Hyakunin Isshu No. 14: Dyed and tangled/Trapped in secret love

By: Kawara no Sadaijin (822-895)               河原左大臣

Surrounded by this                                          みちのくの
Intricate print,                                                    しのぶもぢずり
Becoming                                                            誰故に
Dyed and tangled,                                           乱れそめにし
Trapped in secret love                                   我ならなくに


Kawara no Sadaijin was a title for Minamoto no Toru (源 融), a statesman and poet who was the grandson of Emperor Saga and a part of the Saga Genji clan.  Claimed by some to be the model for the protagonist of The Tale of Genji, the only other really notable claim for Minamoto is this tanka that he wrote, which is also included in the Kokin shu as No. 724.

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Shinobu Mojizuri ferns | 宮代NOW

In my notes, it states that the poet saw an intricately print of ferns on cloth, which reminded him of the tangled and chaotic state of his own feelings towards the woman he loved.  Furthermore, Michinoku (the first line of the tanka) was renowned in Ancient Japan for printed cloth, and Shinobu (the start of the second line of the tanka) was an area within Michinoku, which emphasises how intricate and fine the poet’s emotions would have been.

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Fukushima Prefecture | Must Love Japan

A quick Google search revealed that Michinoku is in fact, the ancient name for Fukushima-shi, in Fukushima prefecture in the Tohoku region of Japan.  Although it gained fame (or infamy?) internationally as the site of the 2011 Tohoku earthquake, during the Nara and Heian years, Michinoku was actually a frontier area, and famous for its shinobu mojizuri fabric (the second line of the tanka).

The translator also notes that the pronunciation for fern is the same as for remembrance or concealment, which therefore gives the poem the meaning of either concealment through the fabric or the ferns, or remembrance through seeing the cloth or ferns.

Another translation gives this meaning clearer:

Whose fault is it
that my feelings have begun to tangle
like the tangle-patterned prints
of Shinobu from the distant north?
Since it is not mine, it must be…
(Mostow 1996)

This alternative translation also shows how Minamoto addresses this poem, as though to entangle his love with him within the fabric.  Accompanying notes to this translation additionally shows that this poem has been interpreted as a defense by Minamoto of his faithfulness to his lover, which, due to the interesting choice in imagery to symbolise how upset he is at being doubted, could also be argued as a way of showing a secret love to another.

I mean, ‘whose fault is it’ could be both Minamoto reinforcing that it was not his fault that he fell in love with and is in love with his lover and that his feelings for her are as tangled as the prints of Shinobu, or that his heart has, against his will, begun to stir for another, tangling the feelings that he held for his current lover with his emotions for his new interest.  I personally like the argument that he is trying to sort through his emotions for another, because it gives the poem more layers, which suits the imagery that he chose with the fabrics and ‘tangle-patterned prints’.

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Shinobu Mojizuri fabric | わかればいいのに I Wish I Knew

It is also amazing that so much meaning can be conveyed within thirty one syllables, and it makes me respect Japanese poetry so much more, because as much as I love poetry, sometimes the way Western poets write seems so excessive and clunky, but here?  It is so clean, and so sparse, but still containing so much meaning.

And the more I read these poems, the more I realise how lacking my copy of the Hyakunin Isshu is.  It is enough to get me started, but it doesn’t provide enough information for my liking, and its translation seems clumsy or lazy compared to alternative translations that I can find on the internet.  But maybe I just expect too much from my books.

 

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Hyakunin Isshu No. 13: Male and Female Peaks

By: Retired Emperor Youzei (869-949)     陽成院

From Tsukuba’s                                               筑波嶺の
Male and female peaks                                 峰より落つる
The Minano River falls                                   みなの川
And gathers a pool                                         恋ぞつもりて
Of passion deep                                              淵となりぬる


Emperor Youzei was the 57th emperor of Japan, reigning from 876-884.  He ascended to the throne early in his life when his father Emperor Seiwa (清和天皇) ceded the throne to his son at eight years of age.  As he grew older, Youzei began to display violent tendencies, often executing prisoners himself, and when angered would chase after the offenders, sometimes with his sword drawn.  Eventually, his chief assistant Fujiwara no Mototsune realised that Youzei was not fit for rule, and organised a way to take Youzei from his palace and confronted Youzei about his behaviour and announced his dethronement.  He was succeeded by his father’s uncle, Emperor Koukou (光孝天皇), and had nine imperial sons after his abdication with seven consorts.

