BLOGGER TEMPLATES AND TWITTER BACKGROUNDS »

The Poets

July 10, 2015

Japan's Poetic Anthem


My daughter and I enjoyed an awesome game of football this past weekend as we watched the 2015 FIFA Women's World Cup- it was the States verses Japan, and though Japan played really well, the U.S. team won.

Before the game was underway the national anthem of both countries were sung- a tradition that I've always thought was cool, showing respect to each teams homeland. Anyhow, my daughter and I wondered in interest toward each other what the words were to Japan's national anthem. I made a mental note to myself to look it up later.

It turns out that Japan's national anthem- the Kimigayo, as it's called- is a poem whose written lyrics constitute the oldest national anthem (written during the Heian period, 794 - 1185), and whose length by text is also ranked the shortest.


This national anthem is written in the form of Japanese poetry called waka, and was written in the 10th century into a collection of works known as the Kokin Wakashū (Collection of Japanese Poems of Ancient and Modern Times), works that were compiled under the Imperial order of Emperor Diago. The author of the poem is said to be Ki no Tsurayuki, a renown Japanese poet.

The poem mimics the structure of what in Japan is called a tanka
, i.e. a poem whose meter and structure is: 5-7-5-7-7. Apart from the haiku tradition in Japanese poetry, the tanka is without a question the next most popular form employed in Japan's history.

The imagery these poems employ totally reminds me of the works of Hilda Doolittle and the Misty Poets of China, and typically evoke vivid mental pictures that are at times exceedingly mesmerizing, irresistible, and increadible- especially considering their brevity.


That said, below is the poem that has become Japan's national anthem (the photo above is the poem written in Japanese). 



 Kimigayo

May your reign
Continue for a thousand, eight thousand generations,
Until the pebbles
Grow into boulders
Lush with moss



Read aloud this poem is gorgeous, right? And that's in English! I can imagine that the Japanese have a greater appreciation for it in their own language, and that the imagery is most certainly more vivid than any translation of it could render. Again, translated or not, the imagery employed is splendid.

There's also a poeticized English translation of it by Basil Hall Chamberlain, an British professor of Japanese at Tokyo Imperial University.

Thousands of years of happy reign be thine;
Rule on, my lord, until what are pebbles now
By ages united to mighty rocks shall grow
Whose venerable sides the moss doth line.


I do like it, but I think the first translation above was a little better because of its rawness, and I imagine that it sticks closer to the original Japanese version as it has less stringent parameters.

As always, thanks for stopping by. Below is a video of this
10th century poem, now the national anthem of one of my favorite countries, being sung (different English translations than those above) ... enjoy.



As of April 9th, 2010