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31shortyones06) years and aging on poems and men ― Sayaka grows up in her appreciation of ages






★years and aging on poems and men ― Sayaka grows up in her appreciation of ages★

Sayaka: Interesting. This TANKA ends with a question. I’ve never met any like this… is it rare, or are there many such questioning TANKA?

Jaugo: Good question, Sayaka-san. In fact, there are 72 TANKA ending with the questioning phrase “かは?(kawa = is it so? what do you think?)” out of some 9,700 poems of 八代集(hachidaishuu = eight great Imperial TANKA anthologies)… Many? Few? How do you feel about that?

Sayaka: 72 questions are more than enough for me… What is “三月…盡(?)…の心(san-gatsu something no kokoro)”, by the way?

Jaugo: The heart at the end of the third month of the year.

Sayaka: Oh… I thought it meant instead “the heart <until> March”.

Jaugo: I vaguely feared you might make that mistake… so, you mistook “盡(jin = the end)” for “迄(made = until)” ― that’s a common mistake for the modern Japanese, simply because “盡(jin)” is similar in shape to “儘(ma・ma)” which is only one sound away from “ma・de(迄 = until)”.

Sayaka: Then, “三月盡(san-gatsu something)” reads “さんがつじん(san-gatsu jin) = at the end of March”, not as “さんがつまで(san-gatsu made) = until the end of March”?

Jaugo: That’s correct… although you might still be mistaken, I’m afraid.

Sayaka: Am I? In what way?

Jaugo: That’s another good question ― guess what?

Sayaka: Well, the only remaining culprit is “三月(san-gatsu) = March”… is there anything wrong with March?

Jaugo: In fact, there is, I’d guess. “The end of March” ― what kind of image does it bring to your mind, Sayaka-san?

Sayaka: Graduation.

Jaugo: I thought as much.

Sayaka: You mean… I’m off the mark?

Jaugo: About 29 to 30 days off the mark.

Sayaka: 29 to 30 days…? What do you mean?

Jaugo: Yet another good question: what do you think? Don’t say “menstrual cycle”.

Sayaka: I wouldn’t, that’s 25 to 38 days.

Jaugo: Was that so?

Sayaka: Generally speaking, yes. Personally, I wouldn’t speak anything about mine… isn’t it about time you told me the answer, Jaugo-san?

Jaugo: OK, I’ll answer by asking you another question: what kind of calendar did they and do we use in Japan?

Sayaka: Calendar?

Jaugo: Yes, what type of calendar are you using now, Sayaka-san?

Sayaka: I use a birdie calendar, with pictures of cute birds for every month.

Jaugo: Oh… you took me by surprise again with such a cute answer. I should have expected that you would say that ― you’re a fierce bird-lover, I remember.

Sayaka: With a cat-like face, yes, I remember, too… Oh, yes, I remember now, “lunar calendar” and “solar calendar”! That’s what you wanted me to say, isn’t it?

Jaugo: Exactly. We, the modern Japanese, use “太陽暦(taiyou-reki = solar calendar)”, while people of Heian period used “太陰暦(taiin-reki = lunar calendar)”, which means their “三月(san-gatsu = the third month of the year)” is different from our “三月(san-gatsu = March)”.

Sayaka: Different by 29 to 30 days?

Jaugo: Yes.

Sayaka: Is it one-month too early, or too late?

Jaugo: Their “三月(san-gatsu)” or “弥生(yayoi)” is our “四月(shi-gatsu)” or “April”… so, don’t get fooled by “三月盡(san-gatsu jin)”: it’s not “the end of March” but is actually “the end of April”.

Sayaka: So, the “三月盡(san-gatsu jin)” was not really the season of graduation, but… the Golden Week?

Jaugo: You could say so. Of course, the so-called “Golden Week(黄金週間)” ― the greatest money-gathering opportunity for leisure industries ― is quite a modern invention, non-existent before 昭和(Showa), but the sentiment was about the same: a good season for going out and enjoying Nature, no longer Winter, not yet Summer, neither cold nor too hot ― it’s Springtime, the most cheerful time of the year… but the cheer is soon to disappear… with the end of “弥生三月(yayoi san-gatsu)”, at the end of “April(四月 = shi-gatsu)” in our vocabulary ― that’s “三月盡の心(san-gatsu jin no kokoro = the heart at the end of April or Springtime)”.

Sayaka: “Beware the eyes of March” ― your eyes are fixed on a wrong direction!

