Mibu no Tadamine: Becoming A Famous Poet by Winning in An Uta-awase

Words are among those many things that cannot exactly be touched by people. However, even though it is intangible, communication would be nothing without words. When words are used a certain way, they can also be transformed into a form of art known as poetry. All over the world, poetry is different because of the different language spoken in various countries. In Japan, poetry has been present for as long as one can remember. One of the famous forms of poetry in the history of Japan is waka.

Mibu no Tadamine: A Waka Poet from the Early Heian Period

By English: Kanō Yasunobu日本語: 狩野安信 [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

A great example of a waka poet was Mibu no Tadamine. Hailing from the early parts of the Heian period, Tadamine was a poet of the court. He was active from the year 898 to the year 920. Because of his proficiency in the art of poetry, he was also a designated member of the Thirty-Six Poetry Immortals, which was commonly known as the Sanjurokkasen in Japanese. He had a son named Mibu no Tadami who also grew up to become a well-known poet.

Tadami, Tadamine’s son, was also a Japanese nobleman. Like his father, he also became a designated member of the Thirty-Six Immortals of Poetry. Some of his poems were considered and included in numerous Imperial poetry anthologies. He also had his own personal collection of poems called the Tadamishu.

Mibu no Tadamine began to make a name for himself after winning in an early uta-awase, which was a match between poets. The poetry match that he won in was the Koresada no miko no ie no uta-awase. This translates to “The Poetry Match at Prince Koresada’s Residence.” He was also involved in the compilation of the famous imperial poetry compilation Kokin Wakashu.

Similar to many waka poets at the time, Mibu no Tadamine also had his own personal collection of poems known as the Tadamineshu. Aside from winning the poetry match that made him a household name, he also became famous for the Tadamine Juttei. This title translates to “Ten Styles of Tadamine.” It is composed of his criticisms of the Heian period.

As a designated member of the Thirty-Six Immortals of Poetry, Mibu no Tadamine recognized as one of the best waka poets in history. The Sanjurokkasen is a group of poets in Japan that came from different periods of time. These periods were the Heian period, the Nara period, and the Asuka period. The members of this group were selected by Fujiwara no Kinto.

There were actually only five female poets in this group. There were also other groups established that were similar to the Thirty-Six Immortals of Poetry. These include the Nyobo Sanjukkasen and the Chuko Sanjurokkasen, whose members were specifically chosen by Fujiwara no Norikane.

Uta-awase: How Mibu no Tadamine Became Famous

By Daderot [CC0], from Wikimedia Commons

Back in the day, there were poetry competitions or waka contests that were held by authorities to find the best waka poets in the country. These poetry matches were known as the uta-awase. It was generally a distinct feature in the Japanese literary industry during the Heian period.

Japanese poetics was highly developed during this period. Factors included the origin of group composition like renga as well as the catalyst that helped in the approach of waka not just as single units but as a unified sequence. The result of these matches had lasting importance, as can be seen by its contribution to the imperial anthologies.

The Kokinshu consisted of more than 90 poems that were obtained from the uta-awase. Moreover, more than 370 poems found in the Shin Kokinshu were also sourced from the uta-awase. This went to show how important the uta-awase was to the Japanese poetic industry. Through the uta-awase, Mibu no Tadamine was discovered.

Before uta-awase, there was first mono-awase. It was a match between pairs by two sides. Mono-awase use to be a pastime of the court during the Heian period. There were several items used in the matches such as painting, iris roots, shells, flowers, and poems.

While it was initially just a pastime, uta-awase, which was a matching of poems, became a serious one at the conclusion of the 9th century. This was made possible by the Empress during the Kanpyo period who held a poetry contest. From this competition, 92 poems were sourced and made it to the Kokinshu, the first imperial poetic anthology.

There were other succeeding poetry contests held in the history of Japan. One of these competitions was the Teijin Poetry Contest. Two of its lines were dedicated to the gagaku and the saibara, which were musical instruments. Four lines were used to describe the costumes worn by the previous emperor as well as the attendants. The poems were about anything and everything that the poet was inspired by.

The winner and the loser of the match were usually determined by a judge. The judge would traditionally be a famous poet as well. During the Teijin Poetry Contest, the judge for the matches was the previous emperor. An instance came when one of his own offerings was pitted against one composed by renowned poet Ki no Tsurayuki. Acknowledging that Tsurayuki’s poem was just as good, the result was a tie.

One of the many poets that served as a judge to uta-awase was Fujiwara Shunzei. He served as a judge for more than twenty times. Judging a poetry match in Six Hundred Rounds in the year 1192, Shunzei named a poet the victor for his line “field of grass.” This phrase was in reference to a previous work.

His Contributions in Kokin Wakashu

See page for author [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

More commonly known as the Kokinshu, the Kokin Wakashu stands for the Collection of Japanese Poetry Ancient and Modern.” It was the first of the many Imperial poetic anthologies compiled for the court. The idea was first thought of by Emperor Uda. As he did not live to see this through, his son Emperor Daigo commissioned it and made it a reality.

The compilation of the Kokinshu was headed by the famous poet Ki no Tsurayuki. He was accompanied by Ki no Tomonori, Oshikochi no Mitsune, and Mibu no Tadamine in search of the best waka poems to include in the anthology. More than 1,000 poems were chosen to be included in the Kokinshu. Finally, the first anthology was completed sometime between the year 915 and the year 920.

Most of the poems included in the collection were of tanka. However, there are a few poems in the anthology that were composed in other formats. The compilation also followed the arrangement of the Man’yoshu; the anthology was separated into 20 books. However, each book was set on a certain poetic topic.

