Fujiwara no Teika

From New World Encyclopedia
A painting of Teika by Kikuchi Yosai (菊池容斎).

Fujiwara no Teika (Japanese: 藤原定家), also known as Fujiwara no Sadaie after another Kanji Kun'yomi (Japanese reading) of 定家, (1162 – September 26, 1241) was a Japanese waka poet, critic, calligrapher, novelist (Tale of Matsura), anthologist, scribe and scholar of the late Heian and early Kamakura periods. His influence was enormous; Teika is even to this day counted among the greatest [1] of Japanese poets, and perhaps the greatest master of the waka form which is an ancient poetic form of five lines totaling 31 syllables.

His critical ideas on composing poetry were extremely influential and studied until as late as the Meiji era. A member of a poetic clan, Teika was born to the noted poet Fujiwara no Shunzei. After coming to the attention of the retired Emperor Go-Toba, Teika began his long and distinguished career, spanning multiple areas of aesthetic endeavor. His descendants would dominate classical Japanese poetry for centuries afterwards. Teika’s own art, and that of his lineage, have enriched and beautified the lives of countless of Japanese people. Japanese poetry included a harmony of mind and pen, of sound and appearance that contrasts with Western poetry, where there is no relationship between what is written and how it is written.


Monument to Fujiwara no Teika, Ogura, Kyoto


Teika was born to a minor and distant branch of the aristocratic and courtly clan, the Fujiwara family, in 1162 after the Fujiwara regents lost their political ascendancy in the Imperial court during the Hōgen Disturbance. His branch sought prestige and power in the court by aligning with the Mikohidari family, themselves aligned with the Kujō family branch of the original Fujiwara, and by specializing in artistic endeavours, principally poetry. This specialization was not unusual as branches of other families, which could not politically compete directly with the head clan or other clans because of their junior status, often did the same thing.

His father was Fujiwara no Shunzei, who was already well known and greatly respected as a poet and especially as a judge of poetry competitions. He had compiled the seventh Imperial anthology of waka (the Senzaishū), and Teika's grandfather was the venerable poet Fujiwara no Toshitada.


Teika's goals as the senior male of his branch were to cement his father's position in poetry, and to advance his own reputation, thereby also improving the political fortunes of his own clan in the court. His life would be marked by repeated illness and wildly shifting fortunes only partially moderated by his father's long-lasting influence in court. Shunzei lived to the age of 90. The patronage of the young and poetically inclined retired emperor, Emperor Go-Toba, would prove to lead to some of Teika's greatest successes.

The event that led to Go-Toba's patronage was a poetry contest that the Retired Emperor was conducting during the second year of his abdication, the second year of the Shoji era, or 1200 C.E. Retired emperors frequently became more influential after their retirement from the office of emperor, freed as they were from the highly restricting ceremonial requirements and politics of the court. Go-Toba channeled his freed energy into supporting poetry, and especially the waka form. His first official act regarding poetry was to announce that he would hold two poetry contests. Each consisted of a number of pre-eminent poets composing some 100 waka in a particular thematic progression, known as the hyakushu genre of poem sequences. The first contest was apparently considered a crucial political nexus. If a clan's poet did well, the clan would benefit considerably.

Another example of Teika's calligraphy; here he copied a portion of Sugawara no Takasue no musume's Sarashina nikki

Teika's diary records that he was hopeful at this chance to improve himself. He had reached the age of 38, considered middle age at this period in time. Although he was recognized as a talented poet, his career was stagnating. In addition, the Kujo's influence with the Emperors had declined drastically. Minamoto no Michichika had insinuated himself into Imperial circles through Go-Toba's former nursemaid. With this leverage, Michichika's adopted daughter became Go-Toba's concubine, and she bore him his heir in 1195. This shame led Go-Toba's first wife, Ninshi, to retire from court. Ninshi was the daughter of the Kujo's leader Kanezane, and the Kujo's court influence diminished considerably, and with them Teika's fortunes.

