Category Archives: Uta makura

The Path Across the Shiga Mountains

The Path Across the Shiga Mountains (shiga no yamagoe 志賀の山越え) led from Kitashirakawa 北白川 in the north-east of Kyoto, across the mountains to Ōtsu 大津 in Ōmi 近江, on the shores of Lake Biwa 琵琶. It was frequently taken by people travelling from the capital on pilgrimages to the temples in Ōtsu, and became an utamakura (poetic place name) with associations of both Spring and falling blossoms, and Autumn and scarlet leaves.

Muro no Yashima

Muro no Yashima (室の八島) was a reference to a Ōmiwa (大神) shrine, which can still be found today in Sōjamachi (惣社町) in Tochigi City to the north of Tokyo. One of the key features of the shrine is a small lake, about eight tenths of an acre in area (2600 square metres) containing eight islets (yashima), each of which has a shrine to a different Shinto deity upon it. Poetically, it was believed that water used to rise from the lake like smoke, and hence it became used as a standard image for smoke which, in turn was a metaphor for the secret fires of love. Unfortunately, the reality of the place does not match up to the poetic image, and a visitor to the shrine will search in vain for water rising from the lake, just as the famous haiku poet Bashō did, two hundred years ago. You can find a picture of the place here.

The name Muro no Yashima literally means “Eight Island Kilns” and occurs in Shinto mythology, where it is said to have been the place where the goddess Konohananosakuyabime (木花咲耶姫命), as she had become pregnant in one night, gave birth to three deities surrounded by fire in order to protect her remaining virtue. It seems likely that word of the place name in distant Shimotsusa reached the capital, and it was then associated with the myth, and hence fire, even though that was not its actual nature.

Fukiage Beach

Fukiage Beach (fukiage no hama 吹上の濱) was a well-known poetic location on the coast of Ki Province, to the south of the capital. In his personal collection, Fujiwara no Kintō (966-1041) remarks of it, “We reached Fukiage Beach. When the sands were blown up by the wind, it was as if hazy mist were streaming across it. Certainly a place with a most appropriate name!” As a result the place became poetically associated with sand being blown up by the wind, and the beauty, or concealing features of it.

Shirakawa Barrier

An uta makura: the Shirakawa barrier was loacted within modern Shirakawa City in Fukushima Prefecture in the north-east of Honshû. After passing through it, one entered the province of Michinoku. As the place name contained sira ‘white’ it was often associated with ‘snow’ and, in contrast, with ‘green leaves’ and ‘autumn leaves’.

Katsuragi Hills

An uta makura: the Katsuragi Hills were a wooded area in the north-west of Nara Prefecture, stretching from modern Yamatotakada City, through Gose City and into Gojō City. As an upland area they are often associated with cherry blossom and clouds in poetry and have their own makura kotoba: simoto yuFu ‘bound with greenery’.


An uta makura: Fukakusa is located in Fushimi Ward of the modern city of Nara. The area became famous after being referred to in KKS VIII: 972 and thus Fukakusa no sato became a favourite phrase to use in allusive variation, although SZS IV: 259 has the honour of being the first example. The area also contains a number of Imperial graves and so is often referred to in Laments.


An uta makura: the Kataoka Hills were a raised belt of land close to Ashita Fields in the north-west of modern Nara Prefecture, stretching from Ōtera-chō in Kita Katsuragi District into what is now Kashiba City.

Ashita Fields

An uta makura: Ashita Fields were a belt of land in the north-west of modern Nara Prefecture, stretching from Ōtera-chō in Kita Katsuragi District into what is now Kashiba City. As the place name asita was homophonous with a word for ‘morning’, the location was often referred to in poems on that topic. It was renowned for the beauty of its spring mists and maidenflowers.