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Intro-8 Jokotoba, utamakura, makurakotoba


(AUDIO/VISUAL TUTORIAL)examples of Japanese TANKA(短歌) with “枕詞(makura-kotoba=fixed modifiers for beautification of certain nouns)”, “歌枕(uta-makura=names or places evoking certain ideas)” and “序詞(jo-kotoba=phrases within a tanka poem essentially irrelevant but acting as an imaginative/pictorial introduction to the main idea of the poem)”


■Introduction of real TANKA(短歌) : Part VIII■

★枕詞(makura-kotoba) and 歌枕(uta-makura) ― redundant accessories in Japanese TANKA(短歌) that will make most modern readers simply frown or sneer… and 序詞(jo-kotoba) ― a sub-plot somewhat irrelevant to the substantial content of the poem, yet sometimes stands out as a symbolic prologue and resounding background to the main theme

●枕詞(makura-kotoba: pillow adjectives) ― fixed precursors to certain nouns (…originating from NARA(奈良) era and rarely or never created afterwards)

(in 5-7-5-7-7 Japanese syllables)

《Hisakata no miyako no sora no hi no hikari ama no amagumo tsuyu hodo mo nashi》




ひさかたの【久方の】〔枕詞〕<PILLOW ADJECTIVE:preceding such nouns as 空(sora=the sky), 日(hi=the sun), 光(hikari=sunshine), 雲(kumo=clouds), 天(ama=the heavens), 雨(ame=rain), 星(hoshi=stars), 月(tsuki=the moon) or 都(miyako=the capital)>

みやこ【都】〔名〕<NOUN:the capital, metropolis>

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

そら【空】〔名〕<NOUN:the sky>

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

ひ【日】〔名〕<NOUN:the sun>

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

ひかり【光】〔名〕<NOUN:sunshine, light>

…The light of the sun in the sky of the capital

あま【天】〔名〕<NOUN:the heavens, sky>

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

あまぐも【雨雲】〔名〕<NOUN:rain clouds, nimbuses>

つゆ【露】〔名〕<NOUN:dew, a tiny bit>

ほど【ほど】〔副助〕<POSTPOSITIONAL PARTICLE(DEGREE):to that extent>


なし【無し】〔形ク〕(なし=終止形)<VERB:do not exist>

…Not a bit of rain cloud is to be seen in the sky

(in 5-4-4, not 5-7-5-7-7 English words)

The capital’s sky is fine

Filled with brilliant sunshine

No nimbus suggesting rain

 This is an example 短歌(TANKA) with a 枕詞(makura-kotoba) in it… well, where in the world is it in the English translation above, you may wonder: the answer is, there’s none. A 枕詞(makura-kotoba) only exists in ancient Japanese poetry as a prelude to some fixed nouns: in this case, the opening phrase of the Japanese 短歌(TANKA) “hisakata-no:ひさかたの(久方の)” has no meaning at all* except that it functions as an introduction to the succeeding term “miyako:みやこ(都=the capital)”, which means this 枕詞(hisakata-no) has no legitimate place at all in its English translation, or for that matter, in modern Japanese translation either.

(nb. this ancient 枕詞 “hisakata-no:久方の” is different from a similar modern Japanese expression “hisakata-buri:久方振り” meaning “after a long separation”)

 What, then, does “hisakata-no:ひさかたの(久方の)” mean, or where does it derive from? The answer is, we don’t know; even people in HEIAN(平安) era Japan seemed to have already lost track of its meaning or origin. What they and we do know for certain is that the phrase “hisakata-no:ひさかたの(久方の)” is always used as a prelude to such words as 空(sora=the sky), 日(hi=the sun), 光(hikari=sunshine), 雲(kumo=clouds), 天(ama=the heavens), 雨(ame=rain), 星(hoshi=stars), 月(tsuki=the moon) or 都(miyako=the capital). Mysterious though it was (or rather mysterious as it was), people in HEIAN(平安) era Japan kept using this type of seemingly meaningless prelude to certain nouns and called it 枕詞(makura-kotoba): 枕(makura) in this context means something meaningless or irrelevant to the main theme placed as a cushion or buffer zone just to avoid getting straight into the topic that one really wants to discuss. Thus, when a poem starts with a 枕詞(makura-kotoba) “ashihiki-no:あしひきの(足引の)”, it was to be followed by such nouns as “yama:やま(山=a mountain)” or “o:を(峰=a ridge)”, although people in HEIAN(平安) era Japan didn’t know the reason why… what they knew and cared about was how these terms were used, not knowing or even bothering why it was so.

