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CompositionsShiki no Uta Manyo no Uta

Shiki no Uta

"Shiki no Uta" is a set of four songs Tomoko Yamamoto composed, depicting the four seasons using waka, ancient Japanese poetry. These waka were taken from a collection called Hyakunin Isshu. The four songs are "Haru no Hi" (A Day in Spring), "Nara no Ogawa) (A Stream in Nara)," "Okuyama" (Deep in the Mountains)," and "Yamazato" (Mountain Village)."

Four Songs with Hyakunin Isshu as Text

Shiki no Uta

Songs of the Seasons


Waka literally means a "Japanese song" which includes chouka, tanka, and a few others. The narrow sense of waka is tanka (short song) which is the poem of 31 syllables in length. Haiku, on the other hand, is the poem of 17 syllables. The oldest waka is found in the collection called "Manyoushuu" (stems from 8th century).

I have chosen four "Waka" poems from the collection called "Hyakunin Isshu" (One Poem by Each of One Hundred Poets) for my song cycle of four seasons. An MP3 file for "Nara no Ogawa" is now available.

For further information on this subject, see Kenneth Rexroth, 1955 "One Hundred Poems from the Japanese", New Directions, New York and H. H. Honda, 1956 "One Hundred Poems from One Hundred Poets In Japanese" and, see Tsuguo Andoh, 1976 "Hyakunin Isshu", Shinchou Bunko, Tokyo.

Click any image or underlined title to enlarge.

    In "Haru no Hi," I have tried to evoke shafts of light and spring festivals as the poet laments the ceaseless falling of cherry blossoms. I should note that in Japan the cherry blossom viewing (hanami in Japanese) is a rite in spring and people have a drinking party on this occasion.

"Haru no Hi"
by Kino Tomonori

Spring Flowers in Reflection
Spring Flowers in Reflection

"A Day in Spring"

Translation by Tomoko Yamamoto

Hisakata no
Hikari nodokeki haru no hi ni
Shizukokoronaku hana no chiruramu.

In the soft spring sunshine
Cherry blossoms fall ceaselessly
Like the busy mind.

"Nara no Ogawa"

By Ietaka

    In "Nara no Ogawa," the main theme is the cool autumn-like breeze and the flow of the stream in which people are performing a body-cleansing ritual by bathing which is called Misogi. Yet it is still summer. "Nara" in this waka is not the Nara, which is one of the former capitals in Nara Prefecture, but refers to Japanese oak trees by the stream. According to Tsuguo Ando, "Nara no Ogawa" is Mitarashi-gawa, which flows through the ground of Kamigamo Shrine in Kyoto. Misogi is still practiced, but at Kamigamo Shrine, people walk through Chi no Wa (in Japanese) (a huge wreath made of bladygrass) as a ritual act of cleansing on June 30. I also should note that there is a wrong translation for this poem given by H. H. Honda who wrote "One Hundred Poems from One Hundred Poets" published by the Hokuseido Press. The poem does not include the word for spring, but the word, "Natsu," which means summer.

Green Scales

Green Scales

MIDI Playing with Flute and Piano in MP3--1.9Mb--

Kaze soyogu
Nara no ogawa no yuugure wa
Misogi zo natsu no shirushi narikeru

Stream by Nara, Japanese Oak

Translation by Tomoko Yamamoto

Cool breeze
Eventide at a stream by an oak tree
Misogi is a sign of summer still

In Okuyama, I have incorporated my own thoughts of autumn, the season in which we have autumn festivals or akimatsuri. Before everything quiets down for the winter, the thoughts of autumn includes the sounds of festivals and stepping on fallen leaves as one walks in the mountains. Deer cries are sorrowful, but festival drums (matsuri daiko) are not.


by Sarumaru Dayuu

Fall Walk, Ithaca
Fall Walk

Okuyama ni
Momiji fumiwake
Naku shika no koe kiku toki zo
Aki wa kanashiki

Deep in the Mountains

Translation by Tomoko Yamamoto

Deep in the mountains, walking on fallen leaves
Hearing deer cries makes me feel
the sorrow of autumn

In "Yamazato", I have tried to evoke the sadness of the scene by starting with a refrain similar to the one used by a performance of the folk song, Itsuki no Komori Uta I heard on a tape.


by Minamoto-no Muneyuki

Ithaca in Winter
Ithaca in Winter

Yamazato wa
Fuyu zo sabishisa masarikeru
Hitome mo kusa mo
Karenu to omoeba

Mountain Village

Translation by Tomoko Yamamoto

In a mountain village
Loneliness pervades in the winter
Deserted by visitors, only withered grasses

These songs were copyrighted, (i.e. registered with the US Copyright office) in 2002.
Manyo no Uta--Two 2003 songs with MP3 files--

© 1997-2006 Tomoko Yamamoto, all rights reserved.
Update:April 24, 2007