Category Archives: Notes

A certain personage

A reference to Fujiwara no Kiyosuke 藤原清輔 (1104-1177), a well-known earlier poet and critic. Shunzei’s reference to Kiyosuke is calculated, because the latter was one of the founders of the Rokujō poetic house to which Kenshō belonged. By claiming Kiyosuke’s authority for his interpretation, Shunzei is making it difficult for Kenshō and the other Rokujō poets in the competition to challenge him, without disagreeing with their illustrious predecessor.

Izumi Shikibu’s Poem

Modern commentators believe that Kenshō is misquoting a poem from Izumi Shikibu’s personal collection here:


yosa no umi
ama no amata ni
matsukata ni
ori ya torikemu
nami no hananami

By the see at Yosa
To the crowds of diver girls
Should I go and pluck them
From the blossoming breakers?

Ama no sakate

Ama no sakate 天の逆手 was a gesture used when invoking some kind of magical power, and probably involved clapping in some way, although exactly what it involved is now unclear – and the Right’s comment implies that it was already obscure by the time of this poetry contest. There is speculation from the commentators that it involved clapping the backs of the hands together rather than the palms, or with the hands horizontal, rather than vertical (sakate literally means ‘reversed hands’), The passage Shunzei is referring to in Ise Monogatari comes from the work’s Chapter 96, when a man has been abandoned by a woman who had promised to marry him: ‘The man raised his hands to heaven and clapped [ama no sakate o uchite], making a fearsome curse.’ There is a further example in the Kojiki when the deity Yaekotoshironushi no kami 八重事代主神 uses it for protective magic: ‘And thus he kicked over the boat, raised his hands to heaven and clapped, transforming it to a fence of verdant brushwood [ama no sakate o aofushigaki ni uchinashite], and concealed himself within.’ In any case, its use in this poem is simply because the word ama 天 (‘heaven’ ) was homophonous with ama 海人 (‘diving girl’).

Cloth-Wringing Falls

Nunobiki no taki 布引の滝 was a poetic location in Settsu Province. It is described in Ise Monogatari as being ‘as if the rocks were wrapped in white silk twenty take long and five take wide’. A take 丈 was a unit of measurement equivalent to 3.3 metres, making the waterfall 66 metres high, by 16.5 wide.

kawa yashiro shino ni

Shunzei is paraphrasing from Minamoto no Toshiyori’s critical work Toshiyori zuinō, where he states, ‘The expression shino ni “profusely” or “without rest”, when used in older poetry, can be understood as expressing the grief one seems to feel when cloth which one has wrung out to dry remains constantly damp for some reason.’

Kazan Sōjō

A reference to Henjō (816-890) one of the major poets of the Kokinshu. In the Preface to this anthology, Ki no Tsurayuki describes Henjō as one whose ‘style is good but who lack sincerity. His poetry is like a painting of a woman which stirs one’s heart in vain.’ (as translated by Laurel Rasplica Rodd (1996: 43)) 「僧正遍照は、歌の様は得たれども、誠少し。たとへば、絵に描ける女を見て、いたづらに心を動かすがごとし」[sōjō henjō wa uta no sama wa etaredomo makoto sukoshi. tatoeba e ni kakeru onna o mite itazura ni kokoro o ugokasu ga gotoshi.]

Duke Wen of Jin

Duke Wen of Jin (晉文公; Jìn Wén Gōng, 697–628 BC) was the ruler of the state of Jin from 636-628 BC. He is remembered in the histories for having spent much of his life in exile from his home following a breakdown in relations with his father. Upon his assumption of the Dukedom, the state of Jin expanded and became one of the most powerful in ancient China.