@Belthazar’s poem research club for the betterment of everyone’s education: reading マンガ✖くり返しでスイスイ覚えられる百人一首

Got a little bit more on my poem before the week ends.

More Info on Empress Jitou

Many sources I’ve been reading make a big point about her being a particularly devoted wife. I think that’s a super sweet and cute thing to be remembered for. Many of her policies seemed to be picking up from where her husband left off after his death. He had a lot of wives/concubines but she was the main one with whom he was comfortable talking about politics, so they shared a lot of ambition together.

In short she was very important for Japan’s centralization and becoming recognizably Japan. She created a government bureaucracy (Taika Reforms EDIT: the Taika Reforms predated her by decades but this website https://www.encyclopedia.com/women/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/jito-645-702 attributes them to her reign. I think it’s me not double checking sources thoroughly enough) and switched from a tribal society to one centered around a single sovereign. She had the imperial palace stop moving every time a new Emperor came into power. She built the first planned city in Japan, which while it wasn’t occupied for too long it probably inspired the city that was the capital for most of the Nara period. There was also tax and monetary reforms and a census. Aaaaalso she started compiling the Taiho Code, an important legal reform.

Potential Interpretive Significance for 白妙

Japanese mourning clothes are white! I wouldn’t have thought about it if I hadn’t read it while researching this poem. This website suggests the poem is mourning her the death of her support Prince Takechi. http://asuka-japan-heritage.jp/global/en/jitou/life/p5.html

I’m not sure where they get the connection to Takechi specifically though. Next I’m going to see if my Japanese and Google abilities are strong enough to find when specifically the poem was written (though I fear that I won’t be able to, it would certainly make a lot of this interpretation easier).

I thought the drying clothes might be important with the change in seasons after 梅雨 which got me very excited but it seems to be more of a summer thing so at least I learned more about how the seasons in Japan work.

Edit for a mess up in research.


So turns out I’m really liking learning about these poems (even though I pretty much already forgot everything about last week cuz my memory is awful), so I’ve already gone through this week’s. Obviously add, remove, correct :wink:

7 - 天の原 ふりさけ見れば 春日なる みかさの山に 出でし月かも (安倍仲麻呂)


安倍仲麻呂(c. 698 – c. 770)(Chinese name: Chao Heng 衡, pronounced チョウコウ in Japanese), was a Japanese scholar and waka poet of the Nara period. He lived during a time in which Japan appointed official envoys to T’ang China as cultural and political representatives and to bring back new inventions and ideas from T’ang China. 安倍仲麻呂 was one of those envoys and left Japan as just a 16 year old. As stated in the book, due to the dangerous journey, and later on a rebellion, he never once returned to Japan, instead worked closely under the reigning Emperor, later went on to become the governor of Annam (modern Vietnam), and eventually passed away in T’ang China instead. Therefore, his poem is the only one of the 百人一首 written abroad. This specific poem is the one he is most famous for, and it is also included in the Kokin Wakashuu, among a few others in the 百人一首.


Due to his continued absence from his home country, this poem tells of how much he misses Nara and, in extension, Japan.
It is said that the night before 安倍仲麻呂 was meant to return to Japan, he was thrown a feast by his friends. On that night, he witnessed the moon that would inspire this poem, by remembering the time that he prayed for his safe return to Japan at Mt. Mikasa.
The other, more exciting version, sees the Chinese Emperor being suspicious of 安倍仲麻呂 and him being imprisoned in a high pagoda without stairs so he would starve to death. The poet then bit his hand in order to write the poem with his own blood.
Interestingly here, depending on which version of events you go with, the undercurrent of the poem takes on a slightly different meaning. It’s either nostalgia or yearning for physical and mental safety.


To celebrate 安倍仲麻呂, Nara went as far as creating a promotional short film, you can watch it here if you’re interested: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dlA6JLSF6tY
He is also featured in ‘Kukai’, a mystery & fantasy movie created by joint effort of Japan and China.








I kinda used the structure @NicoleRauch and @Myria used last week, hope that’s okay.
I’m also personally not a fan of translations, so I’ve left that out, but if everyone else includes them and it’s useful, I’m happy to add them from now on.

