Who’s Fault Is It? Poem Number 14

This poem has an interesting connection with the city and region of Fukushima as we shall see:

Spiranthes sinensis var. amoena, photo by Qwert1234, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons
みちのくのMichinoku noWhose fault is it
しのぶもぢずりShinobu mojizurithat my feelings have begun to tangle
誰故にTare yue nilike the tangle-patterned prints
乱れそめにしMidare some niof Shinobu from the distant north?
我ならなくにWare naranaku niSince it is not mine, it must be…
Translation by Dr Joshua Mostow

The author, Minamoto no Toru (822-895) who goes by the sobriquet of the “Riverbank Minister of the Left” (河原左大臣) here was renowned for his courtly elegance, and Professor Mostow thinks he may have served as a partial role-model for the famous hero of the Tale of Genji.

The poem is thought to be Toru’s defense to his wife or lover about his faithfulness, but he uses some interesting imagery to convey how upset he is that his faithfulness is questioned. Mostow points out that the poem is a subject of debate because it’s also been interpreted as an expression of secret love to someone else (i.e. “why did you make me feel this way”?).

The place referenced, Shinobu in Michinoku, is the old name for what is now the city of Fukushima in Fukushima Prefecture. Although it is now known for last year’s earthquake and nuclear disaster, the area was originally a frontier area during the time of the Nara and Heian periods, and as evinced in the poem above, famous for it’s patterned cloth called shinobu mojizuri.

The term mojizuri refers to a type of plant, pictured above, a variety of orchid found in east Asia. It’s also called nejibana in modern Japanese.

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