Kyoka (comicsatirical tanka) (狂歌)

Kyoka is a parody of tanka (Japanese poem) that contains social satire, irony, and humor in 31 (5-7-5-7-7) syllables.

The origin of kyoka can be traced back to the ancient and medieval period. The term "Kyoka" is found in documents from the Heian period. While rakusho (lampoon) can be in the same category, Kyoka was established as a unique genre during the mid Edo period, and among famous Kyoka poets was Teiryu TAIYA, who was active in Kamigata (Kyoto and Osaka area) during the Kyoho era.

In the history of Japanese culture, a Kyoka fad during the Tenmei era in the Edo period deserves special mention. It is said that the fad started when a collection of Kyoka entitled "Neboke sensei bunshu (the Literary Works of Master Groggy)" was published in 1767 at the beginning of Okitsugu TANUMA's political control. With a preface written by Gennai HIRAGA, this book was written by 19 year old Nanbo OTA (a.k.a. YOMO no Akara and Shokusanjin). In1769, the first Kyoka gathering was held on the premises of Kisshu KARAGOROMO. Since then, Kyoka lovers formed groups (Kyoka-ren) to create kyoka poems. Other famous Kyoka poets include Kanko AKERA and Meshimori YADOYA (Masamochi ISHIKAWA).

The Edo culture was at its peak during the TANUMA administration, when Kyoka, Ukiyoe (Japanese woodblock prints) and kibyoshi (an illustrated book of popular fiction whose cover is yellow) flourished.

Many kyoka poems are parodies of masterpieces such as Kokin Wakashu (a collection of ancient and modern Japanese poetry). This is an application of a Tanka technique called Honkatori (writing poems quoted parts of old poems).

After the modern period, Kyoka has been very dull in contrast to Senryu (comic haiku), which still enjoys wide popularity today.

Examples of Kyoka

The poorer a poet's work is, the better; Heaven and Earth should not be moved (by Meshimori YADOYA).
A kyoka based on a phrase in the Kokin Wakashu Kanajo (Japanese preface) "Without much strength Heaven and Earth would be moved…"

To make my living; Go out to the field in Spring; and gather young herbs; the snow on my sleeves; must be ashamed
The original poem was that of Emperor Koko in Hyakunin Isshu (one hundred waka poems by one hundred poets): "To give you; Go out to the field in Spring; and gather young herbs; the snow is falling on my sleeves."

Hatamoto samurai are; now at the peak of emptiness; when they think of living without receiving salary. This poem was written during the Kyoho reforms, satirizing the delay of salary to Hatamoto samurai.

The original poem was that of MINAMOTO no Muneyuki in Kokin Wakashu "Villages in the Mountain are; now at the peak of emptiness; when people and leaves are withered."

Of the Shirakawa River; in its clean flow; fishes are hard to live; the old Tanuma (muddy paddy); is what they are missing
This poem was written during the Kansei Reform. Shirakawa was Sadanobu MATSUDAIRA's territory. It satirizes people who thought that old days of corrupt politics of Okitsugu TANUMA were better than the harsh reforms of Sadanobu. It was rumored that Nanbo OTA wrote this poem but he denied it.

Peaceful sleep; was disturbed by Jokisen; Just four cups; brought sleepless nights
"Jokisen" was a product name of high-quality green tea, and as cups of strong green tea excite drinkers, this poem satirized those who were frightened and worried by just four jokisen (steam boats) from foreign countries.

Kyoka ren

There were two types of Kyoka ren (groups): groups made up mainly of samurai, such as Yamanote-ren led by Nanbo OTA and Yotsuya-ren with Kisshu KARAGOROMO; those made up mainly of citizens, including Sakaimachi-ren formed by the Fifth Danjuro Ichikawa and his followers, and Yoshiwara-ren led by Juzaburo TSUTAYA and based in Yoshiwara.

Three Major Kyoka Poets

Nanbo OTA

Other Kyoka poets

Masamochi ISHIKAWA

[Original Japanese]