Ono no Komachi

Hear about Ono no Komachi on Episode 2 of our Podcast, the Japan Archives.

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Ono no Komachi
Ono no Komachi in the Ogura Hyakunin Isshu.

Ono no Komachi

Ono no Komachi (小野 小町) was born around the mid 9th century and was possibly a lady-in-waiting under Emperor Ninmyō and Emperor Montoku. It is well attested she was a woman of great beauty who treated her lovers cruelly, however, it is likely this is merely a legend. In fact there are many legends now revolving around her it is difficult to separate the truth from the myth.

Her fame in poetry saw that she was included in Kinto’s list of the Thirty-Six Poetic Geniuses, as well as Thirty-Six Women Poetic Geniuses. Prior to this she is included as part of the Six Poetic Geniuses, and she is the only woman in this list of six.

Her poetry is collected in numerous works including the Kokinshū and Gosenshū, however, only 21 poems attributed to her are seen as authentic. There are many poems attributed to her in later sources that may likely not be hers. The Komachi-shū (Collected Poems of Komachi), created after her death also contains poetry that is unlikely to be hers.

Famously one of her poems can be found in the Ogura Hyakunin Isshu (One Hundred Poems, One Poet Each). Her poem is the 9th in the anthology and reads:1

Japanese text2
Romanized Japanese1
English translation1
花の色は
うつりにけりな
いたづらに
わが身世にふる        
ながめせしまに
Hana no iro wa
utsurinikeri na
itazura ni
wa ga mi yo ni furu        
nagame seshi ma ni
A life in vain.
My looks, talents faded
like these cherry blossoms
paling in the endless rains
that I gaze out upon, alone.

Due to her fame she has appeared in 7 Noh plays. One is entitled, One Fumigara (The Love Letters), by Tsumura Kimiko (1902-74).1

Footnotes

1. MacMillan, P. (2018) ”One Hundred Poets, One Poem Each: A Treasury of Classical Japanese Verse”. St. Ives: Penguin Classics.
2. Suzuki, H. et al. (1997) ”Genshoku: Ogura Hyakunin Isshu”. Tokyo: Bun’eidō.

The Six Poetic Geniuses

Otomo Kuronushi * Priest Kisen * Ono no Komachi * Archbishop Henjo * Ariwara no Narihira * Fun'ya no Yasuhide.


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