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---- The mechanism of linking in Japanese culture ----

Yuko Tanaka

Hosei University in Tokyo

Read in 1993 at Nissan Institute, Oxford University.


Today, I would like to talk about ren. I have been thinking about and doing research on culture in the Edo period(1603 to 1867) in Japan with reference to this term. Ren means "to connect" "to link" and "to gather together", and it refers to a basic mechanism by which a process emerges from the interaction of words, verses or stanzas, sentences, objects, and people in the culture of Japan especially in the Edo period. We can find various examples of ren in the Edo period, a lot of ren groups or the ren of haikai.

In today's lecture I am going to talk about ren using a number of themes. Firstly is a short explanation of haikai with typical examples ,then the origin and the history of linked poetry, followed by linked themes in a few examples of prose; fourthly linked images in paintings, then renju, which means linked people supporting ren, and finally za which means the place of ren.

Linked poetry

As you know waka is a traditional type of Japanese poetry which has 5-7-5-7-7 syllables, and haikai is a traditional linked poetry which has 5-7-5 syllables or 7-7 syllables. A typical example of ren can be see in the haikai which were popular in the Edo period. In haikai meetings, several people get together in a room and produce stanzas one after another. This linked poetry was called haikai no renga or renga in short in the medieval period(the 12th to the 16th century). Haikai means comical, renga means linked poetry. Some of you are already very familiar with linked poetry because it has been introduced by professor Earl Miner in English. In the introduction to some of his books, he calls units of linked poetry "stanzas". Both the terms averse" and stanza" are used generally, but today, I am going to use the term stanza" as used by Professor Miner.

In the linked poetry before the medieval period, successive 5-7-5 syllable stanzas and 7-7 syllable stanzas were joined in sequence. Afterwards, units of these linked poetry were developed into kusari renga which means chain linked poetry in which the sequences were of various length such as thirty six stanzas, forty four stanzas, fifty stanzas and one hundred stanzas etcetera. From among these various lengths, the length of thirty six stanzas was the most popular for the busy people of the Edo period. This poetry called haikai, short for haikai no renga or kasen named after the thirty six poetic sages from the seventh century to the eleventh century. In the Edo period, the subject matter of renga was also changed and developed into that of haikai which included words from real world of nature.

In the Meiji period(1868 to 1912) when western literature was introduced, under its influence, the first 5-7-5 stanza became independent and began to be called haiku. In haikai, the stanza may completely alter the meaning of what it succeeds. The meaning of the entire series of stanzas emerges through this intricate as well as dynamic interaction of each stanza. Ren means the interaction of the participating members, but the interaction of successive stanzas is also ren.

I would now like to talk about a few example of haikai. The following is an example of part of a series of stanzas from Natsu no tsuki no maki (the chapter titled throughout the town) in "Sarumino (the monkey's straw raincoat) ", as translated by professor Miner in his book "The monkey's straw raincoat and other poetry of the Basho school".

This title came from Basho's hokku(the first stanza of renku) which expressed sadness for travelers and animals in cold winter's rain; in expressing the lonesomeness of the scenery he poetized that "the monkey there might feel like it needs straw shade",projecting the whole scenery on to the soaking wet helpless animal.

     The seeds of fennel
     are all blown off their plants
     by the evening storm,
     will the priest return to the temple
     as he feels the cold increasing,
     the monkey master
     ages with his monkey and the world
     beneath the autumn moon,
     each year it is but a peck of rice
     but the land tax is paid in full,
     ("The monkey's straw raincoat and other poetry of the Basho school" translated by E.Miner&H.Odagiri,Princeton University press, 1981)

The evening storm leads into the next performer's stanza, a solitary priest is walking in the cold autumn wind. The priest goes one way, the monkey master another, but they are the same in their solitude. The monkey master has only his friend the monkey and they alone can warm each other throughout their lives. The moon is watching them. In the Edo period, a monkey master was an entertainer belonging to a special class different from ordinary citizens, so he paid taxes to the head of this class. But in this stanza, we can also see a poor farmer in the country. In the scenes of the stanzas, there are always alternative possibilities. We can see the priest both on a road on his way to a mountain and in town. The next performer selects the scene of the town in which the monkey master is living. If you imagine the town, you can also see the priest in the town also, and in the next stanza, if you imagine a poor farmer, you can see the monkey master traveling through country villages.