Book I was entitled “Spring I” or “Haru no uta” while Book II was entitled “Spring II.” Book III was called “Summer” or “Natsu no uta.” Book IV was entitled “Autumn I” or “Aki no uta” while Book V was entitled “Autumn II.” Book VI was called “Winter” or “Fuyu no uta.” Books VII, VIII, IX, and X were called “Felicitations” or “Ga no uta,” “Partings” or “Wakare no uta,” “Travel” or “Tabi no uta,” and “Acrostics” or “Mono no na no uta,” respectively.

Books XI through XV were comprised of love poems. Hence, they were entitled “Love I” through “Love V.” Book XVI was called “Laments” or “Aisho no uta.” Book XVII was entitled “Miscellaneous I” or “Kusagusa no uta” while Book XVIII was called “Miscellaneous II.” Book XIX was called “Miscellaneous Forms” or “Zattei no uta.” Lastly, Book XX was known as the “Poems from the Bureau of Poetry” or “Ōutadokoro no on’uta.”

Aside from the poems that he contributed in the Kokinshi, Mibu no Tadamine was also able to contribute other things to the anthology. For one, he made the introduction of the term “yugen” to the Japanese critical canon. It was taken from the Chinese Buddhist writing made to describe “depth of meaning.” The term was used to give praise to certain poems that he believed were composed of great quality.

For Tadamine, the term “yugen” encompassed that feeling that cannot easily or specifically be expressed. This word that he introduced would later on also be adopted by Zennists to describe ink paintings that had its “ghostly qualities.”

Some Poems by Mibu no Tadamine Found in Kokinshu

By Hannah [Public domain], from Wikimedia Commons

In Kokinshu Book III Poem 157, Mibu no Tadamine composed a poem for a poetry competition during the Kanpyo period. This contest was held by her Majesty, the Empress. The poem went, “kururu ka to; mireba akenuru; natu no yo wo; akazu to ya naku; yama Fototogisu.” It translates to, “Did you think ’twas sunset?; When a glance would show the breaking dawn; Of this summer night; Unsated by your song, do you sing on; Cuckoo in the mountains?”

In Kokinshu Book III Poem 163, Mibu no Tadamine composed a poem inspired by the cuckoo calling from where he used to reside. The poem went, “mukasiFe ya; ima mo koFisiki; Fototogisu; Furusato ni si mo; nakite kituramu.” It translates to, “What was once; Is it still so dear?; For the cuckoo; To the home of yesteryear; Has come to sing.”

In Kokinshu Book IV Poem 183, Mibu no Tadamine composed a poem of topic unknown. The poem went, “keFu yori Fa; ima komu tosi no; kinoFu wo zo; itusika to nomi; matiwatarubeki.” It translates to, “From today; For next year’s; Yesterday; All eagerness; I have to wait around.”

In Kokinshu Book IV Poem 214, Mibu no Tadamine composed a poem for a poetry contest held in the residence of Prince Koresada. The poem went, “yamazato Fa; aki koso kotoni; wabisikere; sika no naku ne ni; me wo samesitutu.” It translates to, “In a mountain village; The autumn, especially; Is lonely.; The braying of the deer; Continually awakens me.”

In Kokinshu Book IV Poem 235, Mibu no Tadamine composed a poem for the Maidenflower Poetry Contest held at the Suzaku Palace. The poem went, “Fito no miru; koto ya kurusiki; wominaFesi; akigiri ni nomi; tatikakururan.” It translates to, “For man to gaze on you; Is it so painful; Maidenflower; That in the autumn mists; You must hide away?”

In Kokinshu Book V Poem 258, Mibu no Tadamine composed a poem again for the poetry contest held in the house of Prince Koresada. The poem went, “aki no yo no; tuyu woba tuyu to; wokinagara; kari no namida ya; nobe wo somuran.” It translates to, “On Autumn nights; The dew as dewdrops; Falls, but; Perhaps goose tears; Stain the fields?”

In Kokinshu Book V Poem 306, Mibu no Tadamine composed a poem for the same contest. The poem went, “yamada moru; aki no kari iFo ni; oku tuyu Fa; inaFosedori no; namida narikeri.” It translates to, “Warding the mountain fields; In Autumn, on a rough-made hut; The dewdrops; Are passing birds’; Tears, no doubt!”

In Kokinshu Book VI Poem 327, Mibu no Tadamine composed a poem for a poetry contest during the Kanpyo era. The competition at the time was held by her Majesty, the Empress. The poem went, “miyosino no; yama no sira yuki; Fumiwakete; irinisi Fito no; otodure mo senu.” It translates to, “Through fair Yoshino; Mountain’s white snow fall; Forging; He entered in; And not a line returned.”

In Kokinshu Book VI Poem 328, Mibu no Tadamine composed a poem again for the poetry competition held by the Empress. The poem went, “sirayuki no; Furite tumoreru; yamazato Fa; sumu Fito saFe ya; omoFikiyuramu.” It translates to, “The white snow; Has fallen, drifted high around; The mountain home; Might even he who lives there; Be buried in melancholy?”

In Kokinshu Book X Poem 425, Mibu no Tadamine composed a poem with the topic unknown. The poem went, “tamoto yori; Fanarete tama wo; tutumame ya; kore namu sore to; utuse mimu kasi.” It translates to, “Apart from our sleeves; With what, these jewels; Can we wrap?; Saying, ‘These are they’; Shift them to me, for I would see them too!” Many more of Mibu no Tadamine’s poems can be found in the Kokinshu.