The Wonders of Mount Fuji: Poem Number 4

Mount Fuji as seen from Suruga Bay, photo by Shinichi Morita, CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

This was something I read recently that I felt like posting:

田子の浦にTago no ura niAs I set out on
うち出でて見ればUchi idete mirebathe beach of Tago, and look,
白妙のShirotae noI see the snow constantly falling
富士の高嶺にFuji no takane nion the high peak of Fuji,
雪は降りつつYuki wa furitsutsuwhite as mulberry cloth.
Translation by Dr Joshua Mostow

This poem was composed by Yamabe no Akahito ( dates unknown ) who according to Mostow was a contemporary of Hitomaro (poem 3). He is also one of the Thirty Six Immortals of Poetry and was a leading poet during the reign of Emperor Shomu.

Mostow carefully explains that this poem, like many of the earlier poems in the Hyakunin Isshu were written in an old Japanese-Chinese hybrid script called manyōgana and was thus open to many interpretations. In fact, the poem has evolved over time and the version in the Hyakunin Isshu is only one such version.

This matters because there’s much debate about where Akahito actually was. The location of Tago no Ura is now Suruga Bay in Shizuoka Prefecture, but originally may have meant some place much closer to Mount Fuji, under it’s “shadow”, so to speak.

One other interesting note for readers of this blog is the middle line, shirotae no, which as you may recall from poem 2 is one of those special “pillow words” used in Japanese poetry. It is a very idiomatic term which conveys something that is gleaming white, or as Professor Mostow translates, white as mulberry cloth.

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