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Moving right along in chronological order to the Kokinshu. A few from the Book of Spring.









Spring has come-quote

People say-concessive (i.e. “although”)


Not singing time


Poem on the coming of spring.

–Mibuno Tadamine

Although they say

That spring has come

Until I hear

The warbler’s song

I don’t believe their words

*An uguisu is a Japanese bush warbler, a kind of secretive songbird whose distinct mating call can be heard in early spring. I have seen it translated as nightingale, but there is a fundamental problem with this: uguisu primarily sings during the day.

*あらじ is probably the copular ari + the negative speculative particle ji. So literally something like “I think not.”

— uguisu









You-if not

To whom shall I show

Plum’s blossom

Color and fragrance

People who know, know

On sending someone a plucked plum blossom

–(Ki no) Tomonori

To whom but you

Shall I show this plum blossom

Its fragrance and its blush

You know them all too well!

* I translate 色 as “blush” because of a slight erotic connotation that iro carries, associated with this earthly world of form, in Buddhist thought. Also, apparently in the Tendai meditation manual (Makashikan 摩訶止観), 色and 香 are used to signify this world of form.

*Umenohana was also a very popular incense at the time.

So there is quite a bit of uncertainty about the meaning here. It seems that there are a number of possible interpretations. Among them: one, literal. Two, with a highly sexual connotation. Three, as a reference to incense. Perhaps there are shades of multiple ones.

Manyoshu (万葉集) is the earliest extant Japanese poetry collection, dating to the 8th century, although the poems themselves vary chronologically from the 4th to the 7th centuries. It is divided into 20 books, but I will be focusing on a collection of banka (挽歌), or elegies, from Book 2. Poems 147- 155 are believed to have been composed during the period of Emperor Tenji’s (r. 662-671) illness and death by women who were intimate with him.

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If you’ve been following this, we’ve got two of Yamato-takeru’s songs under our belts: song 23 and song 25. We’ve come this far, so let’s keep barreling along.

What follows is perhaps my favorite exchange in all of Japanese literature. But before we get to that, let’s walk a mile in Yamato-takeru’s shoes. Picture this: you are Yamato-takeru, a strong and brave warrior (pretend) who finds a fetching “bride,” lets call her Princess Miyazu. But before you manage to “marry” her, you have to go off and pacify some unruly deities and barbarians. So off you go, but promise to return and tie the nuptial knot, so to speak. You’re away for a long time, but finally make your triumphant homecoming. You hurry off to keep your promise to the nubile lady who waited for you all this time. She brings you wine, things are looking good. But there’s one problem. There’s something on her dress…

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Moving along now on our short trip through Kojiki. In the previous post we saw really a mean-spirited little song from Yamato-takeru. A little smug of him. The story preceding the following song is very brief, essentially Yamato-takeru is travelling. Continue reading for the full analysis:

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As promised in the earlier “Agenda” post, I will be working on classical Japanese poetry this semester. So, I’m kicking it off with a song from the Kojiki. This song is attributed to Yamato-takeru. Continue reading for the full analysis.

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