Fujiwara no Okikaze: A Waka Poet During the Heian Period

There are many forms of art out there. Some types of art are tangible such as paintings, sculptures, and even architecture. However, there are also some types of art that are intangible like poems and music. These forms of art, though not accessible by touch, are held valuable by many because of how they touch the hearts and souls of human beings. In Japan, there are many types of poetry that date back centuries. One of the types of poetry in the history of Japan is called waka poetry.

Fujiwara no Okikaze and Waka Poetry

By English: Kanō Naonobu日本語: 狩野尚信 [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

One of the most well-known waka poets in history was Fujiwara no Okikaze. He came from the middle Heian period. Aside from being a waka poet, he was a Japanese nobleman. His works were well-received and he was assigned as a member of the Thirty-six Poetry Immortals.

In addition, one of his works can be found in the Hyakunin Isshu, which is a famous anthology. Aside from the Hyakunin Isshu, works by Fujiwara no Okikaze can also be found in other imperial poetry anthologies such as the Kokin Wakashu. He also had his own personal poetry collection called the Okikazeshu.

To those who are unaware of what waka poetry means, the term “waka” translates to “Japanese poem.” It is a form of poetry in classical Japanese literature. Waka consists of words in Japanese and is often used in contrast to Classical Chinese poetry called kanshi that is also composed by Japanese poets.

The term “waka” can be interpreted in two ways. The first meaning of “waka” is “poetry in Japanese.” This meaning includes numerous genres like choka and sedoka. On the other hand, the second meaning of “waka” is poetry in a 5-7-5-7-7 meter.

Up to the point when the Man’yoshu was being compiled during the 8th century, the term “waka” was used as a general word that just meant “poetry composed in Japanese.” As a general term, the word “waka” typically included other genres of poetry. These genres included tanka, which stood for “short poem”; bussokusekika, which stood for “Buddha footprint poem”; choka, which stood for “long poem”; and sedoka, which stood for “repeating-the-first-part poem.”

On the other hand, the beginning of the 10th century saw the phasing out of several forms of poetry except for the tanka and choka. By the time that the Kokinshu was being compiled, the choka was already decreasing in popularity and usage. Hence, the term “waka” began to be referred to when one actually meant “tanka.” Eventually, the term “tanka” also phased out until its revival at the end of the 19th century.

Tenka, which was then already being referred to as waka, was comprised of five lines or ku, which literally translated to “phrases.” These five lines were composed of 5-7-5-7-7 on or syllabic units. There have been instances when tanka was also called Misohitomoji, which meant that it was comprised of a total of 31 syllables.

The popularity of waka among officials decreased during the Nara period and the early parts of the Heian period. This was due to the preference of the court for Chinese-style poetry known as kanshi. However, its popularity revived and grew in the 9th century, when Japan ceased to send official envoys to China during its Tang dynasty.

As these ties between Japan and China were severed, Japan had to look for talented poets within its territory. In combination with the isolation of the country geographically, the court of Japan had to find a way to cultivate its native talents. As a result, they found a way to synthesize the poetic styles and techniques of the Chinese with the traditions of Japan.

Waka poetry again increased in popularity during the reign of Emperor Daigo. Eventually, he put out an order to create an anthology of waka. It was a compilation of waka composed by ancient poets as well as their contemporaries. This anthology was named “Kokin Wakashu,” which translated to “Collection of Ancient and Modern Japanese Poems.”

This anthology was presented to the esteemed emperor in the year 905. Kokin Wakashu became the first of many imperial anthologies to come that led to a tradition until the Muromachi period.

A Part of the Thirty-Six Poetry Immortals and Hyakunin Isshu

By unknown 12th century [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Fujiwara no Okikaze was a designated member of the Thirty-Six Immortals of Poetry. More commonly known as Sanjurokkasen in Japanese, this group of poets hails from several periods in Japanese history. These periods include the Asuka period, the Nara period, and the Heian period.

The members were chosen by Fujiwara no Kinto as great examples of the poetic ability of the Japanese people. The oldest collection of this group that still remains today is the Nishi Honganji Sanju-rokunin Kashu, which translates to “Nishi Honganji 36 Poets Collection.” This was compiled in the year 1113.

