The Fulling of Cloth: Poem 94

Surimono, Woman Fulling Cloth in the Moonlight, by Shigenobu, Brooklyn Museum, No restrictions, via Wikimedia Commons

Although not a well-known poem in the Hyakunin Isshu, I rather like this one for some reason:

みよし野のMiyoshinoFair Yoshino,
山の秋風Yama no aki-kazethe autumn wind in its mountains
さよふけてSayo fuketedeepens the night and
ふるさとさむくFurusato samukuin the former capitol, cold
衣うつなりKoromo utsu nariI hear the fulling of cloth
Translation by Dr Joshua Mostow

The author, Sangi Fujiwara no Masatsune (1170-1221), was another editor of the Shin Kokin Wakashū like Yoshitsune (poem 91) and went on to found the poetic house of Asukai (also famous for calligraphy). He also studied under Shunzei (poem 83) earlier in his career.

I had to look up what fulling cloth meant, but apparently it’s the process of beating cloth, especially wool, to improve the texture, or in the case of Japan, give the cloth a nice glossy sheen. You can see an example of this above, in a painting made in the 1800’s, almost 700 years later. I can’t imagine the process changed much within that time. The process was to place the cloth on a wood or stone surface and pound it with a wooden mallet. In Japanese, the process called koromo utsu (衣打つ) just as it is mentioned in this poem.

Also, this poem, like other poems we’ve looked at recently (poem 90 and poem 91), alludes to a much older poem by Korenori (poem 31), which also mentions snow in the village of Yoshino (yoshino-chō, 吉野町), near the old capitol of Nara.

Interestingly, the “former capitol” is referred to by the poetic phrase furusato, which in modern Japanese means one’s hometown. Nara was the capitol of Japan during the early Nara Period, and personally my most favorite place to visit in Japan. The culture at that time was an interesting fusion of early Japanese culture, Chinese art and culture, and Indian Buddhism (via Silk Road). Even after the capitol was moved to Kyoto (another great place), there existed many euphemisms to the “former capitol” by later poets and authors (poem 61, for example) as a kind of nostalgia or the “good ol’ days”. Hence the use of the term furusato I believe.

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