 As a historical fact, practically all 枕詞(makura-kotoba) were the products of NARA(奈良) era Japan, when words(言=koto) were believed to have direct influence on things(事=koto) they described: this idea called 言霊(koto-dama: terms as spirits) might have been among the reasons why 枕詞(makura-kotoba), with indistinct origin and mysterious meaning and usage, still kept being used in HEIAN(平安) era Japan, without ever trying to add new versions of HEIANESE makura-kotoba(平安調枕詞) to the ancient NARA(奈良) repertoire. Since quite a few 枕詞(makura-kotoba) were as ancient and intangible to HEIANESE Japanese as they are to us today, guidebooks on their usage were naturally needed even by the best and brightest of the HEIANESE nobles ― such guidebooks were understandably called “歌枕(uta-makura: a guide on the usage of poetic cushion words prior to certain nouns)”.

●A narrow-sensed 歌枕(uta-makura: pillow phrases) ― popular names, phrases or places suggestive of some fixed images or inviting some fixed words or phrases, rhetorical clichés freely created and profusely cited in HEIANESE TANKA

 The term 歌枕(uta-makura) originally meant a guidebook on the usage of those mysterious ancient terms called 枕詞(makura-kotoba), but it came to mean something different towards the end of HEIAN(平安) era. You may see the example (two examples to be exact) of a newer and narrow-sensed 歌枕(uta-makura) in the following TANKA(短歌):

(in 5-7-5-7-7 Japanese syllables)

《Matsushima no Ojima no ama no mirume kare miru me naki mi no sode nuru wa nazo》





まつしま【松島】〔歌枕〕<POETIC PILLOW:inviting such words as 海人(ama=fishermen), 松(matsu=pine trees), 月(tsuki=the moon) or 千鳥(chidori=plovers)>

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

をじま【雄島】〔歌枕〕<POETIC PILLOW:inviting such words as 海人(ama=fishermen) or 袖(sode=sleeves)>

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

あま【海人】〔名〕<NOUN:a fisherman>

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

みるめ【海松布】〔名〕<NOUN:green stringy edible seaweed commonly found in Japanese seashore>

かる【枯る】〔自ラ下二〕(かれ=連用形)<VERB:wither, get drained out>


…A fisherman at the seashore of Ojima, Matsushima devoid of any seaweed to pick up



みるめ【海松布】〔名〕<NOUN:green stringy edible seaweed commonly found in Japanese seashore>


みる【見る】〔他マ上一〕(みる=連体形)<VERB:have a date with, have carnal knowledge of>

め【目】〔名〕<NOUN:an opportunity, possibility>


なし【無し】〔形ク〕(なき=連体形)<VERB:do not exist>

み【身】〔名〕<NOUN:a position, circumstance>

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


ぬる【濡る】〔自ラ下二〕(ぬる=終止形)<VERB:get wet>



…Why are his sleeves wet without any seaweed?

…Why are my sleeves wet without any chance of seeing you? (Because you are so cold-hearted that I keep crying and wiping my tears off with my sleeves)

(in 5-7-5-7-7 English words)

A fisherman at Ojima, Matsushima,

At a loss to find no seaweed…

The very image of myself:

Without any chance of rendezvous with you…

Who’s to blame for my wet sleeves?

 The two 歌枕(uta-makura) in question ― the bay of 松島(Matsushima) and the island of 雄島(Ojima) in it ― are both names of places in North-eastern Japan which, in the consciousness of HEIANESE nobles in 京都(Kyoto), were remote rural areas populated by rustics engaged in fishery and salt processing, whose sleeves were constantly wet with salty seawater as a natural consequence of their daily routine at sea. This image of sleeves wet with water routinely shifted in HEIANESE poetry into sleeves dripping with tears cried over one’s sad circumstances (mostly over a love affair going wrong). This image became so popular among HEIANESE nobles that the proper name “雄島(Ojima)” became a virtual pronoun instantly associated with “wet sleeves of fishermen”, thence to “sad tears cried over you dripping from my lonely sleeves”… this is the main concept of the TANKA(短歌) above. As for 松島(Matsushima), its function as an introduction to the succeeding term “海人(ama)” is simply unnecessary and redundant, due to the presence of 雄島(Ojima) that also invites “海人(ama)”. A real poet can easily point out the fact that “ま・つ・し・ま・の(Matsushima no)” only works as a “filler” for the 5-letter space at the beginning of the poem that must otherwise be occupied by some meaningful phrase… too much meaning may be a curse to this poem which is mostly occupied by largely meaningless 歌枕(uta-makura), I should remind you.