     Both doors and windows
     are covered over with straw mats
     on the house up for sale,
     when was it that its chili peppers
     took on their ripened color,
     stealthily stealthily
     he plaits straw into sandals
     in the bright moonlight,
     and shaking fleas from the bed covers
     she wakes to early autumn,
     as the half-gallon box
     set up as a trap falls in the night
     with a hollow thud,
     with its lid warped out of line
     the storage box cannot be closed,
     at his hermitage
     he remains for a little while
     and then is off again
     ("The monkey's straw raincoat and other poetry of the Basho school" translated by E.Miner&H.Odagiri,Princeton University press, 1981)

If you focus on the chili peppers, they are getting red as they are ripening in both the dark vacant house for sale in a town, as well as in the poor country house. In both houses, we can feel time is passing. If you focus on the fleas, they are shaken both by the man who is making sandals, as well as by the man or woman who have set a rat trap. The uncomfortable and incompatible feelings are expressed both by the falling trap and the storage box which cannot be closed in, and the scene where there is an empty rat trap and a warped box is sad.

The feeling of incompatibility is also connected with the theme of man in his hermitage, because he cannot remain there for a long time, again and again he goes off. This is exactly like Basho's own life. As we read them, the meaning or images in the stanzas are changed by the subsequent stanzas. The performers have to catch some elements of the former stanza to connect to it, but must not connect too closely, and must not be too influenced by the stanza preceding that one. The stanza is unique as well as dependent on the others.

The origin and the history of linked poetry

Secondly, I would like to talk about the origin and history of linked poetry. It is said that renga and haikai developed from the kakeai, dialogue-songs between men who played gods and women. It was also called utagaki, poetic exchanges. These dialogue-songs then became somonka, relationship poems at the royal court banquets. After these, they again developed into uta-awase, poetry matches where the competitors were divided into a left side and right side for the competition; A judge or judges decided who was winner. In these matches, there were also various competitions for matching the things such as roots, plants, shells, pictures, flowers, insects, birds, fireflies, incense and riddles. The competitors composed poems using the names of these things which were prepared in the gardens or on the artificial sandbanks. These poems were called mono-awase.

The method of organizing meetings for awase, uta-awase and mono-awase had a great influence on the organization for haikai no renga which originally had only been a section of vulgar poetry in collections of waka. The linked poetry had two impvulgarortant aspects. One was its vulgar aspect, the other was the aspect which necessitated a place for gathering people together, which was called ba. Dialogue-songs or poetic exchanges and awase competitions all included jokes. Competitions were closely connected with the exchange of love, and the exchange of love was closely connected with laughter or the exchange of jokes, as you can see in Japanese ancient myths, waka poems, novels and the erotic prints of the Edo period. The erotic prints of the Edo period were called kachi-e (prints for winning) or warai-e (prints for laughing). Competition and laughter were important elements for the power of ren. As I have already mentioned, ren necessitated a meeting place . Dialogue-songs or poetic exchanges were always performed in festival places which were called utagaki no ba. Awase competitions were held in the salons of the nobility, and the places where renga and haikai were held, were called za which I am going to talk about later. The linking of haikai was called tsukeai which means attaching instead of kakeai which means an exchange between a couple of people or awase which means putting together and matching.

Linked themes in prose and paintings

Thirdly, I would like to talk about the linked themes in a few examples of prose. From the point of view of ren, there is a great deal of interesting prose in Japanese essays, narratives, and novels. I am going to quote three examples.

The first two examples of prose are connected with waka, the latter with haikai. In ren, themes and images arenot connected in the ordinary order of writing, but connected in ren order. The prose of ren has two kinds of order. One is the order of themes linked symbolically, the other is the order of themes linked semantically. In ren order, themes and images are independent of each other as well as being part of the whole.

The example I will give from the prose of "Makurano-soshi" has semantically linked themes. The example from the prose of "Koshoku Ichidai Otoko" has symbolically linked themes. The example of "The tale of the Heike" has both symbolically and semantically linked themes. The symbolic and semantic linking of themes is different from that found in the order of ordinary writing or story telling, so although there is a lot of prose of this type, it has been considered to be merely decoration for the whole story, and has thereforenot been researched in detail.

