Friday, November 25, 2011






Oshikochi no Mitsune

If it were my wish
White chrysanthemum to cull —
Puzzled by the frost

Of the early autumn time,
I by chance might pluck the flower.


I could not know
you waited for me here —
The falling petals

had already obscured
your steps.


Oshikochi Mitsune, a court official and regional governor, was active around 900 C.E. He was very successful in poetic culture and many of his poems survive. He was listed as one of the Thirty-Six Poetry Immortals

Hokusai's series of woodcuts for the Ogura Hyakunin Isshu is incomplete as this is one of the poems for which we have nothing from his hand. There is one by Kunisada, showing a gift of picked white chrysanthemums that appear to have been delivered to a lady, who seems surprised to discover them.

Risa's Oregon response is fairly straightforward. She hopes to evoke the memory of a missed appointment through the universal symbolism of fallen petals. It may be presumed they are white chrysanthemum, in which case the incident occurred in perhaps November or December (Risa of course lives in the Northern Hemisphere) and the color of the mum symbolizes a lasting regret, perhaps even the end of a relationship.

Monday, November 21, 2011






Minamoto no Muneyuki Ason

Winter loneliness
In a mountain hamlet grows
Only deeper, when

Guests are gone, and leaves and grass
Withered are ....


In boots I made rounds.
Looking back,
I saw no track

but mine.


Minamoto no Muneyuki was a grandson of an Emperor and is regarded as one of the Thirty-Six Poetry Immortals. The silence that falls after the departure of guests is a traditional subject.

The Old Nurse outdoes herself here. She imagines the mountain village long deserted, perhaps for decades. Hunters, who have no idea, perhaps, of who may have lived here, use rotted timbers as firewood. The smoke drifts away past the wrecked and snow-drifted dwelling. This is one of Hokusai's masterworks.

Risa remembers her friends making an extended journey into town, awaiting better weather before their work could recommence. She tended camp, and often turned to look back at her own footprints, unaccompanied in deep snow.

Thursday, November 17, 2011






Chunagon Kanesuke

Over Mika's plain,
Gushing forth and flowing free,
Is Izumi's stream.

I know not if we have met:
Why, then, do I long for her?


When you asked
if you might
walk with me,

I said yes,
then looked
away. It is —

a thing we do.


The great-grandfather of Lady Murasaki, Chunagon Kanesuke was one of the Thirty-Six Immortal Poets. His home was a resort of poets and artists.

In an unfinished drawing for a woodcut, Hokusai's Old Nurse envisions a ferry boat on the river named in the poem, which flows west from the hills into Osaka Bay. There may be two small groups of passengers, and neither group takes notice of the other. Or do they? Perhaps the poet is in one of these, and the object of his notice is in the other. And now perhaps he does not well remember this chance meeting -- only the longing.

Risa remembers walking along a river with one who loved her -- and whose glance she found unsettling.

Friday, November 11, 2011






Teishin Ko (Fujiwara no Tadahira)

If the maple leaves
On the ridge of Ogura
Have the gift of mind,

They will longingly await
One more august pilgrimage.


As I pass by,
I touch the boles:
Hemlock, fir,

spruce, alder,
maple, cedar,
madrone, yew,

bright myrtle –
and you not here
to touch them.


Mount Ogura is inland to the west of Tokyo. It was famous for its fall foliage. The retired Emperor asked the poet to invite his son, the current Emperor to view the scenery there, and the poem was the result.

Hokusai simply depicts the moment of the invitation (presumably the first recitation of the poem), with some exemplary fall foliage as part of the backdrop.

Risa remembers walking through the woods in a particularly lovely place on the North Fork of Middle Fork of the Willamette River, and wishing her love could be there to experience it with her.

Sunday, November 6, 2011






Sanjo Udaijin (Fujiwara no Sadakata)

If your name be true,
Trailing vine of "Meeting Hill,"
Is there not some way

Whereby, without ken of men,
I can draw you to my side?


As you gaze, I
avert my eyes
lest my breath stop.

Behind you, leaves
cling to the light
while sparrows

sing on.


Fujiwara no Sadakata was active around 900-920 C.E. and a member of a family of poets. This poem needs little explanation -- furtive love being one of the principal topoi of ancient Japanese and Chinese poetry. In the Japanese, it is laced with erotic double entendres.

Hokusai's Old Nurse, in an unfinished image, has a relatively straighforward interpretation, showing a woman well-wrapped for an incognito visit. Is the merchant looking at her and laughing? Perhaps the poor find the upper-class penchant for secrecy amusing. Is the lover watching from the door of that house, leaving all the courage of illicit travel to her?

Risa is thinking of the private "bubble" that forms around lovers engrossed in each other. Even in the midst of a crowd, they are a universe to themselves.

Saturday, November 5, 2011






Kan Ke (Sugiwara no Michizane)

At the present time,
Since no offering I could bring,
See, Mount Tamuke!

Here are brocades of red leaves,
At the pleasure of the god.


You who understand
may follow me to the
red mountain's slope —

and there accept
what only gods
may give.


Risa is remembering that her best years were spent earning a meager living on the mountainsides in all seasons and all weathers. Fall foliage has come to symbolize those years for her, as a sign of the turning of the year. It is something to be loved for itself, and cannot be sold or even given away -- only experienced.

Michizane, a courtier active in the 800s C.E., was also a scholar and teacher. He was exiled by the emperor, and a series of misfortunes followed, with catastrophes to the capital and the royal family. Subsequently Michizane's good name was restored in an effort to propitiate his spirit, and he is now a Shinto deity. His poems in the Chinese manner are considered especially good.

Hokusai's Old Nurse visualizes the Emperor's cart travelling (to a shrine) in autumn, the time of year referenced in the poem, with red leaves descending all round. Michizane would have had to wait to make his offering after the Emperor was done doing so, and his poem makes the leaves themselves an offering which would never have to wait -- a leveling sort of poem that could be taken as subversive: in effect, "we are all equal before the gods." The oxen have balked, and the cart is, at the moment, going nowhere -- possibly a reference to the oxen that carried Michizane to his grave, and which also balked.