A savage poem

Here's an interesting kyōka (狂歌) I found in a Nagata Seiji 永田生慈-edited facsimile of Hokusai's Tōto meisho ichiran 東都名所一覧 ("Catalog of famous sites in the eastern metropolis"). It's on the "Asukayama" page, and is credited to Ikokujin 夷国人 ("Barbarian, Outlander"):

Asukayama/ kawarage hodo ni/ sakazuki mo/ jōzu ni nagete/ watasu otemoto

This requires some unpacking. Kawarage is a reference to kawarake-nage 土器投げ, "stoneware-throwing". I quote the industrious Robin D. Gill's Cherry Blossom Epiphany:

The description of the saucer-throwing from Asuka (found at a website and in Ono Sawako's book) makes it seem like a precursor to the frisbee, i.e. pure fun, but all the other descriptions of the practice locate it at or near a mountain temple, which loaded them with supernatural signficance. Most commonly, they were thought to rid one of bad luck or help ward off disease and whatnot [...] Almost as commonly, it was explained that the more beautifully, or the longer they could be thrown the more successful one would be with whatever endeavor one made a wish about. At one temple, the same saucer that warded off bad luck brings good luck if it passes through a hoop dangled from a tree near the cliff.

Meanwhile, otemoto is most commonly encountered in modern Japan as a polite word for "chopsticks" (you might remember it from the last paper sleeve you withdrew a disposable pair from), but in this case it is clearly used in the sense of "(skillful) way of handling a sake cup (sakazuki)."

I am also taking an executive decision to interpret 上手に as jōzu ni ("skillfully") rather than uwate ni ("upstream, towards the capital" to name just one).

So this gives us:

Asukayama/ where stoneware flies/ and sake cups are tossed/ from hand to hand/ with equal artistry

Here's a senryū about kawarake:

Kawarake ga/ sorete sakura no/ hana ga chiru
The stoneware goes/ astray; the cherry/ blossoms fall

This is an excellent example of what senryū do better than kyōka. It's not especially witty, or refreshingly phrased, but it does paint an excellent word-picture: plate → astray → sakura → fall. You can almost hear the errant saucer hitting the branches. The original is also helped by the availability of the word chiru, which is as compact and fundamental as the English word "fall" but implies more vigor and wildness. (So why not use "scatter", you say? Because I had a perfect row of six iambs in sight and I couldn't bear to weaken the ending.)

Getting back to the author's pseudonym, "Ikokujin," this is probably a reference to the fact that kyōka themselves were also known as ebisu-uta 夷歌 ("barbarian poems"). As the History of Kyoka I linked at the top sez:

In the Kyoto-Osaka area where the tradition of a Waka was so well established, they could not think of a mockery of the Waka. The country bumpkins of Edo whose Waka was not well established or, better to say, who had a sense of inferiority due to lack of a traditional Waka and who, because of the inferiority complex or envy, keenly wanted to put the people of the Kyoto-Osaka area to shame abruptly hit on an idea of jeering at a Waka. [...] Composers of Edo Kyoka sometimes called their poem savage poem or savage verse. A poem in the Kyoto-Osaka area being a Waka, a poem of Wa country, a poem made in the eastern countryside far from the center of Japan and by a savage must be a savage poem.

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language hat:

Bearing in mind my utter ignorance, it seems to me you have not translated the last two lines of the first poem ("jōzu ni nagete/ watasu otemoto"). Please thrash me soundly so that I may achieve enlightenment.



No, for real, you are quite right. That was a half-translation that I was going to present halfway through but edited out in the end... OR SO I THOUGHT. Updated now.

robin d gill:

1. Or could there be an idiomatic meaning of nagete -- used as an engo pun -- such as tossing down a drink?
2.The first large kyouka anthologies 古今夷曲集1666、後撰夷曲集1672銀葉夷歌集1679came from the kyoto-osaka area and the first great kyouka franchize(?),only decades before the kyouka boom in Edo was, as you know, also down there (or up ther if you call it kamigata or in west japan), so it is interesting to have the Edoites laying claim to the savage poem, though i can understand as Teiryu and crew may, on the whole, have become a bit too tame (but not so tame as the Edoites suggest). 敬愚


The kyoka master appears!

Re 1, that would improve things but I've never encountered that idiom. Are you saying it exists, or just throwing it out there as a possibility?

Re 2, so the Edoites laid claim to 夷 after it had already been used as a general term (borrowed from 夷曲, a much older word). Thanks for the correction! For better or worse, nowadays when people say "kyoka" they are most interested in post-Tenmei kyoka specifically, created in Edo for Edo.



土器>>kawarage can also be read doki sounds much like time toki/doki.

Made to sound like,

Time passes, cherry blossoms fall.
Although poorly thrown pottery will drop flowers too.

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