Tanka and haiku poems are often the first two things that come up when it comes to Japanese poetry. However, when doing some research about ancient poets who excelled in these forms of poetry, not a lot of results may come up.
This is because tanka and haiku were not originally the main terms used to refer to Japanese poetry. These two actually served as sub-genres for a broader category known as waka.
During ancient times, waka was the term used to refer to various forms of Japanese poetry, including long and short poems. Over time, waka became synonymous to tanka, which was one of the most popular forms of poetry during the feudal times of Japan.
Doing a quick google search on “waka poets”, the name Fujiwara no Teika is sure to pop up, as he stands as one of the greatest, if not the greatest, masters of the waka form in Japanese history.
About Fujiwara no Teika
Fujiwara no Teika, also known as Fujiwara Sadaie, was born to Fujiwara no Shunzei, another important waka poet of Japan, during the year 1162. He lived until the year 1241 and played several roles throughout his life including being a scholar, critic, novelist, anthologist, calligrapher, scribe, and poet.
He has such a great influence in the world of Japanese poetry that his ideologies were studied up until the Meiji Period. It is even believed that he surpassed the success of his father, both in the poetic and political worlds of Japan.
Fujiwara no Teika’s success as a poet can be traced back to the start of his relationship with Emperor Fotoba, who found his natural talent quite impressive and worth supporting. At first, the two notable men had a great relationship and had promising plans for the future of Japanese poetry.
Unfortunately, it did not take long for them to realize that they had opposing ideas when it came to the proper sequence and composition of poems. Their small disagreements resulted in petty quarrels and ultimately led to them going their separate ways.
Fujiwara no Teika’s career as a poet did not suffer the end of the relationship in any way and only thrived throughout the following years.
Fujiwara no Teika’s Poetic Achievements- Ogura Hyakunin Isshu, Manuscript Copies, Etc.
One of Fujiwara no Teika’s greatest achievements as a poet was the Ogura Hyakunin Isshu, a collection of one hundred poems from one hundred different poets. Fujiwara no Teika went through the different waka poets of his time and way before to select the best poems that provided a glimpse into the different ways waka poetry could be done.
Among the notable poets he included in the anthology were Emperor Tenji, Kisen Hoshi, Henjo, Emperor Koko, Ise no Taifu, Daini no Sanmi, Ryozen, Gyoson, and even Emperor Gotoba.
Fujiwara no Teika also spent some of his time making copies of various manuscripts of Japanese classics such as The Tales of Ise, the Kokinshu, and The Tale of Genji.
Other Notable Japanese Poets
Akazome Emon lived from 956 to 1041. She was an early historian and a waka poet who made a name for himself during the Heian Period. Given her talent in Japanese poetry and her many contributions to the literary world, she is included in the Nyobo Sanjurokkasen, or the Thirty-Six Women Poetic Sages, and in the Chuko Sanjurokkasen, or the Thirty-Six Elder Poetic Sages.
Ariwara no Narihira
Ariwara no Narihira, who also went by the names Mukashi-Otoko, Zai Go, Zai Go Chujo, and Zai Chujo, was a waka poet and courtier during the earlier years of the Heian Period. He is not only included in the Thirty-Six Poetry Immortals but in the Six Poetic Sages, as well. Furthermore, he is also one of the contributors of the Ogura Hyakunin Isshu.
According to experts, most of Ariwara no Narihira’s poems can be described to be ambiguous. More than eighty poems found in various court anthologies have been attributed to Ariwara no Narihira, but not all of these may be entirely correct.
Ariwara no Narihira was also known for his number of love affairs, which even influenced the Japanese culture several years afterward. Some stories regarding his love life include relationships with Ono no Komachi, another renowned poet, and with the Ise Grand Shrine’s high priestess. Interestingly, these parts of his life served as an inspiration for “The Tales of Ise”.
