Toropygina M.V. The Legends of Traditional Japanese Poetry (Part II)

The Legends of Traditional Japanese Poetry: Rokujō Poetry School in the 12th Century (Part II)

Toropygina M.V.

Teika, the poetic opponent of the Rokujō family, considered Akisuke one of the best poets as well. Listing modern poets who were equal in their talent to the poets of the past, in his work Kindai shuka (近代秀歌), Teika says those are Minamoto no Tsunenobu (1016-1097), Tosiyori, Akisuke, Kiyosuke, Toshinari and Motoshi. [1]

Teika included in Hyakunin isshu the song of Akisuke from Shinkokinshū anthology (No. 413) (新古今集), see this poem translated by V. S. Sanovich and I. A. Boronina.


See how the wind of autumn drives

The clouds to left and right,

While in between the moon peeps out,

Dispersing with her light

The darkness of the night.

(translated by V.S. Sanovich).[2]


See how clear and bright

Is the moonlight finding ways

Through the riven clouds

That, with drifting autumn wind,

Gracefully float in the sky.

(translated by I.A. Boronina).[3]


Akisuke's son Fujiwara no Kiyosuke became his successor and the head of the keen. He was born when Akisuke was only fifteen years old. Kiyosuke was likely to have helped the father with compiling the imperial anthology, but it might be assumed that relations between them were not that easy: Kiyosuke's poems aren't included in the anthology by Akisuke. Meanwhile the seventh imperial anthology Senzai Wakashū (千載和歌集), compiled by the poetic rival, the founder of Mikohidari school Toshinari included 19 poems of Kiyosuke.

Contemporaries regarded Kiyosuke as the person of the broadest knowledge. Kamo no Chōmei quotes poet Shomyo[4] in Mumyōshō:

"Poetic talent of Kiyosuke Ason is deep, and nobody could be compared to him. If one asks him about what by all means one wants to know, but thinks nobody could touch upon it turns out Kiyosuke he already knows about it, for him it is not news. When he is going to recite songs at an imperial tournament, he says: "The most important thing is not to forget old gatherings!" - he re-reads Man'yōshū again and again"[5].

Kiyosuke was often invited to judge poetic tournaments. To fulfill the duties, one needed to be a very knowledgeable person. Toshinari often performed this role. Kamo no Chōmei wrote down the words of Kenshō about how Toshinari and Kiyosuke behaved during poetry contests.

"Toshinari Kyo and Kiyosuke Ason are both brilliant poetry critics. However, both are biased, but each with its own peculiarities. Toshinari Kyo shows in every possible way that he understands that he may be wrong, and doesn't argue that much, saying something like: "If it is a custom, why not?" Kiyosuke Ason looks brilliant and incorruptible, doesn't show partiality at all, but if suddenly someone expresses disagreement, his face changes and he argues fiercely, knowing about it, nobody contradicts him".[6]

In the history of poetry there is a legend of how Kiyosuke usually composed the first line of the poem. This legend can be found in several works, including Shotesu Monogatari.

"It is known that when there was the imperial set off in Uji, Kiyosuke accompanied the Emperor. At a poetic gathering when all songs had already been composed, only Kiyosuke alone pondered the poem forever and was late with reciting. As it was Kiyosuke, nobody protested, and the fact that he was really late annoyed nobody. The song was:


toshi hetaru / udji-no hashimori/ koto towamu / ikuyo-ni narinu / midzu-no minakami[7]


Aged guardian

Of the Uji Bridge you've seen,

So many years I

Would like to know how long

Have the waters

Flowed from the source.


This song from the words "aged guardian of the Uji Bridge" and up to the end had been already composed, but Kiyosuke couldn't come up with the first five-sign line therefore it took him so long. A lot of time passed, he was exhausted, and he wrote five signs toshi hetaru in small letters as if it were a commentary. After that he gave the poem away. And it was indeed a not so good five-sign line". [8]

Fujiwara no Kiyosuke wrote several works in karon genre: Fukuro Zōshi (袋草紙), Ōgishō (奥義抄) and Waka Shogakushō (和歌初学抄). It was Kiyosuke who was to become the compiler of the seventh imperial anthology, it was ordered by Emperor Nijō (1143-1165, circa. 1158-1165) and compiled under the name Shika Wakashū (続詞花和歌集). However, Emperor Nijō died before the anthology had been "approved" as official therefore it isn't among the 21 imperial anthologies and exists as a private poetry collection.

