Izumi Shikibu (和泉式部)

Izumi Shikibu (dates unknown) was a poet of the mid-Heian period. The generally accepted theory puts her birth around 978. She is regarded as one of the Medieval 36 Immortal poets.

She was a daughter of the governor of Echizen, OE no Masamune. She became TACHIBANA no Michisada, Izumi-no-kuninokami's wife, and was called 'Izumi Shikibu,' this being a combination of the country of her husband's post and the name of her father's office. Although their marriage later failed, the daughter born between them--KOSHIKIBU no Naishi--inherited her mother's poetic gifts.

She was said to be one of the ladies-in-waiting in attendance on Empress Shoshi (also read as Masako) and to have been called Omotomaru at first, but there are also theories that contradict this assertion. While she was still Michisada's wife, her love affair with the third son of Emperor Reizei, Prince Tametaka (977 - 1002), became the gossip of the court, and she was disowned by her father for loving someone above her station. After the death of Price Tametaka, she was then courted by Prince Atsumichi (981 - 1007), his younger brother by the same mother. When he tried to place her in his mansion, his principal wife left him as a result.

As the prince's concubine, she bore him one son, Eikaku, but he died young in 1007. From 1008 to 1011, she served as a lady-in-waiting to Empress Shoshi (also read Akiko), the wife of Emperor Ichijo. When she was past the age of 40 she married FUJIWARA no Yasumasa, a retainer of her master Shoshi's father, Fujiwara no Michinaga; FUJIWARA, who was famous for his bravery, went to Tango, the country of her new husband's post. She was still alive when her daughter KOSHIKIBU no Naishi died in 1025, but nothing is known about her later years.

Her love affairs were so numerous that Michinaga called her 'a fickle woman.'
Her love poems, laments and Buddhist poems best express her sincere feeling, and she has many masterpieces, particularly among her passionate love poems. Her talent was praised even by her contemporary, the great poet FUJIWARA no Kinto, and she was truly one of the best court poets of either gender.

There exists an "Izumi Shikibu Nikki," a diary about the details of her love with Prince Atsumichi in story form, but whether she in fact wrote it is questionable. There are also surviving private poetry collections: "The Main Poetry Collection of Izumi Shikibu," "The Continued Poetry Collection of Izumi Shikibu" and "The Shinkan-bon Izumi Shikibu Poetry Collection." Starting from the "Shui Wakashu," 246 of her poems were collected in the imperial anthologies, and in the "Goshui Wakashu," the first imperial anthology after her death, she had the honor of being the poet with the greatest number of poems included.


Many places throughout Japan are said to hold the grave of Izumi Shikibu, but none of them is more than legendary.
Kunio YANAGIDA mentioned that the reason such traditions exist everywhere is 'because the women belonging to the Seigan-ji Temple in Kyoto, who told tales of Shikibu as a katari (oral performance), traveled to every corner of the country during the medieval period.'

There is currently a stone monument said to be her burial place in Mitake Town, Kani District, Gifu Prefecture. According to the tradition there, in her later years she attempted a journey down the Tokaido but fell ill and passed away there.
The poem carved on the monument says ' When one passes by and the bridge sinks, let the one behind stop a while.'

In Ishikawa Town, in the Ishikawa district of Fukushima Prefecture, there remains a tradition that "Tamayohime," the daughter of Kuniyasu YASUDA Hyoe, a local governor who ruled that place, was in fact Izumi Shikibu. A spring called Kowashimizu, which was used for the newborn Shikibu's first bath, still exists, as well as a miraculous spring called Nekonaki Hot Spring where Shikibu's cat "Some," grieving at parting from her when she was thirteen, was cured as she cried and her body soaked.

There also remains a tradition about Izumi Shikibu in Ureshino City, Saga Prefecture.

According to a tradition in Itami City, Hyogo Prefecture, the location of her residence is at the 'Izumi Shikibu Temple' in Hiraokacho, Nishi Ward, Sakai City, Osaka Prefecture.

[Original Japanese]