Teika was initially excluded from the 20 poets Go-Toba intended to so honor at the instigation of the rival Rokujo clan's leader, Suetsune. Teika was furious, writing in his diary or Meigetsuki:

I never heard of such a thing as choosing only senior poets [writes Teika about the pretext used to exclude him]. I can just see Suetsune at the bottom of this, contriving by some bribe that I be left out. It has to be Suetsune, Tsuneie, that whole family. Well, I have no regrets, for there is no possible hope for me now. But I did write in confidence to Kintsune so this may all come out eventually. He has replied that there is still room for hope. [1]

Shunzei stepped in with an eloquent letter (the well-known Waji sojo; "Appeal in Japanese"). By writing in Japanese as opposed to the official Chinese was considered a mark of sincerity. This was addressed to Go-Toba, who relented at this appeal from a man he greatly respected. This was the second time Shunzei so interceded on Teika's behalf; the first time because Teika had lost his temper and struck a superior with a lamp [2]. He allowed Teika along with two others, Ietaka and Takafusa to enter the contest. Teika was overjoyed at this turn of events:

Early this morning came a message from Lord Kintsune that last evening the Ex-Emperor ordered my inclusion among the participants for the hundred-poem sequences... To have been added to the list for this occasion fills me with inexpressible joy. Though they can hinder me no more, I am still convinced that the trouble was all due to the machinations of those evil men. And that it has turned out this way is a fulfilment of all my hopes and prayers for this life and the next." [2]

Teika worked to complete the full sequence furiously, and when he finally turned his Shoji hyakushu in although late, Go-Toba was eager he read the poems immediately. Go-Toba's former secretary kept a diary that concerned itself with Go-Toba's poetic activities, and he records that it was Teika's hundred-poem sequence, and more specifically, poem number 93. It was this poem which was directly responsible for Teika's being granted the special permission necessary to be admitted to the Retired Emperor's court as opposed to the regular court and this admittance was crucial to any future patronage.

Rōmaji English language
Kimi ga yo ni
Kasumi o wakeshi
Ashitazu no
Sara ni sawabe no
Ne o ya nakubeki.
In our Lord's gracious reign,
Will I still have cause to cry aloud
As cries the crane
That now stalks desolate in reedy marshes
Far from its former cloudland of spring haze? [3]

Teika and Go-Toba would have a close and productive relationship. Teika would be favored in such ways as being appointed by Go-Toba as one of the six compilers and de facto head compiler. By virtue of his dedication and force of personality, in addition to his already established reputation as a poet, Teika helped the compilation of eighth Imperial Anthology of waka poetry, titled the Shin-kokin-wakash (c. 1205, "New Collection of Ancient and Modern Times"). Teika had the honor of helping to compile the anthology and having 46 [3] of his poems, including three from the Shoji hyakushu, included. He was appointed in 1232 by the retired emperor Go-Horikawa to compile by himself the ninth Imperial Anthology, the Shin chokusenshu (c. 1235; "New Imperial Collection"). Teika was the first person to have ever been a compiler of two Imperial Anthologies.

A painting of Teika, possibly by his son, Tameie

This favorable patronage and collaboration eventually soured, over differences in how one should use "association and progression" (as Brower terms it) in poetic sequences. In 100-poem sequences and the like, the poems were usually in one of several groups. The four seasons were common ones, as was love. The poems generally formed an integrated sequence in which they dealt with the same subject matter, proceeding from stage to stage. For instance, a sequence on Love might proceed from loneliness, to falling in love, to a mature relationship, and then the sorrow when it ends or which refer to elements of previous poems. The latter a technique later important to renga. Go-Toba used such techniques consistently and often, whereas Teika's use was more erratic. In addition, there apparently were serious personality conflicts, which reportedly lead Go-Toba to say once that:

"The way Teika behaved, as if he knew all about poetry, was really quite extraordinary. Especially when he was defending his own opinion, he would act like the man who insisted a stag was a horse. He was utterly oblivious of others, and would exceed all reason, refusing to listen to anything other people had to say." [4]

In his later years, Go-Toba took issue not merely with Teika's personality, but also with his poetry, complaining of the more liberal style that Teika used "paid no attention whatsoever to the topic. For this reason in recent times even beginners have all come to be like this. It is outrageous. Only when one concentrates very hard upon a compound topic and composes a poem that centers upon the topic is the result of any interest. This modern style is sheer carelessness." [4]

