One Hundred Poems by One Hundred Poets

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Poem 1

  aki no ta no

kario no io no

   toma o arami

wa ga koromode wa

tsuyu ni nuretsutsu


   The coarsely thatched roof

of this makeshift watchman's hut

   in the autumn fields

admits the falling dew that

gathers thickly on my sleeves.

-- Emperor Tenji


This waka comes from the Gosen wakashū (Later Selection of Waka) anthology of 951; it is based on an original found in the eighth-century Man'yōshū (Collection for Ten Thousand Generations). Since the Man'yōshū version is said to be by an anonymous hand, the attribution to Tenji (r. 668-671) is thought to be spurious. However, one of the defining structural features of the Hyakunin isshu is the fact that Teika chose to begin and end the collection with pairs of poems by emperors who were parent and child. From this perspective, the conventional attribution to Tenji allows Teika to invoke a time when a strong moral bond joined sovereign and subject (Tenji was responsible for instituting the Taika Reforms, leading to a strong centralized government). Likewise, Poem 2 can be seen as an affirmation of cultural identity and tradition in early Japanese history. The final two poems in the collection, by contrast -- composed by contemporary rulers -- are colored by a sense of decline in imperial prestige and even discord between soveriegn and subject. This contrast is often held to reflect a characteristically medieval viewpoint to which Teika wanted to give expression.

The "autumn fields" mentioned in the translation are, of course, rice fields at harvest time, and a watchman is necessary to keep the ripening rice from being ravaged by scavenging birds and animals. In real life, one would hardly find such work very poetic. Thanks to the emperor's empathetic willingness to place himself in that position, however, the tone is as elegant as it is desolate, and it is presumably this combination that appealed to Teika. The first three lines establish a setting that gives rise to the situation described in the last two.

Literal rendition and notes
  • Line 1:  autumn | 's | field | 's
  • Line 2:  temporary-hut / rice-ears | 's | hut | 's
  • Line 3:  thatching | due-to | coarse (the o ... -mi combination of the Japanese implies a cause-and-effect relationship with the succeeding lines)
  • Line 4:  I | 's | clothing-sleeves | as-for
  • Line 5:  dew | with | getting-wetter-and-wetter

Poem 2

   haru sugite

natsu kinikerashi

   shirotae no

koromo hosu chō

ama no Kaguyama


   Spring has passed, it seems,

and summer has now arrived--

   the time, they say, when

robes of pure white are aired

on heavenly Mount Kagu.

-- Empress Jitō


The immediate source is the Shin kokin wakashū (New Collection of Ancient and Modern Japanese Poetry, 1205), or Shinkokinshū. Like the previous poem, however, it is based on an original that appears in the Man'yōshū and was spuriously attributed to an early Japanese sovereign. Jitō was Tenji's daughter and the wife of Emperor Temmu (r. 673-686); she ruled in her own right as the (supposed) forty-first tennō from 690 to 697. Mount Kagu is located slightly to the southeast of the ancient Fujiwara-kyō capital in Nara (capital from 694 to 710).

The poem is a relatively simple one in which the poet, upon observing white robes laid out for airing, makes use of hearsay to evoke traditional Japanese social customs and mythical associations (a Mount Kagu also supposedly existed on the High Plain of Heaven, the home of the gods). It is worth noting, however, that traditional interpretations disagree as to whether the poet actually sees white robes or whether the robes are being used as a metaphor for, perhaps, a white summer mist (the "they say" opens up this possibility). The point to be kept in mind, here and elsewhere, is that many conventionally accepted interpretations of the waka in Hyakunin isshu in fact obscure such ambiguities, which may then be further obscured by translation.

Poetic techniques include a makurakotoba ("pillow word," a fixed epithet of five-syllables placed before certain expressions to enhance their evocative power or to modulate the rhythm) and taigen-dome (the use of a noun at the end of the poem to leave a feeling of grammatical incompleteness). The makurakotoba was one of the most common devices in Japanese poetry beginning from the time of the Man'yōshū; taigen-dome is considered typical of early thirteenth-century aesthetic preferences.