Kokamonin no Betto
Kokamonin no Betto was a noblewoman and waka poet of the Heian Period. Not a lot is known about her early life, career, or legacy but she is also among the poets whose poems were included in the Ogura Hyakunin Isshu. According to records, Kokamonin no Betto was part of the powerful Minamoto Clan.
Doin, whose birth name was Fujiwara no Atsuyori, was one of the best waka poets of the latter years of the Heian Period. Similar to other esteemed waka poets, the Ogura Hyakunin Isshu made use of one of his many poems. Furthermore, in court anthologies, more than forty poems can be attributed to Doin.
Egyo, or sometimes referred to as Ekei, was a waka poet who thrived during the mid-Heian Period. Aside from being included in the Ogura Hyakunin Isshu, Egyo also had his own private collection published under the title “Egyo-Hoshi-Shu”.
A total of fifty-six poems from various imperial collections are attributed to Egyo. He is also included in the Thirty-Six Poetry Immortals of Japan.
Fujiwara no Shunzei
Fujiwara no Shunzei was the father of Fujiwara no Teika. He lived from 1114 to 1204 and was among Japan’s most notable poets at the time. Some of the names he went by include Fujiwara no Akihiro, Fujiwara no Toshinari, and Fujiwara no Shakua.
Aside from his innovative ideas regarding the proper composition, sequence, and progression of waka poetry, Fujiwara no Shunzei was also known for having compiled the Senzai Wakashu, which roughly translates to mean “a thousand years’ collection” in English. The Senzai Wakashu serves as the seventh court anthology made up of waka poems.
Experts describe Fujiwara no Shunzei’s work to feature a disciplined style with a blatant sense of emotions and human sensitivity.
Fun'ya no Asayasu
Fun’ya no Asayasu, who was also known as Bunya no Asayasu, is believed to have lived from the end of the ninth century until the start of the tenth century. Not a lot of facts can be found about his life but it is known that he was an esteemed poet during the Heian Period and he was one of Fun’ya no Yasuhide’s children.
He is another contributor to the Ogura Hyakunin Isshu, with his poem being number thirty-seven of the collection. A rough translation of his poem talks about morning dewdrops on grass which sparkle as the wind of the autumn season passes.
Emperor Gotoba is better known for being one of Japan’s emperors. He reigned from the year 1183 up until 1198 and is regarded as the 82nd emperor of Japan.
A lot of foreigners often confuse him with Emperor Toba, whom he was named after. The literal English translation of the term “go” is later, which is why some texts refer to Emperor Gotoba as Toba II, the Second Emperor Toba, or Toba the Second.
Emperor Gotoba had a number of non-political activities that were dear to his heart including music, literature, painting, calligraphy, archery, swordsmanship, and equestrianism. He was able to develop skills in all of these things and excelled particularly well in being a swordsmith and a poet.
One of Emperor Gotoba’s greatest poetic accomplishments is believed to be the Shin Kokinshu, or The Collection of Old and Modern Waka Poems. This anthology stands among the most important collections of Japanese poetry, alongside the Man’yoshu and the Kokin Wakashu.
Lady Ise, also known as Ise no Miyasudokoro, was popularly known for being one of Japan’s esteemed poets who followed the waka tradition of the Imperial Court. She was born in the province of Ise to Fujiwara no Tsugukage. Lady Ise was one of Emperor Uda’s concubines and a lover of Prince Atsuyoshi. She had a son with Emperor Uda and named him Prince Yuki Akari.
At the time, Japan was going through various changes in society and culture. Lady Ise’s poems provide an insight of the various things that went on during this period. A total of twenty-two of these poems can be found in the Kokin Wakashu, while one is included in the Ogura Hyakunin Isshu.
Izumi Shikibu, was a poet who was well-known during the mid-Heian Period. She is included in the Thirty-Six Poetry Immortals of Japan and is regarded to have been the greatest woman poet of her time. Her legacy consists of more than two hundred forty poems that range from long and short variations.
