★a stripper in freezing sleeve clothes? ― Sayaka meets Jaugo for the first time★
Jaugo: Excuse me, young lady, you seem to be lost. May I help you?
Sayaka: Uh… yes, I’m at a loss how to make out this poem. But… who are you?
Jaugo: My name is Jaugo Noto(之人冗悟：のと・じゃうご), your host here, cute guest, whose name is… please?
Sayaka: …Sayaka. Is full name needed?
Jaugo: No need for last name, Sayaka… Can I call you SAYAKA, or should I say SAYAKA-SAN, or SAYAKA-KUN, or maybe SAYAKA-CHAN? The choice is yours.
Sayaka: Uh… anything but Sayaka-CHAN will be fine with me.
Jaugo: OK, Sayaka-san. You may call me Jaugo-san.
Jaugo: Not downbeat Jaugoson, but totally flat Jaugo-san, the way people in 京都（Kyoto） pronounce “舞妓はん（maiko-han = a geisha girl）”… or like a dead person’s ECG(electrocardiogram) ― not top-high-bottom-low, but even-leveled JAUGO-SAN.
Sayaka: OK… Jaugo-san?
Jaugo: And you can speak and act on even terms ― what the Japanese call “タメ口(tame-guchi)” ― with me, Jaugo Noto, the master of ceremonies here.
Sayaka: Ceremonies? Is this poem presented as a part of some ceremony?
Jaugo: It’s the opening one of Thirty-one Shorty Ones Sure to Turn You On.
Sayaka: 31?… you mean the thirty-one letters of 5-7-5-7-7 Japanese TANKA?
Jaugo: And the choicest pieces of 31 poems selected from nearly 10,000 works included in the so-called 八代集(hachidaishuu), the eight great Imperial TANKA anthologies.
Sayaka: Eight great… TANKA anthologies?
Jaugo: Yes… never mind what they are: you’ll get well acquainted as the show goes on around 31 different poems taken from 八代集(hachidaishuu). For now, let’s just make out what this particular TANKA is trying to say… where does it seem to be dragging you down into confusion?
Sayaka: From beginning to end, all Greek to me!
Jaugo: It’s no Greek but ancient Japanese 1,000 years old. Old as it is, it’s still Japanese… your mother tongue, isn’t it?
Sayaka: Mother-tongue-in-law, it seems.
Jaugo: You mean your name, Sayaka, sounds like a Japanese but your tongue doesn’t speak Japanese?
Sayaka: I can read, write and speak contemporary Japanese all right, but things seem quite different 1,000 years ago.
Jaugo: Not quite so as you might imagine. Shall we iron out the differences together? First, let’s make out what “そでひぢて(sode hijite)” means… what’s the subject, Sayaka?
Sayaka: I have no idea what it’s all about.
Jaugo: I mean, not the subject matter of the poem, but the grammatical subject of the first phrase “そでひぢて(sode hijite)”… please?
Sayaka: “そで(sode)”, sleeves, I believe.
Jaugo: On the surface, yes. But who’s behind this motion? Do “そで(sode = sleeves)” “ひづ(hizu = dip)” themselves into “みづ(mizu = water)” of their own accord? Who dipped the sleeves into water?
Sayaka: The poet himself… or herself?
Jaugo: Never mind genders, he or she makes no difference here.
Sayaka: OK, then, the “そで(sleeves)ひぢて(dipped and)むすびし(scooped)みづ(water)” should be supplemented with an unseen subject “I” and be interpreted as “わが(I)そで(sleeves)ひぢて(dipped and)むすびし(scooped)みづ(water): the water that I scooped as I dipped my sleeves”… is that correct?
Jaugo: Correct. So far, so good, Sayaka-san. What seems to be the next check point?
Sayaka: I can’t begin to understand why the poet scooped water with his or her sleeves; and why and how the water in the poet’s sleeves got frozen into ice… it would get me burnt by icy cold!
Jaugo: Wow, that’s quite a scene!
Sayaka: Yes, the scene looks ridiculously surreal. Were the poet’s sleeves specifically designed to contain water like canteens?
Jaugo: I’d guess not; Japanese kimono in Heian era couldn’t have been water-tight like a diver’s wetsuit.
Sayaka: You also think so? And if the sleeves got frozen, the temperature must have been quite low, below freezing point of water… am I being wrong?
Jaugo: Your guess is physically correct, I think.
Sayaka: Then, the season must be Winter, mid-Winter, isn’t it?
Jaugo: Winter does play a role in this poem, I agree.
Sayaka: And the frozen sleeves with icy water in it have been left… where? The poet must never have been wearing the same frozen kimono with water-scooping sleeves… not at least at the time he made this poem; he must have changed clothes somewhere, and when he got stripped of it, where did he leave the special water-containing kimono? Not in his closet, but somewhere in the open air, don’t you think?
