Ide-cho, Local Gems — February 7, 2012 at 1:45 PM

Onono-Komachi: Japan’s Most Beautiful Poet!


Onono-Komachi was a poet from the early Heian period and is known as one of the Rokkasen or Thirty Rokkasen, a group of famous writers mentioned in the book ‘Kanojo’ written by Kino-tsurayuki. Though it is certain that she served in the Imperial Court during the time of Emperor Nin-myou (833-850), her life was shrouded in mystery, and other than the spot here at Ide-chou, there are many other places all around Japan that she is said to have spent the remainder of her days; Kyoto, Akita, Yamaguchi prefectures, etc. But according to ‘Reizei-kaki’ and other old literature, it is highly likely that here in Ide-chou is the most accurate spot that Onono-komachi died.

Onono-komachi was said to have been one of the most beautiful women in Japan, and after her fall from fame, it is likely that she spent the remainder of her days living in this peaceful town which has given birth to so many beautiful poems.

From Wikipedia: Ono no Komachi (825 – c. 900) was a famous Japanese waka poet, one of the Rokkasen—the Six best Waka poets of the early Heian period. She was noted as a rare beauty; Komachi is a symbol of a beautiful woman in Japan. She also figures among the Thirty-six Poetry Immortals.

As a poet, Komachi specialized in erotic love themes, expressed in complex poems. Most of her waka are about anxiety, solitude or passionate love. She is the only female poet referred to in the preface of the Kokin Wakashū, which describes her style as “containing naivety in old style but also delicacy”.

There are legends about Komachi in love. The most famous is a story about her relationship with Fukakusa no Shosho, a high-ranking courtier. Komachi promised that if he visited her continuously for a hundred nights, then she would become his lover. Fukakusa no Shosho visited her every night, but failed once towards the end. Despairing, he fell ill and subsequently died. When Komachi learned of his death she was overcome with sadness.

Komachi sometimes features in later period literature, including five Noh plays: Sotoba Komachi, Sekidera Komachi, Oomu Komachi, Sōshi Arai Komachi and Kayoi Komachi. These works tend to focus on her talent for waka and her love affairs and the vanity of a life spent indulging in romantic liaisons. Komachi’s old age is also frequently portrayed: when she has lost her beauty, has been abandoned by her former lovers, and now regrets her life, wandering around as a lonely beggar woman — albeit still appreciated by young admirers of her poetry. This is a fictional description influenced by Buddhist thought and there may be no factual resemblance between this portrait and the historical reality.

In honor of her, the Akita Shinkansen is nicknamed Komachi. Also a variety of rice, Akita Komachi bears her name. One of her 31-syllable poems was chosen by Fujiwara no Teika as an entry in the very popular anthology Hyakunin Isshu.

Explanation of pictures: Ono no Komachi by Kanō Tan’yū, 1648 and Ono no Komachi as an old woman, a woodcut by Tsukioka Yoshitoshi.

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