She was also known for her series of marriages and affairs, most of which involved members of the Imperial Court of Kyoto. Izumi Shikibu kept a journal during her relationship with Prince Atsumichi and was published as her personal diary entitled “Izumi Shikibu Nikki”.
This diary consists of various waka poems and other types of poems, all of which were written in the third person and served as a depiction of their relationship.
Izumi Shikibu’s most important poetic accomplishments can be found in the Izumi Shikibu-shu, or The Collection of Izumi Shikibu, as well as in various court collections. Given her number of love affairs, Izumi Shikibu earned the title of ukareme, or The Floating Lady.
Kakinomoto no Hitomaro
Kakinomoto no Hitomaro was a renowned aristocrat and waka poet of the latter years of the Asuka Period. He is among the Thirty-Six Poetry Immortals of Japan and stands as the most important poet that contributed to the Man’yoshu. More than seventy long and short poems included in the Man’yoshu are attributed to Kakinomoto no Hitomaro.
According to records, Kakinomoto no Hitomaro served as a court poet during the reign of Empress Jito and the reign of Emperor Monmu. Most of Kakinomoto no Hitomaro’s most popular poems revolve around topics such as court women, princes and princesses of the imperial court, and the reigning emperors.
Emperor Koko lived from 830 to 887. He is regarded as Japan’s 58th emperor and reigned from the year 884 to the year 887. Before becoming emperor, he went by the names Komatsu-tei and Tokiyatsu, which is why some texts refer to him as Komatsu’s Emperor.
The reign of Emperor Koko was relatively short but he is among the most well-remembered figures of Japanese history, particularly for his poetic talents. One of his poems is included in the Ogura Hyakunin Isshu and sits at number fifteen of the one hundred.
Minamoto no Sanetomo
Minamoto no Sanetomo was born on September 17 during the year 1192. He is not only served as one of Japan’s most impressive poets but also as the Kamakura shogunate’s third shogun. Given that he was just a child when he was given the position of shogun, he merely served as a puppet of the Kamakura shogunate.
Between the ages of 17 and 22, Minamoto no Sanetomo composed more than seven hundred poems in total and was guided by Fujiwara no Teika. Some of his greatest poetic accomplishments include his private collection, Kinkai Wakasyu, and his contribution to the Ogura Hyakunin Isshu.
Prince Motoyoshi, also known as Motoyoshi Shinno, was a nobleman and poet of Japan’s Heian Period. In the Ogura Hyakunin Isshu, one of his poems can be found as number twenty of the one hundred. He also contributed twenty poems to the Gosen Wakashu.
Ono no Takamura
Ono no Takamura, who also went by the name Sangi no Takamura, was a scholar and poet during the earlier years of the Heian Period. He was a descendant of Ono no Michikaze, one of Japan’s three most popular calligraphers.
One of his poems is included in the Ogura Hyakunin Isshu and talks about him being rowed away to the sea on a fishing boat as a form of exile. Ono no Takamura also has contributions in the Kokin Wakashu, particularly poems number 961, 936, 845, 892, 407, and 335.
Sosei was a Buddhist priest and waka poet who lived from 844 to 910. He is included in the Thirty-Six Poetic Immortals of Japan and is also included in the Ogura Hyakunin Isshu.
There are not a lot of facts known regarding Sosei’s life but it is believed that he chose to enter the religious world after his father took the tonsure upon Emperor Ninmyo’s death during the year 850.
Yamabe no Akahito
Yamabe no Akahito was one of the most popular poets of the Nara Period. Forty of his poems, which range from long to short variations, are included in the Man’yoshu.
According to records, the majority of Yamabe no Akahito’s work were composed during his travels from the year 724 to the year 736, alongside Emperor Shomu. Yamabe no Akahito is included in the Thirty-Six Poetic Immortals of Japan and is regarded to be one of the country’s gods of poetry.