The first quotation is an example of things listed or scenes which are linked semantically in "Makurano-soshi(the pillow book)" of Sei-Shonagon in the 10th century to the 11th century.

    Things that evoke a clean feelings --- An earthen cup. A new metal bowl. A rush mat. The play of the light on water as one pours it into a vessel. A new wooden chest. Elegant things --- A white coat worn over a violet waistcoat. Duck eggs. Shaved ice mixed with liana syrup and put in a new silver bowl. A rosary of rock crystal. Wistaria blossoms. Plum blossoms covered with snow. A pretty child eating strawberries. Depressing things --- A dog howling in the daytime. A wickerwork fish-net in spring. A red plum-blossom patterned kimono out of season. A lying-in room when the baby has died. A cold, empty brazier. An ox-driver when his oxen have died. A scholar whose wife has one girl child after another. (This is from "The pillow book of Sei-Shonagon" translated Ivan Morris, Columbia University press 1971.---I have made a few alterations to the original for inclusion in this paper.)

"Makurano-soshi" contains the largest number of listings in Japanese literature, and it is said that this essay was based on the tastes of a large group in the royal court. A Cup, a bowl, a mat, a vessel and a chest have no relationship, but they are classified in the same category they evoke by the group of the royal court, according to the sense of beauty. As the classification is so relative, the study of classifying and listing is very important for culture studies. This way of listing came from the words of waka, and also zassan which was prose in the Chinese Tang dynasty which classified and listed things. The second quotation is a part of "The tale of the Heike" of the 13th century. In this example there are both classified and linked themes.

    Soon after he had crossed over Mount Osaka he found himself on the bridge at Seta, where the sound of horses' hooves echoed. Riding onward, he saw a skylark winging over the village of Noji, Shiga in the quiet mood of spring, the village of Kagami-yama in the mist, and the lofty peak of Hira to the north. Then Mount Ibuki rose up a short distance before him. ( The tale of the heike" translated by H.Kitagawa, B.T.Tsuchida, University Tokyo press 1975)

Shigehira who was walking this road from Kyoto, was to be killed when he arrived in Kamakura, because he was a kind of prisoner of war. He knew he was about to die and everything he saw in this trip was influenced by his impending death. This was a story narrated by the blind priests with biwa lute accompaniment. The names of places werenarrated with deep emotion. The blind narrators had large guilds and various bases throughout Japan. Narrators in the medieval period traveled bringing stories from place to place. This style of prose is called michiyuki-bun, a poetic prose which literally means going along the road. This style of prose was perfected by the blind narrators, after that, a lot of narratives, plays and novels used this style.

Michiyuki-bun involves the listing of place name, and when we hear or read this, we can imagine going along a road with the main character. It developed from uta-makura which means words codified for poetic use, and often means famous places in waka. This style of prose is composed with waka syllables, and in these syllables, the road and the names of places are linked one by one. So, michiyuki-bun is a prose of ren, classified by the names of places and linked by roads and poetic syllables. It was also edited by the blind narrators who had a vast network of ren both of people and places.

The third quotation is a part of "Koshoku Ichidai Otoko(the life of an amorous man)" of 1682. It is an example of a piece of prose which has linking themes coming from haikai. The author Ihara Saikaku was a professional composer of haikai. He was in the most radical haikai school in the Edo period. He sometimes held performances of dokugin which means haikai composed by only one person.

Haikai is a type of poetry composed by several ordinary people, whereas dokugin has a special style. Saikaku challenged the record of speed and number of stanzas in a day. He began to challenge when his wife died and the fourth time he did this, the record was 23,500 stanzas a day. He had to say a stanza within 3,6 second, and the recorder could not write down all the stanzas but could only count the number. He wrote a lot of novels using this extraordinary ability. The following is a quotation from aThe life of an amorous man" translated by K.Hamada. I have made a few alterations to the original for inclusion in this paper.