Jaugo: Oh, I didn’t expect that phrase to come out of your mouth. You are keen on the Bard of Avon as well as birds of forests, Sayaka-san.

Sayaka: “Beware the eyes of March” from “Julius Caesar” by William Shakespeare, right?

Jaugo: Well… I don’t know… I mean, until I see you correctly write it down: would you mind spelling out “ides” letter by letter, Sayaka-san?

Sayaka: Aye aye, sir ― “E”-“Y”-“E”-“S” ― eyes!

Jaugo: Nay!… Actually, it’s “I”-“D”-“E”-“S” ― ides, meaning “the mid-point of the month, 15th or 13th day” in Roman (solar) calendar… “Beware the ides of March”, for it’s “ides”, not “EYES”.

Sayaka: Oh… I’m shocked, I was being so stupid…

Jaugo: No, you should be glad to remember a wrong phrase and have it corrected at a good timing ― now you can hope to remember the correct phrase for the rest of your life, don’t you think?

Sayaka: Yes, thank you for enlightenment of a lifetime.

Jaugo: By the way, did you make out what this poem is talking about? What do you make of its question “惜しむは春の過ぐるのみかは(oshimu wa haru no suguru nomi kawa)”?

Sayaka: Is it only the passage of this Spring that I should miss?… No, I think ― the poet is not only missing this Spring that is about to end soon but also his lifetime that is about to… well, it may not end too soon, yet it is not Springtime any more; this going Spring is a metaphor, subjective reflection of the fading youth… or dwindling vitality?… of the poet himself.

Jaugo: Perfect answer! Almost too perfect for a girl like you who has yet to reach the prime of her life.

Sayaka: Thanks a lot to the lesson you gave me last time. But I think it’s not… appropriate. I mean, I’m not yet entitled to appreciate a poem like this because I’m too young, not yet ripe enough to really taste it. Although I seem to understand it as a poem, I’m far enough from feeling it as real as my own personal experience, to bring it home to me…

Jaugo: Yes, I agree. Sorry to have introduced you to a series of overmatured TANKA so prematurely, Sayaka-san.

Sayaka: Oh, no, I was glad you showed them to me. I’m thankful for that. It’s not the poem, it’s only me, that is inappropriate.

Jaugo: Mm… impressed! I’m really impressed, Sayaka-san, you never fail to impress me.

Sayaka: I’m glad you say that.

Jaugo: In fact, I’m feeling so glad that I feel like showing you one more piece of TANKA… unless you feel you’ve already had enough. What do you say?

Sayaka: I’d really love to see it.

Jaugo: Good. It’s a poem by 藤原定家(Fujiwara-no-Teika)… you know him, don’t you?

Sayaka: The father of 『小倉百人一首(Ogura hyakunin Isshu = a hundred TANKA poems by a hundred different poets)』?

Jaugo: Yes… it’s nothing new for you, to come to think of it, but I’d like to see your reaction all the same… here goes: 《あけばまたあきのなかばもすぎぬべし かたぶくつきのをしきのみかは:akeba mata aki no nakaba mo suginu beshi katabuku tsuki no oshiki nomi kawa?》『新勅撰集(Shin-chokusen-shuu… not one of 八代集:hachidaishuu = eight great Imperial TANKA anthologies)』秋(Autumn) No.261 明けば(at dawn tomorrow)又(it will also mean)秋の半ばも過ぎぬべし(half of this Autumn will already have been gone)傾く月の惜しきのみかは(is it only the sinking moon that we should miss tonight?) ・・・Well, tell me your impression of this TANKA, Sayaka-san?

Sayaka: Um… deja vu?

Jaugo: Quite a happy expression! That’s it, it’s deja vu, what we’ve already seen and known too well… this Autumnal TANKA of Teika is a carbon copy of this Springtime nostalgia poem we’ve been talking about.

Sayaka: The only difference is the season. Teika must have known the Springtime poem in question and rearranged it to sound appropriate for Autumn, I think.

Jaugo: You took the words right out of my mouth. Although there is no factual proof, in view of Teika’s unparalleled knowledge of TANKA poetry old and new, it is improbable that he should have been ignorant of this impressive poem of Springtime nostalgia.

Sayaka: So… it’s another “beaten-path”?

Jaugo: In a way, yes. How do you feel about this “rebroadcast”?

Sayaka: Uh… if the feeling is real and fresh for Teika himself, it doesn’t matter if the words and expressions, even sentiments, are not his original inventions but borrowed from someone else.

