Yugen and Snow Falling Through the Branches: Lyricism of Kokinshu


When you are waiting for someone to come so long and getting so nervous that every tiny bit of sign seems to indicate the arrival. At the times when aristocratic houses were not fully enclosed by the walls, the wintertime was especially hard to get through. People took note of any signs indicating warmer springtime. The following is a cute description of taking snowflakes for blossoms.


ふゆごもり おもひかけぬを このまより
はなとみるまで ゆきぞふりける

Everything is curled up in the winter cold
There you see falling snow through the branches
As flowers are always a joy to behold

Describing the act of watching snow falling on and on, the song conjures up all the relating imagery: the cold wind that finds its way into the room, the sunlight glaring off the snow and ice, snowflakes drifting down from the trees and snow occasionally plopping onto the ground.

“Yugen” is a concept that is defined as the enigmatic profoundness or simple, tranquil beauty that avoids gaudiness and is implicitly discerned in an austere but refined manner.

All the hustle and bustle of the New Year’s are a bit away and silence brooded on. Reality gets dissolved into the silence.

Spring, Summer, Fall and Winter: Spring in Your Step

泉谷しげる、歌詞(Lyrics)『春夏秋冬』(English Translation)

Throughout this series, Spring in Your Step, we’ve been examining varied ways of ending and starting things, especially setting out. Many of them involve bittersweet aspects of life. Spring, Summer, Fall & Winter (1972) by Shigeru Izumiya should be another great song of this kind.

We often start because of hope, expectations or promise. Other times we start because we get tired of, sick of or fed up with what we’ve been doing. This song is about the latter type of start.


This song starts by giving us a new insight into our look at the nature and changing seasons, whose beauty is sometimes oversimplified. Many Japanese people are very proud of the natural beauty and seasonal charms of this country, but it’s not always appreciated by everyone. It’s not because of their lack of taste or sensitivity. Sometimes everything gets so hectic that people, even the most aesthetically sensitive people, don’t even notice natural beauty. At times we are, physically and emotionally, so drowned in the depth of cares and duties that it feels like everything just passes us by. It doesn’t mean we are not capable of appreciating beauty of the nature. The same sensitivity, when directed toward human society, overwhelms us. Sadly cares and concerns over human relationships and professional duties and whatsoever overshadow the beauty of flowers, birds and heavenly bodies. This song gives a warm embrace to people of this kind, who are just honest enough to look at an uncomfortable, sometimes ugly, truth.


Making conscious decisions makes us honest but living an honest and diligent life doesn’t seem to pay off. But these people know that ugliness is a part of human nature, that you learn by first-hand experience involving a lot of conflict and frustration, and that beauty shines through sighs you give out, tears you hold back and hands with which you grab mud. This song tells much about such a down-to-earth approach to life.

Spring, Summer, Fall and Winter

Born in a town, a town with no season
Raised on the hill, the hill with no wind
Leaving home, home with no dream
Meeting people, people with no love

Just for the sake of others
From east to west
Slaving myself away
Nice things I got to find
Wither away so easily

Too busy to savor the beauty of spring
Too tired to get through the fieriness of summer
Raking fallen leaves to warm myself in fall
This bag of bones gets chilled in the cold of winter

Everything will come to end today
Everything will be different today
Everything will pay off today
Everything will get started today

Born in a town, a town with no season
Raised on the hill, the hill with no wind
Leaving home, home with no dream
Meeting people, people with no love

Out of the corner of my eye
Wondering if I’m on the right track

Get streetwise
It’s not something to despise
Crack a self-conscious smile
It’s something to put up with for a while

There’s nothing great about my place
Why don’t you come over on your way
Such being the case
Seeing you will make my day

Lost in Enlightenment


Some ten years ago I came across an interesting book on the definition of “beautiful” women. It examines how beauty has been differently defined over time and visits different areas around the world to see how the definitions differ from culture to culture.


Women were asked about their own definition and condition of being beautiful. Many of them pointed out the inner beauty. The supplementing comment on that page concluded that it’s a matter of whether you are content with yourself or not. How can you be content with yourself? This question has led me to rereading one of the most important Zen canons, Shobo Genzo by Dogen.



“Learning Buddihist principles means learning yourself. Learning yourself means forgetting yourself. Forgetting yourself means being open to whatever surrounds you. Being open to whatever surrounds you means leaving behind whatever you are physically and psychologically bound to.”


This passage is from Genjo Koan, a volume from the Shobo Genzo. What matters to be enlightened is to forget yourself, discard the concept of achieving from your mindset. It follows that your desire to be content with yourself is the very reason why you are not content with yourself. A problem arises when you want to get wherever you want to be. If you want to achieve something or some particular state of being, you always frustrated, wondering “I’m yet to be there.”


We are all afraid of getting lost on the path of life and desperate to find the “right” track. The truth is, there is nothing like the right track. Once you get the idea of hoping to achive the state of enlightenment, you will be lost in an eternal state of getting nowhere. Acknowledging the state of being lost and the fact of no goal coming into sight will lead you to peace and serenity.


