和訳は英文の後にございます。/ The Japanese translation is below the English text.



1. A poem from the 9th Century Japan
2. The rhythm
3. The words
4. The foreword

Japanese translation
Image credits

1. A poem from 9th Century Japan

An image where we thought "Fall has come."
[Click to enlarge / 画像をクリックすると拡大します] Caw Caw Interpretive Center / 「コー・コー」学習センター Image by Amity

We went for a walk at a county park.

This is a photo we took from a tall wooden chair set up for visitors to look over the marsh. It’s the remains of an old rice plantation which used to be in this area. It was once abandoned and then reclaimed, now it is preserved as a natural habitat. You can see a lot of wild birds and animals here year-round.

In South Carolina, you can call September midsummer. On most days temperature reaches 86 degrees Fahrenheit (30 degrees Celsius, which the Japanese call midsummer weather). Trees and grass are all very lush green. It is very humid, too.

Today it was just slightly less humid. There were occasional breezes, and the birds were a little more active.

As we sat on the tall chair and surveyed the old rice field, we were reminded of an old, familiar Japanese poem.

Fujiwara no Toshiyuki, the poet, was an aristocrat who was a famous poet and a-calligrapher in the ninth century.

The poem reads as follows:

Aki kinu to me niwa sayaka ni mienedomo

  kaze no oto ni zo odorokarenuru

by Fujiwara no Toshiyuki

The meaning is “I can’t see it clearly but fall has come; I was surprised at the sound of the wind.”

An image of the author of the poem "Fall Has Come"
Fujiwara no Toshiyuki, Image by British Museum / 大英博物館所蔵藤原敏行画像

2. The rhythm

Notice Fujiwara no Toshiyuki wrote it in the tanka style of 31 moras (syllables), or the five-seven-five-seven-seven mora (syllable) format. This was the most popular traditional poetry style in Japan.

In case you would like to memorize it, you can slowly pronounce it like this:

Ah kee kee noo toh (5)

Meh nee wah sah yah kah nee (7)

Mee eh neh doh moh (5)

Kah zeh noh oh toh nee zoh (7)

Oh doh roh kah reh noo roo (7)

The first three stanzas have five, seven and five moras. This format became another poetry style, haiku, centuries later.

3. The words

An image of a book containing the poem "Fall Has Come"
This is “Kokin Waka Shu” (part), an anthology of poems of the Heian Era, which includes the poem “Aki kinuto…”. Calligraphy by Fujiwara no Tameuji. Owned by Nezu Museum / 根津美術館所蔵古今和歌集(部分)、藤原為氏書

Fujiwara-no-Toshiyuki wrote this poem in ninth-century Japanese, and we are naturally not familiar with some words and grammar. Therefore, Japanese young people study poems like this in classical Japanese class in junior-high and high school.

On the other hand, we can recognize many words in this poem that we still use today:

  • aki: fall
  • ki- (the stem of the verb “kimasu”): come
  • to: the particle as the closing quotation mark
  • me: eyes
  • sayaka: clear (of an image)
  • mie- (the stem of the verb “miemasu”): can be seen
  • domo: sounds like today’s “keredomo” meaning “however”
  • kaze: wind
  • no: the particle for the possessive
  • oto: sound
  • odoro- (the stem of the verb “odorokimasu”): be surprised

4. The foreword

As was customary at that time, this poem has a short foreword explaining the situation in which it was written.

It is:

   Aki tatsu hi yomeru

It means that he wrote it on the First Day of Fall.

According to the ancient Chinese calendar (which was a luni-solar calendar), the First Day of Fall is the day right between summer solstice and autumnal equinox. It is around August 8 in the Gregorian calendar.

So, actually it could have been very; very hot when he wrote this poem. We wonder if it was not his wishful thinking that the cooling of fall would begin soon, just because the calendar says it’s fall. At one moment, he felt a breeze and wrote “Wow, it’s cool! It’s already the beginning of the fall!” (This is just a guess, since we don’t know how the climate was eleven hundred years ago).

Having said this, we feel this poem perfectly fits September in South Carolina.

[End of the English text]



1. きゅうせい
2. リズム
3. こと
4. ことばがき



[Click to enlarge / 画像をクリックすると拡大します] A tri-colored heron was busy hunting. / サンショクサギが獲物をさがしていました。Image by Amity










2 リズム












  • あき
  • どうます」の「き」
  • と(げんきゅうしゅうりょうあらわじょ
  • さやか
  • どうえます」の「え」
  • 「けれども」にた「ども」
  • かぜ
  • の(所有しょゆうを表すじょ
  • おと
  • どうおどろきます」の「おどろ」









Image credits

  • Fujiwara no Toshiyuki Image by British Museum / 大英博物館所蔵藤原敏行画像: https://media.britishmuseum.org/media/Repository/Documents/2014_10/13_6/2efc0940_91f3_4788_920a_a3c30068d943/preview_00775018_001.jpg
  • Cultural Heritage On-Line, Image of Kokin Wakashu (The anthology of poetry in Heian Era), calligraphed by Fujiwara no Tameuji, owned by Nezu Museum / 古今和歌集 藤原為氏の書、根津美術館所蔵、文化遺産オンライン: https://bunka.nii.ac.jp/heritage//12269/_134650/12269_134650110209164359195_300.jpg

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