Possibly another a factor in this estrangement was politics. Teika had the good fortune of being selected in 1209 as a poetry teacher to the new and young shogun, Minamoto no Sanetomo. The Shogunate was a rival and superior authority to that of the Emperors and the Imperial court. It was probably to the unhappy Sanetomo that Teika addressed the prefatory essay to his didactic collection, Kindai shūka ("Superior Poems of Our Time"), and his treatise on poetry Maigetsusho ("Monthly Notes"). Go-Toba would become an enemy of the then bedridden Teika. Fortunately for Teika, Go-Toba would be exiled by the Kamakura shogunate in 1221 for the rest of life to the Oki Islands after the Jokyu War. Teika's political fortunes improved in this period, as it was after Go-Toba's exile that Teika was appointed compiler of the ninth imperial anthology, the Shin chokusenshu ("New Imperial Collection"; completed c. 1234), and that Teika was advanced at the age of 70 to the court rank of Gon Chūnagon (“Acting Middle Counselor”; this was the second highest office in the Supreme Council of State).

He died in 1241, in Kyoto, and was buried at a Buddhist temple called Shokokuji.

Teika's grave site.

Rival descendants

One of his two sons, Fujiwara no Tameie (1198-1275) is remembered as a reluctant heir, in youth inclining to court football (Kemari) rather than poetry, would carry on Teika's poetic legacy. Tameie's descendants would split into three branches: the conservative elder Nijo branch (founded by Tameie's elder son, Tameuji no Teika (1222-1286); the middle branch of the Kyōgoku founded by Fujiwara no Tamenori (1226-1279), which eventually merged with the Reizei; and the younger, more liberal Reizei branch, founded by Tameie' younger son Fujiwara no Tamesuke (b. 1263) by the Nun Abutsu (died c. 1283). A poet and a great diarist, she is especially remembered for her diary Isayoi Nikki (“Diary of the Waning Moon”) chronicling her legal battles to get the Kamakura shogunate to stop Tameuji from disinheriting Tamesuke of the estates near the capital that Tameie had left to Tamesuke. [5]

It is a testament to Teika's importance that the poetic history of the next centuries is in large part a brutal story of the battles between the rival branches. It is indeed this rivalry that is chiefly responsible for the great number of forgeries attributed to Teika. When the Reizei lost a court case, they were ordered to hand over the valuable manuscripts and documents from Teika and Tameie over to the Nijō. The Reizei outwardly complied, but along with a few genuine documents that the Nijō had already learned of, they mostly included forgeries that the Nijō unknowingly accepted. In retaliation, the Reizei manufactured a number of forgeries of their own, the better to buttress their claims. [6]

After a period of Reizei ascendancy under Rezei no Tamehide (great-grandson of Teika) (c. 1302-1372), they suffered a decline and a consequent rise in the fortunes of the Nijō, as Tamehide's son, Iametuni, became a Buddhist monk. The Nijō soon suffered setbacks under the wastrel Nijō no Tameshige (1325-1385), whose promising son, Nijō no Tametō (1341-381), was killed by a brigand while comparatively young.

In a further disaster for the Nijō, Tametō's son, Nijō no Tamemigi was killed by a brigand as well around 1399, effectively wiping out the Nijō as a force. Under the grandson of Tamehide, Tanemasa (1361-1417), the Reizei achieved temporary victory in the time of Shōtetsu (正徹, 1381-1459). [7]

Poetic achievements

Teika selected the works for the Ogura Hyakunin Isshu, an anthology of a hundred poems by a hundred poets. His Ogura Hyakunin Isshū was later thought a book of waka theory in which all types of ideal waka and all techniques were laid out. Disputes over specific style and whether to be conservative or liberal that divided his descendants into a number of feuding schools/clans like the Reizei, Kyogoku, and Nijo.

He made many manuscripts of Japanese classics, including such landmarks of Japanese literature as The Tale of Genji, Ise monogatari (The Tales of Ise) and the Kokinshu anthology [8]. In his days, the ancient Japanese pronunciations were lost or difficult, rendering the orthography of kana confused and uncertain. Teika researched old documents and recovered the earlier system of deciding between kana, and made a systematic orthography that was used until the modern period. He applied his kana system to his manuscripts. His manuscripts were known for their accuracy and good quality and called Teika bon ("Teika text"). Using his method he documented the accurate pronunciation of earlier waka like Kokin-wakashū. His manuscripts are also appreciated for his distinct and bold eponymous style of calligraphy.