Literal rendition and notes
  • Line 1: spring | has-passed
  • Line 2: summer | appears-to-have-come (the particle -rashi indicates a conclusion based on visual evidence)
  • Line 3: pure-white | 's (shirotae is a makurakotoba deriving from a word for cloth woven from tree-bark fiber; often used to modify white objects)
  • Line 4: robes | to-air | they-say
  • Line 5: heaven | 's | Mount Kagu

Poem 3

   ashibiki no

yamadori no o no

   shidari o no

naganagashi yo o

hitori ka mo nemu


   On a night as long

as the long, drooping tail of

   the copper pheasant

dwelling in the steep mountains,

am I, too, meant to sleep alone?

-- Kakinomoto no Hitomaro


Taken from the Shūi wakashū (Collection of Gleanings, 1005), where it is attributed to Kakinomoto no Hitomaro, who flourished from the late 7th to the early 8th century and is usually considered the greatest of the Man'yōshū poets. Little is known of Hitomaro except that he was apparently a low-ranking government official. The attribution must be considered spurious, however, for in the Man'yōshū itself, where the poem first appears, it is regarded as being by an anonymous hand.

The poem neatly makes a comparison between the length of the tail on a mountain pheasant and the slow passage of time experienced by a lover who must sleep alone, and is based further on the fact that male and female copper pheasants do indeed sleep in separate locations. Poetic devices include the use of a makurakotoba (ashibiki no, here translated as "steep"), which itself appears within the larger device of a jokotoba -- an "introductory phrase" of at least seven syllables that functions here as a link between the natural world (the tail on a copper pheasant) and human perception (the length of the night). Although conventional enough to be considered a standard poetic device, the jokotoba differs from the makurakotoba both in terms of length (in this waka, it spans the first three lines) and in point of conception since, as an original metaphor, it is the product of the poet's own imagination rather than having simply been chosen from among a pre-existing stock of epithets.

Literal rendition and notes
  • Line 1:  steep | 's (ashibiki is a makurakotoba associated with "mountain")
  • Line 2:  mountain-bird | 's | tail | 's
  • Line 3:  drooping | tail | 's
  • Line 4:  long- long-night | (accusative particle)
  • Line 5:  alone | ? | also | will-sleep

Poem 4

   Tago-no-ura ni

uchidete mireba

   shirotae no

Fuji no takane ni

yuki wa furitsutsu


   As I venture out

onto the shore at Tago Bay,

   I see snow, pure white,

falling now ever deeper

on Mount Fuji's lofty peak.

--Yamabe no Akahito


This waka, taken from the "Winter" section of the Shinkokinshū, is based on an original by Yamabe found in the Man'yōshū. Yamabe, an eighth-century courtier whose dates are uncertain, was ranked by Ki no Tsurayuki -- in the preface to the Kokinshū -- with Kakinomoto no Hitomaro as one of the two best Man'yōshū poets. He is represented in that collection by 13 chōka (long poems) and 37 tanka (short poems).

Much of the appeal of the poem lies in the contrast between the sharp image of Fuji's snowy peak in the distance and the vague abstractness of Tago Bay (in present-day Shizuoka Prefecture) in the foreground. The contrast creates an impression of spatial depth which is thought to be in keeping with Yamabe's reputation as a "visually depictive" poet. However, since it would presumably be impossible to see snow falling at such a distance, a touch of fantasy is also involved. The expression shirotae is the same makurakotoba found in Poem 2, above.

Literal rendition and notes
  • Line 1:  Tago Bay | at
  • Line 2:  go-out | when-try-to
  • Line 3:  pure-white | 's
  • Line 4:  Fuji | 's | lofty-peak | on
  • Line 5:  snow |as-for | keeps-falling

Poem 5

   okuyama ni

momiji fumiwake

   naku shika no

koe kiku toki zo

aki wa kanashiki


   Deep in the mountains,

striding through red, fallen leaves,

   a stag calls for a mate--

when I hear its plaintive cry,

I am struck by autumn's sadness.

-- Sarumaru Dayū


This poem appears in the "Autumn" section of the Kokinshū. Nothing is known of the supposed author, who has legendary status as a waka poet. In the Kokinshū, the poem is prefaced by a note stating that it was submitted as an entry in a poetry contest, indicating that already by the end of the eighth century court circles associated autumn with a feeling of sorrow, thus forming a marked contrast with the harvest festivities characteristic of rural life.

The central interpretive problem is whether the subject of "stride" is the stag or the poet himself. Here it is assumed that a walk in the mountains is less characteristic of aristocratic life than listening to the call of the stag from a (more comfortable) distance. The interpolated meaning of the stag's call is based on a conventional poetic association.