 Such names or phrases suggestive of certain stereotyped imagery came to be called 歌枕(uta-makura) ever since the end of HEIAN(平安) era; not a few modern Japanese think 歌枕(uta-makura) only refers to famous place names like 松島(Matsushima) or 雄島(Ojima), but authentic 歌枕(uta-makura) also includes things or ideas much wider than proper names of famous places; for example, 有明の月(ariake-no-tsuki) as an icon for “sorrowful mind regretting the passage of something good”, 袂の月(tamoto-no-tsuki) as an overemphasized image for “sleeves crystallized with tears to the extent that it reflects back the moonlight like a mirror”, 心の闇(kokoro-no-yami) to refer to “the absurd obsessions of otherwise clever parents dwelling upon the welfare of their children” etc,etc.

●Differences between 枕詞(makura-kotoba) and 歌枕(uta-makura)

 An 歌枕(uta-makura) is similar to a 枕詞(makura-kotoba) in that they are both meant to point to some fixed words, phrases or images, but there are some differences. While 枕詞(makura-kotoba) were the products of NARA(奈良) era and not freshly created in HEIAN(平安) era, 歌枕(uta-makura) kept being produced in large numbers throughout the history of TANKA(短歌) poetry. 枕詞(makura-kotoba) always functions as a preceding adjective to some fixed nouns, without meaning anything in itself, always coupled with certain nouns; in contrast, 歌枕(uta-makura) can both be used as an introduction to a certain word or phrase, and stand alone as an image-enhancer without being coupled with any other term.

●An 歌枕(uta-makura) as a stale cliché often functions as the key element of a set of background noise ― called 序詞(jo-kotoba) ― to the succeeding echo of a ridiculously redundant word or phrase which constitutes the brief main theme of the poem

 The mentioning of an 歌枕(uta-makura) can function as a trigger to some dramatic association stocked in the reader’s literary repertoire, thereby overcoming the 31-letter limitations of a TANKA(短歌) to extend itself into wider imagery (…if only the reader is well-read in HEIANESE Japanese poetry, that is). On the other hand, 歌枕(uta-makura) can be the worst culprit to make a TANKA(短歌) instantly stale at the moment of hearing it. For expert readers of TANKA(短歌), it’s too much suggestive of a certain end result to sound freshly interesting… just like a crime suspense featuring an actor well-known for his performance as a psychopath, it is ridiculously predictable. For novice readers, on the other hand, the mentioning of some particular place (like 松島 or 雄島) feels at first daunting (they have to play the role of a detective to find out why the incident takes place at that particular location) and in the end nauseating (when they find out the essential lack of any meaning in such place names).

 The vomitting feel of modern readers becomes at its maximum when they find the latter part of the poem ridiculously repeating the same word or phrase that appeared in the former part. In the case of the example TANKA(短歌) in question, the term “mirume(みるめ)” appears twice, wearing the same face yet meaning two things ― “mirume(海松布=seaweed)” and “miru me(見る目=a chance of rendezvous with you)”:



《Matsushima no Ojima no ama no <mirume> kare》

…A fisherman at the seashore of Ojima, Matsushima devoid of any seaweed to pick up

《<miru me> naki mi no sode nuru wa nazo》

…Why are his sleeves wet without any seaweed?