A manuscript in Teika's hand of "Superior Poems of our Time," showing his calligraphic style.

Teika is also remembered, like his father, as being something of an innovator. The Encyclopedia Britannica says:

Teika employed traditional language in startling new ways, showing that the prescriptive ideal of "old diction, new treatment" [kotoba furuku, kokoro atarashi] inherited from Shunzei might accommodate innovation and experimentation as well as ensure the preservation of the language and styles of the classical past.
Sogi and his friends honor Teika's grave with a poetry party.

The "old diction," noted above, are phrases and words from the "Three Collections": the Kokinshu, the Gosenshu, and the Shuishu, but not much older than that of the diction of the Manyoshu which was considered too old[9]. Teika wrote in his Maigetsusho that the best poems were spontaneous and original, but nevertheless traditional.

But such a notion is quite erroneous. For if we were to call such verses as that superior, then any poem at all we might write could be a fine one. No, first the powers of invention must be freed by reciting endless possibilities over and over to oneself. Then, suddenly and spontaneously, from among all the lines one is composing, may emerge a poem whose treatment of the topic is different from the common run, a verse that is somehow superior to the rest. It is full of poetic feeling, lofty in cadence, skillful, with resonances above and beyond the words themselves. It is dignified in effect, its phrasing original, yet smooth and gentle. It is interesting, suffused with an atmosphere subtle yet clear. It is richly evocative, its emotion not tense and nervous but sensible from the appropriateness of the imagery. Such a poem is not to be composed by conscious effort, but if a man will only persist in unremitting practice, he may produce one spontaneously. [10]

The following is an example of how Teika used old and classic imagery such as Takasago and Onoe, as well as pine and cherry trees, in fresh ways:

Japanese language Rōmaji English language
Takasago no
Matsu to miyako ni
Kotozute yo
Onoe no sakura
Ima sakari nari.
Tell it in the capital:
That like the steadfast pine trees
On Takasago's sands,
At Onoe, the cherries on the hills
yet wait in the fullness of their bloom. [5]

His poems were described as remarkable for their elegance and exemplars of Teika's ideals, in his early and later years. Respectively; Teika considerably modified his personal beliefs during his 40s, after the death of Shunzei, and simplified his style of composition of the styles of yoen, one of the ten orthodox styles Teika defined and defended in his poetic criticism. Some of the others being the onihishigitei or the ‘demon-quelling force’ style, the style of sabi or ‘loneliness’ which is closely related to Mono no Aware, and the style of yugen, or ‘mystery and depth.’ The yoen style was concerned with ‘ethereal beauty,’ and ushin or ‘deep feeling’ or ‘conviction of feeling.’

This shift in style from yoen to ushin was intended to achieve a certain sort of makoto, or integrity[11]. Teika sometimes referred to his aim as ushin ("deep feeling"), which confusingly was also the name of one of the ten styles. The yoen style was one of the most popular in his time due in no small part to Teika's use of it. Yoen had first been described by Fujiwara no Mototoshi in the 1150s, but had been only marginally successful. Years later, the Symbolists would admire and emulate to a degree his use of language to evoke atmosphere in his brief poems in the yoen style. An excellent example and one later chosen for an Imperial anthology is the first poem below:

Japanese language Rōmaji English language
Koma tomete
Sode uchiharau
Kage mo nashi
Sano no watari no
Yuki no yūgere.
There is no shelter
where I can rest my weary horse,
and brush my laden sleeves:
the Sano Ford and its fields
spread over with twilight in the snow. [6]

Konu hito o
Matsuho no ura no
Yunagi ni
Yaku ya moshio no
Mi mo kogare tsutsu.
Like the salt sea-weed,
Burning in the evening calm.
On Matsuo's shore,
All my being is aflame,
Awaiting her who does not come.

Shika bakari
Chigirishi naka mo
Kono yo ni hito o
Tanomikeru kana.
So strong were
Our pledges, yet between us
All has changed;
In this world, in her
Did I put my trust...