Literal rendition and notes
  • Line 1: deep-mountains | in
  • Line 2:  autumn-leaves (written with the character for "red") | walk-through
  • Line 3:  calling | stag (it is the male that calls) | 's
  • Line 4:  cry | hear | time (="when") | !
  • Line 5:  autumn | as-for | sad

Poem 6

   kasasagi no

wataseru hashi ni

   oku shimo no

shiroki o mireba

yo zo fukenikeru


   When I see the frost

lying white on a staircase

   so like the arched bridge formed

by the magpies' outstretched wings,

I know the night has grown deep.

-- Middle Counselor Yakamochi


This waka appears in the "Winter" section of the Shinkokinshū. Ōtomo no Yakamochi (718?-785), the son of Ōtomo no Tabito, was one of the compilers of the Man'yōshū. That anthology contains more poems by Yakamochi than by any other poet.

The poem relies for its effect on an implied metaphor signaled by a pun on the word hashi, which, depending on the Chinese character used, can mean either "bridge" or "(palace) staircase." In the former sense, the allusion is to the Chinese legend in which a bridge across the Milky Way is formed each year by magpies to allow the Herder to meet the Weaver (the Tanabata legend). In the latter interpretation (which is actually only conventional), the reference is to a staircase in the royal palace, no less "lofty" than the Milky Way by virtue of its association with the imperial court.

Literal rendition and notes
  • Line 1:  magpies | as-for
  • Line 2:  stretched-out (="formed") | bridge | on
  • Line 3:  lies | frost | 's
  • Line 4:  whiteness | (accusative particle) | when-see
  • Line 5:  night | ! | has-grown-late

Poem 7



   Kasuga naru

Mikasa-no-yama ni

ideshi tsuki kamo


   Lifting my gaze to

the broad expanse of the sky,

   I see the same moon

that once rose in Kasuga

over Mount Mikasa!

-- Abe no Nakamaro


This waka first appears in the "Travel" section of the Kokin wakashū. As a youth, Abe (698-770) was sent by the Nara court to study in China, where he spent 54 years (including a period as the Chinese governor-general of Vietnam) before dying in Chang'an.

Said to have been composed before Abe made an abortive attempt to return to Japan, this relatively straightforward poem is conventionally held to reveal both the strength of Abe's affection for his homeland and a poignant awareness of the intervening years he spent in China. Two place names are mentioned: Kasuga and Mount Mikasa. The former refers to an area in present-day Nara between Nara Park and Kasuga Shrine; the latter is a mountain located to the back of the same shrine, between Mount Wakakusa and Mount Takamado. The ending particle kamo in the last line is characteristic of Nara-period usage (Abe's dates are 698-770), adding exclamatory force to what has been said.

Literal rendition and notes
  • Line 1:  the-heavenly-plain
  • Line 2: when-gaze-far-away
  • Line 3:  Kasuga | in (naru is a particle derived from ni aru)
  • Line 4:  Mount Mikasa | over
  • Line 5:  appeared | moon | !

Poem 8

   wa ga io wa

miyako no tatsumi

   shika zo sumu

yo o ujiyama to

hito wa iu nari


   In a hut that stands

southeast of the capital,

   I live thus at peace;

yet people say I came to Mount Uji

out of despair at a callous world.

-- Priest Kisen


This waka appears in the second ("lower") "Miscellaneous" section of the Kokinshū. The poet (known as Kisen Hōshi in Japanese) flourished in the second half of the ninth century and is considered one of the traditional "six immortals" of waka poetry (rokkasen; so called because of their mention in the preface to the Kokinshū, although they are not praised unreservedly). Other than the fact that he was a priest on Mount Uji, however, nothing is known of his life (Mount Uji itself is now called Mount Kisen).

The poem relies for its effect upon the use of the word uji, which on the one hand stands for the place name Uji (a popular spot for aristocratic villas in the Heian period, and the location of the exquisite Phoenix Hall at the Byōdō-in Temple), and on the other is used as an adjective meaning "disagreeable," "unpleasant," or "unfeeling." Such a word is known as a kakekotoba, or "pivot word," one of the central devices of waka poetry from the time of the Kokinshū down to the present day. The pivot word serves to give the poem a double meaning by establishing an associative link between two linguistically unrelated homonyms, allowing the objective world of nature and the subjective sensibility of the poet to inform each other within the restrictive constraints imposed by the waka form (and not incidentally making concise translation very difficult indeed). Here the poet expresses a bemused consternation that people think his life at Uji is characterized by a feeling that the world is disagreeable, when in fact it is free of such concerns.

