Ryojin Hisho (梁塵秘抄)

Ryojin hisho was a folk song collection compiled in the end of Heian period. It was a corpus of imayo (popular style of song in Heian period) songs. It was compiled by Cloistered Emperor Goshirakawa. It was completed in the Jisho era (around 1180).


Cloistered Emperor Goshirakawa favored songs called imayo since he was a boy. He invited good composers to learn many songs, but he regretted that those songs would not be handed down after his death, so he took notes and turned them into the book. Also, he left ten Books of Kuden shu (Collections of Oral Transmission) about the history of songs separately.

The book title 'Ryojin'(梁塵 in kanji) was named after the historical event where the dust (塵 in kanji) on the rafters (梁 in kanji) was moved, written by a master, meaning excellent song.


"Ryojin hisho" was seen in the Chapter 14 of "Tsurezure gusa" (Essays in Idleness). Also, according to "Honchoshojaku mokuroku" (the oldest list of Japanese books in existence written in the Kamakura period), there were 20 Books of Ryojin hisho. However, only Kuden shu, Book 10 was collected in "Gunsho ruiju"(Collection of historical documents compiled by Hokiichi HANAWA), and others were thought to be lost until recently.

However, in 1911 Nobutsuna SASAKI discovered the Book 2 and Book 1 of main parts, a fragment of Kuden shu Book 1, and Kuden shu Book 11 to Book 14. From the Taisho period to the Showa period, the book revised by Nobutsuna SASAKI was published by Meiji-shoin Publishing and Iwanami Shoten, Publishers. Therefore, it was relatively new that the songs in "Ryojin hisho" became known to society.

Structures and contents

It is considered that "Ryojin Hisho" originally had 10 Books of main parts and 10 Books of Kuden shu. However, only small parts are extant. Also, there is mystery about Kuden shu Book 11 and subsequent Books.

Main parts

For the main parts, only fragmentary pieces of Book 1 and Book 2 are known. There are 21 songs for Book 1, and 545 songs for Book 2, making a total of 566 songs. However, there are some duplicates, so the actual number of songs is lesser than that.
In the beginning of Book 1, it said '10 nagauta (long epic song with shamisen accompaniment), 34 koyanagi (song with a tone of recitation), and 265 imayo.'
Therefore, it means that 309 songs are collected in Book 1 if it is kanbon (complete edition).

Many songs had four phrases of seven-and-five syllable meter and eight-and five syllable meter, or other tunes of those variations. However, some songs had a tune with 5-7-5-7-7 syllable count, so the style of the songs varied.

Speaking of "Ryojin hisho," the following song is well known.

Was I born to play or flirt?
When I hear children playing, I am thrilled as my body moves.

Dance, dance, snail, and if you don't dance, let a colt and a calf kick you or step on you. If you dance beautifully, I will take you to a beautiful flower garden and let you play there.

However, the majority of songs are those such as the one as follows.

Buddha is always beside us, but we cannot see him in the real world. But he sometimes shows us his figure when people are still asleep in their dreams at dawn.

The song above is called Homon uta (songs of Buddhist scriptures). Also, there are many songs about the trips to shrines and landscape. There are not so many songs that modern people like. However, it does include children's songs such as 'Was I born to play or flirt? ' and 'Dance, dance, snail,' and amorous songs such as the following.

You never became my wife after all, but why did I start making love to you?

Kuden shu

Kuden shu was considered that it wrote about songs for each genre. Only small parts of Book 1, Book 10, and from Book 11 to Book 14 are extant.

In Book 11 to Book 14, it wrote about how to sing. However, the transmission of the way of singing was lost, so it is hard to decipher at present. According to Nobutsuna SASAKI, these were not selected by Cloistered Emperor Goshirakawa. It was considered that these were made into one later and titled 'Kuden shu Book 11' and below. If it is to add to "Ryojin hisho," the total would be more than 20 Books and contradict the descriptions in "Honchoshojaku mokuroku."

The majority of classic complete works that are currently published compiled only Kuden shu, Book 1 and Book 10, excluding Book 11 and after. You can read Book 11 and after only at Iwanami paperback library. Apparently, the contents of Book 11 to Book 14 are recondite, so it might have little value to compile them in the complete works. However, there are no descriptions regarding these even in the commentaries, so readers who see the one from Iwanami paperback library would feel contrived. It may describe the difficulties of the research for Book 11 and after.

Contents of each volume

Main part

Book 1

Only 21 songs remain.

Book 2

545 songs remain. Only one copy is extant.

Book 3 to Book 10

Missing Book

Kuden shu

Kuden shu Book 1

Only two pages remain as paperback. It was written about the origin of kagura (sacred music and dancing performed at shrines), Saibara (Japanese court song genre of the Heian period), folkways, and imayo.

Kuden shu Book 2 to Book 9

Missing Book

It seemed that it was written about shararin, ordinary imayo, kataoroshi, soga, shoseki, taikyoku, ashigara, choka, and tauta (all are kinds of imayo songs).

Kuden shu Book 10

The compiler, Cloistered Emperor Goshirakawa's involvement in imayo. It is so called a biography of Cloistered Emperor Goshirakawa who was ridiculously crazy about imayo. Since he was a teenager, he liked imayo and sung morning, noon, and night. Once he heard there was a good singer, he invited him or her to hear him or her sing, and he lost his voice three times as he sung too much. One would feel more inspired than appalled by his attachment to imayo. Beyond that, it was politically difficult times, and it's amazing considering it was the achievement of Cloistered Emperor Goshirakawa who was in the center of it.

Kuden shu Book 11 to Book 14

As mentioned previously, these were originally considered separate books. How to sing, tunes and pitches, and rhythm were written in the books, but it was recondite for ordinary people (perhaps even for professionals).

[Original Japanese]