Also a quick question:
When looking at these poems and writing up the research, are we to assume everyone is reading the book, so we don’t include information that’s provided there? Or do we write that up as well?
I’m personally reading everything for every poem, so I haven’t included much of what’s in there, unless it feeds into the other research I’ve done.


I’ve also been reading everything and don’t see a reason to include the book’s contents.

However, if we have any lurkers who don’t own the book and wanted to know what they’re missing I wouldn’t mind adding that.


That’s how I would will do as well (when I have the time to properly research anything)


It is definitely okay to reuse the format :slight_smile:

That’s my general understanding as well. When we wrote up our research for the other poem, there were some points that were mentioned in passing in the book, and they fit well with our text so we repeated and slightly elaborated on them, I think (because it felt ok for the text, not because we were forcefully trying to put them in there). But I would not try to repeat everything that’s in the book.


Yeah same here.

I tried to only include things from the book when they needed more explaining or comment.

The book is, of course, only there to provide you with enough context to play Karuta it seems.

I also won’t be translating unless asked to because my translation work is atrocious rather than being because I don’t like them. :sweat_smile:


For our poem, it just so happened that Myria found a (imho) beautiful translation, so we thought it’s worth to include that one. But I would not try to translate a poem myself :joy_cat:


Yeah I hear you.

I see some of the translations and I think, “How on earth did you get that from that?”


Sorry for being so late to the party, but can I double-check on this?

The poem says 踏み分け 鳴く鹿 where the first part is the ます-stem of 踏み分ける, thus the whole expression looks to me like an “and”-connection of the two actions (trampling and calling) in a relative clause that is applied to the deer?

Now I guess you found another, different way of interpreting this, as you say there is no way to tell, and I would be curious to learn what you came up with!


You could also interpret it as 踏み分け、(鳴く鹿)の聲きく, with the two connected actions being the trampling and the listening, while the 鳴く only closely describes the deer further.


Oh, nice! Thanks a lot, that really opens another perspective :exploding_head:


haha thanks, was gonna reply, but you beat me to it xD

@NicoleRauch just to be transparent here, I found a few sources that mentioned the fact, but no one actually broke it down to explain why. When I looked at it, I came to the same conclusion as Myria did. It’s the fact that the first clause can be attributed to the deer or the poet and it’s still grammatically correct.


かささぎの 渡せる橋に おく霜の 白きをみれば 夜ぞぶけにける
I picked this one because I think Magpies are very cool birds! :smiley:


Yakamochi (718-785) was born into a prominent family (the Otomo clan) and served as a prominent statesman. He apparently shared love poetry with “innumerable woman,” and so the tryst-y themes of this poem seem nicely typical of him. As governor of Etchu (now Toyama prefecture) he got to get up to a lot of sightseeing which contributed to his delicate nature poetry. After 751 he moved back to the capital and it seems he was too embroiled in politics to do much poetry writing, so I presume this poem would have been written earlier in his career, probably within the time frame of his innumerable love affairs. However, one website does mention his posting in Nara as Minister of Military Affairs allowed him to gather poems from frontier soldiers, which I presume went into the Manyusho.

Our book mentions his contribution to the Manyoshu, but does not mention how heavily represented he is in the book: 479 out of 4496, roughly 10%. The last few books especially function as a sort of poetic diary for him. Since he is especially present in those last few books, it suggests he was the last in a series of compilers. I wonder how much poetic clout he had to get away with so much self-insertion in such an important text lol.