     From the house opposite, someone showed a hammer. Kichibei the Parrot, from the Hachimonjiya, displayed a lantern. Maruya responded with a kerchiefed statuette of the Buddha. Kashiwaya from across the street at the right renewed the symbolic fight by swinging a wooden well bucket. Hachimonjiya exhibited a cutting board, and someone added a bunch of burdock roots. Someone showed a cat with swords, Hachimonjiya responded with a salmon, a toothpick in its mouth. A grocery account book, a noble's headgear, a package of small coins. (This is from The life of an amorous man" translated by K.Hamada, Charles E.Tuttle,1964---I have made a few alterations to the original for inclusion in this paper.)

A hammer, a lantern, a kerchiefed statuette of the Buddha, a wooden well bucket, a cutting board, a bunch of burdock roots, a cat and a salmon etcetera, arenot classified into any categories. In fact, the novels of Saikaku also contain listing and classifying prose, but in the example I have just quoted the prose is linked by associations. This is a scene from a game association played by comedians in Yukaku which meant the areas where high-class prostitutes, musicians, and comedians were working. Some kinds of haikai, kyoka(comic waka), and novels were based on Yukaku.

Now I would like go on to talk about the paintings of ren. Some kinds of paintings had linked or classified images. For example, the scroll paintings which depict a river, a road, a mountain or a big city, begin with a spring scene. As the viewer unrolls the scroll the season also changes, until at the end of the scroll, there is a winter scene. If you unroll the whole thing, the four seasons emerge in the same picture. Sometimes it is the same in folding screens. There is a time dimension in Japanese painting, and it is similar to the structure found in collections of waka and one sequence of haikai. These always depict four seasons.

The seasons were one of the most important themes for dividing different aspects of Japanese culture into units. There are also a great many other scroll paintings containing linked themes such as annual functions and stories. In folding screens or hanging scrolls, there are classified and listed themes, such as those of the nehanzu style, hyaku style and tsukushi style etcetera.

Nehanzu refers to the scenes of Buddha's death. Many people and all kinds of animals surround the dead Buddha. This composition produced a lot of parodies, for example a dead play boy surrounded by all kinds of women, a dead mouli radish surrounded by all kinds of vegetables etcetera.

Hyaku means one hundred, and it referred to the whole wonderful world. So, one hundred horses, one hundred butterflies and one hundred fat women who bring happiness etcetera were painted.

Tsukushi means listing everything. So, hyaku style is one of the tsukushi style. There were tsukushi paintings of playing prostitutes, kimono which were hanging up, dogs, cats, etcetera, which contained fewer than one hundred objects. This concludes the first section of my talk which dealing with the theme of ren in art and literature. In the next section, I would like to discuss the theme of people in ren, that is to say renju.

Renju -- linking people --

From the point of view of ren, the movement and the activities of people in the Edo period, was indeed interesting. I have already said that ren was a mechanism by which a process emerged from the interactions of people, words and sentences and other objects. It was not only a mechanism in which words were linked creatively such as haikai, but also in which people were linked themselves provoking and changing each other, like the stanzas in the haikai themselves.

In the Edo period there were many ren --- that is a meeting or coming together of people to perform kyoka, comic waka. The difference between haikai and kyoka is mainly the number of syllables in a stanza. One stanza of haikai consist of five seven five or seven seven syllables, and is linked to other stanzas, but kyoka consist of five seven five seven seven syllables. Haikai and kyoka were originally the same, but haikai became linked stanzas and kyoka became single poems. Kyoka were mainly used by priests for spreading Buddhism and later, they were used in travel books and commentaries on Kabuki plays or Yukaku. The latter half of the 18th century was the golden age of Kyoka. The people who were fond of kyoka, joined groups in their area. In these days, haikai were too traditional and highbrow for people who liked the inventive and experimental activities as well as jokes.

Haikai had been new and experimental poems one hundred years before, but now in the latter half of the 18th century, Basho was the authority of the past. People in Edo had a tendency to hate any authorities. Japanese culture had the same tendency in general, so if any experimental arts were authorized and formalized, other new ones, which were both realistic and vulgar, emerged. For example, waka contrasted with Chinese poetry, renga contrasted with waka, haikai with renga, kyoka(comic waka) and zappai(comic haikai) with haikai. The people who performed kyoka liked jokes very much and made groups called ren, a name which originally came from renju meaning the people gathering together at the za of haikai.