Jaugo: Do you feel Teika’s “true feelings” in this poem? Does he really sorely miss the passage of Autumn and lament it as keenly as this Springtime poem?

Sayaka: (…) Can I be honest?

Jaugo: Be as honest as you can ― that’s the way I like you best.

Sayaka: Then, I’ll be honest with you ― I feel no truth in this poem by Teika. It sounds plausible, yet not at all real to me… maybe because I’ve been so much more impressed by the conversation I had with you over that beautiful TANKA ― 《はるごとにはなのさかりはありなめど あひみむことはいのちなりけり:haru goto ni hana no sakari wa arinamedo aimimu koto wa INOCHI NARIKERI》『春毎に花の盛りは有りなめど相見む事は命なりけり』… compared with it, and with this Springtime nostalgia poem, Teika’s Autumnal TANKA sounds too flat to me. It only makes me feel that Teika, just like you and I, also knew this Spring TANKA in question… that’s all I feel about it, nothing more than that… Have I gone too far?

Jaugo: Not at all. If you feel no truth there, then, the poem is no good for you, although it may be good for someone else. People may feel different from person to person.

Sayaka: So, this “beaten-path” of Teika’s is not a way for Jaugo and Sayaka to go?

Jaugo: Yes, we’ll go our separate ways ― you and I together, away from the madding crowds of Teika’s admirers, although we may find no other company on the way.

Sayaka: I don’t think I need anyone else if there was you to lead me.

Jaugo: I’m glad you say that ― so glad am I that I will give you another piece of fact about this poem… unless you feel you’ve already had enough, that is.

Sayaka: Please give it to me.

Jaugo: 藤原定家(Fujiwara-no-Teika) was born in 1162 and died in 1241.

Sayaka: …Which means… he lived almost 80 years? Unusual longevity for a man in Heian period, isn’t it?

Jaugo: Although his father 藤原俊成(Fujiwara-no-Shunzei:1114-1204) lived 10 years longer than the son.

Sayaka: You mean, he lived to be ninety?

Jaugo: Yes.

Sayaka: Incredible!… even by today’s standards.

Jaugo: Noble children of the 藤原(Fujiwara)s were exceptionally long-lived, because they were exceptionally privileged.

Sayaka: I’d guess so. I’m curious what’s the average life-span of Heianese Japanese?

Jaugo: We have no reliable statistical evidence. Aside from noble folks in 京都(Kyoto), ordinary people without official jobs or titles in the Imperial Court were simply left to live, grow old and weak, and die… they meant nothing to the nobles, not even as statistical numbers. Besides, “average” only means something in a world where the disparity between the lowest and highest is not so absurdly great… Heian era Japan was a world where “average” meant nothing ― so meaningless that nobody dared to count such numbers in earnest. In fact, I’m sure nobody in those days really had any such conceptions as “average”, “equality” or “statistics” except as vaguely subjective personal feelings in a given group of similar individuals, often too much biased to be acceptable to anyone outside their own circles. Statistics is a child of democracy, to be orphaned in times of aristocracy or autocracy. Although there might be groundless numbers or rumors about Heian era Japan circulating today on the Net in the form of groundless and irresponsible hearsay, no self-respecting intellectuals would ever take them seriously, let alone “parrot” them irresponsively. You must never do that, Sayaka-san, no matter how great a bird-lover you may be.

Sayaka: I see. Incidentally, at what age did Teika make this Autumnal poem?

Jaugo: Now you’re talking! That’s the question I’ve been waiting for you to ask… how old do you think was Teika when he made it?

Sayaka: Um… at forty?

Jaugo: Because that’s “なかば(nakaba = the mid-point)”, “ides” of his 80-year life?

Sayaka: You know everything about me, Jaugo-san!

Jaugo: I wish I did.

Sayaka: Actually, I’d say he was about fifty.

Jaugo: Would that be a convincing age to give plausibility to that Autumnal nostalgia TANKA?

Sayaka: Too old for Heianese people?

Jaugo: I don’t know, for I don’t really have much respect for statistics or average. Anyway, as a matter of fact, Teika exhibited this poem at a TANKA reading party held at the residence of 藤原(九条)良経(Fujiwara-no-(aka. Kujou)Yoshitsune) in 建久元年(Kenkyuu-gannen = A.D.1190)… Now it’s time for arithmetic ― 1190 – 1162 equals… at what age?

Sayaka: At… twenty-eight!?

