Category Archives: Poetry Competition in Six Hundred Rounds

Spring II: 1

Left (Tie).


wakana tsumu
nobe o shimireba
takatori no
okina mo mube zo
taware aikeru
Fresh greens are picked from
The field I gaze upon;
The Bamboo Cutting
Ancient, too, perhaps
Once gambolled there!



Right (Tie).


wakana tsumi
ne no hi ni izuru
tomo naku wa
ieji omowanu
tabine semashi ya
Plucking fresh greens:
If, on the Rat’s Day, travelling
Comrades had I none,
Unthinking of the homeward path,
Might I sleep the night away?



The Right team state that ‘Bamboo Cutter’ (takatori), in the Left’s poem, is usually pronounced taketori, and wonder if the Left can cite an earlier poem as proof that this reading is possible. In reply, the Left say that both takatori and taketori can be found in the Man’yōshū, and in the Hundred Poem Sequence Composed for Former Emperor Horikawa, Minamoto no Morotoki had used this reading.

The Left then wonder whether ‘unthinking of the homeward path, sleeping away’, in the Right’s poem is something which would only be done on an excursion to the fields. The Right reply that the poem was most likely composed when recalling an excursion to pick fresh greens on the Day of the Rat, and thinking of the fields.

In his judgement, Shunzei states first of all that there is no doubt that both taka and take are possible readings for the Old Bamboo Cutter. As poetic evidence that takatori is a possible reading for the Old Man in this case, in the Man’yōshū, just in a headnote, it says, ‘In ancient times, there was an old man. His name was Bamboo Cutting Ancient (takatori no okina). In the Third Month, this old man climbed a hill to gaze into the distance, whereupon he suddenly came upon nine maidens brewing fresh greens. Their beauty was beyond description, with faces fairer by far than flowers. The maidens called mockingly to the old man, “Come here, old fellow! Blow on our fire!” “Oho!” said the Old Man, and slowly made his way up to them, arriving close by in due course. After a while, the Maidens said to one another, laughing, “Who called this old man here?” The Bamboo Cutting Ancient replied quickly, “Unintentionally have I encountered divinity. In my confused heart, I had no ill intent. Let me pay for the sin of approaching too closely with a poem.” This is the poem he promptly composed.’ (MYS XVI: 3791).

After this lengthy quotation, Shunzei goes on to say that it is ‘not unreasonable’ to refer to this in a poem on the topic of ‘Field Pleasures’. However, the Left have already mentioned that both readings are given in the Man’yōshū. After this anthology was converted to modern language by Minamoto no Shitagō, kana readings were attached to the Chinese characters. However, it is now impossible to refer to this text, and it is unclear who assigned the readings take and taka. Lord Morotoki’s reasoning agrees with this. Furthermore, in the poem by the old man to the nine maidens, the character ‘bamboo’ (take) does not appear – it is only in the head-note – and so this reading may not have been given by Shitagō.

In general, on the point that both readings are possible, take would be more usual – taka is written with the character for ‘bamboo grove’, and this accords too with Chinese rhyming patterns. It is also used for the name of the poet, Ono no Takamura. Thus, normally, take could be said to be correct. Regardless of which reading is used, however, besides the fact that there is nothing exceptional in this poem’s construction, it is undesirable to include the expression ‘Ancient, too, perhaps’ (okina mo mube zo) in a poem. Although the Right’s poem appears more commonplace, it is impossible to decide on a victor between the two, and so a tie is awarded.

Spring I: 30

Left (Tie).


momoshiki ya
ite hiku niwa no
azusa yumi
mukashi ni kaeru
haru ni au kana
Hundred fold, the palace, where
Archer draw, within the gardens
Bows of catalpa wood:
Olden times are recalled
And meet again, this springtime.

Lord Sada’ie


Right (Tie).


azusa yumi
haru no kumoi ni
keshiki kotonaru
kyô no morobito
Catalpa bows:
In springtime to the cloud-borne palace
They are brought;
How exceptional the scene:
A crowd of noble folk, this day.



The Right query why in the Left’s poem an annual festival should ‘recall olden times’, to which the Right respond that it is normal to compose poems about annual observances as if they had been discontinued and then revived. The Left make no comment about the Right’s poem.