The group was composed of mostly men, with only 5 female poets. There were also other groups similar to the Thirty-Six Immortals of Poetry such as the Nyobo Sanjurokkasen from the Kamakura period, which was comprised of only court ladies. Another similar group was the Chuko Sanjurokkasen, which translated to “Thirty-Six Heian-era Immortals of Poetry,” comprised of poets chosen by Fujiwara no Norikane. The older group superseded by the Thirty-Six Immortals of Poetry was the Six Immortals of Poetry.

The members of the Thirty-Six Immortals of Poetry were the following: Kakinomoto no Hitomaro, Ki no Tsurayuki, Ōshikōchi Mitsune, Lady Ise, Ōtomo no, Yakamochi, Yamabe no Akahito, Ariwara no Narihira,Henjō, Sosei, Ki no Tomonori, Sarumaru no Taifu, Ono no Komachi, Fujiwara no Kanesuke, Fujiwara no Asatada, Fujiwara no Atsutada, Fujiwara no Takamitsu, Minamoto no Kintada, Mibu no Tadamine, Saigū no Nyōgo / Kishi Joō, Ōnakatomi no Yorimoto, Fujiwara no Toshiyuki, Minamoto no Shigeyuki, Minamoto no Muneyuki, Minamoto no Saneakira, Fujiwara no Kiyotada, Minamoto no Shitagō, Fujiwara no Okikaze, Kiyohara no Motosuke, Sakanoue no Korenori, Fujiwara no Motozane, Ōnakatomi no Yoshinobu, Fujiwara no Nakafumi, Taira no Kanemori, Mibu no Tadami, Kodai no Kimi, and Nakatsukasa.

On the other hand, a poem by Fujiwara no Okikaze can also be found in the famous classical Japanese anthology called the Ogura Hyakunin Isshu. It was comprised of 100 Japanese waka composed by 100 poets. The anthology was compiled by Fujiwara no Teika while he was residing in the district of Ogura located in Kyoto, Japan.

According to one of the diaries written by Teika, the Meigetsuki, the anthology was compiled due to his son Fujiwara no Tameie’s request. Tameie asked Teika to compile 100 poems as a gift to Tameie’s father-in-law Utsunomiya Yoritsuna, whose residence was being furnished close to Mount Ogura. Thus, the full name of the anthology was “Ogura Hyakunin Isshu.”

[Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

The 100 poets included in the anthology were Emperor Tenji, Empress Jitō, Kakinomoto no Hitomaro, Yamabe no Akahito, Sarumaru no Taifu, Ōtomo no Yakamochi, Abe no Nakamaro, Kisen Hōshi, Ono no Komachi, Semimaru, Ono no Takamura, Henjō, Retired Emperor Yōzei, Minamoto no Tōru, Emperor Kōkō, Ariwara no Yukihira, Ariwara no Narihira, Fujiwara no Toshiyuki, Lady Ise, Prince Motoyoshi, Sosei, Fun'ya no Yasuhide, Ōe no Chisato, Sugawara no Michizane, Fujiwara no Sadakata, Fujiwara no Tadahira, Fujiwara no Kanesuke, Minamoto no Muneyuki, Ōshikōchi no Mitsune, Mibu no Tadamine, Sakanoue no Korenori, Harumichi no Tsuraki, Ki no Tomonori, Fujiwara no Okikaze, Ki no Tsurayuki, Kiyohara no Fukayabu, Fun'ya no Asayasu, Ukon, Minamoto no Hitoshi, Taira no Kanemori, Mibu no Tadami, Kiyohara no Motosuke, Fujiwara no Atsutada, Fujiwara no Asatada, Fujiwara no Koretada, Sone no Yoshitada, Egyō, Minamoto no Shigeyuki, Ōnakatomi no Yoshinobu, Fujiwara no Yoshitaka, Fujiwara no Sanekata, Fujiwara no Michinobu, Michitsuna no Haha, Takashina no Takako (Takashina no Kishi or Kō no Naishi), Fujiwara no Kintō, Izumi Shikibu, Murasaki Shikibu, Daini no Sanmi, Akazome Emon, Koshikibu no Naishi, Ise no Taifu, Sei Shōnagon, Fujiwara no Michimasa, Fujiwara no Sadayori, Sagami, Gyōson, Suō no Naishi, Retired Emperor Sanjō, Nōin Hōshi, Ryōzen, Minamoto no Tsunenobu, Yūshi Naishinnō-ke no Kii, Ōe no Masafusa, Minamoto no Toshiyori, Fujiwara no Mototoshi, Fujiwara no Tadamichi, Retired Emperor Sutoku, Minamoto no Kanemasa, Fujiwara no Akisuke, Taiken Mon In no Horikawa, Tokudaiji Sanesada, Dōin, Fujiwara no Shunzei, Fujiwara no Kiyosuke, Shun'e, Saigyō, Jakuren, Kōkamonin no Bettō, Princess Shikishi, Inpumon'in no Tayū, Kujō Yoshitsune, Nijōin no Sanuki, Minamoto no Sanetomo, Asukai no Masatsune, Jien, Saionji Kintsune, Fujiwara no Teika, Fujiwara no Ietaka, Retired Emperor Go-Toba, and Retired Emperor Juntoku.