They gave themselves funny names such as Sakenoueno Hurachi which means rudeness under the influence of drink; Hitorineno Tsuraki which means it is hard to go bed alone without a woman; Tsumurino Hikaru which means the bald head is shining; Shiba Unko which means faeces on a lawn and Harakarano Akiudo which means a hungry man full of the sadness of autumn. These names were all parodies of the names of noble men who composed waka in former times.

The ren werenamed after the names of the places where the meetings were held or the kyoka names of their leaders. Yotsuya Ren was the ren in Yotsuya of Edo, Yamanote Ren was the ren of the area called yamanote. The former was the ren led by a samurai of a Han, an official of a local self-governing body. The latter was the ren led by a samurai of the bakufu an official of the national government. Yoshiwara Ren was the ren led by the owner of a house of prostitutes, because Yoshiwara was a yukaku. Sakaicho Ren was the ren led by a kabuki star Ichikawa Danjuro the fifth, because Sakaicho was the area of theaters. The other leaders were the owners or merchants of a public bath, a tea shop, an inn, a book shop, and the members had various other occupations.

It was not necessary to have a meeting place for kyoka because each poem could be composed by one person alone, but the people got together like the haikai performers, and edited their books which were parodies of collections of waka. In addition, some of these ren developed into ren for other purposes, such as Takara Awase --- this was one of the awase meetings which I have already mentioned. Of course Takara Awase was a parody of the earlier awase of waka, and the performers made these as vulgar as they could.

Rakugo --- a vulgar story, which is one of the most popularentertainments of Japan today, emerged from these meetings. Rakugo werenot performed by professionals but by ordinary people in this period, and there were two ways of presenting them. One was through ren---this was typical in Edo, the other was through competitions open to the general public, which was typical in Osaka. Many kinds of books were published in this period, so kyoka collections and rakugo collections were always published.

The publishing activities were supported by the ren. The most successful publisher Tsutaya was a member of the Yoshiwara Ren as was Utamaro who is the most famous ukiyoe artist in the world. Tsutaya was also a coordinator of the writers and artists in Edo. Coordinators were important for the emerging ren. I would like to talk about some of the other coordinators as well. The study of culture done so far, has concentrated on writers or artists, but for the study of ren of people, coordinators are the most important and interesting theme. Basho was an excellent coordinator of renju throughout Japan in that period.

Kyoka also had a famous coordinator Ota Nanpo (1749-1823) who was a samurai official of bakufu and also a writer of a great many essays, kyoshi(chinese comic poetry), and kyoka. Hiraga Gennai(1728-1779), One of the most important coordinator in the Edo period discovered Nanpo. Nanpo was always the main performer and coordinator at kyoka meetings, and edited the kyoka collections of parodies and he developed the quality of kyoka into the most modern poetry in the middle of the Edo period.

For example, he composed the following kyoka -- aThe moon is peeping at this world. Could it be that the moon thinks the world is wonderful and envies it ?". It is a parody of a waka such as I envy the moon in the clear sky above such a blue and difficult world". In waka, the composer envies the moon, but in kyoka, the moon envies us. In waka, this world is difficult and blue, but in kyoka, this world is wonderful. In his kyoka, Nanpo always admires this real world, changes unhappy events into happy ones, and laughs at everything. This is connected with the traditional function of blessing. There were until the Second World War professional entertainers who blessed everything in each house on new year's day. The ren of kyoka produced laughter in all the meetings. Because of this comic function of kyoka, the renju of kyoka did not write down the kyoka. This non-recording of kyoka was known as iisute, forgetting after saying, but publishers wanted to publish kyoka on record, and began to make books.

Tsutaya Juzaburo, a publisher whom I have already mentioned, was very interested in publishing books of kyoka and he attended the meetings, gave himself a comic name, composed kyoka, and finally, he invented books in which kyoka were printed on coloured ukiyoe. Tsutaya encouraged young ukiyoe artists such as Utamaro, Sharaku, Hokusai and Kitao Masanobu. The first three artists are the most famous, and Kitao Masanobu became Santo Kyoden, an excelent writer of kibyoshi comics. The most popular writers such as Takizawa Bakin and Juppensha Ikku in the latter half of the Edo period, were all encouraged by Tsutaya. He linked ukiyoe with literature, famous old writers or artists with young unknown writers or artists in order to produce new styles of books. He was a true coordinator.

