Sokendai Review of Cultural and Social Studies


History of Love Poems in the Edo Period

Iwai Shigeki

(International Research Center for Japanese Studies)

Key words;

Love poems, Edo period, the teachings of Confucius, true feelings, artificial, changes of proportion and character

This paper aims to define the conditions of love poems in the Edo period. I will try to clarify these aspects by considering the differences between pre-Edo and Edo period love poems. The main points are listed below:

  • Prior to the Edo period, originally love poems were invested with religious sentiments, referred to as tennin kannô. Around the Muromachi period, we can find comments that love poems are effective and intrinsic to waka. But on the other hand, there are comments that the love passages in renga were dull. Presumably there were similar comments concerning waka in the sixteenth century.
  • In the Edo period, many people felt that love poems were indispensable, but some Confucianists criticized them because they did not reveal one’s true feelings in addition to Confucian morals.
  • The criticisms of love poetry began in the texts of didactic books aimed at women. In the seventeenth century, the target was only the composition of love poetry by women. But by the eighteenth century, old love poems, as well as the composition of love poems by men, came under critique.
  • Analyses of the proportion of love poems in poetry collections from the Heian period on show a gradual reduction, especially in the Edo period.
  • In sum, we can see two significant changes in the love poems in poetry collections. The first is the arrangement/distribution of resentful poems after the Senzai wakashû (1188) and the concentration of these poems after Shingosen wakashû (1305). The second is the establishment of a two-part structure in poetry collections around the fourteenth century: “the progressive order of love ” and “love under the pretext of something”. Poetry collections constructed of two or more parts gradually increased, eventually becoming the most popular form in the Edo period. In short, the Edo period was the time in which these structural changes were consummated, and these changes resulted in love poems becoming more artificial.

From this examination one can see that in the Edo period, love poems began to be criticized, the proportion in poetry collections diminished, and they became rather artificial in nature. On the other hand, some poets tried to open up a new path by using new words and themes, which can be regarded as important elements connected to tanka of the succeeding modern (kindai) era.