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One Hundred Poems

One Hundred Poems by One Hundred Poets


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The Ogura Hyakunin Isshu is a collection of one hundred poems composed for the most part over a period of some three hundred years, from the early tenth to the early thirteenth century. The poems are assumed to have been selected by Fujiwara no Teika (or Sada'ie, 1162-1241), the outstanding waka poet and critic of his day, although it appears that a later hand may have made minor revisions (including at least two substitutions).

Teika mentions in his diary, the Meigetsu-ki, being requested by his son Tame'ie to choose one hundred poems that, when transcribed onto rectangular strips of paper known as shikishi, could be used to decorate the door panels in the villa owned by Tamie's father-in-law Utsunomiya Yoritsuna near Mount Ogura on the outskirts of Kyoto (an alternative interpretation holds that the father-in-law made the selection, which was then merely transcribed by Teika).

The place name "Ogura" was thus added to the generic title Hyakunin Isshu to distinguish it from other such collections. Yet such was the prestige of this particular collection that it eventually acquired definitive status, so that now whenever one speaks of "the" Hyakunin Isshu, it is the Ogura Hyakunin Isshu that is meant. Its influence and authority would be hard to overstate, and it seems safe to say that when the average Japanese thinks of waka, these are the ones that inevitably come to mind (they are, in fact, the first waka memorized by most schoolchildren).

For the translations, I have relied on several Japanese sources aimed chiefly at high school students studying for university exams. I have, of course, seen previous English translations of many of the poems, but I have deliberately avoided consulting them (and will continue to do so) when making these versions, which are as original as can reasonably be expected for this sort of translation.

Progress on the translations may be slow at times because of other obligations, so patience is requested.