Day 08 in Ise… Ise and Literature

Kōgakkan University‘s professors have presented a lot of great material on a wide variety of topics so far. One topic that I was anxiously awaiting was about the literary connections to Ise. I already wrote a post about a trip to the saikū 斎宮 where I was able to learn a lot about the historical background of some poems found in the Manyōshū 万葉集, but today’s presentation (3 March) on literature was the one to which I was really looking forward.

Arakida Moritaka

The presentation was given by Fukatsu Mutsuo-sensei 深津睦夫氏, who is a member of the literature department here at Kōgakkan. A few of the topics he spoke about were:

  1. The History of Japanese & Sino-Japanese Poetry (shika 詩歌)
  2. Waka 和歌 Poetry Connected to Ise
  3. Linked-verse Renga 連歌 Poetry
  4. Haikai 俳諧

In the History of Japanese & Sino-Japanese Poetry portion of his talk, Fukatsu-sensei provided a brief history of how Chinese writing (Japanese did not exist in a written form until the arrival of Chinese writing) prompted the Japanese people to begin writing their own poetry. He also introduced some of the main poetry collections of the early Japanese canon.

In the Waka 和歌 Poetry Connected to Ise portion, he spoke about how aristocrats in the Heian period would write waka poems both about Ise and while in Ise. He also spoke about the famous poet Saigyō’s 西行 connection with Ise. I found this really interesting because Saigyō was a Buddhist monk and all things Buddhist were banned from the Ise Jingū area. Apparently Saigyō revered Ise Jingū and had no problem stripping himself of Buddhist accoutrement during his stay. Shrine officials also had a penchant for writing waka, apparently. I love Saigyō’s poetry and strongly recommend it to everyone.

Linked-verse Renga poetry is poetry composed in groups, when each member writes a stanza building on the previous member’s stanza. This form of poetry was a very popular way for aristocrats to entertain themselves and was also a favourite pastime of shrine officials in Ise. One Ise Shintō priest, Arikida Moritake 荒木田守武 (1473-1549) is particularly famous for writing renga. This is the first time that I have ever heard of him, I think, and am interested to read about him some more.

Finally, waka and renga gave way to haikai, so Fukatsu-sensei ended with a brief explanation of haikai and of course Matsuo Bashō 松尾芭蕉 whose hometown is in Mie and who travelled to and composed poems about Ise.

What was most interesting to me was the very idea of “Ise” as a theme in literature. I had never considered it before, but as Fukatsu-sensei demonstrated, literature was “happening” at Ise from very early. Ōku no himemiko 大来皇女 (661-702) who is famous for her poetry in the Manyōshū is one of the Thirty-six Poetry Immortals, is a key figure in Ise history. Saigyō had a very influential effect on later poetry, especially with the way he incorporated Buddhist messages and themes into poems. His poetry and style influenced poets for generations to come (for example Bashō was a huge fan of his, 500 years later). At a time when Buddhist language and culture were taboo in Ise, renga became a popular pastime–case in point, Arikida Moritake. And finally Bashō and his connections to Ise are important to note.

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