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The twin peaks of Mt. Tsukuba | siawasedog

Mt. Tsukuba is located in Ibaraki Prefecture, and there is a private train line called the Tsukuba Express that goes from Akihabara in Tokyo to Tsukuba town.  The notes in my book remark that, as the source of the Minano River is Mt. Tsukuba’s twin peaks, which reminded people of a man and a woman, this led to the naming of the Minano river, written as 男女 in kanji and meaning man-woman.

Although the poem is describing the scenery at Mt. Tsukuba and Minano River, I feel like the purpose of this tanka is similar to No. 6, which described secret rendezvous between lovers in the night, and No. 10, which talked about meetings at the gate of Osaka.  Despite already leaving the palace, as a courtier, his interactions would still have been restricted, and the wording that Youzei uses leads me to think that he had addressed this to one of his consorts about the passion that he felt for her.

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The sign marking the start of the Minano river | bunkatorekisi

Even though this was probably not intended by Youzei at all when he penned the tanka, I feel like the emotions that he describes in this poem reveals just how passionate the Japanese people can be.  Despite seeming calm, collected, polite, and reserved to strangers and even to their own partners and family members a lot of the time, underneath the smooth façade, the Japanese are just as emotionally charged, if not more so, than their outspoken Western counterparts.

This is definitely something that I have realised during my year in Japan as I got to know many more Japanese people, becoming close friends with some of them.  And I cannot wait to see more glimpses into these emotions in future tanka, because if they are considered suppressed now, the ancient Japanese would have been hiding their emotions even more strongly, only expressing their true feelings through their imagery and wordplay.

Homecoming

I left Fukuoka today three weeks ago, and it has taken me this entire time to feel that Sydney could be home again.

When I left for Japan almost exactly a year ago, I did not expect for Japan to twist itself so deeply within my psyche.  Not just the people I managed to meet and befriend in Japan, but the lifestyle, the weird mix of convenience and tradition, the food, everything became an integral part of who I am.  Maybe it was because it was the first time I had ever lived by myself without the support of family, but for the first time in my life, I was one hundred percent independent.  And maybe this independence is what made living in Fukuoka so much more than living in Sydney.

I still think exchange was a two part experience for me, but I think that only added to my life overseas, and gave me an opportunity to try and feel and think about more things than if it had been one cohesive unit.

At the same time, with all the travelling that I managed to do during my time in Japan came a realisation that I did not just love Japan for just its pop culture or its fashion or whatever I had picked up over the years watching anime.  I loved Japan for its people and its culture, for its traditions, its legends, its beliefs, and its contradictions.  The kindness that its people showed to strangers, and its rejection of foreigners for fear of damaging their culture.  Their respect for their own ancestry and their customs that help them pay their respects to their heritage.  Their pursuit for innovation and technology while their society still relies on paperwork and cash as a foundation.  The way that everything was built for maximum efficiency, but the people working it could be the slowest workers in the world.

And with all my observations of Japanese culture came also observations and realisations of my own culture and ancestry.  Observations about the current state of mind in China, within the Chinese people.  Strengthened beliefs about why Hong Kong will never really see itself as part of China.  Realisations that Australian national pride comes in the form of telling everyone about how terrible Australia is and being proud of how terrifying Australia seems to everyone else in the world.

But in the end, any sort of self discovery about my own heritage was eclipsed by the love I found for the Japanese way of life, and way of thinking, and way of doing.  I felt nothing walking through Fukuoka airport, until the plane started to move, and the workers bowed and waved the plane off, and I realised that this was the end of my year in Japan.

I would like to say that I didn’t cry, but at least I didn’t breakdown.

And for now, I’ll just keep dreaming in Japanese, until I’ve worked enough and saved enough money for me to go home.