In the history of poetry there are records on the poetry event held by Kiyosuke in 1172, it was poetic evening shoshikai 尚歯会 - literally the "gathering of the elders of poetry".

Records on the gathering can be found in a number of sources, including Kokonchomonjū According to Kokonchomonjū (story 4-121), the first such meeting was arranged by Chinese poet Bai Juyi (172-846) in 845. In Japan, similar events were held in 877, 969 and 1131[9]. There were always seven old men at shoshikai, and before the gathering organized by Kiyosuke poems had been composed in Chinese.

The story about the gathering of the elders held by Kiyosuke is also described in Kokonchomonjū (5-203) in the story under the name "How the Former Deputy Manager of the Palace of Empress Saki Oomiya Daysin Kiyosuke Arranged a Gathering of the Elders of Poetry with Reciting Japanese Songs". By tradition it featured seven people, the age of all participants is given in the text of the story[10]: Fujiwara no Atsuyori (84) (1090-1182?), Shirakawa Akihiroō (78) (1095-1180), Hafuribe no Narinaka (74) (1099-1191), (Fujiwara no Naganori (71) (1100-1180), Minamoto-no Yorimasa (69) (1104-1180), Ōe no Koremitsu (63) (1110-1175). Kiyosuke was 69 years old at this time. The gathering arranged by Kiyosuke differed from all that took place earlier, as Japanese waka, but not Chinese poems were recited there.

Kiyosuke is described as:

"Kiyosuke was wearing linen hakama. While he was making his way to his seat, the Assistant Governor of Dazaifu - Daini Shige'ie Kyo supported the folds of his clothes, and the Officer for Serving the Empress Household - Kogogushuko Suetsune Ason - put shoes on him. Both of them were the younger brothers of Kiyosuke. Despite the fact that their service and rank was higher, they respected the elder brother and thus expressed the respect. It was never-ending joy that after his father Akisuke Kyo, among his descendants there were those who followed the Poetry Path and that Hitomaro's portrait which passed to Kiyosuke Ason and warigo[11] inkslab would have been passed to the son of Shige'ie Kyo - Fujiwara-no Tyumuken Dayfu Tsune'ie who was serving in the Ministry of the Center at that time. And poetic compositions would have passed to Suetsune Ason.

Most poetic gatherings of the elders were collections of Chinese poems, the collection of Japanese songs was a rarity. There seem to be records that this happened once in the ancient time, or perhaps it didn't.

This day is described in the diary as: "Water in the pond was of deep color as if it saw thousands of years, and the moss on the rocks looked as if tens thousands of years had passed".[12]

Poetic part of this evening was started by Kiyosuke. The first several quoted poems come from the first imperial anthology of Kokinshu, all of them reflect on longevity. [13]

Then roles in the gathering were divided. Narinaka was the reader (koshi 講師), Yorimasa the secretary (dokushi 読師), the preface was written by Kiyosuke.

At this poetic meeting Kiyosuke composed the song which later was part of the eleventh imperial anthology Shin Kokin Wakashū (No. 1529) (続古今和歌集).


chiru hana wa /nochi-no haru tomo / matarekeri / mata mo kumadziki / waga shakari kamo


The fallen-down flowers

For the next spring

Can wait.

But will never return

My blooming.


The first seven poems were composed by those participants who were glorified as elders, then some more people took part in the composition of poems, poets who took these places were called in the text Kokon chomonjū enga-no dza (垣下座 literally "places beneath the hedge "). The collection made of the poems created at these gatherings is called Bonshun Shirakawa Shoshikai Waka (暮春白河尚歯会和歌 "The Songs composed late spring at the gathering of the elders in Shirakawa"), in manuscripts and early editions it is usually supplied with the preface by Kiyosuke: Shirakawa Shoshikai Waka Narabi Jo. The collection was published in Gunsho Ruijū series.

Teika included the following song by Kiyosuke in Hyakunin isshu (it is taken from Sinkokinsyu to No. 1843):

If I live on longer,

I again, I wonder,

yearn for these days?

The world that I once saw as

bitter, now, is dear to me.

