Sakura and Tanka poetry[May 2018]

Fuden-An: Leaves from a Tea-Journal

Sakura and Tanka poetry[May 2018]

KOBORI Sojitsu (the 13th Grand Master of the Enshu Sado School )

The sakura this year came early indeed. I mentioned this in last month’s journal entry, but while I am full of sorrow at having become used to the fickle weather, my heart cannot help but be filled with joy when the cherry blossoms come into flower.

The wind that blows beneath the falling cherry blossoms is not cold
Yet snow falls from the sky who knows not whence it came
- Ki-no-Tsurayuki

If it were not for cherry blossoms in the world,
How peaceful and calm the heart in spring could be
- Ariwara-no-Narihira

These Tanka poems demonstrate how Japanese people like to use cherry blossoms as a metaphor for emotions and ways of life. The flower first buds, goes through various stages of blossoming, from just open to full bloom, and finally falls to the ground – comparing these stages to one’s own emotions at different stages of life is a beautiful part of Japanese emotional expression.

The Yaezakura of the ancient and distant capital of Nara
Blossoms in beautiful colors in the court of the imperial palace
- Ise-no-Taifu

This is a famous Japanese poem printed in the anthology of One Hundred Poems and has an interesting story behind it. When this poem was composed, the capital had already moved from Nara, the capital between 710 and 784AD, to Kyoto. There was a tradition of a Yaezakura tree being sent every year from Nara to Empress Fujiwara no Shoushi, wife of Emperor Ichijo. At the time, the role of receiving the Yaezakura was assigned to the most talented Murasaki Shikibu, but on one occasion it was assigned to Ise-no-Taifu. Still a newcomer in the palace, she was instructed by the head of the Fujiwara family that if she were to take on this role, she ought to compose a poem and this was it. The exceptional skill and wit she displayed in composing a poem which draws comparisons between the past and the present, the prosperity of the imperial palace and the beauty of the cherry blossoms, and celebrates the reign of the emperor, redounded greatly to her honor.

I believe this poem also has another meaning and this is that it represented a handing over of the baton from Murasaki Shikibu to Ise-no-Taifu.

The Heisei period will come to an end in April of next year and the enthronement of the new Emperor will take place in May and this marks a significant transition for this generation. Generational change is normal and how smoothly and stably this takes place is of extreme importance. It is in today’s context that I have found this meaning in this poem.

Finally, I would like to extend my great respect to the Japanese athletes who played a very active part in the Paralympics that followed the Winter Olympics in Pyeonchang.