One Hundred Poems by One Hundred Poets

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

slowly drenches my sleeves.

-- Emperor Tenji


The source is the second "Autumn" book of the Gosenshū (SKT 302). 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 (626-671; r. 668-671) is likely 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 conventionally accepted 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 reaching back to 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 sovereign 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 measures describe a setting that gives rise to the situation described in the last two. No special rhetorical devices are employed, but the repetition of the Japanese word for "hut" lends a particular sense of rhythm to the original. As in English, dew is treated as a falling phenomenon in Japanese.

Literal rendition and notes
  • Measure 1:  autumn | 's | field | 's
  • Measure 2:  temporary-hut | 's | hut | 's
  • Measure 3:  thatching | due-to-coarse (the "o...-mi" combination functions in classical Japanese to indicate cause or reason)
  • Measure 4:  I | 's | clothing-sleeves | as-for
  • Measure 5:  dew | with | getting-wetter-and-wetter

Poem 2

   haru sugite

natsu kinikerashi

   shirotae no

koromo hosu chō



   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 source is the "Summer" book of the Shinkokinshū (SKT 175). Like the previous poem, it is based on an original that appears in the Man'yōshū and was conventionally attributed to Empress Jitō (645-702; r. 690-697), who was Tenji's daughter and the wife of Emperor Tenmu (?-686; r. 673-686). Jitō ruled in her own right after Tenmu's death (in Japanese, her title as sovereign is the same title used by men: tennō). Mount Kagu (in Japanese sources, "heavenly" is treated as part of the name, like the contemporary "Amanohashidate") is located slightly to the southeast of the ancient Fujiwara-kyō capital in Nara (capital from 694 to 710).

The waka is a relatively simple one in which the poet, upon observing white robes laid out for airing, refers to 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 is actually describing white robes being aired or whether the robes are being invoked metaphorically by the sight of a white summer mist, perhaps, or even early-summer deutzia flowers (the "they say" makes this interpretation possible). The point to be kept in mind, here and elsewhere, is that many conventionally accepted interpretations of the waka in Hyakunin isshu 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 taigendome (the use of a noun at the end of the poem to create overtones by leaving 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; taigendome is considered typical of early 13th-century, Shinkokinshū aesthetic preferences.

Literal rendition and notes
  • Measure 1: spring | has-passed
  • Measure 2: summer | appears-to-have-come (the particle "-rashi" indicates a conclusion based on visual evidence)
  • Measure 3: pure-white | 's ("shirotae" is a makurakotoba often used to modify white objects; here it appears to be used in its original sense as a white cloth woven from tree-bark fiber)
  • Measure 4: robes | to-air | they-say
  • Measure 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

   a copper pheasant

dwelling in the steep mountains,

am I meant to sleep all alone?

-- Kakinomoto no Hitomaro


The source is the third "Love" book of the Shūishū (SKT 778), 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") within the larger device of a jokotoba, a "preface" of at least seven syllables that in this case establishes a metaphorical link between the visible world (the long tail of a copper pheasant) and the subjective world of 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 measures) and in point of conception since, as an original metaphor, it is the product of the poet's own imagination rather than having been chosen from among a pre-existing stock of epithets.

Literal rendition and notes
  • Measure 1:  steep | 's ("ashibiki" is a makurakotoba associated with "mountain")
  • Measure 2:  mountain-bird | 's | tail | 's
  • Measure 3:  drooping-tail | (subj.)
  • Measure 4:  long-long | night | (acc.)
  • Measure 5:  alone | ? | ! | will-sleep (interrogative and exclamatory particles often appear mid-clause in classical Japanese poetry, requiring special inflections at the end of the clause; the full force of the question or exclamation is suspended until that point)

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


The source is the "Winter" book of the Shinkokinshū (SKT 675). The waka 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 only vaguely described 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 descriptive poet. However, since it would presumably be impossible to see snow falling at such a distance, an element of fantasy is also involved. The expression shirotae is the same makurakotoba found in Poem 2, above.

Literal rendition and notes
  • Measure 1:  Tago Bay | at
  • Measure 2:  go-out | when-try-to
  • Measure 3:  pure-white | 's
  • Measure 4:  Fuji | 's | lofty-peak | on
  • Measure 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 tinted leaves,

   a stag calls out--

ah, when I hear its cry,

I feel the sadness of autumn.

-- Sarumaru Dayū


The source is the first "Autumn" book of the Kokinshū (SKT 215). Nothing is known of the supposed author, who has legendary status as a waka poet (no attribution is made in the Kokinshū). In the source, the poem is prefaced by a note stating that it was submitted as an entry in a poetry contest, indicating that by the end of the eighth century court circles already associated autumn with a feeling of plaintive sadness, in marked contrast to the festivities of the rural harvest.

The central interpretive problem is whether the (omitted) subject of "stride" is the stag or the poet himself. This translation assumes that an actual walk in the mountains is less characteristic of aristocratic life than listening to the call of the stag from a (more comfortable) distance.

Literal rendition and notes
  • Measure 1: deep-mountains | in
  • Measure 2:  red-leaves | walk-through
  • Measure 3:  to-call | stag | 's (it is the male that calls out for a mate)
  • Measure 4:  cry | hear | time | ! (the full force of the exclamation is suspended until the end of the next measure)
  • Measure 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 white

frost on the bridge made

    as the magpies

stretch out their wings tip to tip,

I know the night has grown deep.

-- Middle Counselor Yakamochi


The source is the "Winter" book of the Shinkokinshū (SKT 620). Ōtomo no Yakamochi (718?-785) was one of the compilers of the Man'yōshū. That anthology contains more poems by him than by any other poet.

