Tuesday, August 22, 2006

The Tatsuta River in Autumn

In the Shotetsu monogatari, Shotetsu (1381-1459) wrote ‘If someone asks you in which of the provinces Yoshino may be found, you should answer this way: When I write my poems I simply remember that for blossoms one goes to Yoshino, for red leaves to Tatsuta. Whether those places are in Ise or wherever is not my concern.’ (trans. Steven D. Carter in The Road to Kamatsubara). As this quotation shows, knowledge of poetic geography and the associations of Famous Places were essential for Japanese poets, but familiarity with the real locations was quite unnecessary. As Steven D. Carter puts it, ‘the essence (hon’i) of any Famous Place is defined in terms of a history of poetic treatment; such places occupy poetic rather than physical space’.

There is a song Sasa no Tsuyu composed by Kikuoka Kengyo (1791-1847) which includes the words ‘Yoshino blossoms and Tatsuta leaves - without sake they would be ordinary places.’ Despite this, Yoshino and Tatsuta Park still promote themselves as ideal locations for viewing cherry blossoms and red maple leaves.

Hokusai included a print of the Tatsuta River in Autumn from his series One Hundred Poems (1835-6). The print illustrates a poem by Ariwara no Narihira (825-80) which states that even in ancient days, when the gods held sway, no water shone red like Tatsuta. (Ariwara no Narihira was a contemporary of Minamoto no Toru, whom Hokusai had depicted, talking in the landscape garden he had designed to resemble Shiogama Bay, in his series A True Miror of Chinese and Japanese Poems).

One of the stories told about Hokusai is that when ‘told to paint red maple leaves floating on the Tatsuta River, Hokusai supposedly drew a few blue lines on a long sheet of paper and then, dipping the feet of a chicken in red paint, chased it across the scroll, making the bird's red footprints his maple leaves.’ (Sandy Kita and Takako Kobayashi). This story features in a 1983 poem by the Czech writer Jan Skácel.

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