Hyakunin Isshu No. 12: I see a maiden’s form

By: Monk Henjou (816-890)                                           僧正遍照

Heavenly wind,                                                                  天つ風
The cloud’s commute,                                                    雲のかよひ路
Stop your blowing, please –                                          吹きとぢよ
I see a maiden’s form                                                       乙女のすがた
And want to stay awhile                                                   しばしとどめむ

 


Henjou was born Yoshimine no Munesada, the eighth son of Dainagon Yoshimine no Yasuyo, a son of the Emperor Kammu who was relegated to civilian life.  Henjou actually started as a courtier, and even became the Japanese equivalent of a chamberlain to Emperor Nimmyo.  However, after Emperor Nimmyo died, Henjou became a monk and priest of the Tendai school of Buddhism out of grief.  After he became a monk, he founded Gangyō-ji in southern Kyoto, stayed active in politics, and was later also given Unrin-in in northern Kyoto to manage.  He is rumoured to have had an affair with Ono no Komachi (poet of #9), and had a son who composed #21 of the HI.

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Monk Henjou | One Thousand Summers

As a poet, he is listed as one of the six best waka poets in the Kokin Wakashu, and known as one of the thirty-six poetry immortals.  I feel like all the poets that have been featured so far in the Hyakunin Isshu have been one of these poetry immortals, but I have also noticed that if they have been included in the HI, then they will probably either also be featured in the Wakashu, or be regarded as a poetry immortal, or both.

For this particular tanka, my translation states that apparently Henjou wrote this after seeing young ladies dance at a festival, which he therefore referenced as Buddhist mythological maidens living in the sky.  An alternate translation changes the sentences’ structures around, so that it reads:

Let the winds of heaven
Blow through the paths among the clouds
And close their gates.
Then for a while I could detain
These messengers in maiden form.

Originally, I thought that Monk Henjou was asking the winds to help stop the clouds so that he could stay outdoors and observe the maiden that he had seen.  However, this other translation shows that he wanted the winds to close up the sky with clouds so that these maiden messengers would stay with him for longer.  This also makes the Buddhist mythological maiden remark from my translation make more sense, and to me, this tanka echoes a meaning that previous tanka had also displayed: the expression of the emotions of the present moment and the significance of the now (for example, #1, #3, #4, #5, #7, #8).  Henjou is capturing a moment that he finds beautiful, and he knows this moment will not last, but he wishes for this moment to last longer.

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Henjou may have possibly been watching the Gosechi dances when he got inspired for this tanka | epidote | photobucket

This knowledge of the fleeting moment reflects the beauty of what Japanese call wabi-sabi, or the beauty of the imperfect, of the transient.  It is reflected in how sakura blossoms and the autumn colours are so loved due to their impermanence, in how nature is shaped within Japanese gardens to reflect the passing of time, and in how most Japanese traditional arts such as Noh and the tea ceremony calls for inhabiting a moment through ritual and stillness.  Although Monk Henjou probably wanted to just capture a moment, the way in which he has done so shows more depth into his culture than he probably intended.  Or maybe I’m reading too much into thirty-seven syllables.

How to: Train around Japan

Catching a train may be one of the easiest ways of getting around between cities and prefectures due to the amount of trains that run throughout the day, and due to the beautiful scenery that you can see during your ride.  However…  For a country that is known for being organised, the train system in Japan is terrible.  I mean, trains do run by the timetable, and everything is clear cut, but that is only within each section of train system.  When you begin to overlap systems… that’s when it gets confusing.

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Tokyo, this is not okay | JR Metro | randomwire

I mean, there is the national railway network, JR, which controls most of the train lines around the country.  Then there are the local city subway systems, and then private train systems like the Keioh and Odakyu in Tokyo, Nishitetsu trains (and buses!) in Kyushu, and countless others that I don’t know the names of all around Japan depending on the region that you find yourself in.

They all run independently of each other, they have stations located close to each other but that may not necessarily be connected to each other, and if it’s your first time catching a train in Japan, you might find yourself on the wrong platform of the wrong train line and the train you wanted to catch leaving from an entirely different station.

So how do you actually go about training it around Japan?

Looking up routes

If you want to look up your train route by inputting your departure and arrival points, Google and Yahoo will both come up with route options for both shinkansen and non-shinkansen travel.  I usually use Google, and it always gives you services with options for time of travel, the cost of the trip, etc.  Yahoo is actually more reliable, but only if you use Japanese.