Jaugo: I’m curious what makes you think so.
Sayaka: The closing phrase “はるたつけふのかぜやとくらむ(haru tatsu kyou no kaze ya toku ramu)”… since the poet says “I wonder if the wind on this first day of Spring has melted” the frozen ice on or inside the water-containing sleeves, he must have taken off that kimono and left it in the field, not indoors but out of doors where it got exposed to the wind, so that the wind could melt the frozen ice.
Jaugo: Interesting… the poet got undressed in the open air in the middle of cold Winter… for what purpose?
Sayaka: That’s exactly what puzzles me.
Jaugo: Maybe she was a strip-tease artist?
Sayaka: Why is it SHE? You said no sexes required, didn’t you?
Jaugo: “Never mind genders” to be exact… OK, joking aside, do you really feel he or she became naked in the open air in mid-Winter?
Sayaka: Definitely not.
Jaugo: But the poem seems to suggest to you the poet became naked and left the kimono out in the field where it got exposed to the elements, right?
Sayaka: Right… but, it just doesn’t sound right.
Jaugo: Right… it’s just not right… but where did it go wrong?
Sayaka: I don’t know… can you tell me?
Jaugo: OK, let’s get back to the drawing board. The poet dipped his sleeves into water as he scooped the water… he scooped the water for what purpose?
Sayaka: I don’t know.
Jaugo: Never say “I don’t know”, it’s just like saying “I don’t care”… don’t you care to know what the poem really says?
Sayaka: I do want to know it.
Jaugo: Then, just imagine… earnest imagination and honest retrial is the key to correct interpretation of poems… or for that matter, human heart in general. When will you scoop water with your bare hands without worrying about getting wet?
Sayaka: When I’m really thirsty.
Jaugo: Yes, and when there’s no cup or water faucet to drink from. And the season is…?
Sayaka: Summer, in very hot weather.
Jaugo: And the location must never be in or around Heianese nobles’ houses… then, where?
Sayaka: Out in the field, near a stream or a spring where cold water invites travelers to come and quench their thirst.
Jaugo: You guessed it right.
Sayaka: But how can her sleeves get wet in hot Summer?
Jaugo: Because she reached out her hands to scoop the water, of course.
Sayaka: That’s funny. If it’s so hot that she can’t resist drinking water directly from a stream or spring, she must be wearing a short- or no-sleeved shirt, never a long-sleeved one that can be dipped and drenched, for such clothes are meant for Autumn, Winter or Spring, too hot for Summer…
Jaugo: Oh… interesting! That’s the way modern girls think… and get lost in Heianese TANKA… thanks for giving me fresh insight, Sayaka-san.
Sayaka: You are welcome… but I’m still puzzled.
Jaugo: It’ll be solved quite easily… as the ice in the poem, I suppose. By the way, Sayaka, do you wear kimonos?
Sayaka: What do you mean? Do I look naked?
Jaugo: I wish you were.
Sayaka: What did you say?
Jaugo: Sorry, let me rephrase the question: don’t you sometimes wear traditional Japanese kimonos(着物) or yukatas(浴衣) on such occasions as tea ceremonies or flower arrangements or fireworks viewings?
Sayaka: Uh… no, I’ve never worn them. But I’d really love to someday.
Jaugo: You’d look even more attractive in kimonos, Sayaka.
Sayaka: Than if I were in my school uniform or… please don’t say naked!
Jaugo: Um… I’m not sure, some things must be seen to be believed… anyway, just imagine yourself, not naked, not in western clothes, but in Japanese kimonos or yukatas… are you wearing short- or no-sleeved clothing?
Sayaka: Um… no, I don’t think so. The sleeves are long, up to my wrist, perhaps. Ah… yes, I see, traditional Japanese kimonos were all long-sleeved, that’s why the poet’s sleeves got wet when she scooped up the cold spring water in hot Summer!
Jaugo: Legitimate imagination. So, the poem starts with a hot Summer scene where the poet scoops up the water directly from a stream or spring with the sleeves of the kimono drenched, but not frozen then and there because it’s very hot out there. It’s not the sleeves of the poet’s kimono that got frozen… then, what?
Sayaka: The spring… or the stream? Anyway, it got frozen not in Summer but in Winter… wait, it’s a spring, I think a frozen stream is unlikely because the water is running in a stream, not staying still as in a pond. Running water will not get frozen any more than a rolling stone gathers moss.
Jaugo: You are something of a scientist, Sayaka-san, your observation is keenly objective and convincing. But remember: poetic appreciation sometimes needs a little slack. It could either be a pond, spring or stream so long as there’s water in it that used to drench the poet’s sleeves and quenched his thirst in Summer.
Sayaka: I understand. But there’s another problem still remaining.