Contents: The Tanabata Legend

The story for the Tanabata festival is inspired by the “The Cowherd and the Weaver Girl” from Chinese mythology. Orihime/Weaving Princess (織姫) wove beautiful cloth by the banks of the milky way (天の川). Her father Tentei/Sky/Heaven/Universe King (天帝) loves the cloth. However, Orihime (in a typical Japanese fashion?) works so hard she fears she will never find a lover and she becomes sad. Tentei, fearing for his daughter, introduces her to Hikoboshi the cow herd (彦星) from the other side of the Milky Way. They fall in love and marry, but they enjoy it a little too much; she neglects her weaving and his cows wander all over the place. Tentei angrily separates them, but moved by his daughter’s sadness he concedes that they may meet once a year. When the fated day, June 7th, comes, they realize that even though they are allowed to meet there is no bridge to cross the river. Orihime starts to cry, but some magpies come to console her and promise to form a bridge for her. Neat final note pulled directly from Wikipedia because its too concise to paraphrase: ‘It is said that if it rains on Tanabata, the magpies cannot come because of the rise of the river and the two lovers must wait until another year to meet. The rain of this day is called “The tear of Orihime and Hikoboshi”.’

I have never heard of so literally star-crossed lovers! And the Wikipedia page on “Star-Crossed” doesn’t even mention them! It apparantly has similarities to a Mesopetamian legend, and was very popular in China and Japan already in Yakamochi’s period, but I don’t think there was a similar legend that Shakespeare could have heard when he coined his phrase for Romeo and Juliet, though now that I think of it, I am reminded of Proserpine (less for star-crossed and more for general plot points).

If any of you like star gazing, Orihime is Vega, the brightest star in Lyra, and Hikoboshi is Altair, the brightest star in Aquila.

There are 133 poems on this legend in the Manyusho. I presume this has more to do with the legend’s popularity than anything, but I wonder how that affected Yakamochi or how Yakamochi affected that, him being a compiler of the Manyusho.

The allusion to the Tanabata legend seems to provide most of the context for this poem. Perhaps it is a funny little reflection the poet had in the moment, on how as the night goes on the aristocratic lovers would be running out of time for their trysts and would be crossing their own little bridge (the steps in the palace) soon. An alternative I found is he is remarking upon a rendeveuz of his own. Since he’s still at the steps, maybe she didn’t show, and he laments how the night goes on as he is stood up. I think the unseasonality of the Tanabata reference furthers this–he is reminded of the bridge between lovers, but it is winter–they aren’t meeting right now, and he does not live in a legend. Or, alternatively, it is a comment on the persistence of love, and even in the winter the (metaphorical) magpies find a way (presumably for other love affairs he is thinking about vis-a-vis the first interpretation–had he met a lover I’m sure we’d have a different poem).

Trivia: Magpies are Cool

Magpies were only introduced to Japan from Korea in the 16th century, but they are common in China where the legend originates. They had the legend without actually knowing what the bird was! Maybe they thought it was a kind of heron (サギ). I think if I were a Nara period Japanese poem reader that would add a wonderful mystique to this poem.

The same source that mentioned the above also says that Magpie are often associated with frost in Waka poetry. This to me implies that the Japanese had an idea of what Magpies look like–I guess if they didn’t see magpie themselves that would just be a detail transmitted alongside the legend.

Classical Japanese, or, Me Taking Shots in the Dark with Grammar

A saw this comment chain a blog and that it was really good stuff so I’ll just copy it here since it’s short:
Greg said:

I am trying to understand the correct way to parse ふけにける in the last line. Is ける an attributive form of けり? If so, what’s the に doing in there?

Temca, the uploader of the poem, replied:

The ni に is the continuative form of the perfective affix marker nu ぬ, and indicates that the action of the verb is completed, or the state that it describes is in effect – in this case that night is in the condition of having come to an end. Keri 〜けり is in its attributive form keru 〜ける because of the earlier emphatic particle zo ぞ, which required sentences to end in the attributive form, through what is known as a kakarimusubi 係り結び (bound ending) relationship between a particle and sentence ending.

Tofugu and Imabi seem to have quite approachable articles on Kobun which I am slowly starting to work through as things come up.

I’ve been seeing a lot of adjectives like 白き. These are the ancestors of い adjectives from the /k/ being dropped. 白き is the attribute form. 白し would be the terminal/end of clause form. It seems those forms have fused in modern Japanese. Very simple, but it feels good to grasp even a simple thing from the old version of a language you are learning.