 If the seashore of Ojima(雄島) is devoid of “mirume(みるめ:海松布=seaweed)”, “ama(海人=a fisherman)” has nothing to pick up from the sea wetting his sleeves… yet his sleeves are still wet… why?… because he has no “mirume(みるめ:見る目=a chance of meeting and mating with his lover)”. That is the stream of this TANKA(短歌); take note of the tidal change in the middle: the main idea of this poem is concentrated in the latter 7-7 phrases of “mirume naki mi no(見る目無き身の)sode nuru wa nazo(袖濡るは何ぞ): Why are his sleeves wet with no seaweed? (Because he has no chance of meeting and mating with his lover)” The former part (Matsushima no Ojima no ama no <mirume> kare:松島の雄島の海人の<海松布>枯れ) has no meaning at all except as a long redundant introduction to the key word in the latter part “<mirume:見る目>=a chance of rendezvous”… by spending all 17 words of the former 5-7-5 part just to put in the 掛詞(kake-kotoba=synonymous term) of “<mirume:海松布>=seaweed”.

 From purely semantic point of view, the former 5-7-5 part of this TANKA(短歌) is so much wasted. Its main message “My sleeves are wet with tears because I have no chance of rendezvous with you” can simply be conveyed by the latter 7-7 part alone… why bother citing “Matsushima no Ojima no ama(松島の雄島の海人)” just to refer to “mirume(海松布…見る目)”… how absurdly redundant!… that should be the natural reaction of modern readers to this largely meaningless former part. Such an introductory (and largely meaningless) part of Japanese TANKA(短歌) is called 序詞(jo-kotoba).

●A bad 序詞(jo-kotoba) is characterized by awkward 蹈鞴文(たたらぶみ:tatara-bumi)

 Most TANKA(短歌) with 序詞(jo-kotoba) sound simply absurd because they repeat the same term (掛詞:kake-kotoba) twice… <MIRUME(海松布)> kare <MIRUME(見る目)> naki mi no sode nuru wa nazo… don’t you feel they sound awkwardly redundant? Such obstinate repetition of the same sound might have been the favorite of ancient Japanese nobles, but definitely not to the taste of modern readers who thirst for pure meaning in preference to acoustic effects. This author (Jaugo Noto:之人冗悟) is simply antagonistic to such awkwardly redundant 序詞(jo-kotoba) which mindlessly repeat hackneyed 掛詞(kake-kotoba)… so much does he HATE them that he has coined a derisive term for them ― 蹈鞴文(たたらぶみ:tatara-bumi).* Too many Japanese folks confuse such awkwardly redundant 蹈鞴踏み掛詞(tatara-bumi kake-kotoba) with much more sophisticated 縁語(engo), semantically unrelated homonymous redundant association, but they are essentially different in that the former awkwardly display and repeat themselves while the latter is hiding behind the mysty veil of context waiting to be discovered by sensitive readers’ imagination.

(nb. “蹈鞴(たたら:tatara)” is a pair of Japanese foot-bellows; “蹈鞴を踏む(たたらをふむ:tatara wo fumu)” means “staggering in an awkward fashion”)

●A good 序詞(jo-kotoba) is characterized by exquisite 霞懸け(かすみがけ:kasumi-gake)

 While most 序詞短歌(jo-kotoba TANKA) invite boredom and ridicule of most modern readers by 蹈鞴文(たたらぶみ:tatara-bumi), there do exist some better ones that neither repeat the awkwardly redundant 掛詞(kake-kotoba) nor waste away the precious 5-7-5 part in witless and meaningless introduction to the succeeding 7-7 part. This author (Jaugo Noto:之人冗悟) personally feels that they are the very ideal that a TANKA(短歌) poem could ever hope to be… and he crowns such exquisite 序詞(jo-kotoba) with an honorable epithet of “霞懸け(かすみがけ:kasumi-gake… mysty mix)”… here comes my humble example:

(in 5-7-5-7-7 Japanese syllables)

