Green pine grove extends 2 km in arch along white sand beach at Takada Matsubara Beach in Rikuzen Takada City, Iwate Pref. This pine grove is of about 70,000 pine trees, which are over 300 years old. The landscape reminds us of the one drawn in a Japanese-style painting. The beach is counted as one of Japan’s 100 Fine Views.
Takuboku Ishikawa, a poet in the Meiji period, who spent his junior high school days in Iwate prefecture, spoke highly of this beach. Also, Kyoshi Takahama, a master haiku poet in the Meiji period, praised the beach and wrote a haiku about it when he visited this place as a member of the judges to decide Japan’s 100 Fine Views. The stone monuments inscribed with their poems are erected in the grove. Approximately 4.4 million people come to this beach for relaxation and refreshment.
Saigyo was a famous Japanese poet of the late Heian period (794-1192). Born to a military family in 1118, he started his careear as an Imperial Guard to retired Emperor Toba at the age of 18. He was a handsome young man, who was both a good warrior and a good scholar. He came to be known in the political circles of the time, but for some unknown reasons, he quit worldly life to become a monk at the age of 23. Later he took the pen name “Saigyo” meaning Western Journey.
He did not belong to any sect of Buddhism and stayed in a hermitage in a deep mountain to seek for enlightment through writing waka poems. Being attracted by the beauty of nature, he made his temporary hermitage in the suberbs of Kyoto and Nara including Mt. Ogurayama in Saga, Mt. Kuramayama, a holy mountain of Yoshino and Mt. Koya, the sanctuary of the Shingon Buddhism. He also made a number of trips to visit temples and shrines in Shikoku and Ise.
94 poems of Saigyo’s work are collected in “the Shin Kokinshu.” His other important collections of poems are “Sankashu (Mountain Home Collection),” “Sanka Shinchu Shu,” and “Kikigakishu.” He died at Hirokawa Temple in Kawachi province (present-day Kanan-cho in Osaka Prefecture) in 1190.
Ryokan was a Soto Zen Buddhist monk in the late Edo period (1603-1868). He is also known as a calligrapher and poet, who wrote both Japanese waka poems and Chinese classic poems.
He was born in in the village of Izumozaki in Echigo Province (now Niigata Prefecture) in 1758. He was much influenced by his father, who was a Nanushi (village officer) and poet. Ryokan studied under Omori Shiyo, a scholar of Chinese classics and became his father’s assistant.
Later he visited and stayed at Entsuji Temple (in present-day Okayama Prefecture), where he was ordained priest by the Zen master Kokusen. It was around this time that Ryokan also took interested in writing poems and deepened exchanges with many poets of the time.
Ryokan attained enlightment and was presented with an Inka (a formal acknowledgement of a student’s completion of Zen training) by Kokusen at the age of 33. He left Entsuji Temple to set for a long pilgrimage and necer returned to the monastery life. He lived the rest of his life as a hermit and taught Buddhism to common people in easy words instead of difficult sermons.
He disclosed his own humble life, for which people felt sympathy, and placed their confidence in him. A lot of artists and scholars also visited his small hut, Gogo-an, where he talked with them over a drink of Hannya-yu (enlightening hot water, namely Japanese hot sake). He died in 1831. His only disciple, Teishin-ni published a collection of Ryokan’s poems titled “Hasu no Tsuyu (Dewdrops on a lotus leaf).”
Waka is a form of Japanese poetry also known as Yamato Uta (songs) or '31 letters'.
Tanka poetry is one branch of waka. Already in the Nara or early Heian periods, the 'Manyoshu' ('Collection of a Myriad Leaves'), had been compiled consisting of tanka. In the Heian period, nagauta and sedoka poetry lost their popularity and waka came basically to mean tanka.
Tanka consist of 5 phrases of 5,7,5,7,7 words each or 31 letters. This is the only rule for tanka; there are no others. You can choose whatever topics you like, for example, daily life, nature, etc.
Tanka has various forms that enable the expression of a wide variety of feeling. Set epithets may be put in front of some special word; puns may be used using homonyms, words with the same pronunciation, but different meanings.
People will continue to compose Waka poems that will change as the use of words change, too.
Incense burning is a unique Japanese art in which fragrant wood is burnt for the enjoyment of its scent.
Fragrant wood was introduced to Japan at the same time as Buddhism and the custom of adding scent to clothes or hair was born. By the mid-Muromachi period, the burning of fragant wood had become stylised in the same way as the tea ceremony and flower arranging.
The basic style of incense burning involves cutting a piece of fragrant wood and putting it into a censer; the censer is passed back and forth so that its scent can be enjoyed.
Incense burning has an element of game and you guess which scent is which by comparing it with the Japanese classics and waka poems relating to it. This is different from other arts but, of course, winning and losing are not as important as enjoying the scent.
Incense burning is a very profound art that integrates one's literary knowledge, etiquette and mastery of books and tools. Many people love this art.
The 'Hyakunin-isshu' is a compilation of 100 exceptional poems from 100 famous poets, each individually chosen in chronological order.
The compilation was made by Sadaie Fujiwara, a poet of the Kamakura period, and the poems were carefully selected from the 'Kokinshu' and 'Shin-Kokinshu'.
The making of the compilation first started when Sadaie was requested to choose a poem to put on the fusuma door of Rensho Utsunomiya's villa, the Ogura-sanso, in Sagano, Kyoto. The compilation was first named the 'Ogura-sanso-shikishi-waka' or 'Sagasanso-shikishi-waka', but it is most famously known as 'Ogura-hyakunin-isshu'.
After the completion of the 'Ogura-hyakunin-isshu', many other private compilations of 100 poems, each from a different poet, followed. These include the 'Gosen-hyakunin-isshu', 'Genji-hyakunin-isshu', and 'Nyobo-hyakunin-isshu'. Additionally, there is a game called 'utakaruta', which is based on the 'Ogura-hyakunin-isshu'. This 'utakaruta' game started during the mid-Edo period and continues even now.
The Japanese word 'tsuyu' will remind you of 'dew', as in 'morning dew' or 'night dew'. But, there are other usages for this word that should be familiar to you.
For example, tsuyu can mean 'little', as in 'I do not doubt it a little (tsuyu)'. Tsuyu also means 'frail or easy to fade'. Generally, tsuyu carries the meanings of 'short', 'little' and 'sad'.
It is true that dew makes you think of graceful moisture, which will soon disappear if the sun shines or the wind blows. This might be why 'tsuyu' gained new meanings.
In addition, in 'New Collections of Ancient and Modern Times' (a collection of 'waka' poems from 1205), tsuyu means 'tears'; the drops to express sadness. People in the past seemed to have used the word as a sentimental expression. Now, tsuyu is rarely used in haiku poetry to describe the frailty of life.
The sensibility of people living in times when the earth was full of abundant nature is quite different from ours today.
Edo karakami is a kind of Japanese paper that came to be used for decorating sliding doors, walls and folding screens in Edo buildings. Its origin is 'karakami', an imitation of 'mon-karakami', which was beautifully patterned paper imported from China in the Heian period.
At first, the nobility used this paper as rough paper for waka poetry. After the Middle Ages, it began to be pasted on sliding doors or screens.
In the Edo period, as the Tokugawa government developed the towns around Edo, the demand for karakami increased and it developed in various forms.
Much of Kyoto karakami is printed from woodblocks. On the other hand, Edo Karakami is printed using woodblock as well as many other techniques, such as stencil printing and stripe printing. These patterns have free and subtle designs reflecting the tastes of the Edo-based samurais and townspeople.