Shunzei’s judgement is that, indeed, the Left’s poem had been composed as if an ancient rite had been revived and, furthermore with the reference to an ‘exceptional scene’ the intent had probably been to praise court festivals. Nevertheless, he has to adjudge the round a tie.

Spring I: 29

Left (Tie).


azusa yumi
ite hiku haru no
kai arite
kyō no moroya wa
yo ni hibiku nari
Catalpa bows,
Archers drawing them in springtime
Has an effect, indeed:
Today, the paired arrows
Resound throughout the world!



Right (Tie).


azusa yumi
haru kokonoe ni
chiru yuki o
kyô tachimai no
sode ni miru kana
Catalpa bows:
Drawn in the ninefold palace walls, yet
Falling snow
This day’s dancing
Sleeves do seem!



The Right team have no comments to make about the Left’s poem, but the Left remark that ‘catalpa bow’ is a makura kotoba (a conventionalised poetic image) used with ‘spring’, and it is difficult to think that it is being used appropriately if related to ‘New Year archery’. (The complaint here seems to be related to the fact that in his original Nobusada writes haru, which I’ve translated here as ‘drawn’, phonetically, rather than with a Chinese character, making it initially seem like the verb haru ‘draw (a bow)’, rather than the homophonous ‘spring’.) The Left go on to make the aside that dancing took place within the palace on many other occasions besides the New Year Archery festival.

Shunzei, however, states bluntly that both poems contain ‘unnatural associations’ of ‘catalpa bow’ with ‘springtime effects’ for the Left, and ‘drawn in the ninefold palace’ for the right, so neither can be declared a winner.

Spring I: 28

Left (Win).


momoshiki ni
azusa yumi
haru mo tomone no
mezurashiki kana
By the hundredfold palace
Catalpa bows:
Sprung in springtime, bowstring on bracer:
How rare the sound!

Lord Suetsune




toneriko ga
tomo uchinarasu
azusa yumi
ite hikiwataru
haru wa kinikeri
The guardsmen lads’
Bracers sound;
Catalpa bows,
Drawn by archers:
Springtime is here, indeed!

Lord Takanobu


Again, the Right team have no comments to make about the Left’s poem this round, but the Left say the initial line of the Right’s poem is ‘unsatisfactory’. Shunzei, once again, agrees, remarking that, ‘the initial line sounds like the name of the tree used when referring to adding water to an ink-stone. Again, the Left is the winner.’ What he means by this is that toneriko, ‘guardsmen lads’ was homophonous with the word for ‘ash tree’. The old Japanese extracted a wax from ash trees, which was used to ease the running of sliding doors and shutters, and so by association, toneriko was used in poetry to refer to adding water to an ink-stone so that the ink, produced in solid sticks, would slide over it more easily. This image is inappropriate for a poem about the New Year Archery festival, and so the poem is of inferior quality, compared to the Left’s offering.

Spring I: 27

Left (Win).


azusa yumi
haru no kumoi ni
hibiku made
tomone ni kayou
mato no oto kana
Catalpa bows
In springtime round the cloud-borne palace
Bowstring on bracer and
Arrow on target – what a sound!

Lord Kanemune




azusa yumi
môke no ya ni ya
hate made kyô wa
atarinuru kana
Catalpa bows’
Spare arrows: will they
Be drawn, I wonder?
By this day’s end
All will have struck the target…

Lord Tsune’ie


The Right team have no comments to make about the Left’s poem, but the Left state that the initial section of the Right’s poem is ‘prosaic [heikai]’. Shunzei agrees, saying that the term ‘spare arrows’ is ‘unsuitable diction for poetry’ [uta kotoba ni yoroshikarazaru] and so the Left’s poem must be adjudged the winner.

Spring I: 26



kokoro aru
ite no toneri no
keshiki kana
tama shiku niwa ni
tomone hibikite
Souls stirred,
The archers, guardsmen all,
Are a sight
Within the gem-strewn gardens,
As bowstring snaps to bracer!

Lord Ari’ie.