You can also get the HyperDia app or the MapsWithMe app, which will both show you accurate train travel route options from any city in Japan.  However, HyperDia needs an active internet connection to use, so if you’re not planning on getting a wifi egg or a short term SIM card, then MapsWithMe may be the better option.

All these search options also work if you need help navigating a city’s subway system, so try them all out and see which one works best for you!

IC Cards

All trains in Japan can be paid for using IC cards, which are used in the same way as the Octopus system in Hong Kong or the Oyster in London.  It costs ¥500 for the card, and depending on the area and the train company of your IC purchase, the design of the card will be different.  However, although using IC cards are useful and can be used to pay for most train trips, the money that you charge on there will run out very quickly if you start straying out of the bigger cities, and especially if you decide to put in a sneaky shinkansen trip across the country (a normal one-way trip from Tokyo to Osaka by shinkansen costs ¥14250).

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Why does one country even need this many cards…? | Suica| JR East

JR Passes and the Seishun 18

As mentioned before, JR runs most of the inter-prefectural train lines in Japan.  On these lines you have, from fastest to slowest, the shinkansen, limited-express, rapid services, and local services.  If you want to explore Japan cross-country and you happen to be a temporary visitor (or normal tourist), you can purchase a JR pass that will save you  A LOT OF MONEY because it gives you unlimited access to all JR trains and services (including the shinkansen).    This pass can only be bought overseas, so if you’re planning on using it, be sure to purchase this before you get to Japan.

If you forget to buy one, or if you’re only planning on exploring smaller areas of Japan, then you can buy JR-area specific passes after you arrive, which usually last less than a week and cost a lot less than the actual JR pass.

However… I am an international student right now, and therefore am not a temporary visitor… so how do I travel around Japan without breaking the bank on all these expensive train rides?

During specific holiday periods (summer, winter, and March-April), JR sells a ticket called the Seishun 18 which allows you unlimited travel on JR trains for any five days within its activation period.  I used this over the Christmas/New Year holiday, and I managed to get myself to five prefectures using just this ticket  (I will post about this trip soon!).  The Seishun 18 costs ¥11850, which equates to less than¥2200 of train travel a day.  However, you are not allowed to ride on shinkansen or limited-express trains, so definitely give yourself plenty of travelling time when you plan your train trips.

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One stamp for every day of travel you activate~!

And if you find yourself in Kyushu, you can get the JR Kyushu International Student Pass to explore and travel around (I did this and it was worth every yen).

Note: The Okinawa monorail doesn’t operate on any of these systems, so just buy the tickets individually… or invest in the Okinawan card

Despite all the confusion, I actually do think training it around Japan is more worth than flying in and out of the cities, or just staying in Tokyo or Osaka or Kyoto for a week.  There’s so much to see and do in Japan, and Japan is one of those countries where the process of getting to a place is half the adventure.

Just be sure to thoroughly research your routes before you board a train to anywhere.

How to: Japanese Monies

Before I came to Japan, I realised that most people didn’t actually know how to deal with a lot of aspects of Japan, or didn’t really know the best ways of handling things that are somewhat essential when you travel.

Like… how to get money once you get to Japan.

And once I got here, I found out why.  The banking and ATM systems here are terrible.  TERRIBLE.

For example, ATMs are usually timed, and anything outside of operational hours incurs a charge, provided that the ATM is still usable at the time you need money.  And since the most desperate times you need to take money out is usually in the wee hours of the morning, this is a massive problem.  How are you supposed to get home when you don’t even have money to pay the taxi driver?

But… how do you actually go about getting enough money to make it rain in Japan?

First, Japan is still very much cash-based.  Chains and department stores will have EFTPOS machines, but if you take out your card to use in a cafe to buy a coffee, heads will turn.  The easiest way is to exchange enough cash to last the duration of your trip before leaving for Japan.  A good base amount is ¥10000 a day (roughly AUD$112.37 or USD$81.29), which should be more than enough to cover for three meals, souvenirs, and transport costs.