Here, according to the most common interpretation, a staircase in the imperial palace is being compared to the bridge in Chinese myth formed by magpies once each year so that that the Weaver can cross the Milky Way and meet the Herder (the myth known in Japan as Tanabata). Thus, both the actual palace bridge, covered with frost, and the heavenly bridge of the Tanabata legend share an aspect of loftiness. In this case, the poem relies for its effect on the poetic technique of mitate: a "likening" in which one image is compared to another (palace staircases were conventionally likened to the mythical magpie bridge, so an explicit reference would not have been necessary). A more romantic (and for me more persuasive) interpretation has it that the poet looks up at the frosty white stars in the sky and imagines seeing the magpie bridge with frost upon it, mingling winter and autumn imagery. Of course, it may not be necessary to reject either of these interpretations decisively, although the second would not technically involve mitate.

Literal rendition and notes
  • Measure 1:  magpies | as-for
  • Measure 2:  stretch-out | bridge | on
  • Measure 3:  lies | frost | 's
  • Measure 4:  whiteness | (acc.) | when-see
  • Measure 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


The source is the "Travel" book of the Kokinshū (SKT 406). As a youth, Abe (698 or 701-770) was sent by the Nara court to study in China, where he spent 54 years (including a stint 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 waka is 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.

Literal rendition and notes
  • Measure 1:  the-heavenly-plain
  • Measure 2:  when-gaze-far-away
  • Measure 3:  Kasuga | in (grammatically, the particle "naru" derives from "ni aru")
  • Measure 4:  Mount Mikasa | over
  • Measure 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


The source is the second "Miscellaneous" book of the Kokinshū (SKT 983). Kisen flourished in the second half of the ninth century; he is one of the Six Poetic Immortals (Rokkasen) of waka poetry mentioned in the preface of 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 itself now known as 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), 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. A kakekotoba 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 constraints imposed by the waka form. Here the kakekotoba allows the poet to express a bemused consternation that people think his life is characterized by the feeling that the world is a disagreeable place, when in fact his life is free of such concerns. The compressed, doubled meaning of a kakekotoba frequently causes problems for translation; the literal versions presented here give both meanings separated by a plus sign.

Structurally, the poem is broken syntactically after the third measure (a technique called sankugire, marking the end of a grammatically complete sentence). In this way, the two parts of the waka are made to engage in a kind of call-and-response dynamic.

Literal rendition and notes
  • Measure 1:  I | 's | hut | as-for
  • Measure 2:  the capital | 's | southeast ("tatsumi" is formed by combining the words for "dragon" and "snake," which traditionally represent the directions ESE and SSE, respectively)
  • Measure 3:  thusly | ! | live
  • Measure 4:  the world | (acc.) | Mount Uji + callous | (quot.)
  • Measure 5:  people | as-for | say | apparently (some consider the final "nari" to be exclamatory rather than indicating surmise)

Poem 9

   hana no iro wa

utsurinikeri na


wa ga mi yo ni furu

nagameseshi ma ni


   The cherry blossoms

have faded now in hue.

   While gazing idly

upon the long spring rains,

I too know what it is to age.

-- Ono no Komachi


The source is the second "Spring" book of the Kokinshū (SKT 113). Ono no Komachi, who flourished in the second half of the ninth century, is the only woman among the Six Poetic Immortals (Rokkasen) mentioned in the preface of the Kokinshū. She is supposed to have been an incomparable beauty, and numerous legends sprang up around her name.

Two kakekotoba (furu and nagame, both in the last two measures) provide the key to interpretation, one set of associations resulting in "while watching the long rains fall,"  the other producing "while growing old in contemplation (of life)." The central image of fading cherry blossoms is a conventional reference to the transience of human life. The conceit was already sufficiently established in Komachi's day for the reader to understand that "flower" (hana) referred specifically to cherry blossoms. It seems likely that the faded flowers are also intended as symbols of the poet's faded looks. Structurally, the poem is broken syntactically after the second measure (a technique called nikugire, following in the sankugire pattern of the previous waka) and makes use of tōchi-hō ("inversion"; grammatically, the first two measures would normally follow the last three) to intensify the dramatic effect.

Literal rendition and notes
  • Measure 1:  blossom | 's | color | as-for
  • Measure 2:  has-changed | !
  • Measure 3:  futilely
  • Measure 4:  I | 's | self | world | in | grow-old + fall
  • Measure 5:  did-gaze + long-rains | period-of-time | in

Poem 10

   kore ya kono

yuku mo kaeru mo

   wakarete wa

shiru mo shiranu mo



   Here it is where

many come and many go,

   part to meet again,

some as friends, some as strangers--

Ōsaka Barrier.

-- Semimaru


The source is the first "Miscellaneous" book of the Gosenshū (SKT 1089). The semi-legendary 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 Ōsaka Barrier.

The rather pleasing artlessness of the poem, which introduces a famous historical spot, is constructed around three sets of oppositions: one between "come" and "go"; one between "part" and "meet" (the latter contained as wordplay within the "Ōsaka" of measure 5); and 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 well-known poetic associations), and it was often used as a kakekotoba because of its phonetic overlap with the Japanese word for "meet" (au or ō). The proper noun Ōsaka Barrier also ends the waka, meaning that it is intended to create the overtones of an incomplete sentence: the taigendome technique.

Literal rendition and notes
  • Measure 1:  here | ! | this ("this" grammatically modifies "Ōsaka Barrier," so the reader is basically held in a state of suspense until the final measure)
  • Measure 2:  go | also | come | also (the verbs are conjugated in a way that makes it clear that a noun -- "people" -- has been omitted after each one)
  • Measure 3:  separating | and-then (the "-te wa" combination implies repetition)
  • Measure 4:  know | also | not-know | also (as before, "people" is understood to have been omitted after the verbs)
  • Measure 5:  Ōsaka-Barrier