I hadn’t realized that izenkei+ば has any meaning besides “if.” It can also mean observation or conclusion. To me it felt like in this context it also had a circumstantial feeling. However, classical ば, compared to the modern provisional form with which we are familiar, seems to have a sense of less reality: ‘it was less “if P, then Q” and more “if P were, then Q would be”.’

That would mean the meaning is less circumstantial and more “If I were to see the frost, the night would be over.” However, I found one translation that goes: “Seeing the whiteness / Night, indeed, is over.” The circumstantial nature of that participle seems to fit better with the explanation in our book. I’m going to assume that this instance of ば is part of the “other uses” the source I was using to get the above description of ば mentions.

Maaaaaybe the use of the irrealis (a-vowel ending, but the etymology of the English word for the form helps me have a sense of its feeling) emphasizes the longing/melancholic mood of the poem? That’s just my thought after only briefly reading about Classical Japanese grammar, but I figured it was worth sharing.




Thanks, I see it now as well. It’s always interesting to discover different interpretations of a sentence that looks quite straightforward in the beginning (at least to me :upside_down_face:). Curious to see what learnings the next round of poems will have for me!


While as far as I can tell this is correct, it makes me wonder what 秋は悲しき is doing in poem 5. Is this the Classical Japanese equivalent of ending a show in the middle of a sentence?

Edit:I already posted Temca’s answer to the same problem but with verbs. ぞ forces attributive form. Well that sure reinforces that lesson.

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Just to let everyone who is waiting know: I’ll be doing the work on the poem today or tomorrow!



I might pick up 10 towards the end of the week if I have spare time (which I should be able to make) since nobody else voted for it and I like doing the extra research.


Here is my long awaited :sunglasses: research of poem #8:

This time I did the research alone so please correct me if I messed up ^^

8 - わが庵は 都のたつみ しかぞすむ 世をうぢ山と 人はいふなり (喜撰法師)


Loosely: People say that I am a secluded hermit living in Ujiyama, but my hermitage is just to the southeast of the capital! - on 喜撰’s Wikipedia page


喜撰法師きせんほうし, also called 喜撰きせん, was an early Heian period Buddhist monk and poet. Little is known about his life other than that he lived in Ujiyama. It is not even known when he lived. (To put this into perspective: Heian period lasted from 794 to 1185.)

紀 貫之きのつらゆき selected him as one of the six poetic sages (六歌仙ろっかせん) whose work was to be considered as superior, and mentioned him in the preface of the 古今集こきんしゅう, an early anthology of the waka form of Japanese poetry, which was published around 905.

Our poem is one of only two poems that can be confidently attributed to 喜撰, according to Wikipedia.


The main lyric feature of the poem is the use of 掛詞かけことば, which is the name for a word that (based on its sound / Hiragana spelling) has multiple meanings. Those meanings are all taken into account at the same time, thus producing a deeper understanding or a pun, without using up too much space in the poem.

In this poem this instrument is used twice: In the first part, the word しか can be translated as “然 - like this” and as “鹿 - deer”, thus on the one hand describing that his chosen place to live is just southeast of the capital, and on the other hand adding another rumour that it’s in the countryside (where the deer live).

In the second part, the word うじ can be interpreted as the name of the mountain (宇治山) or as (bitter, melancholic), therefore putting the double-meaning of “retreating to Ujiyama” and “being fed up with society” into the rumour.


喜撰 lived in the early Heian period which saw a boom in Japanese literature. Hiragana were invented, which also allowed women to write poetry and literature, as it was not considered befitting for women to learn Chinese characters (which was the only method of writing Japanese until then). But at that time, literacy was only common among the court and Buddhist clergy.

Poetry, in particular, was a staple of court life. Nobles and ladies-in-waiting were expected to be well versed in the art of writing poetry as a mark of their status. A well-written poem could easily make or break one’s reputation, and often was a key part of social interaction.