《Ama yami no shizuku ni hikaru komorebi no sashimo towaji na umoregi no yado》







あまやみ【雨止み】〔名〕<NOUN:the stoppage of rain>

…As the rain is gone


あま【天】〔名〕<NOUN:the sky, heavens>

やみ【闇】〔名〕<NOUN:darkness, obscurity>

…Through the darkness of the sky


の【の】〔格助〕<POSTPOSITIONAL PARTICLE(TIME):at the time of, then>

しづく【雫】〔名〕<NOUN:drops of rain, tears>


ひかる【光る】(ひかる=連体形)<VERB:shine, gleam>

こもれび【木漏れ日】〔名〕<NOUN:sunshine coming through leaves of the trees>


…Sunshine coming through glittering on the drops of the rain



さす【差す】〔自サ四〕(さし=連用形)<VERB:shine on, light up>



さしも【然しも】〔副〕<ADVERB:likewise, that way>



とふ【訪ふ】(とは=未然形)<VERB:visit, drop in>

じ【じ】〔助動特殊型〕打消推量(じ=終止形)<AUXILIARY VERB(NEGATIVE SUPPOSITION):will not>


うもれぎ【埋もれ木】〔名〕<NOUN:a tree buried underground>

の【の】〔格助〕<POSTPOSITIONAL PARTICLE(LIKENESS):just like, as though>

やど【宿】〔名〕<NOUN:a residence, dwelling>

…Likewise will he visit, no, this lonely dwelling buried in oblivion

(in 5-7-5-7-7 English words)

Raindrops left here and there,

Reflecting sunshine through leaves of the tree.

Leave me alone, he did;

Come to shine on me, will he?

I keep wondering buried in tearful leaves.

 Can you see where the 序詞(jo-kotoba) starts and how it ends in the archaic Japanese version?… I’d guess not, unless you are an exceptionally keen connoisseur of authentic Japanese TANKA(短歌), for the 序詞(jo-kotoba) part of the poem above (Ama yami no shizuku ni hikaru komorebi no <sashi>:雨止みの雫に光る木漏れ日の<差し>) is too exquisitely intertwined with the main conceptual part (<sashi>mo towaji na umoregi no yado:<然し>も訪はじな埋もれ木の宿). See how two different meanings ― komorebi no <sashi>:木漏れ日の<差し>(=sunshine coming through leaves of the tree) and <sashi>mo towaji na:<然し>も訪はじな(=my lover will not pay me such a benevolent visit) ― co-exist in a single term “sashimo:さしも” in seemingly unrelated manner: this is the authentic usage of 縁語(ENGO). Compare this exquisitely eloquent yet unobtrusive 霞懸け(kasumi-gake) “<sashimo(差し/然しも)> towaji na” with the awkwardly redundant 蹈鞴文(tatara-bumi) “<MIRUME(海松布)> kare <MIRUME(見る目)> naki mi no sode nuru wa nazo”.

 The technical function of 序詞(jo-kotoba:<mirume:みるめ=海松布>/<sashi:さし=差し>) as an introduction to the succeeding term(<mirume:みるめ=見る目>/<sashimo:さしも=然しも>) is no different between 蹈鞴文(tatara-bumi) and 霞懸け(kasumi-gake), but the way they present themselves are utterly different: the former is exhibitionistic, the latter cryptographic. But the essential difference between 蹈鞴文(tatara-bumi) and 霞懸け(kasumi-gake) lies not in the degree of their exhibition but in the weight of their poetic substance. While a 蹈鞴文序詞(tatara-bumi jo-kotoba) exists as a substanceless excuse for introducing something really meaningful later, a 霞懸け序詞(kasumi-gake jo-kotoba) is a visually powerful overture and symbolic undertone of the whole poem standing independent of (yet in perfect harmony with) its conceptual substance in the latter 7-7 part that is seamlessly connected with the preceding 序詞(jo-kotoba) part; the border between visual overture and conceptual essence is so exquisitely merged as to be hardly distinguishable to all but scrutinizing eyes of an authentic reader… hence the name of 霞懸け(kasumi-gake… mysty mix).*

(nb. the terms “霞懸け:kasumi-gake” and “蹈鞴文:tatara-bumi” are originally coined by Jaugo Noto:之人冗悟, so please don’t expect these terms to be understood elsewhere…)

 Well, how did you find them? Which one did you like better? As a poet, my answer has got to be “霞懸け(kasumi-gake)”, but how would you feel if you received such a mysty entreaty from someone you haven’t seen for quite some time? Personally, I might feel more inclined to agree to meet an awkwardly staggering woman than a poetically excellent one… for the latter makes me feel as if she could get married with her own poesy even if left alone by a man. Artistic beauty seems strangely inconsistent with (if not antagonistic to) ordinary happiness of ordinary folks, making world’s greatest poetic anthologies full of pessimistic tones. Which would you prefer, a less-than-artistic but personally gratifying life, or a less-than-happy yet artistically elated one?… in this respect, this author’s answer is the latter… no wonder he finds (or needs) few friends outside the boundaries of his imaginative kingdom.