Uta Monogatari (Poem Tale) (歌物語)

Uta monogatari (poem tale) is the generic term for narrative literature concerning waka poems.


Some uta monogatari are fictitious tales while others are dramatized personal waka anthologies. Also, some are collections of episodes with various characters while others have specific leading figures. It is believed that uta monogatari flourished particularly during the early Heian Period.

There are a variety of themes of uta monogatari, but many of the tales are love stories inspired by waka poems or stories of mourning or lamenting about one's difficult life. There are chapters that describe the blessing of waka poems; for example, waka poems may resolve an incident or allow things to progress more smoothly.
These chapters are sometimes called 'Katoku Setsuwa.'

Establishment and development

There are several theories on the birth of uta monogatari, but it seems to be related to the 'kotobagaki' (preface or captions) of waka poems, such as the preface to "Manyoshu" (the oldest anthology of Japanese poetry) and "Kokin Wakashu" (A Collection of Ancient and Modern Japanese Poetry). For example, "Ise Monogatari" (The Tales of Ise) includes some waka poems that also appear in "Kokin Wakashu," and there are chapters that seem to be modifications of the kotobagaki of "Kokinshu" or stories made from adjacently aligned poems in the "Kokinshu."

In these uta monogatari, the preface or caption became longer and longer. In addition, many uta monogatari influenced subsequent works such as "The Tale of Genji." Although the great length of "The Tale of Genji" puts it out of the scope of 'uta monogatari', the influence of "The Tales of Ise" is quite obvious; for example, the Tale of Genji uses many soji (phraseology) of waka including Hikiuta (analogy).

Major uta monogatari

"Tales of Ise"

"Tales of Heichu"

"Tales of Yamato"

"Tale of the Lesser Captain of Tonomine"

"The Diary of Lady Ise"

"Ichijo Sessho Shu"

[Original Japanese]