Is this mountain really just around the corner from the capital?
In the Heian period, the emperor’s palace was moved to Kyoto. So I looked around for a mountain called 宇治山 that is southeast of Kyoto. While I found a city called 宇治市, the only mountain place I came across was Ujiyama Gonokuchi which didn’t look really convincing to me. Further googling brought me to this weblio article which claims that the place formerly known as 宇治山 is now called 喜撰山 - so they even renamed the place after our poet, which I think is quite impressive.

Google Maps claims that the walking distance to the top of the mountain, starting at the Emperor’s Palace, is 21.4 km, so this distance can indeed be covered in a day.

Back in the day, the scenery must have been quite different, though, as the lake near the mountain peak was created by a dam that was built in 1966-1970.


https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Heian_period ( https://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Heian-Zeit )
喜撰山: https://goo.gl/maps/qjvBrf6EVJptMZqL9
貴賎山ダム: https://goo.gl/maps/sZURHQon3XHLgxRz7


Sorry everyone I know I didn’t keep my word but I fell down a rabbit hole with this one.

9首:花の色は 移りにけりな いたづらに 我身世にふる ながめせしまに


I know that I said I wasn’t going to post a translation, but this one was too beautiful to not do.

A life in vain.
My looks, talents faded
like these cherry blossoms
paling in the endless rains
that I gaze out upon, alone.

  • Translation by Peter McMillan, 2008.

The image above is a woodcut by Tsukioka Yoshitoshi showing Ono as an old woman.

小野小町(おののこまち) was born in an unknown year during the Heian Period. Nothing is known with certainty about her life which has captivated peoples’ attention. She is rumoured to be the granddaughter of another Heian Poet, 小野篁(おののたかむら).

In addition to her poetry she has a reputation as an incredibly beautiful woman with many suitors. You go, girl.

Like most of the poets we’ve looked at so far she is one of the Thirty Six Immortals and also one of the Rokkasen.


Like poem 8, covered by @NicoleRauch, this poem is filled completely with 掛詞.

The straight reading of the poem is examining the changing seasons alongside the passage of time but really it appears to be an allegory about the author ageing.

Here the author is the cherry blossom herself who is an admired beauty who then withers away.

The notable double meanings of this poem are with 「世」、「ふる」、 and 「ながめ」.

  • 世(よ) has the straight meaning of 時代(じだい) meaning age or era but is actually a reference to poem 21 of 伊勢物語(いせものがたり) where the same word refers to 男女の仲(だんじょのなか) or the relationship between a husband and wife. Interestingly enough Ono has been linked with the one of the possible authors of Ise Monogatari which is a collection of stories and poetry on sex and Buddhism. Very steamy and very interesting. There’s a translation on JSTOR by Susan Blakely Klein.
  • ふる’s meaning here is 経る(へる) “to pass” but to modern eyes looks like 降る(ふる) “to precipitate”. Here I might be reading into it a little but there’s the obvious reading of “time passes by” and then a slightly more depressing or sultry (you decide) reading when taking 降る and 男女の仲.
  • The final major wordplay here is on the word 「ながめ」 where it means 眺め(ながめ) “a reverie” or 長雨(ながあめ) “heavy rainfall”.

The whole focus on the blossoms and the ageing is very typical of 「物の哀れ」(もののあわれ) “the pathos of things” where a focus is placed on the transiency and sorrow of beautiful things.

  • In popular Japanese culture girls of various cities were given the suffix 小町(こまち) as a pageant prize for being the most beautiful in honour of the author. This practice has mostly given way to the more western “Miss X”.
  • There’s also a tradition of different types of legends about Ono: (1) legends about her beauty, (2) legends about her sensuality, (3) legends about her haughtiness, (4) legends about her poetry, and (5) legends about her decline and death. Which just goes to show how nowhere in this world is safe from sexism.
  • On the last Sunday in March you can catch the Hanezu Odori in Kyoto which is in honour of Ono. Though I presume it was cancelled this year.

For the second week in a row, I’ve had no time to look into the poems, so thank you everyone who contributed!
The only thing I can say about poem 10 (because I have only read the book) is that 平安 poets sure like their puns 掛詞 :eyes: My favorite is probably しかぞすむ from poem 8, especially combined with the illustration from the manga next to it :rofl: