Tanka poems are a representative type of classical Japanese poetry with a long history. Beginning as waka, which were widely composed starting in the 7th century, today they continue to be produced by people of diverse backgrounds while retaining their ancient characteristics. In other words, tanka poems can be regarded as a valuable part of Japanese cultural heritage that are loved and enjoyed in contemporary Japan…
It can be said that social media has had a great impact on modern tanka. As a result, the traditional framework of social exclusiveness of this poetic genre from ancient times has been removed, leaving an environment where people of any social status and cultural background can easily create and read tanka and join the tanka community.Kensuke, Koshida. “Globalization of tanka: how Twitter contributes to development of traditional Japanese poetry.” Relacje Międzykulturowe= Intercultural Relations 2 (8) (2020).
Literary Revelations is thrilled to bring you the magnificent art and tanka of Hikari, a fabulous Japanese artist. Read more about Hikari here. Some of the art that you will see in this feature is done by Hikari in collaboration with her mentor the Japanese artist Naoki Kimura. Read more about Naoki Kimura here.
The introduction to tanka, the art, the poems, and the translations below belong to Hikari, unless otherwise noted.
Introduction to Japanese Tanka by Hikari
Tanka is one of the forms of Japanese poems consisting of 31 syllables of 5, 7, 5, 7, 7 (*a).
By comparison, Japanese haiku consists only of 17 syllables of 5, 7, 5.
◆Haiku is mostly liked to seasons. tanka is not.
◆Tanka conveys one’s feelings in more detail than haiku because of its longer form.
◆The origin of tanka is said to be around the latter half of the 7th century in Japan.
Famous Tanka Anthologies
The most famous anthologies of tanka in Japan include “Manyoshu” (*b) and “Kokin Wakashu”, as well as the “Hyakunin Isshu”, a collection of poems selected from various anthologies.
I would like to introduce one of the representative tanka in Japan.
It is composed by Lady Murasaki, who depicts “The Genji Monogatari” (*c), and has been translated in many languages around around the world.
（Japanese）めぐり会ひて 見しやそれとも わかぬ間に 雲隠れにし 夜半の月かな
Wa-Ka-Nu-Ma-Ni Ku-Mo-Ga-Ku-Re-Ni-Shi Yo-Wa-No-Tsu-Ki-Ka-Na”
“I met you, my friend, for the first time in a long time and enjoyed talking to you, but at night, you hurried home like the moon hiding in the clouds. I wonder if that was really you…”
Tanka by Hikari/painting Hikari with Naoki Kimura
I always add a tanka written by me to the painting I drew.
(Japanese)悔みても 面をかぶりて 静やかに 光待ち立つ 寛容の門
“Ku-Ya-Mi-Te-Mo Me-N-Wo-Ka-Bu-Ri-Te Shi-Zu-Ya-Ka-Ni
Even if you regret it, put on your mask and quietly wait for the light at the gate of tolerance
“la porta della Tolleranza”(*d),
Tanka and painting by Hikari
(Japanese)残照に 今日の佳き事焼き付けて 悔い燃し進む 沖つ船みる
“Za-N-Sho-Ni Kyo-U-No-Yo-Ki-Ko-To Ya-Ki-Tsu-Ke-Te
“In the afterglow I’m going to burn today’s good things in my heart and at the same time burn up my regret. Watching the ship sailing offshore. Moving forward to tomorrow”
Tanka and painting by Hikari
(Japanese)花吹雪く ひかりの中で 君が舞う 世が変われども 季節が巡る
“Ha-Na-Fu-Bu-Ku Hi-Ka-Ri-No-Na-Ka-De Ki-Mi-Ga-Ma-U
“Amidst the light, where cherry blossoms dance, you twirl. Though the world may change, the seasons continue to turn”
Thank you for reading.
*a 31 characters is not an absolute rule.
*b Manyoshu is the oldest collection of poetry in Japan(Late 7th century), and includes Chinese poems and waka poems too.
*c “The Genji Monogatari” is a story about Hikaru Genji, the main character, and the feelings of the women surrounding him. It was written around the beginning of the 11th century.
Norinaga Motoori , 18th century Japanese scholar of literature, advocated that “Genji Monogatari” is the literature at the top of “Mono no Aware,” a feeling unique to Japan.
This idea also influenced Naoki Kimura, a Fine photographic artist.
*d The main gate of the church of Santa Croce.