Hiraga Gennai whom I have mentioned, was a former samurai official who gave up being a civil servant for his local lord in order to work for his country as a whole. After arriving in Edo, he began to hold meetings with natural historians in order to study collections of plants and minerals. It was the time when a great many people were interested in natural history and natural science, but it was difficult to gather natural things from all over Japan including things from Asian and European countries. So, he invented a new system whereby everyone living far from Edo, could send important natural objects safely. In addition, he bought a lot of European books of natural history, and used this knowledge in his own books to connect and compare it with Chinese and Japanese natural history. He thought that Japan had to develop industries which could beat the competition from Asian countries.

In this period Japan used up almost all its gold and silver, and having no industry equal to China, its only trade with Holland was copper. Samurai officials knew that this was dangerous for Japan. Gennai held a lot of meetings of natural historians and herbalists. He also walked throughout Japan to find the best quality clay for ceramics, went into the mountains to find metals for which there was a shortage, began to make gilded leathers with paper which would replace expensive imported goods, learned and understood the mechanics of electricity through repairing a broken machine which produced an electric current, and tried to breed four sheep, two rams and two ewes but failed to.

All Gennai's activities were in order to develop industries and produce export goods. He also wrote the first novels and puppet plays in Edo dialect, painted the first European style portrait of European lady in oils, discovered a young painter and taught him how to paint European style paintings. The young painter mixed and developed Eastern and Western techniques of paintings and produced the first creative European style paintings painted by a Japanese artist. This is called akita-ranga, which means the European style paintings produced by the people of the Akita clan in the north east area of Japan. A ukiyoe artist who was interested in European culture invented the first copper prints in Japan based on this school of paintings. Gennai did not succeed commercially in any of his ventures, but he was a true coordinator.

In those days, there were a great many ren-meetings, natural history meetings, kyoka meetings, takara-awase meetings that is vulgar treasures meetings, story-telling meetings, haikai meetings, and meetings for producing calendars. The calendar meetings were for producing the new calendar prints. In the lunar calendar, they needed only one sheet a year, because only the information of the number of days of each month was necessary as this was different every year. The months werenot subdivided into weeks or days of a week, and they did not have Saturdays or Sundays. The artists competed with each other to improve the quality of the calendar prints.

Gennai attended one of these meetings, and at this meeting, the first full-coloured prints in Japan were invented. The leader of this meeting was a high official of bakufu, and also a composer of haikai. All the leaders of the meetings and all the coordinators were both patrons and artists. Whether they provided money or not, they created things themselves. There was no distinction in Japan between the patrons who provided the money and the creative artists themselves. Almost all patrons or leaders or coordinators did both.

Creative artists in Kyoto in the 18th century, had ren of sencha that is leaf tea meetings. These meetings had a sense of value found in Chinese poetry and Chinese zen which was modern for Japan at that time. They had knowledge and interest in Chinese culture, Buson and Taiga painted themes from Chinese poetry and scenery, Ueda Akinari wrote novels based on Chinese popular novels, and essays on sencha as well as Japanese poetry. These ren were also Chinese culture meetings.

Baisao who was a priest of Chinese zen in Kyoto, was the first coordinator of this type of ren. Kimura Kenkado was also a close friend of these people. He was a wine merchant in Osaka. In his diary, we can see that a great many creative artists called on him because he made his house a kind of salon and museum. He was an important coordinator who encouraged these artists and arranged for them to meet each other. He also was not only a patron, but a natural historian and writer himself. This concludes the second section of my talk which has dealt with renju. In the next section, I would like to discuss the theme of the place of ren.

ZA ---The place of ren---

Ren seemed to be connected with a special place especially in haikai. It was called za. Za had many meanings. It came from Chinese and means a place still today, but in Japan it meant the place for gods and was also used as counting word for gods. It changed much later and in the medieval period had three main meanings. First it meant guilds of merchants. It also meant the theater companies, and finally it signified the meetings for haikai.

All of these had the same origin. This was miyaza, which meant a group enshrining native gods and holding a religious service for them. Za lost its original meaning in connection in the guilds of merchants when the work done changed from services to the gods to earning money, but the theater companies and haikai meetings still kept the original meaning until the middle of the Edo period, and za seems to be a very important concept for all aspects of ren. Za or the other concept similar to za such as ba which means place in general, must have been indispensable for ren.