Partial bibliography

  • Shoji hyakushu (1200; "Hundred-Poem Sequence of the Shoji era")
  • Eiga taigai (c. 1216, 1222?; "Essentials of Poetic Composition")
  • Hyakunin isshu (c. 1235 "Single Poems by One Hundred Poets"; interestingly, this collection would become the base of the modern Japanese New Year game karuta.)
  • Hyakunin Shūka (1229-c. 1236; an 101 poem anthology arranged at the request of Utsunomiya Yoritsuna to be copied onto 101 strips of paper and pasted onto the walls of his villa; it has 97 poems in common with Hyakunin isshu, suggesting that perhaps it is a misidentified and variant version of the Isshu.)
  • Kindai shūka (c. 1209; "Superior Poems of Our Time"; a collection of poems Teika felt to be excellent models, with a preface dealing with his critical philosophy, sent to Sanetomo to instruct him in how his poems should emulate the great ancient Japanese poets- teaching by example.)
  • Maigetsusho (c. 1219; "Monthly Notes"; an epistle of corrections of one hundred poems, sent to a student of Teika's. Besides the corrections, it bore a preface which is a major source of information regarding Teika's view on the aesthetics of poetry; Shotetsu states that it was sent to Minamoto no Sanetomo; Ton'a holds rather that it had been sent to the "Kinugasa Great Inner Minister," or Fujiwara no Ieyoshi.) ^ 
  • Matsura Monogatari ("The Tale of Matsura"; an experimental novel believed to be written by Teika, though Teika's manuscript claims he was merely copying it.)
  • Meigetsuki ("The Record of the Clear Moon"; sometimes called "Diary of the Clear Moon" [12]; as the second translation suggests, this was a diary Teika kept, and is a valuable resource for his activities in the court despite its flaws- approximately 2/3s of the original diary is missing in extant versions.)
  • Nishidaishū (Anthology of 1811 poems from the first 8 Imperial anthologies.)
  • Shuka no daitai ("A Basic Canon of Superior Poems")
  • Teika Jitte (1207-1213; an anthology of 286 poems, chiefly derived from the Shinkokinshu; long believed a forgery, but some modern scholars contend that it is a genuine work.)