Jaugo: Yes, Teika was 28 years old when he made this TANKA… Now, tell me again, Sayaka-san, how do you feel about this TANKA ― 《あけばまたあきのなかばもすぎぬべし かたぶくつきのをしきのみかは:akeba mata aki no nakaba mo suginu beshi katabuku tsuki no oshiki nomi kawa》?

Sayaka: Sounds too flat to be real; Teika was still too young to actually feel nostalgic about the passage of Autumn… even by Heianese standards, I feel it’s… premature, if not downright fictitious. It doesn’t seem to be stating Teika’s real personal feeling about Autumn, not quite in the way as does this nostalgic Spring poem.

Jaugo: What if he had been 38?

Sayaka: Uh… maybe OK.

Jaugo: How about 48?

Sayaka: Sounds perfect to me.

Jaugo: 58?

Sayaka: Um… a little too old, perhaps? Maybe he should have grown so old that he wouldn’t make a fuss about the transition of the seasons any more… I don’t know, it’s too far away for me.

Jaugo: Far away for you, indeed… when I was in my teens, I could hardly imagine myself being in my twenties, let alone turning thirty.

Sayaka: What did you feel when you actually turned thirty?

Jaugo: Nothing.

Sayaka: Nothing?

Jaugo: No, nothing, because I didn’t change at all.

Sayaka: You didn’t change at all? You mean it?

Jaugo: Yes. The only change in my thirties was that I finally realized, unlike in my teens or even twenties, that I will always be myself and no one else; no matter what circumstances I find myself in, no matter what kind of people or events surround me, however old I may grow and whatever experience I may store, no matter what, the personal core of myself will always remain with me and never go away… only a little bit more of knowledge or feelings will add to my personal core, but I don’t call it “a change” ― it’s just natural development of my life, no change at all… well, to come to think of it, the only fundamental change after I turned thirty was that the pace of development, fresh addition to the accumulated core within me, got greatly reduced. I was most energetically expanding myself in my teens, especially when I was fifteen, sixteen, seventeen and eighteen! Every night I would find myself a different person from what I was in the morning, often too excited to get down into sleep thinking about the hot conquest of the day!… Aren’t you in that hot stage of your life, Sayaka-san?

Sayaka: Uh… my teen-age life is not so hot as yours, I’d guess.

Jaugo: Who could ever tell but yourself? People are all different, you know.

Sayaka: Yes… maybe Teika might have been actually feeling nostalgic about the passage of Autumn, even when he was 28.

Jaugo: Good point. Although he was still 28, he must have seen many more things and felt much more than the young Japanese of the 21st century, I’m sure.

Sayaka: What makes you so sure?

Jaugo: Remember the year, not Teika’s age but the calendar year of this particular Autumnal TANKA… if you can still remember it.

Sayaka: 1190.

Jaugo: Oh, you are very good at remembering numbers!

Sayaka: It was just a few minutes ago.

Jaugo: Yes… and two years before 源頼朝(Minamoto-no-Yoritomo) got appointed “征夷大将軍(seii-taishougun)” ― the great general empowered by the Emperor to command all warriors in his conquest to subdue barbarians in Japan… thus was begun 鎌倉時代(Kamakura period) ruled by 侍(samurai = Japanese warriors), when Heianese nobles were no longer the ruling class, TANKA poetry was no longer appreciated so much, all elegant habits or customs of Heian era Japan Gone With the Wind, like cherry flowers in late Spring or the fading moonlight in mid-Autumn…

Sayaka: (…) I regret that I called it “flat”… this poem includes so many ups and downs at the end of Heian period…

Jaugo: Possibly, yes… or maybe no. 藤原定家(Fujiwara-no-Teika) is known as a very BOOKISH, unrealistically pedantic poet, who liked to draw attention by pulling a stunt in words; this poem might have been one of such audacious eye-catchers… we don’t know. Only those who actually heard it in 1190 would know the truth. For our part, we should just ask ourselves if we really like it, or we don’t feel personally attracted.

Sayaka: I’m beginning to like it after you reminded me of the significance of the year 1190.

Jaugo: Things look different, viewed in different lights.

Sayaka: Like the moon in the sky?

Jaugo: Mm… very poetic ending to today’s lesson… Good night, Sayaka-san.

Sayaka: Good night, Jaugo-san… See you again soon.








(on the heart at the end of March on lunar calendar)

From tomorrow it’s summer, so the calendar says.

How many more springs shall I see go by henceforth?

Which should I miss, the passage of Spring or my life?