I would like to introduce a pair of stanzas of haikai to talk about za. These are the first pair of stanzas of "kogarashi no maki(the chapter of a cold wintry wind)" in the famous "Huyu no hi(on a winter's day)" directed by Basho. We find references to both a traveler and a man who welcomes him. The first of the pair by Basho "Kyoku, kogarashi no mi wa chikusai ni nitaru kana" states "Kyoku, like Chikusai buffeted by wintry blasts, to this place I come".

Freely translated this means Strange vulgar verse! my poor and ragged appearance buffeted by wintry blasts is like Chikusai the funny character in the novel who travels and "composes kyoka(comic waka)". This stanza has an introduction which says that Having been exposed to bitter wind and rain on my long journey, I struggled into this province of Owari a most forlorn and utterly exhausted traveler, as did an ancient master of kyoka, whose memory inspired the following piece"

As you know in this introduction, this was a stanza made by a visiting traveler. It was a rule that the guest made the first stanza and the host made the second stanza, but there were, of course exceptions. In the second of the pair by Yasui “Taso ya tobashiru kasa no sazanka", the poet asks Who are you with the straw hat on which sasanqua flowers are cascading one by one?". If you try to read these aloud in Japanese, you will find these stanzas have a very harsh sound. They are strong and dynamic stanzas. This reflected spirit of the eternal traveler such as that of the traveling zen monk, but the eternal traveler was not only like a zen monk, he was also similar to the traditional wandering poets, and the traveling gods of ancient times.

It is said that in ancient times traveling gods would wear a straw coat and a hat. Some say that these gods represent Susanowo, a god of energy of strong winds and typhoons, and the most popular god in Japan because of his childlike and tragic character. He was the younger brother of Amaterasu, and he never beat his sister in any competition, and finally he was banished because of his destructive energy, and became an exiled god and the chief god in the world of the dead.

But, traveling gods do not always represent Susanowo, because any god from tokoyo (the eternal world) can put on a straw coat and a hat, and tokoyo is also a world of the dead. Gods from tokoyo were called marebito, which means a visiting person who is shown special respect. This word later developed into maroodo, and meant a guest.

We also find this in the tea ceremony where it became sho-kyaku the main guest. There are always two kinds of guests, sho-kyaku and kyaku, and sho-kyaku is shown special respect. The place for sho-kyaku is always fixed. It is said that the place for sho-kyaku was always kept empty or protected by the owners of the houses in the daily life of the head villagers in ancient and medieval times. It is also reported that the appointed places in some temples, were always kept empty, and when they held a festival for a god who was treated with special respect, they welcomed him by clapping their hands. Of course, there was no one there.

Hand-clapping had special meaning for the Japanese at that time. It was a way of calling gods and spirits to za. However today, Japanese never clap in temples but always clap in shrines. Before the Meiji period, temples and shrines were connected much more closely. The empty place was for gods coming from tokoyo. The place was called za or kura, both of them mean place and the former is the Chinese pronunciation and the latter is old Japanese.

Za was used in connection with haikai in the Edo period. In the expression haikai no za. It is said that when renju(performers) held haikai meetings they all washed their bodies and hair, and put on formal wear at home, before attending the meeting. Two rooms were prepared. The room where the haikai were performed and another room where they met to organize the proceedings. They washed their hands, before entering the haikai room.

At first, everyone had to worship the portrait of the god Tenjin hanging on the wall in the tokonoma, or alcove. This is the god of art and intelligence. In front of this portrait, there was a pair of cups filled with rice wine, some incense burning, and flowers in a vase. As you know, these offerings are the same as those for Buddha in Japan, and obviously, they were offerings for welcoming gods. In the haikai meetings, there was the main guest, ordinary guests and the host, so, we do not know which refers to the marebito, the main guest or the god. It is the problem of za.

Orikuchi Shinobu -- a famous folklorist, poet and novelist -- said that there wereno marebito, only gods in ancient times, but people began to treat men as marebito in the medieval period. Sho-kyaku is exactly the same as marebito, so sho-kyaku was not a man but a god originally. In daily life, the Japanese let a guest sit in front of the alcove, because it is called the best place. In Japanese it is called kamiza which means the most exalted place, and also means the place for a god. In fact, gods come into the alcove, but the guest who was confused with a god, was regarded as a god temporarily, and he had to sit in front of the real god.

