of Japanese poetry are "four seasons" and "love." Among these, the four seasons are arranged according to the change of spring, summer, autumn, and winter, and the songs are arranged according to the process of love from first love to breakup. Part of the selector's job is to select the songs, but this arrangement was the key and the place to show off his skills.

However, the change of the four seasons is essentially a rambling matter. Tsuroyuki and his colleagues artificially classified them using the yardstick of ``beauty.'' This is the same as a musical scale, which is also a classification of sounds based on certain standards to create music.
It was not composers who created scales, but mathematicians such as Pythagoras and Mersenne. I think that Tsurayuki was probably more of an intellectual scholar than an artist.

→Related article “Tsurayuki Ki ~Large flowers bloomed by weeds~
→Related article “The beginning of Japanese beauty! I saw Ki Tsurayuki's seriousness in the song for the first spring of the year.

7. “If you think of this world as your own, if you think of it as nothing compared to Mochizuki” (Fujiwara Michinaga)

The year is 1000 AD, when women's culture was flourishing with works such as ``The Tale of Genji'' and ``The Pillow Book.'' Minister of the Left Fujiwara no Michinaga sent his eldest daughter Shoko to the court of Emperor Ichijo as a mistress. Since Emperor Ichijo already had a previous empress, this created an unprecedented situation of having one emperor and two empresses. By the way, Murasaki Shikibu served as Akiko's wife, and Kiyoshonagon served as Sadako's wife.
Michinaga's strategy continues after that. He did his best to make his second daughter, Kashi, the middle court of Emperor Sanjo, and his fourth daughter, Takeshi, the middle court of Emperor Go-Ichijo. The Fujiwara Sekkan family, which started with Nakatomi Kamatari, reached its peak through Fuhito and Yoshifusa. This is a song by Fujiwara no Michinaga, who rose to become emperor.

This is an extremely rare song as the main theme of waka poetry is to convey a sense of sadness. Wagner's ``Meistersinger von Nuremberg'' would be perfect for the feeling of grand omnipotence. I can literally imagine Michinaga, the Meistersinger of the Heian period, singing melodiously.

8. “I think that I will meet you in the end even if I stop the rapids and the rocks of Takigawa” (Sutoku-in)

A life of rapids. Even though I am separated from you, I still hope to meet you someday.
This poem is included in the ``Koi'' section of the ``Shika Wakashu,'' which he commissioned by imperial command. However, few people would honestly think of this song as a love song.

Sutokuin is the most tragic figure among all the members of the imperial family. In was shunned by his father, the Retired Emperor Toba, as his ``uncle'', that is, the son of Taikenmon-in, the middle palace of the Retired Emperor Toba, and the son of his grandfather, the Retired Emperor Shirakawa.
When his adopted son, Imperial Prince Taihito (Emperor Konoe) ascended the throne, he was unable to rule the cloistered government because his abdication order stated that he was the younger brother of the emperor, and he remained in power for a long time as retired emperor, and when Emperor Konoe passed away, he was unable to rule the cloistered government. He planned to have his son, Imperial Prince Shigehito, ascend to the throne, but as is well known, this did not happen and Emperor Goshirakawa ascended the throne.

After the Retired Emperor Toba passed away, the internal conflicts among the imperial family, the regent family, and the samurai family finally came to light. This is the Hogen Rebellion. Defeated by this, Sutokuin was exiled to Sanuki, never to set foot on the capital again, and died at the age of 46 eight years after the rebellion.
``I believe that we will meet again in the end, no matter what happens.'' The wish that I wrote about in a song did not come true.

The ``Hogen Monogatari'' depicts an episode of the hospital in Sanuki.

``Mota, who thought he was trying to save his family, threw his deeds into the evil path of both and three countries, and with his power became the great demon of Japan, took the emperor and made it the people, and the people became the emperor. He cut off the tip of his tongue, and with his flowing blood wrote a vow deep inside the Mahayana Sutra.
Hogen Monogatari

Sutokuin has become a demon lord!
This is exactly Schubert's ``The Devil'', a story with a chilling melody and a hopeless story. Once you hear it, it won't leave your mind.

→Related article “Sutokuin ~Somewhere other than here~

9. “Hopefully, spring dies under the flowers, around the time of the moon” (Saigyou)

The man who served as a samurai in the northern part of Toba-in Temple had a common name of Yoshikiyo Sato, and after becoming a monk, he took the name Saigyo. He had close friendships with the Kujo family poetry circle centered around Fujiwara 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. The Suki way of life that he followed influenced many Japanese people, including haiku poets such as Matsuo Basho.

This song is a ``requiem'' for myself, who continued to pursue the ideal of ``beauty'' until the end even though I was a monk. It is not the famous Mozart's, but Fauré's, who said, ``A sense of freedom filled with the joy of eternal bliss.''

According to Fujiwara Teika's private collection "Shui Guso," Saigyo died on the day of Mochizuki (full moon) when the cherry blossoms were in full bloom in the 6th year of Bunji, just as Saigyo had wished. At this time, Saigyo became a legend.

→Related article “Saigyo ~It's hard to become a priest, Futen poet~

10. “If you look around, you can see both flowers and autumn leaves at sunset in Ura no Tomaya” (Sadaie Fujiwara)

The sense of loneliness that comes with autumn evenings has not changed since then.
This poem, also known as Sanba's waka, is a poem by Fujiwara Teika, a poet who was selected from the ``Shin Kokin Wakashu'' and ``Shin Imperial Selected Wakashu'' and who formed the foundation of later poets (Nijo, Kyogoku, Reizei). is. According to the secret book of wabi tea called ``Nanpo Roku'' written by Takeno Jōō, the master of tea master Sen no Rikyu, this poem by Teika is said to be the heart of ``wabi.''

Beauty in every way.
This is an afterthought of Debussy's ``Suite Bergamasque,'' which is played almost entirely in pianissimo.

→Related article “Fujiwara Teika ~An angry genius office worker~”
→Related article “Song of Three Nights ~Beauty of Autumn Dusk~

Encore. “The floating bridge of a dream on a spring night, the sky of horizontal clouds that can be seen on the peaks” (Sadaie Fujiwara)

The poems of Teika, who was good at honka-dori, are said to be pictorial and narrative. This song is probably the best example of that. The main song is Tadamine Mibu's ``If the wind blows, the peaks can tell, the white clouds stand still, are you or my heart?'', and I reconstructed it while also being conscious of the world of ``The Floating Bridge of Dreams'', the final chapter of The Tale of Genji. I am.

→Related article “Introductory class for Japanese poetry Honkatori

Teika multiplied the worldview of this poem over and over again, creating a complex and delicate tone that is out of this world. A sensual dreamlike feeling that I felt in ``Prelude to the Faun's Afternoon.'' Teika and Debussy have something in common.

→Related article “What is waka?
→Related article “Compare and understand the difference between waka and tanka!

(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!