(translated by ВV. Stanovich).[14]


I will live still,

With gratefulness I will remember

About these days,

As nowadays I remember the past,

When I stayed in grief.

(I. A. Boronina's translation). [15]


Almost at the same time with Hyakunin isshu, compiled by Teika, perhaps, a little earlier thanTeika, ex-Emperor Gotoba-in (1180-1239, circa 1183-1198) who at that time was in exile after an unsuccessful attempt of the armed opposition to the shogunate, compiled the poetic collection under the name of Jidai Fudo Utanawase (時代不同歌合) in which he gave his version of the list of the best hundred poets. Two poets - Teika and Gotoba-in - compiled their lists of hundred poets independently from each other, but the names of 68 poets in their collections coincide. The Gotoba-in collection represents each poet with three works. The collection is made in form of a poetry contest, i.e. the compiler's task was not only to select the best poets and their works, but also to make the pairs of poets worthy to be rivals.

Gotoba-in collection included both Akisue and Akisuke, and Kiyosuke. In rounds 34-36 Sosei Hoshi (?-910) was the rival of Akisue. Аkisuke opposed Ki-no Tsurayuki (rounds 52-54), Kiyosuke competed with Otomo-no Yakamochi (718?-785) (rounds 7-9). [16]

Kioysuke is also among the thirty six immortals of the poetry (Sanjūrokkasen) - the best poets of the time of Shinkokinshu. The compiler of this selection is unknown, possibly, it was Gotoba-in, but his authorship is under question. In this collection of Kiyosuke is presented by the following poem taken from Shinkokinshu (No. 572):


shiba-no tо-ni / irihi-no kage ha / sashinagara/ ikani shigurur/ yamabe naru ran

On the brushwood door

the last slanting rays of,

setting sun strike how ,

can it be that chilly rains.

Still fall on those mountain slopes.[17]


The clouds had cleared

And yet I seemed to hear a soft

Rain pattering on

My brushwood door dewdrops from

Pines swept by the mountain wind.

(translated by I. A. Boronina's).[18]


The stepbrother of Kiyosuke, Kenshō, was much younger than him, Kenshō can hardly be considered as eminent as Kiyosuke, but, as well as other poets of Rokujō school, he was a real expert in poetry. Kenshō is an author of several poetics treatises, the most known of which is Shuchusho (袖中抄). Kenshō studied Man'yōshū and safeguarded the poetic ideals of Rokujō. Among poetic legends there is one on the disputes between poets Kenshō and Jakuren during the poetic tournament Roppyaku-ban Uta Awase. (六百番歌合).

Roppyaku-ban Uta Awase was arranged in 1192 by Fujiwara-no Yoshitsune.

(Kujō Yoshitsune, 1169-1206), it was an unprecedentedly large scale event: the poetry contest consisted of 600 rounds, i.e. 1200 songs. There were 12 participants each of them had presented 100 songs. Subjects for the contest, most likely, were chosen by its organizer (and the participant) - Yoshitsune. Perhaps, he also grouped the pairs of poems in rounds (the pairs of participants rotated all the time). The contest took place soon after the compilation of the seventh imperial anthology, and its compiler - Toshinari - was invited as a judge. There was one judge, but participants of the teams spoke their opinion on each presented poem. Exact dates when the tournament was held remain secret. Its beginning is referred to 1192, but it continued also in 1193, and, perhaps, in 1194. Poetic preferences of Yoshitsune obviously were with Mikohidari school, but the contest was organized in such a way that pairs of poems entering a competition could belong both to poets of different schools, as well as to poets of one school.

As at any other tournament, participants were divided into two teams - the left and the right. Though, certainly, the competition of the two poetry schools was an important intrigue of the contest, the teams were not made up in line with the principle of belonging to a certain school, and not only representatives of these schools took part in the event.

Ietaka, Jakuren, Takanobu and Teika represented Mikohidari. Rokujō was represented by Ariie, Kenshō, Suetsune, Tsuneie. Also representatives of the highest aristocracy, the "ruling clique" participated: Yoshitsune himself, Jien, representatives of another Fujiwara branch - Kanemune (1163-1242), Iefusa (1167-1196). Team Left featured Yoshitsune, Suetsune, Kanemune, Ariie, Teika and Kenshō. In team Right there were: Iefusa, Tsuneie, Takanobu, Ietaka, Jien and Jakuren.

