Gotobain Kunaikyo (後鳥羽院宮内卿)

Kunaikyo or Gotoba/Gotobanoin Kunaikyo was a court-lady poet who is representative of a period when Shinkokin (Wakashu, or New Collection of Ancient and Modern Japanese Poetry) was compiled. She is one of the New Thirty-six Major Poets as well as one of the Thirty-six Immortal Lady Poets. She is generally known as Kunaikyo, but sometimes specifically referred to as Gotobain Kunaikyo to distinguish her from another court-lady poet of the same name ("Gyokuyo shu" and so on).

Her dates of birth and death are unknown. It is generally considered that she died young, at the age a little over twenty. No large collection of her poems including the line of personal collections of poetry remains today. Her father was the Provisional Master of the Western Capital Offices, MINAMOTO no Moromitsu (a son of the Chief Councillor of State, MINAMOTO no Moroyori) and her mother was Aki, a court lady worked for Goshirakawain. Her older brothers were MINAMOTO no Yasumitsu and MINAMOTO no Tomochika.

Although little of her life is clearly known, she was invited to the Imperial Court by Gotobain due to her outstanding talent for composing poems, then she served there as a court lady. She was entered various poetry contests: in 1200, Shojigodohyakushu (the second poetry contest in 1200), in 1201, Ronyaku gojusshu uta-awase (poetry contest by 50 poems by young and old poets), Michichikatei eigu uta-awase (poetry contest at Michichika residence, dedicated to KAKINOMOTO no Hitomaro), Sen uta-awase (poetry contest in wakasho (the Office of Waka) gathering by Gotobain in 1201), Sentokudai gojisshu (poetry contest of 50 poems by 6 poets gathering by Gotobain in 1201), and Sengohyaku ban uta-awase (One Thousand Five Hundred Sets of Poetry Match), and in 1202, Sentoeigu uta-awase (poetry contest at Toba Jonan-ji Temple dedicated to KAKINOMOTO no Hitomaro) and Minase koijugoshu uta-awase (poetry contest at Minase). Because those who presented poems to the court for the Shojigodohyakushu were mainly new poets from Gotobain's trusted vassals, it is considered that Kunaikyo first attended at the court just before 1200. Among those of her poems which still exist today, the latest poem was made at Kasugasha Uta-awase poetry contest held in November, 1204, and the descriptions in "Masukagami" (The Clear Mirror) and other poems suggest that she passed away soon after the uta-awase.

KAMO no Chomei commented in "Mumyosho" (an essay on tanka poetry) that 'Kunaikyo is good at composing poems and can face the great poets in the past without embarrassment,' referring to an episode that 'she pondered poems so deeply that she fell sick' and got worse, but she turned a deaf ear to the protests of her father, devoting herself to poetry, and died young. "Shotetsu monogatari" (Tale of Shotetsu) also states that 'Kunaikyo died under twenty'; therefore, her early death seems to have been widely known during the medieval period. Other than this, "Kokon Chomon Ju" (A Collection of Tales Heard, Past and Present) tells that she had an affair with her nephew, and as he stopped visiting her, she experienced anguish.

Only about 300 poems have remained (forty-three poems were selected for Chokusenshu (anthology of poems collected by Imperial command) for example, fifteen poems collected in "Shin Kokinshu," nine poems in "Gyokuyo shu," and so on). She wrote many poems with descriptions full of color, trying to produce visual effects, and dealt with natural beauty in her works, so she left a lot of fine descriptive poems. Together with Imperial Princess Shikishi and a daughter of FUJIWARA no Toshinari, she was a female poet who represented Shin Kokinshu, leaving a great influence on posterity. According to "Masukagami," the poem which she composed in the Sengohyaku ban uta-awase, 'I can see the green of young grass, which varies shades of light and dark, and patches of fading snow,' was so good that she was called 'Wakakusa no Kunaikyo' (wakakusa means young grass). In the poetry contest by poets of various collections, Gotobain made Kunaikyo and Izumi Shikibu compete, which suggests that Gotobain appreciated her talent.

Most Important Works

Even in the snow, which lay on the old village where I live, being heartbroken I cannot see a sign of spring but yet feel that the spring has come (Shin Kokinshu).

I can see the green of young grass, which varies shades of light and dark, and patches of fading snow (Shin Kokinshu).

The wind blows from Mt. Hira scattering the cherry blossoms, and the petals floating on the lake look like running boats which leave tracks behind on the surface of the water (Shin Kokinshu)

At Osaka, the stormy wind blows scattering blossoms at the top of the trees and making the cedar forest around the barrier station hazy (Shin Kokinshu).

In the early autumn, pears grow on the tree at Ou Creek with its branches spreading one way, but the cool wind is always biting me in spite of the season (Shin Kokinshu).

I should not have anything special to worry about, but somehow I cannot stop being lost in deep thought on autumn evenings, so I ask myself why (Shin Kokinshu).

A shell diver of Matsushima who feels the pathos of nature makes her sleeve wet, but she does not intend to reflect the moonlight on her sleeve (Shin Kokinshu).

Though the rain has stopped and the moon has appeared here, I wonder if the villagers who live far away are still waiting for the moon under a sky which is gradually clearing (Shin Kokinshu).

I did not sleep from caprice, and there is the rhythmic sound of hempen robes under the moon (Shin Kokinshu).

The autumn wind blows hard till it reaches the oak's leaves, but when it arrives at the tips of the Japanese plume grass, it blows gently (Shoku Kokinshu).

During the early evening, as a chrysanthemum on the hedge awaits the frost, it turns shiny white as if we had frost already -- the moonlight from the edge of the mountain is reflecting on the flower (Shin Kokinshu).

I wonder if the stormy wind lashing at the peak of the mountain calmed down. The wind does not bring red leaves, so the brocade on the surface of the river ended, though nobody got across the river (Shin Kokinshu).

The colored leaves of autumn are like brocade. I wonder if the stormy wind broke this memento of autumn. At Mt. Tatsuta, a mountain wind seems to be blowing against the branches on which the leaves still remain (Shin Kokinshu).

Do you hear it? Even the wind in the skies rustles pines by habit (even a wind does not betray somebody who is waiting) (Shin Kokinshu).

At dusk, when the morning's strength of wind which was blowing through the bamboo leaves weakens, I am overcome with nostalgia, but it is not only limited to autumn (Shin Kokinshu).

[Original Japanese]