Semimaru (蝉丸)

Semimaru (years of birth and death unknown) was a waka poet and musician in the early Heian period. It was read as "Semimaro" in ancient times.

His poems were collected in Hyakunin Isshu (one hundred waka poems by one hundred poets), but his personality was unknown. It was often said that he was a Zoshiki (low-level functionary) of Imperial Prince Atsumi, the prince of Emperor Uda, or the fourth prince of Emperor Daigo. Some said that he was from the period of Emperor Ninmyo.

He had his hermitage at Osaka no seki (barrier station) and saw people passing by and composed waka as follows. "This is the famous Osaka no seki where those who leave for Togoku (the eastern part of Japan, particularly Kanto region) from the capital and those who go back part ways, and people who know each other and do not know each other meet here." Therefore, he was enshrined as myojin (a gracious deity) of the checkpoint at Osaka no seki. Also, MINAMOTO no Hiromasa repeatedly visited Osaka for three years and on the night of August 15 (old calendar) was finally initiated into the esoteric music of biwa, "Ryusen" and "Takuboku" ("Konjaku Monogatari shu " - The Tale of Times Now Past). One theory said that he was a blind biwa-playing minstrel, but another said that he was not blind, just a beggar. The above waka was compiled in "Gosen Waka shu" (Later selected collection of Japanese poetry) and three other poems were compiled in "Shin kokin Waka shu" (New Collection of Ancient and Modern Japanese Poetry) and "Shoku kokin Waka shu" (Collection of Ancient and Modern Japanese Poetry, Continued). Also, many other tales about Semimaru appeared in "Konjaku Monogatari shu " and "Heike Monogatari" (The Tale of the Heike).

There is a Noh (traditional masked dance-drama) song called "Semimaru (Noh)" (yobanme-mono - fourth-category plays – kyojomono). His older sister, called Sakagami, visited Osaka no seki to care for the pairs infirmities, and their parting was a sad one. The source for this is uncertain.

The years of his birth and death are unknown, but May 24 (by the old lunar calendar, or June 24 in the solar calendar) is regarded as "Semimaru Ki" (the anniversary of Semimaru's death).

Historical sites of Semimaru

Seki no Semimaru-jinja Shrine

- Mt. Osaka, Otsu City, Shiga Prefecture

Grave of Semimaru

- There is a stone pagoda that is said to be the grave of Semimaru in Echizen-cho, Fukui Prefecture.

[Original Japanese]