Literal rendition and notes
  • Line 1:  I | 's | hut | as-for
  • Line 2:  the capital | 's | southeast (a word literally combining "dragon" and "snake," the former representing the direction ESE and the latter SSE in the Chinese "12-stem" directional system)
  • Line 3:  thusly | ! | live
  • Line 4:  the world | (accusative particle) | Mount Uji / callous (uji as a pivot word) | so(-say)
  • Line 5:  people | as-for | say | I-hear (i.e., "I hear that people say")

Poem 9

   hana no iro wa

utsurinikeri na

   itazura ni

wa ga mi yo ni furu

nagameseshi ma ni


   The cherry blossoms

have faded now in hue--

   gazing emptily

upon the long spring rains,

I too know what it is to age.

-- Ono no Komachi


This waka was taken from the "Spring" section of the Kokinshū. Ono no Komachi, who flourished in the second half of the ninth century, is the only woman classed among the traditional "six immortals" of waka poetry. She is supposed to have been an incomparable beauty, and many legends sprang up around her name.

Two pivot words (furu and nagamesu, both in the last two lines) provide the key to interpretation here, one set of associations between the two resulting in the translation "the long rains that fall in the world,"  the other joining "growing old"  to "gazing on the world in a reverie." The central image of the fading cherry blossoms is a conventional reference to the transience of human life. This conceit was already sufficiently established in Komachi's day for the reader to understand that "flower" (hana) referred specifically to cherry blossoms. Structurally, the poem is broken gramatically after the second line (a technique called ni-kugire) and makes use of tōchi-hō ("grammatical inversion"; the first two lines would normally follow the last three) to increase the dramatic effect.

Literal rendition and notes
  • Line 1:  blossom | 's | color | as-for
  • Line 2:  has-changed | !
  • Line 3:  meaningless | -ly
  • Line 4:  I | 's | self | world | in | grow-old / falling (furu used as pivot word joining the idea of aging to the falling of the rain)
  • Line 5:  was-gazing / long-rains (nagame used as a pivot word to join the idea of gazing to the ceaseless rain) | period | in ("period in" = "during" or "while")

Poem 10

   kore ya kono

yuku mo kaeru mo

   wakarete wa

shiru mo shiranu mo

Ōsaka no Seki


   Here it is where

many come and many go,

   part to meet again,

some as friends, some as strangers--

The Ōsaka Barrier.

-- Semimaru


This poem appears in the first "Miscellaneous" section of the Gosenshū (a section dating from 1089). The semi-legendary poet Semimaru may have been a blind musician of the second half of the ninth century -- possibly of royal birth and skilled in playing the biwa (Japanese lute) -- who lived as a recluse in a small hut near the Ōsaka Barrier.

The rather artless poem, serving to introduce a famous historical spot, is constructed around three sets of oppositions: the one between "come" and "go"; the one between "part" and "meet" (the latter contained as wordplay within the "Ōsaka" of line 5); and the one between "friends" and "strangers." The barrier thus serves as the locus of a variety of activities associated with travel, which in turn suggests (in medieval interpretations, at any rate) the idea that one meets in order to part, and then parts in order to meet again. The barrier itself was located on the boundary between the provinces of Yamashiro (present-day Kyoto) and Ōmi (Shiga Prefecture), and once past it the traveler was in the "east" of the country. Ōsaka Barrier enjoyed a long life as an utamakura (a place name with poetic associations), and it was often used as a kakekotoba (pivot word) because of its phonetic overlap with the Japanese word for "meet" (au or ō).

Literal rendition and notes
  • Line 1:  here | ! | this ("this" grammatically modifies "Ōsaka Barrier," so that the sense is something like "here is that well-known place")
  • Line 2:  going-people ("people" is an understood omission) | also | coming-people | also
  • Line 3:  part | and-again (this line is usually interpreted to mean repeated parting and meeting)
  • Line 4:  known-people ("people" is an understood omission)  | also | unknown-people | also
  • Line 5:  Ōsaka (used as a kakekotoba incorporating a homonym for "meet" and thus tied semantically to the verb "part" in Line 3) | 's | Barrier