If you are travelling for more than a week, or if you run out money halfway because you’re actually making it rain, you obviously should not be travelling around with almost AUD$1000 of cash on your person.  So how do you get more money out?

As I mentioned, ATMs have set hours of operation in Japan.  For foreign banks, 7/11 ATMs or the post office ATMs (ゆうちょ) accept foreign cards, and will only charge you the rate that your own bank charges you for foreign withdrawals during their hours of operation.  7/11 ATMs are open 24hrs, so they will not charge you on top of the original fee (thank goodness).  However, depending on where you’re travelling, they could be on every street corner or totally absent, so make sure you know how the ATM situation is before you land.  Post office ATMs usually have opening hours (9:00AM – 5:00PM), and outside of these hours, you will be charged an additional fee.  Keep in mind that there are also closing times for these ATMs, so you might not even be able to access the machine.

When I travel around, I usually withdraw a whole lot of money and slowly burn through that until I’m down to my last ¥20000, and then I start searching for ATMs.  Sometimes… you don’t find the ATM, and that is when you start to panic.

For banks, Citibank is the bank that I will always recommend anyone who is planning on travelling a lot, or is moving overseas for an extended period of time.  They are affiliated with several corporations, so depending on the country, you can find appropriate ATMs to withdraw money without fees.   Their multi-national nature also makes it easy to transfer money in and out of your home account and your Citibank account, and there’s a special account that has no rates or anything, and Citibank has the best exchange rate out of all the banks that I looked into.

In Japan, Citibank is affiliated with 7/11.  As long as you see 7/11, you are safe.

I think the most important thing is to be smart, and to remember that it is not easy to use your credit card in Japan.  As long as you keep an eye on your cash amount, and remember that you need cash, you should be okay.

Note: this was not sponsored by Citibank.  Although I wish it was.

Hyakunin Isshu No. 11: Tell the people

By: Ono no Takamura (802-852)                           参議篁

Rowing out                                                                    わたの原
Past Eighty Islands                                                     八十島かけて
And the plain of sea –                                                こぎ出でぬと
Tell the people                                                            人にわ告げよ
Of this heaven-tempting boat!                              あまのつり船


Ono no Takamura was known as a noted poet and a state counselor in the early Heian period.  After a quarrel with the envoy he was supposed to join to go to China, he feigned illness to avoid the mission, and thus received two years’ worth of banishment to an island in then-Oki province (now Oki district in Shimane prefecture).  His departure for his banishment inspired him to write this tanka as he set to depart to his temporary home.

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Katsushika Hokusai’s impression of the banishment of Ono no Takamura  | The Metropolitan Museum of Art

For this tanka, the Eighty Islands is representative of the islands of Japan.  And since the emperor is believed to have descended from the gods in Japanese mythology, the ‘heaven’ in the last line of the translation, I believe, is a symbol for the emperor, who Takamura had ‘tempted’ by defying his orders regarding the mission to China.  Furthermore, I think the ‘people’ in the second last line literally means more the ‘people of the sea’, or fishermen, since he would have seen many as his boat sailed away from the Japanese mainland.  However, the ‘people’ could also denote the Japanese population in general, which would make the last two lines mean for the ‘people of the water’ to tell the ‘people’ of his transgressions and his punishment of exile.

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A typical Heian Japanese boat | Japan Times

This directive to spread the word of Takamura’s exile as he sails onto the ‘plains of the sea’ could be a call for the people not to forget his name, since he would have had no idea of how long his banishment was to last.  It could also be to serve a warning to others of the result of disobeying the emperor, or it could be a call of regret for his actions.  Personally, the tone of this tanka seemed more hopeful and assertive when I first read it, and so I think that it is a call for people to not forget him because he’ll be back.

Compared to the previous few poems, there are not very many deeper meanings to ‘Tell the People’, but that is good too.  I mean, it’s not like people only went around lamenting their fates and their feelings in thirty-one syllables (although it seems like it, with the amount of deep and meaningful tanka present in this representative anthology of a hundred such poems…).

Also, tangent.  But I really don’t like the new format for writing posts.  When I have to add pictures or add links, I have to keep scrolling back up to the top, and ain’t nobody got time for that.