Here’s this month’s poetry post from our friend, poet and translator, Keiji Minato. This will be the last post on Deep Kyoto this year. Happy holidays and see you all safely in 2012!
Haifu-Yanagidaru (『誹風柳多留』; 1765-1840) is a collection of maeku-dsuke (前句付), which are now commonly called ko-senryu (古川柳; old senryu). It is not one book but a series of 165 volumes published from the middle to the end of the Edo period. The first 24 volumes are particularly important, with KARAI Senryu (柄井川柳; 1718-1790), whose name is now used as the name of the genre of senryu, as its anthologist. The original genre of maeku-dsuke was invented in the Osaka-Kyoto area but really took off in the Edo (current Tokyo) area. At its peak, thousands of anonymous people in Edo submitted their works to Karai Senryu, who selected the best of them for publication first in newssheet formats and later in Yanagidaru.
The Kyoto depicted in Yanagidaru is naturally the one viewed, or imagined, by inhabitants in Edo, the rising city that at that time had begun having pride in its own culture, throwing away its inferiority complex for Kyoto, the previous cultural center of Japan. Certainly, since the Edo (or Tokugawa) Bakufu (江戸[徳川]幕府) was founded, Edo had been the political and economic center of the nation for more than 150 years. Numerous tiny poems in Yanagidaru clearly show Edo people’s confidence in their booming city and the excitement of living there:
(Edo-ju wo echigo-ya ni shite niji ga fuki)
all over Edo and then
a rainbow above
(Nigemizu wo ottsu makuttsu ie wo tate)
We build houses as if
racing with the mirage
on the horizon
The former poem needs some explanation. Echigo-ya was the most successful clothing store in the Edo period (which has survived as the Mitsukoshi Group until today), a perfect symbol of the prosperity of Edo. The store lent its customers umbrellas with its name written on them. The poem shows us a scene in rainy Edo with the name Echigo-ya on countless umbrellas everywhere. The latter poem is more straightforward: the city of Edo was sprawling as it was developing as the center of the nation. The phrasing “追つつまくつつ” (ottsu makuttsu) marvelously captures the rapid growth that must have given buoyancy to Edokko’s minds (“Edokko” is a popular name for genuine Edo inhabitants).
Then, how did they depict Kyoto, the ancient capital, in Yanagidaru? For Edo people the old city in the west where the Emperor lived was the world of the classics, filled with dust-covered history and obsolete imagery. It was a kind of fantasy world for them:
(Shishin-den yoku bakemono no deru tokoro)
where they are often
haunted by monsters
(Yoru to iu hen ni tori da to shaku de kaki)
He writes it with a shaku
saying “its left part is night（夜）,
and the right is bird (鳥)”
# shaku (笏) is a piece of wood an aristocrat had in his hand to show his high status
(Rakuchu ni kikyo no hana ga mikka saki)
In the city of Kyoto
balloon flowers bloomed
for three days
Shishin-den is one of the buildings in the Imperial Palace in Kyoto. Important public ceremonies used to be held there, so it is often mentioned in classic writings. Classic literature also says that the building was often visited by weird monsters. The second poem above refers to one of such monsters called a nu’e (鵺), whose body was composed of the head of a monkey, the tail of a snake, the trunk of a tanuki (raccoon dog), and the limbs of a tiger. These two poems take up scenes from old writings with a tongue-in-cheek attitude, and express how people in the new world were seeing the old world. They obliquely mock the high cultural status the old world used to have. The third poem refers to a historical event: the very short reign often called mikka-tenka (三日天下; three-day reign) of AKECHI Mitsuhide (明智光秀; 1528?-1582). Mitsuhide revolted against and killed his master ODA Nobunaga (織田信長; 1534-1582) but was defeated by HASHIBA (later Toyotomi) Hideyoshi (羽柴[豊臣]秀吉; 1536/7-1598) just eleven days later (“for three days” is a bit of exaggeration). Mitsuhide’s family crest was the balloon flower.
It seems that Kyoto for people in Edo at that time of Yanagidaru was a purely textual existence. Their interest lay in showing off their knowledge of classics and prowess in skillful rendering with rhetoric like ellipses and allusions. That means you often need background information to decipher poems in Yanagidaru. An example is:
(Kyoto dewa ume wo nusumareta to omoi)
In Kyoto they thought
the plum tree
It makes no sense unless you recognize its reference to a legend about SUGAWARA no Michizane (菅原道真; 845-903). Michizane, a great scholar and politician in the Heian period, was relegated to a minor position in northern Kyushu by political rivals and died unhappily dreaming of going back to Kyoto. The legend goes that at his death Michizane sang out a waka:
(Kochi fukaba nioi okoseyo ume no hana aruji nashi tote haru na wasure so)
When an easterly wind blows,
you bloom, plum blossoms,
don’t forget spring
even if you’ve lost
Then, the plum tree he cherished flew away from Kyoto to him! The maeku-dzuke in Yanagidaru comically shows us an imaginary scene in Michizane’s old house after the tree disappeared. This example demonstrates that people in Edo widely shared sophisticated knowledge in classical literature and were able to give such entertaining twists to amuse themselves. And let’s note that it also testifies how much Kyoto with its history and literature has inspired Japanese people to give birth to new artistic expressions.