いく【幾】〔接頭〕<ADVERB:how many>

かへり【返り】〔名〕<NOUN:times, returns>



わ【我】〔代名〕<PRONOUN:I, me, myself>

が【が】〔格助〕<POSTPOSITIONAL PARTICLE(POSSESSIVE):’s, of, belonging to>

み【身】〔名〕<NOUN:the body, oneself>


あふ【会ふ】〔自ハ四〕(あひ=連用形)<VERB:meet, encounter>

ぬ【ぬ】〔助動ナ変型〕完了(ぬ=終止形)<AUXILIARY VERB(EMPHATIC)>

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>

…how many more times will I be able to see this day?

をしむ【惜しむ】〔他マ四〕(をしむ=連体形)<VERB:miss, feel sorry for>


はる【春】〔名〕<NOUN:Spring, vernal season>


すぐ【過ぐ】〔自ガ上二〕(すぐる=連体形)<VERB:be gone, pass away>

のみ【のみ】〔副助〕<POSTPOSITIONAL PARTICLE(LIMITATION):only, just, merely>


…is it only the passage of this Spring that I should really miss?

《iku kaeri kyou ni waga mi no ainu ramu oshimu wa haru no suguru nomi kawa》

■from missing you to missing me is a few words away■

 This poem finishes itself up with a rhetorical question in order to ask for the answer of its readers, thereby making them feel the more deeply involved in its world.

 This type of questioning TANKA which ends with the phrase “かは(kawa = is it so? how do you think?)” amounts to 72 out of some 9,700 poems in 八代集(hachidaishuu = eight great Imperial TANKA anthologies), which goes to show how popular it was to ask readers to positively participate in building up the poem beyond the 31-letter limitations with the help of responsive imagination of its readers.

 Modern readers who find such questioning a little too obtrusive might as well remember also the fact that TANKA poem was as much a tool of communication as a piece of art. In order for you to feel such communicative atmosphere surrounding Heianese TANKA, I will introduce two more examples of “如何に如何に(ikani ikani = how do you feel? I’m waiting for your response)” poems along with their circumstantial explanations:

《とまりゐてまつべきみこそおいにけれ あはれわかれはひとのためかは:tomari ite matsubeki mi koso oinikere aware wakare wa hito no tame kawa?》『金葉集(Kin-you-shuu)』別離(Parting) No.344 by 菅原資忠(Sugawara-no-Suketada)止まり居て(staying [here])待つべき(waiting [for you to come back])身こそ老いにけれ(I myself have grown [too] old [to expect to meet you again when you come back])あはれ(how piteous)別れは人の為かは(is this farewell meant for you[who are going away from me] [or are you bidding farewell to me who will soon pass away from this world?])

・・・This was a poem made as a parting gift to a friend who was going on an official trip (usually for 4 years) to a district far away from Kyoto

《おもはずにいるとはみえきあづさゆみ かへらばかへれひとのためかは:omowazu ni iru towa mieki azusayumi kaeraba kaere hito no tame kawa?》『後拾遺集(Go-Shuui-shuu)』雑(Miscellany) No.1040 by 律師朝範(Risshi Chouhan)思はずに(without profound thought)入る([you] went into the mountain [to be a Buddhist monk])とは見えき(it seems to me)梓弓(like a string of a bow that is sure to come back to its original position)帰らば帰れ(come back if you will)人の為かは(who do you think is it for? [for yourself?] [no, it’s for me ― I’d be more glad to see you come back to me than you’d be glad to leave the mountain])

・・・This was a poem sent to the poet’s brother who had gone into the mountain to become a Buddhist monk but later complained to his brother that he would rather stop it and come back to the secular world.

 This type of greeting TANKA does not strike modern readers as poetically interesting. But it was this communicative function of TANKA that went a long way toward its enormous popularity among Heianese nobles, especially in its burgeoning years in the early 10th century. The second of 八代集(hachidaishuu = the eight great Imperial TANKA anthologies), 『後撰集(Gosen-shuu:ca.A.D.950)』 is full of such casual greetings, which makes this anthology something of a bore to us. But that the following anthology 『拾遺集(Shuui-shuu:A.D.1006)』 was that much excellent thanks to its “actual” selector 藤原公任(Fujiwara-no-Kintou:966-1041), TANKA poetry would have been much less interesting in the ensuing years.

Having an English-speaking self within you is just like having a conversation partner like Sayaka-san/Jaugo-san beside you.
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)