Stories about this competition seem to be long alive in poetic circles. The poet Tonna (1289-1372) in his work Seiasho (井蛙抄), other name Suaigammoku (水蛙眼目) wrote down the words of Joji (Nijo Sadatame, 1259?-1329?).

"When the poetry contest in six hundred rounds took place in the house of the Left general, all had to appear day after day, discuss songs and write down everything. However, many weren't present daily, while Jakuren and Kenshō arrived every day and always argued. Kenshō was the monk (hiziri) and carried a thunderbolt instrument (tokko) [19]. Jakuren argued, extending a neck like a snake (kamakubi)[20]. Women in the palace nicknamed them Vajra and Gooseneck". [21]

From that time the aphorism tokko kamakubi meaning a "fierce dispute" entered Japanese.

At the tournament Kenshō had both defeats, and victories. One of his victory songs is composed on "cicada".


yuma yama[22] / matzu- no ha kaze ni / uchisoete/ semi-no naku ne mo / mine wataru nari


Upon Yuma Mountain

The wind passing over the pine needles

Just so

Do the cicadas' cries

Pass between the peaks.


It is possible that not only participants, but also the judge, Shunzei (he was almost under 80 at this time), were not always present at readings, and sometimes made their decision based on records. Shunzei wasn't such an expert on Man'yōshū as the poets of Rokujo. He made a number of mistakes. Mistakes in refereeing were frequent at any contests, tasks which sometimes had to be solved were too difficult, the judge had to have extensive knowledge, excellent memory and a quick reaction.

Kamo-no Сhomei in Mumyosho writes about mistakes of the most influential poetic judges: Mototoshi was mistaken, having mixed the words tatsu and a tadsu (words at that time were written without nigori symbol), another time he couldn't remember the poem of Kino Tsurayuki; Fujiwara -no Sanesada (1139-1191) was mistaken in reading hieroglyphs. Kamo-no Chomei mentions a mistake in Toshinari's refereeing (but actually, without pointing at what poetic tournament it had been made), the mistake was connected to insufficient knowledge of Man'yōshyosyu. Kamo-no Chomei says that Fujiwara-no Toshinari Fuji read fuji no narusawa

(富士の鳴澤) as fuji no narusa (富士のなるさ), without having recognized the quote from the poem of Man'yōshyosyu[23]. Similar mistakes were made by Toshinari at Roppyaku-ban Uta Awase contest. Thus, Kenshō used in the poem the word "whale" 鯨 which Shunzei read as a kuziru, however, as Kenshō was referring to the poem from Man'yōshyosyu, the word needed to be read as izana, he also incorrectly defined to what poem the author referred[24]. There were many mistakes, and Kenshō wrote the work - Roppyakuban chinnjo (六百番陳状) - concerning mistakes in refereeing at Roppyakuban Uta Awase.

This "criticism on criticism" by Kenshōwas was, of course, unpleasant for Mikohidari school, however the contest in general was very successful, later 34 poems composed for this tournament were included into Shinkokinshu. Comments to poems of this tournament which Toshinari gave contained the well-known phrase that it is impossible to write verses without knowing Genji Monogatari," (源氏見ざる歌詠みは遺恨の事なり genji mizaru utayomi wa ikon no koto nari- it is a shame when songs are composed without the knowledge of Genji), so Mikohidari school defined its "trademark" (not the only one, but very important) - the knowledge of Genji Monogatari.

Senzaishu anthology features 13 songs by Kenshō and Shinkokinshu and anthology - 2 of them ( № 296 and № 331 ):


The ivy was painted crimson

On Mizugaki Mountain,

This morning

Turned the leaves inside out

Autumn biting wind.

(translated by I. A. Boronina's) [25]


Who are these maidens from the palace,

That, having decorated the sleeves

In haga flowers,

In greeting wave to us with scarves

From Takamado Mountain?