Fujiwara no Okikaze’s Poems in Kokinshu

[CC0], via Wikimedia Commons

Several of Fujiwara no Okikaze’s poems were included in the Kokin Wakashu. This anthology is known only as Kokinshu for short. An Imperial anthology, the Kokinshu was just an idea by Emperor Uda, which his son Emperor Daigo turned into a reality. Four court poets were tasked to compile the poems in this anthology. There were Ki no Tsurayuki, Ki no Tomonori, Oshikochi no Mitsune, and Mibu no Tadamine.

In Kokinshu Book II Poem 131, Fujiwara no Okikaze composed a poem for a poetry competition during the Kanyo period. This contest was held by Her Majesty, the Empress. The poem went, “kowe taezu; nake ya uguFisu; Fitotose ni; Futatabi to dani; kubeki Faru ka Fa.” It translates to, “Voice weakening; Sing on, bush warbler; In a single year; Oh, that twice over; Spring would come upon us!”

In Kokinshu Book IV Poem 178, Fujiwara no Okikaze composed a poem also for the same contest. The poem went, “tigiriken; kokoro zo turaki; tanabata no; tosi ni Fito tabi; aFu Fa aFu ka Fa.” It translates to, “The vow; Of a pitiless heart; The Weaver Maid; But once a year; Will meet; can it be true?”

In Kokinshu Book VI Poem 326, Fujiwara no Okikaze composed a poem again for the same contest. The poem went, “ura tikaku; Furikuru yuki Fa; sira nami no; suwe no matuyama; kosu ka to zo miru.” It translates to, “Close by the shore; The snow floats in; “Would the white waves; Over Sue-no-Matsuyama; Break?” come to mind.”

In Kokinshu Book VII Poem 351, Fujiwara no Okikaze composed a poem inspired by the people viewing the blooming of cherry blossoms as depicted on a folding screen. He found this picture at the 50th birthday celebration of the Empress, as held by her son Prince Sadayasu. The poem went, “itadurani; sugusu tukiFi Fa; omoFoede; Fanamitekurasu; Faru zo sukunaki.” It translates to, “In idleness; Days and months I’ve spent; I feel nothing for them; A life spent blossom-viewing; In springtime is too short, indeed.”

In Kokinshu Book XIX Poem 1013, Fujiwara no Okikaze composed a poem of a topic unknown. The poem went, “ikubaku no; ta wo tukureba ka; Fototogisu; side no tawosa wo; asa na asa na yobu.” It translates to, “How many; Fields does he plough; Yon cuckoo?; ‘Hey! It’s the field boss!’; He calls, morning after morning!” He had several other poems compiled in the Kokinshu.

Other Poems by Fujiwara no Okikaze

One of his other famous poems went, “Tare wo ka mo; Shiru hito nisemu; Takasago no; Matsu mo mukashi no; Tomo nara-naku ni.” It translates to, “Gone are my old familiar friends; The men I used to know; Yet still on Takasago beach; The same old pine trees-grow; That I knew long ago.”

This was among the well-known poems composed by Fujiwara no Okikaze that still inspires people to this day. The son of Michinari, Okikaze served as an official in Sagami Province in 911. Nobody knows exactly when Okikaze passed away, but some people attested to Okikaze still being alive in the year 914.

Referring to this poem composed by Okikaze, Takasago is actually a seaside place that can be found in the province of Harima. This province was quite well-known for its pine trees.

Several aspects of this province may also have inspired Okikaze in his works. The Pine tree is also considered as one of the famous emblems of the country that signifies long life. It is due to the belief that the sap of a pine tree turns into amber after a thousand years. Truly, Fujiwara no Okikaze lived his life inspired by the beauty of his surroundings, as depicted in many of his poems.