Right (Win).


hiku te bakari wa
yoso naredo
kokoro ni iru wa
kumo no uebito
A catalpa bow:
Drawn simply by the hand,
Distant, it is, yet
Letting fly, within their hearts, are
The folk above the clouds…



The Right team remark here that they were ‘unable to grasp’ the first line of the Left’s poem, possibly suggesting a judgement that kokoro aru, which I’ve translated here as ‘Souls stirred’, and which refers to the ability to be moved emotionally by phenomena, or events, was an unsuitable expression for mere ‘guardsmen’. The Left team state bluntly that the reference to ‘the folk above the clouds’ was ‘unsuited to this rite’, meaning the New Year archery contest, in which members of the higher nobility, the ‘folk above the clouds’, did not participate.

Spring I: 25

Left (Win).


kyō wa wa ga
kimi ga mimae ni
toru fumi no
sashite katamaru
azusayumi kana
Today to Our
Lord’s Presence
We take, missives
Attached and drawn tight,
Bows of catalpa wood…

A Servant Girl.




momoshiki ya
chikaki mamori no
wa ga hiku kata zo
kokoro ni wa iru
Hundred-fold, the palace;
Close by, sentries with
Catalpa bows:
Drawing them,
Their hearts fly forth!

The Provisional Master of the Empress Household Office.


The Right team state simply that they ‘don’t understand the content’ of the Left’s poem, while the Left remark airily of the Right’s that it ‘hits the topic dead on!’ Nevertheless, Shunzei says that the Left’s poem, ‘seems charming, with its image of letters to His Majesty attached to staves’, and awards it the victory.

Spring I: 24

eft (Tie).


yuki kiyuru
kareno no shita no
kozo no kusaba ya
ne ni kaeruran
The snows are gone from off
The sere fields, and beneath,
Pale green:
Last year’s growth seems
To have returned to its roots…

A Servant Girl


Right (Tie).


harusame wa
kozo mishi nobe no
shirube ka wa
midori ni kaeru
ogi no yakehara
The gentle rains of spring:
To the fields I gazed upon last year
Do they show the way?
For greeness has returned,
To the burnt miscanthus grass…



Both teams state that the other’s poem was ‘in the same vein’.

Shunzei judges that the Left’s ‘Last year’s growth seems/To have returned to its roots’ and the Right’s ‘For greeness has returned,/To the burnt miscanthus grass’ are ‘pleasantly charming’, so neither poem can be adjudged the winner.

Spring I: 23

Left (Win).


osoku toku
ono ga samazama
saku hana mo
hitotsu futaba no
haru no wakakusa
Slow, or distant,
Each has their own
Way to bloom, yet all the flowers
First put forth fresh leaves,
Fresh grasses in the springtime

Lord Sada’ie




iroiro no
hana sakubeshi to
mienu kana
kusa tatsu hodo no
nobe no keshiki wa
In many colours
Will the flowers bloom –
The scene does not seem so,
When just the grass has sprouted
All across the plain…

Lord Tsune’ie


Both teams state that their poems are of the same order.

Shunzei remarks that both poems are in the spirit of the Kokinshū’s ‘In green/The grasses seem as one/When seen in springtime’, and neither has a substantial advantage over the other, except that the Right’s ‘when just the grass has sprouted’ might be an ‘undesirable expression’?

Spring I: 22

Left (Tie).


kasugano no
nobe no kusaba ya
kesa wa yukima no
asamidori naru
On Kasuga Plain
Has the field grass
Begun to sprout?
This morning, the patches ‘tween the snow
Are palely green…

Lord Ari’ie


Right (Tie).


hana o nomi
matsuran hito ni
yamazato no
yukima no kusa no
haru o miseba ya
Blossoms, alone,
Awaiting – to those folk,
My mountain retreat,
With grasses growing ‘tween the snow,
In springtime would I show…



Neither team has any comments to make about the other’s poem.

Shunzei remarks tha the use of no in the Left’s poem is ‘repetitious’. The Right’s phrasing ‘My mountain retreat,/With grasses growing ‘tween the snow’ (yamazato no yukima no kusa) was ‘certainly unusual’, but the poem was ‘appealing’. However, the Left’s poem is successful in evoking Kasuga Plain, and hence it is ‘difficult to judge it lacking’. Thus, a tie is the fairest result.