Tuesday, February 3, 2015






Sangi Masatsune

From Mount Yoshino
Blows a chill, autumnal wind,
In the deepening night.

Cold the ancient hamlet is —
Sounds of beating cloth I hear.


The cashier makes
change. I look
to see if she's

still in there —
but nothing doing.
What will it take

to bring us both
to life again?


Sangi (or Asukai) Masatsune (1170-1201 C.E.), deftly threaded his way through the politics of the era partly through his skill in kemari, or court kickball, which pleased a warlord who enjoyed the game. He eventually came under the patronage of the retired emperor, and was chosen as one of the compilers of the Shin Kokinshu poetry collection.

A former capital, the town mentioned in this tanka was a somewhat deserted backwater when Asukai wrote of it. Pounding clothing with a fuller's mallet was women's work, often that of a wife whose husband was absent, hence its connotation as a lonely sound, appropriate for autumn.

There is currently no known Hokusai print or drawing for this poem.

Risa's thought, upon seeing the poem, was of the clerk who had rung up her groceries that evening. Both the clerk and she were not at their best, and the deepening darkness outside the store windows was particularly gloomy, matching the apparent isolation of both women.