ISBN links support NWE through referral fees

  • Hyakunin-isshu (Single songs of a hundred poets) and Nori no hatsu-ne (The dominant note of the law), edited by Sadaie Fujiwara, translated into English by Clay MacCauley. Published in Yokohama, Shanghai by Kelly and Walsh, Ltd. 1917. OCLC 10905811
  • Fujiwara Teika's Hundred-Poem Sequence of the Shoji Era, 1200, translated by Robert H. Brower. Published by Sophia University in 1978; ISBN 35042008785389 (?)
  1. pg 14.
  2. pg 15.
  3. pg 97.
  4. pg 108.
  5. pg 47.
  6. pg 81.
  • ^  "At the Abbey of St. Gall in Switzerland, where the star could barely be seen over the southern Alpine horizon, chroniclers nevertheless described it as the most significant event of the year: ‘a star of unusual magnitude, shimmering brightly...in the extreme south, beyond all the constellations.’ And the Japanese poet Fujiwara Teika two centuries later celebrated the fame of the ‘great guest star’ in his ‘Diary of the Clear Moon.’" From "Stardust Memories" by Frank Winkler, pg. A25 of the May 5, 2005 New York Times
  • ^  "Differences among the earliest of these are not entirely negligible, but readers interested in Kokinshu as it was known to almost everyone who read or cited it after its recanonization in the late 12th century can be advised to begin with one of the 18 or so versions believed to have been transcribed and edited by Fujiwara Teika from 1209 until 1237, four years before his death." From the article "What is Kokin Wakashu?", provided by the University of Virginia Japanese Text Initiative
  • ^  "The single most influential figure in the history of Japanese classical poetry, Fujiwara Teika (or Sadaie) 1162-1241, was the supreme arbiter of poetry in his day, and for centuries after his death was held in religious veneration by waka and renga poets alike." Robert H. Brower. Monumenta Nipponica 40: 4 (Winter, 1985): 399-425. Charles Murray, in his Human Accomplishment, ranks Teika as the 17th most influential figure in all of Japanese literature based on his analysis of academic research on Japanese literature. "Fujiwara no Teika... is one of the four greatest Japanese poets. The son of Shunzei, Teika lived to an advanced age constantly plagued by both recurring illness and reverses and advances in his family's fortunes. Similarly, his poetry and critical writings also underwent a series of changes in the course of his life, leaving behind the most substantial and intense poetic legacy by a single poet in Japanese history."[13]
  • ^  Extract from "Fujiwara Teika's Maigetsusho" by Robert H. Brower, Monumenta Nipponica, Vol. 40, No. 4. (Winter, 1985), pp. 399-425.
    • ^  "Teika's unique reputation rested in part upon his accomplishment as the leading figure among the many fine poets of the Shinkokin Jidai, the period of fifty-odd years in the late twelfth and early thirteenth centuries when revival and innovation in the native poetry were exemplified in Shinkokinshu, ca. 1204, the eighth, and in many respects the greatest, of the imperially sponsored anthologies of classical verse. As one of the six compilers of the anthology, and with forty-six of his poems included in it, Teika stood at the forefront of the younger and more innovative poets of his day, and his various experiments with diction, rhetoric, and figurative language, as well as with new styles, modes, and aesthetic effects, were widely imitated by his contemporaries. After his death, his quarreling descendants were recognized as the ultimate authorities on all poetic matters, and through them Teika's influence pervaded six hundred years of Japanese poetic history."
  • ^  Fujiwara Teika's Superior Poems of Our Time, trans. Robert H. Brower, Earl Miner. 1967. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press. ISBN 0804701717
  • [14] An Introduction to Japanese Court Poetry, by Earl Miner. 1968, Stanford University Press, LC 68-17138; Miner relates the incident with the lamp on page 113 in comparing Teika's volatile nature against his father's more tranquil peaceable demeanor.
  • ^  Unforgotten dreams: poems by the Zen monk Shōtetsu, 1997. Steven D. Carter. Columbia University Press. ISBN 0231105762
  • Japanese Court Poetry, Earl Miner, Robert H. Brower. 1961, Stanford University Press, LCCN 61-10925
    • ^  p. 41: "Even such unquestionably accomplished sophisticated poets as Ki no Tsurayuki and Fujiwara Teika turned late in life to simpler, more declarative poetic modes in order to achieve a simple integrity (makoto) that seemed to them lacking in their earlier poetry."
    • ^  p. 263.
    • ^  Miner and Brower translate on pg. 248 a portion of the Maigetsusho: "Now then, as I have written to you numerous times, you should peruse at leisure the several imperial anthologies from the Man'yōshū down to the present and reach an understanding of the ways in which the various styles have changed with the passage of time. ... As for Man'yōshū, it represents a very ancient age when the hearts of men were unsophisticated, so that even if we try to emulate it, we cannot possibly succeed in this present generation. It is especially important for a novice that he not permit himself to become enamored of the archaic style."
    • ^  Miner and Brower give two extracts on pgs 351 referencing their claims about the origins of the numerous medieval forgeries attributed to Teika. The first is from Kitabatake Chikafusa's Kokinshūjo Chū ("Commentary upon the Prefaces to the Kokinshū") as reprinted in "(NKGT, IV, xlix)" (where "NKGT" refers to the Nihon Kagaku Taikei):
"When Lord Tameie died, his wife, Lady Abutsu the Nun, took the poetic documents with her to Kamakura. Later, Tameie's heir, Lord Tameuji, brough suit and in consequence, during the time of the ex-Emperor Kameyama, a command was issued from the court of the ex-Emperor to the authorities in Kamakura ordering the documents to be handed over. At that time they surrendered all the writings that had been catalogued long ago and were well known to various people, but apparently because not even Lord Tameuji had any clear idea of the contents of the Cormorant and Heron boxes, they retained the secret writings, filled the boxes with forgeries, and handed those over instead."
A second account comes from a priest named "Genshō" (flourished c. 1300), who was Tameuji's younger brother and thus supported the Nijo, in his Waka Kuden or Gukanshō ("Oral Traditions of Poetry"; from "NKGT, IV, 46"):
"The Nun Abutsu and the Great Counselor [Tameuji] quarreled over the poetic documents... Abutsu hid the catalog of poetic writings written in the former Middle Counselor's [Tameie] own hand, and held back a number of important documents which she proceeded to display to all and sundry. She was twice warned in a dream and then she and her two sisters died in rapid succession."


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