Jaugo: OK, let’s try to solve it… or should I say, melt it down with the help of Spring wind?
Sayaka: Yes, that’s the part that puzzles me still.
Jaugo: You mean to say the weather on “はるたつけふ(haru tatsu kyou = today which is the first day of Spring)” cannot be so warm as to melt the ice on a frozen spring or stream, right?
Sayaka: Exactly. It would make sense if it was “春分の日（shunbun no hi = vernal equinox day, on or around 3/21）”, but in fact it is “はるたつひ(haru tatsu hi = the first day of Spring)” which happens on the third, fourth or fifth day of February… is it not?… then, it’s still too cold to melt the ice, don’t you think?
Jaugo: You never fail to impress me with your quite sensible reasoning, Sayaka-san.
Sayaka: Thanks, but if I impressed you, how about rewarding me with some reasonable explanation?
Jaugo: OK, then, I’ll give you one more phrase for a hint: “東風解凍(とうふうかいとう:toufuu kaitou)”… what do you think it means?
Sayaka: “Easterly wind(東風:toufuu) melting(解凍:kaitou)”… melting what?…. ah yes, of course, it’s melting “氷(koori=ice)”, correct?
Jaugo: Yes, that’s about it, although “解凍:kaitou” here is not “melting” but should be divided into a verb “解(kai = melting)” and its object “凍(tou = ice)”. This phrase “東風解凍:toufuu kaitou” is the very first of 72 seasonal phrases(七十二候:nana-juu-ni kou) imported from ancient China, which reads in Japanese as “春風、氷を解く(haru-kaze koori wo toku = vernal wind will melt the ice)”… ring a bell?
Sayaka: “はるたつけふのかぜやとくらむ（haru tatsu kyou no kaze ya toku ramu = has the wind on this first day of Spring melted… the frozen ice of the spring or stream from which I scooped up the water drenching my sleeves?）”
Jaugo: Congratulations, now the icy riddle has been successfully solved.
Sayaka: So, it’s not so much an actual feeling of the poet as a reference to an old Chinese legend?
Jaugo: Yes, this poem is more rhetorical than factual. It is impossible that people of Heian era Japan actually believed frozen ice would be melted by easterly wind blowing on the very first day of Spring which came at the beginning of February, too cold even to be deemed as Spring in Japan.
Sayaka: Then, am I to understand that this TANKA is a mere fiction?
Jaugo: Born out of a poet’s imagination that’s waiting with impatience for the arrival of gentle vernal wind that was said, in China, to bring Spring with it melting cold ice as it blows.
Sayaka: OK, I’m beginning to grasp the whole picture. The poet is remembering the fresh cold water that she scooped up at some spring in the field in hot Summer, and imagines that the water has been frozen solid because of the coldness of Winter… at the beginning of February, it still must be frozen, and yet, since it happened to be the first day of Spring, she remembers the Chinese legend and wonders if, or rather hopes that the warm easterly wind may already be starting to melt the ice in the field.
Jaugo: Impressive! You may now play a teacher on this particular poem.
Sayaka: If I were a teacher, I would point out to my students the possible pitfalls that might drag them down.
Jaugo: You’ll make a really good teacher of you… please go ahead and teach me, Miss Sayaka.
Sayaka: OK… first, the absence of grammatical subject “I” in the opening phrase “そでひぢて(sode hijite)” could mislead you into thinking this was a poem centering around “そで(sode=sleeves)” or “着物(kimono)”.
Jaugo: Or that the poet was a stripper taking off her clothes in the cold wintry field.
Sayaka: Please don’t try to derail, Jaugo-san… in fact, the poem is not sexually oriented, the poet could either be HE or SHE. And the second confusing point is that people in Heian era Japan wore long-sleeved clothes even in hot Summer, not short- or no-sleeved shirts as we do today.
Jaugo: I think that’s what women should pay special attention to.
Sayaka: And the final trap awaits you in the closing phrase “はるたつけふのかぜやとくらむ(haru tatsu kyou no kaze ya toku ramu)”, which is wishful reference to the Chinese legend that the easterly wind on the first day of Spring will melt the ice, although in Japan it’s still too cold for the ice to actually melt at the beginning of February.
Jaugo: Excellent, Sayaka-san, that’s nearly perfect!
Sayaka: Thank you, Jaugo-san… wait, you said “nearly” perfect?
Sayaka: What did I fail to see? Is there still something missing?
Jaugo: I’m afraid, yes.
Sayaka: What’s that?
Jaugo: Well… just take your time and think for yourself. Some things must be discovered for yourself, not just told by someone else, to be really understood and appreciated. Suffice it to say, you have successfully completed the anatomy of the poem, but physically perfect anatomy is one thing, mentally complete appreciation is quite another… Anyway, it’s been wonderful talking with you. You are such an intellectually enticing woman that I’d like to go on with this conversation for as long as we can, but I’ve got some other job to do, and so will you perhaps, so… so much for today. Just come back with your answers when you hit upon it… or when you feel inclined to be puzzled by another 31-letter shorty one that’s sure to turn you on!
