Kototama Waka of Emperor Meiji and Empress Shōken

Kototama Researchers

In a previous post, Woshite World introduced Emperor Meiji and Empress Shōken as Kototama researchers of the 19th century. Both of them wrote thousands of waka, inspired by kototama and their strong feelings for their country and their people.

Waka and Wosite

The entire corpus of the Wosite literature of the Jomon period is written in waka, the 5-7 rhythm of the earth and the heavens. It was spread by Isanami and Isanagi in the Awanouta, and by their daughter Wakahirume. Wosite waka is an expression of kototama, the spirit of language. Waka poetry in the rhythm of 5-7-5-7-7 has continued on into the 19th, 20th, and 21st centuries. Waka has given its name to the prefecture of Wakayama.

Waka is classical poetry of Japanese literature. Waka means “Japanese poem” or “Japanese poetry.” Waka poetry can be found in the eighth century documents, the Kojiki, the Nihon Shoki, and the poetry collection, the Man’yōshū . Up to the eighth century, waka was the general term for poetry composed in Japanese and included several genres including the chōka (long poem) and tanka (short poem). By the time of the Kokinshū in the tenth century, waka became synonymous with tanka. After that, “tanka” fell out of use until it was revived at the end of the 19th century. 

Emperor Meiji

Emperor Meiji

Emperor Meiji composed a multitude of waka. One of his most famous expresses his anti-war sentiment.

yomo no umi     mina hara kara to     omofu yo ni

nado nami kaze no     tachi sawa gu ra mu

The four seas are all born from one womb

I wonder why do wind and waves clamor so?

Empress Shōken

Empress Shōken

Empress Shōken composed many waka including this one that is truly heartfelt:

Shikishima no Yamato kotoba wo tate nuki ni

  oroshizu hata no oto no saya kesa

She is speaking of the Yamato kotoba of Shikishima (Nihon), as the pleasant sound of weaving the warp and woof threads with the hata-ori loom. She suggests that time and space (warp and woof) are created in harmony, and the country is doing well.