Being open to whatever surrounds you means that your understanding of the universe is more direct. You don’t try to interprete or define things by the use of a language. Expose yourself to whatever surrounds you without giving them names. Everything is on the flux. Whatever you see now will change its face in the course of time. You just see them in the transition. You just don’t have to give names to each and every wave on the sea. Once you step away from the realm of definition, you will see beauty, not as someone else defined it but you will see it as it is.


Colors: Lyricism of Kokinshu

『古今集(古今和歌集)』和歌「ふくかぜの いろのちぐさに みえつるは あきのこのはの ちればなりけり」英語訳

Imagination is a key to fully capturing the beauty of nature. That’s what poets from Kokinshu often do. They are not necessarily obsessed about depicting natural phenomena in detail, but instead they often let their imagination work to personify or magnify what can be found in the natural settings. Let’s look into into the technique.


ふくかぜの いろのちぐさに みえつるは あきのこのはの ちればなりけり
Fukukazeno irono chigusani mietsuruwa akino konohano chireba narikeri

In this extravaganza
The wind takes on glorious hues
Of gold and red
That falling leaves wildly diffuse

I saw various colors in the wind. It’s like leaves in various colors, gushingly falling from the trees, are pigmenting the winds.
吹く風がさまざまな色に見えたのは 色とりどりの秋の木の葉が 風に乗って散っているからなんだなあ

Falling leaves painting the winds. How poetic! This is how imagination works. It seems like Japanese people have somewhat spiritual affinity for this type of imaginative and romantic lyricism and people have long been attracted by something perceived by intuition instead of something achieved through building up rational arguments. Oftentimes imagination fully works out of a logical structure. Another background is polytheistic tradition of this country. Natural objects such as rocks and mountains, natural phenomena such as winds and fire, and also historic figures were and have been treated as gods. This somehow makes it easy for poets to personify and identify with what they see and hear in the nature. In the end, let’s get back to its preface and see what this is all about.



Our poems
Are born of our kernel hearts
Grow into millions of leaves


The world of mankind
teeming with earthly business
Finds a path for sensations
through whatever catches our eyes and ears


Nightingales warble in flowers
Frogs croak at the pond
The living things
Are all endowed with
Poetic spirit


Our poems
Give the universe an effortless turn
Derive much inspiration from divine spirits
Soothe feelings between men and women
And subdue warrior fearlessness

Series: Lyricism of Kokinshu
Poetic Spirit: Lyricism of Kokinshu
Acrostic Poems: Lyricism of Kokinshu
Tribute to Autumn: Lyricism of Kokinshu
Risqué innuendo: Lyricism of Kokinshu
The Moon: Lyricism of Kokinshu
Crickets: Lyricism of Kokinshu
Let go: Lyricism of Kokinshu
Wild Geese: Lyricism of Kokinshu
Colors: Lyricism of Kokinshu

Full moon, Full bloom


Why is it that your heart throbs to see the clouds covering the moon, the withered flowers on the ground?花は盛りに、月は隈なきをのみ見るものかは。雨にむかひて月を恋ひ、垂れこめて春の行方知らぬも、なほあはれに情け深し。咲きぬべきほどの梢、散りしをれたる庭などこそ見どころ多けれ。

Who says we should appreciate cherry blossoms only when they are in full bloom, the moon only when it glows without covering clouds? There is something more touching in wishing to see the moon behind the dark, rainy skies or doing nothing but imagine how spring passes us by behind the closed shades. Truly remarkable are bursting buds on the treetops, gardens dotted with faded flowers.
– Kenko Ramblings


One of the striking characteristic features of Japanese traditional sensitivity is sensing something that is not around – loss, distance, lack, something hidden or out of sight, or incompleteness. It’s about the moon behind the clouds. It’s about failing to see something enjoyable.

In appreciating beauty, imagination still plays a significant role. The image you get with the naked eye is what is passively received; what cannot be seen stirs up imagery in mind. Sometimes regrets or disappointments over failing to see blossoms can evoke aesthetically deeper feelings than joy and pleasure you get by seeing blossoms in full bloom.

Another factor is suggestion. Suggestion comes into play when something is about to happen and something is gone. Beauty resides in the process or transition from the beginning – through the middle – to the end, just as stories can not be told without any of these three stages. The beginning suggests promise; the end reminiscences. Buds suggest their coming prime; fallen, faded flowers their past. This attitude allows you to see things the way they are, to be aware of a rich story behind what can be seen and to find that beauty abounds.

Beauty cannot be appreciated only when something is in the prime or in each stage of its transition. See beauty in its whole transition just as incompleteness suggests past effort and future growth. Take things as a whole, in their transition. Then you can take on the universe.





Flawless Completion Is Something Undesirable


Learning is something of a journey with no perfection in sight.


In everything, flawless completion is something undesirable. Intriguing is leaving something incomplete so that there is room for growth. – Kenko Ramblings


With all knowledge and experience you have, you still get your skills radar chart showing that you lack a particular skill(s), which means that what you get is something far from the perfect hexagonal chart. You still lack fluency. You get the feeling of missing something, a rough and coarse texture. Dents and repairs. But it’s through your yesterday’s embarrassments and surprise over cultural gaps that you gain insights. That’s what makes growth possible. Assured, decided and committed to what really matters, you let the greatness shine through. That’s the beauty of imperfection.