I study Japanese classic literature in the department of Comparative Culture. Japanese classic literature has Waka. Waka is a 31-syllable Japanese poem. It consists of five units usually with the following pattern of: 5-7-5-7-7. the Heian era, Waka reached the peak of its popularity. To compose a 31-syllable Japanese poem called Waka was one of the things that the aristocracy had to learn. A man and a woman exchanged it and told their own feelings to each other because men couldn’t see women directly. In this era, women were not allowed to see men except her father, her brothers who didn’t come of age and her husband and talk to them directly. I think Waka is a most wonderful work of Japanese classic literature. There are two reasons. First, Waka has characteristics unlike other poems in the world. Second, we can sympathize with the feeling of the person who wrote Waka even now.
First, Waka is poem with a fixed form of 5-7-5-7-7. It consists of 31 characters, so it is called “misohitomoji” too. In many cases, people compose the poems that nature and love are described in, but the number of the characters of Waka is limited. For this, rhetorics are frequently used. Kake-kotoba is one of the rhetorics. Its technique is that it is one same sound and expresses more than two meanings. Jo-kotoba is also one of the rhetorics and it leads a word. It reminds readers of a background of the poem or something. Furthermore, unlike Western literature, Waka is made at public places. This is the story that I heard from a professor in a certain class. The place is called Utage and Utaawase. Utage was a party opened when an emperor held events or went out to do something with the aristocracy. It seems that the emperor lets the people who attended him write poems and they enjoy Waka together. Utaawase is a poem contest. The people are divided into left and right and select one 31-syllable Japanese poem each other. A judge decides which poem is superior or inferior. The game is repeated a few times. A group with many poems that won the games is a winner. In this way, Waka is made in places where many people compose poems together. In this respect, it is different from the Western modern literature that an individual describes the inside of the self in imagination.
Second, we can sympathize with the feeling of the author when we read Waka even now. I think a sense of beauty in Japan is described in the poems. Many poems describe flowers and the moon. Both of them change. In a class about Japanese classic literature, I learned that Japanese people tend to like the things that change over time rather than the unchangeable things in all ages. In addition, many poems describe love. After we read the poems about the love, we will understand that the old people were in love like we modern people.
For the reasons stated above, Waka is a rare and beautiful poem. It has the specific forms and characteristics. Moreover we can feel sympathy because it describes the familiar things for current us. I think we should learn and know about it more.
Utaawase. (n.d). Retrieved June 8, 2014, from
Kakekotoba. (n.d). Retrieved June 8, 2014, from
Jokotoba. (n.d). Retrieved Jun 8, 2014, from
Waka. (n.d). Retrieved Jun 8, 2014, from