Earlier, I said that za means place, but I have to elaborate on this. Za meant the place where there were people gathering and a visiting god. If there wereneither gods nor people, it had to be called ma. Ma was a physically empty place where you could make za. Ba is also important in our understanding of za. Ba meant a space which had possibility of making za. In a ba, if you let the people gather and welcome a god, kekkai would be produced which means a partition dividing ba, a special place za and an ordinary place.

A special place is also easily made using symbolic things such as an umbrella or a tree which has cherry blossoms. The space just under an umbrella or some special trees, was a special space similar to za. In the medieval period, renga were often held under the trees which had cherry blossoms. The people under the tree did not have to give their true names, and anyone could attend.

In the pair of stanzas of haikai I quoted the ragged traveler with a straw hat visits another person. The traveler is similar to Susanowo or a marebito and in addition he is under a tree in late autumn. This is a very interesting folkloristic scene. This pair of haikai have some important points relating to za. First there is a traveling god which I have already mentioned. Second the poet has a few images which remind us of other historical poets such as Saigyo, Sogi, and Chikusai. Saigyo was a traveling poet who composed waka and whom Basho respected very much. Sogi was the most important poet of renga in the medieval period. Chikusai was not a real person, but was based on traveling poets in the real world, such as Ikkyu-Sojun and they were poets of kyoka.

In this case, the function of za was to attract themes, images, and people who were linked not only in the same period but also in history and myths. Places or groups with different names also carried out the same function. For example kakeai-dialogue songs or utagaki-poetic exchanges had the place which was called utagaki no ba. The noble salons held the poetry matches in their houses. The kyoka groups and many other groups in Edo had ren groups in their houses or restaurants, and in the latter case Edo was also the special place. I shall call them ba including za.

Another example of za can be found in kabuki plays. There was no director in kabuki. The most important people for playing kabuki were a producer, the head of the company, the main actor for roles of the heroin , the main actor for roles of the hero, and the head of writers. So, all of them had to attend the important meetings especially for arranging the sekai. Today sekai means the world, but it meant both the world and the stories for kabuki plays.

Kabuki had main stories to use, which the writers arranged for plays and actors made their dialogues. The most important decision to be made was the sekai for the play which began from the first of November in the lunar calendar. It was about the date of Christmas in the solar calendar. This means that it was about the day of the winter solstice. The day was regarded as the day of the first Japanese play, which was said to have been performed in front of the cave where the sun goddess Amaterasu had hidden. This meant that role of the plays at this time was to call back the energy of the sun every year.

The meeting to arrange the winter solstice sekai was hidden from the general public because it was sacred. Behind a folding screen, the head of the writers wrote the name of the sekai which was to be used for the play and also the name of the cast. All the members behind the folding screen saw it, and clapped their hands, after that, the head of the company said "Please receive the book of the sekai". The producer took the paper bearing the names of both the play and the cast and back home, offered it to the family shrine. The next day, the head of the writers visited the producer's house said the words of a blessing, and received the paper. These were not meetings but a ceremonies. In the ceremonies there was a god, and the head of the writers played the role of a priest, to whom the head of the company said "Please receive the book of the sekai". These words seemed to be the words normally addressed to the gods.

In kabuki, companies were called za from the beginning. Even today, kabuki plays retain some of the atmosphere of the groups which serve for gods because of some kinds of plays such as "Sukeroku" which was produced from the sekai of Soga especially sacred. I still have not established a link between Kabuki and ren as I have not researched this area in detail yet, but from the the point of view of ren, the sekai which linked both history and myths are the most interesting theme.


In my talk today I have been discussing ren in connection with haikai, prose, paintings, meetings and za. Ren is an old theme but this approach to ren is very new. There are a lot of themes in Japanese and Asian culture which have not yet been studied or only superficially, especially in connection with the in culture of the Edo period. Themes are there waiting to be studied from a new perspective. Researchers who arenot Japanese and who come from different cultures will certainly be able to add fresh ideas to the study of the Edo period. And I hope that my talk today may encourage some of you to join me in researching some of these themes in more detail.   _