(translated by I.A. Boronina) [26]


When compiling Shinkokinsho the poets of Rokujō school were active and participated in all poetry events, but nevertheless they lost it to Mikohidari school. The ninth imperial anthology that followed Shinkokinsho - Shin Chokusenwakashuh (新勅撰和歌集) was compiled by Teika, the tenth - Shoku-Gosen Wakashu (続後撰和歌集) by Teika's son Tameie (1198-1275), and only the eleventh Shoku-Gosen Wakashu (続古今和歌集) featured the grand grandson of Akikuse Fudjiwara-no Yuki'ie (1223-1275). [27]

Throughout almost the entire history of Japanese poetry poets-innovators and adherents of old traditions fought for the right to be considered the best poets. Kamo-no Chomei, discussing what goals these warring poetry parties set, said: "However actually the goal of both is the same: mastery and beautiful songs - here the two parties have no contradiction"[28].


Il.1. Kanefusa describes the looks of Hitomaro to the artist.

Il.2. Kamo-no Chomei listens to his teacher Shunje.

Il.3. The gathering of elders in the mansion of Fujiwara no-Kioshuko

Il.4. Dispute between poets Konsho and Jakuren.

Maria Bladimirovna Toropygina, Phd. Philology, Senior Research Fellow at the Institute of Oriental Studies, Russian Academy of Sciences Assistant Professor of the Institute for Oriental and Classical Studies, Russian State University for the Humanities. This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

[1] Nine steps of waka: Japanese poets on the art of poetry / tr. I.А.Boronina. М., Nauka , 2006. p.66.

[2] One hundred poems by one hundred poets / tr. V.S.Sanovich. SPb., Shar, 1994. p.232.

[3] Shin Kokin Wakashu: Japanese poetic anthology of the 13th century in two volumes. I.А.Boronina. М., Koral Klab, 2000-2001. Т.1. P.136.

[4] Shomei(1112?- 1187?), known as Fujiwara-no Chikashige (Norichika), - poet of Rokujō school, probably, granddad of Kamo -no Chomei.

[5] Kamо-nо Chomei. Ibid. p. 99.

[6] Ibid. P.101.

[7] Shinkoshinshu (№ 743). Translated by I.А.Boronina:

Aged guardian

Of the Uji Bridge you've seen,

So many years I

Would like to know how long

Have the waters

Flowed from the source?


[8] Conversations with Shōtetsu. p. 306-307. Actually, this song was composed not during the imperial set off but at the poetic contest of 1169 in Uji.

[9] Kokon chomonjū. p.129.

[10] Years of life of some participants are not exact, different reference books provide various data.

[11] Тhere is no exact data on the nature of this item.

[12] Kokon chomonjū . p.179.

[13] Poems from Kokinshu № 929, 903,894,899,895 were read.

[14] One hundred poems by one hundred poets. p.244

[15] Shinkoshinu. P.2. P.265.

[16] Jidai Fudo Uta Awase (Competition between Poets of Different Eras) [online resource] URL: (as of May 2, 2016).

[17] In M.V.Tioropygina. Poetichesky sbornik novysh tridtsati shesti geniev yaponskpoy poezii // Istoriya i kultura traditonnoy Yaponii 7. М., Natalis, 2014, p. 125-146. (Orientalia et Classica: Trudy Instituta Vostoshnykh Kultur in antichnosti; Issue LII). P.144.

[18]Shinkoshinshu. V.1.P.172.

[19] Тоkko (toko) 独鈷 - a ritual tool of Buddhist ceremonies, a double pointed or with balls at the end. Symbolizes the weapons hitting evil spirits.

[20] Kamakubi鎌首- literally a «scythe neck» . Long and curved neck. Usually translated as a goose neck.

[21] Suia gammoku (Narrative from a frog) // Gunsho Ruiju (shinko). V.14.Tokyo, Naigai shosheki, 1928, p.373-386. p.379. Tonna's work has been partially translated into English in Steven D.Carter. Just Living: Poems and Prose by the Japanese Monk Tonna. New York: Columbia University Press, 2002.

[22] The first line of this poem-маkura kotoba-pillow word, used already in Man'yōshyosyu, at the same time as kakekotoba,yufuma- the names of the mountains and the word evening at the same.

[23] Kamo-no Chomei.Ibid.. p.61-62, 80.

[24] Robert Huey. The Making of Shinkokunshu. Harvard University Asian Center, 2002. P.20.

[25]Shinkoshinshu. V.1. p.112.

[26] Ibid. p.119.

[27] His genealogy looks like:Akisue-Akisuke- Сигэиэ -Akieie- Tomoie(1182-1258) - Yukiee

[28] Kamo-no Chomei. Ibid. p.112.