By: Semimaru 蝉丸
This is the place – これやこの
Of comings and goings 行くも帰るも
And partings of ways; 別れては
Of knowing and not knowing too: 知るも知らぬも
Osaka’s rendezvous gate 逢坂の関
Semimaru is only known as a Japanese poet and musician from the early Heian period, with almost nothing concrete known of his life. At some point, he became a hermit in a cave at Osaka’s gate, which inspired him to write the tanka above and consequently caused him to be known as the Seki no Akagami (lit. light god of the gate). This particular tanka also appears in the Gosen Wakashu, and some of his other works appear in Shin Kokin Wakashu and Zoku Kokin Wakashu.
Also, a note before we get into the interpretation of the tanka: the Osaka (逢坂) that is stated here is not the quite the Osaka (大阪) that is in present day Japan. This Osaka is always mentioned in conjunction with the ‘gate’, and can be read as both ‘oosaka’ or ‘ausaka’ (alt. kanji: 相坂関, 合坂関, 会坂関). I presume that this is the name of a gate that existed in Heian Japan, on the borders of present day Kyoto and Shiga prefecture.
In comparison to the HI #9, the meaning for this tanka is very straightforward. It seems to be a direct observation of the activities around the gate throughout the day, and probably a sight that Semimaru saw every day. From looking up ‘Ausaka no Seki’ though,
I found that ‘to cross the Osaka Gate’ is also a way of expressing a secret meeting between lovers. If you take this meaning into account, then something that seemed to be an observation of daily life becomes an observation of the nature of romantic relationships.
People meet and people part, emotions surge and emotions ebb, some relationships continue, and some stall and go no where at all. In addition, the emotional layer that this second interpretation gives fits more into the themes that have been running through the last ten tanka that I’ve looked at. They all deal with something to do with deeper, more abstract topics than just simple observations, and so personally, I agree with this second interpretation more than the widely given, straightforward one.
Also, something that I noticed when I was thinking about this tanka was how much more I understood from reading the original Japanese text. It’s been months since I’ve read the last one, and I guess my Japanese has improved enough for me to read more into the actual text without needing the translations. Having said that, this particular tanka is very simple, so maybe that’s why I’m getting it so easy… Let’s see how it goes as I start reading these again.