Sayaka: All right… and when I do, will you guide me again like you did today?
Jaugo: With pleasure.
Sayaka: Thank you. I’m sure to come back… very soon, I believe… will it be OK?
Jaugo: I’ll be looking forward to seeing you again soon. Thanks for the joyful time, Sayaka-san.
Sayaka: Thank YOU, Jaugo-san… and thanks in advance for resolving my doubts again!
(on the first Spring day on lunar calendar)
The cool water in Summer that quenched my thirst and drenched my sleeves,
Long asleep in Winter locked up under icy cold,
Might today, the first day of Spring, have molten and woken by gentle vernal wind.
ひづ【漬づ・沾づ】〔自ダ四〕or〔自ダ上二〕（ひぢ＝連用形）＜VERB:dip in water, make wet, drench＞
むすぶ【掬ぶ】〔他バ四〕（むすび＝連用形）＜VERB:scoop up with both hands＞
…the water that I scooped up with my bare hands dipping my sleeves [in the mountain streams in the hot Summer when I went out there for hiking]
り【り】〔助動ラ変型〕存続（る＝連体形）＜AUXILIARY VERB(PERFECT TENSE)＞
…that has been frozen [during cold Winter season]
はる【春】〔名〕＜NOUN:Spring, vernal season＞
の【の】〔格助〕＜POSTPOSITIONAL PARTICLE(POSSESSIVE):-‘s, of, belonging to＞
かぜ【風】〔名〕＜NOUN:the wind, breeze＞
らむ【らむ】〔助動ラ四型〕現在推量（らむ＝連体形係り結び）＜AUXILIARY VERB(QUESTION):I wonder＞
…has it been melted by the warm [easterly] wind on this first day of Spring [as Chinese legend has it]?
《sode hiji te musubishi mizu no kooreru wo harutatsu kyou no kaze ya toku ramu》
■3 different seasons compressed in a 31-letter world of TANKA■
This poem starts out with the poet’s actual memory of a hot Summer’s day, where he found the water (at the side of a pond, spring or a stream) coolly inviting travelers to come and take a sip; he did, without worrying about drenching his sleeves ― so thirsty was the poet and so hot was the day.
Then, the pleasantly cool memory of Summer fades out into an imaginary scene where the benevolent water out in the field got exposed to harsh cold in Winter and frozen solid under ice… the poet is not present in the scene; no one is there but the long, cold, lonely Winter.
Finally, the poem takes the poet back to the present ― the first calendar day of Spring when, according to a Chinese legend, the gentle easterly wind starts melting ice. The poet imagines (or rather wishes) that the frozen water that used to be so kind to him in Summer should be freed from Wintry prison of frozen ice on this 立春の日(risshun-no-hi = the first day of Spring).
In actual fact, the Chinese legend in question ― 東風解凍(toufuu kaitou = easterly wind melting ice) ― is more imaginary than factual in Japan on the first Spring day which comes at the beginning of February, the coldest month of the year. In that sense, this poem is a pure fiction, a figment of the poet’s wishful imagination; but that is a wish which speaks for everyone ― people, water, everything in Nature having stood the long icy Winter.
The poem is a little too premature, to be sure, but most people in February will be patient with the impatience of the poet, since they have all come through the long dreary quarter of the year and are eagerly waiting for the arrival of Spring. Reality-oriented critics (like 正岡子規:Masaoka Shiki in Meiji era) might grumble at the unrealistic presumption of this poem; human-heart-oriented readers would give a forgiving smile and possibly remember the fact that the abundance of such names as “千春(Chiharu = thousands of Springs)” is the hallmark of north-eastern regions of Japan where Spring comes latest and is therefore most wanted. Genuine wishes from within superseding factual reality in the world without ― what you might call “poetic license” ― often evades and exasperates the literal mind of not-so-literary folks, but if this particular piece of poem infuriates you by its “lies”, you should seriously reconsider and feast your eyes on the best of TANKA poems… or move to the coldest region of your country, or the hardest-hit folks among your brethren, to sympathize with their unrealistic yet sincere wishes. Lack of imagination is a serious human defect which no amount of objective observation of reality or obedient observance of emotionless rules of mankind could ever compensate for… good poems will be a good remedy for the disease.
We provide you not with actual conversation partners, but we enable you to engage in intellectually enticing conversation with Sayaka-san/Jaugo-san(…no mean feat, isn’t it?)
WEB lessons by ZUBARAIE LLC. are currently for JAPANESE students only, conducted in Japanese language (…sorry for English speakers)