Ad Blankestijn, the writer of the Japan Navigator site, is an incredibly prolific blogger on all kinds of subjects, among them travel, history, art, literature, film, music, Japanese cuisine and sake. So many subjects in fact, it is quite hard to keep track. Readers of this blog will certainly be interested in his ongoing (and ambitious) Kyoto Guide. This post for example, on the site of the legendary Rashomon Gate, is fascinating.
The Rashomon Gate was 32 meters wide and 8 high. It had red pillars and double green roofs, a bit like the present Heian Shrine. On the top floor of the gate originally a stern statue of Tobatsu Bishamon was placed, looking like a soldier standing guard. Tobatsu Bishamon originated in Central Asia and acted as a protector of cities. I imagine him glaring at the lands beyond, to protect Heiankyo from evil… LINK
Recently though, I have also discovered his “Walking Waka Tracks”; verses from the Ogura Hyakunin Isshu with a brief guide to their respective locations. Today the writer introduced the one verse in the collection that includes our beloved Mount Ogura. Two days ago he introduced the poetry of famed Heian scholar and statesman Sugawara no Michizane, who was later deified as the God of Learning Kita no Tenjin. Here he is introducing the first poem of the anthology, Dew in the Hut:
The Hyakunin Isshu anthology of waka poetry, collected by Fujiwara Teika, opens with a poem by the Emperor Tenji (626-671), who ruled from Otsu (then briefly Japan’s capital)… …Although the poem resembles a simple folk song about thwarted love (and surely is one, the attribution to the emperor is contested), the traditional interpretation is that the poem expresses Tenji’s compassion for the lot of the peasants. That is why it was considered suitable as the starting piece of the anthology… LINK
The translations of the poems and the unfolding of their meaning and intent are both clear and precise. I wonder if Mr. Blankestijn plans to continue this series until he has finished all 100 waka. I sincerely hope so. I am enjoying them a lot.
Here are two more entries in the Walking Waka Tracks series: