Renga (連歌)

Renga is a traditional form of poetry, and the kaminoku (the first part of a poem) and shimonoku (the latter part of a poem) are linked together by several people. There are rules for linking poems, and many forms, such as the kasen (superior poetry) and hyakugin (a type of renga), are structured according to the number of phrases.

Renga is also called 'Tsukuba no Michi (street of Tsukuba)' because the origin of renga goes back to the Showa-Mondoka (chorus poetry in the form of question and answer) between Yamatotakeru no Mikoto and Mihitaki no Okina, which depicted Mt. Tsukuba and was collected in "Kojiki" (Records of Ancient Matters).

The earliest form of renga can be seen in the Hachidaishu (the first eight collections of waka compiled by imperial command) as a form of tanrenga (a 31-syllable poem in which the first and latter parts are made by different composers).

Since the medieval Kamakura period, the Chorenga had evolved into a hundred-stanza sequence, and after the period of the Northern and Southern Courts (Japan) it reached its golden age in the Muromachi period. Renga is considered one of the games that represent the Muromachi culture, along with Nogaku. During the Muromachi period, Rengashi (poets who wrote only renga) such as Yoshimoto NIJO, Sogi, Shinkei and others appeared, and rengakai were held at the residences of court nobles and leading temples. Once the culture of Kyoto spread to the countryside amid the turmoil of the Onin War, renga came to be composed not only in the Kinai District but throughout Japan as well.

Renga, a poem composed by a group, developed in relation to the ko (meeting for a lecture on Buddhist scriptures). It had been particularly linked with SUGAWARA no Michizane Shinko (to have faith in SUGAWARA no Michizane as a god) since the late Kamakura period. The Tenjinko Festival for making renga was especially called "Tenjinko Festival Rengakai." It was a festival in which the lecture was given, a memorial service for the deified spirit of Sugawara no Michizane with an icon was held, and renga were offered. Such rengakai developed mainly in Yamato Province, and through the Muromachi period it spread from the Kinai district to various other areas. A record of the Tenjinko Festival Rengakai has been transmitted, such as Someda Tenjin Rengakai held in Muromura, Yamato Province.

From the Sengoku period to the early modern times, renga was considered an essential part of education. During the Sengoku period, Joha SATOMURA appeared and wrote many books on renga, having social relations with some daimyo (feudal lords), and established an educational position of renga among the newly appearing daimyo. The Satomura family later served the Tokugawa family, and led the renga society as an instructor of seii taishogun (literally, "great general who subdues the barbarians"). At the end of the Sengoku period, Moritake ARAKIDA and Sokan YAMAZAKI started Haikairenga (a type of renga). This was an attempt to pursue the subject matter of renga in the social conditions, and to try to find humor in the combination of a traditional poetic form and something familiar. There are books such as "Inu Tsukubashu." During the Edo period Haikairenga reached its zenith, and Saikaku IHARA and Basho MATSUO appeared from the Kyoto-Osaka area; however, renga had become obsolete. Haikairenga was also changed into the Tsukinami School, which took the form seriously, but during the Meiji period it became outdated in the reform of poetry by Shiki MASAOKA from haikai to haiku.

After World War II, modern poets like Makoto OOKA paid attention to the nature of group creation of Renga, and tried to compose renga as group poems in a manner free from tradition, while some people returned to the renga as a traditional poetic form. The former is practiced as renga in languages other than Japanese. The latter holds rengakai such as Fukagawa Bashoan (the hut in Fukagawa in which Basho lived), and composes renga by traditional master and renju (people who attend the party to compose poetry). Both groups are endeavoring to continue their practice through various channels of the Internet. Although there is a revival movement, the number of associations and people who make renga is still small by comparison to that of haiku.

[Original Japanese]