Fujiwara no Shunzei

Fujiwara no Shunzei (藤原 俊成, 1114 – 22 December 1204) was a Japanese poet, courtier, and Buddhist monk of the late Heian period. He was also known as Fujiwara no Toshinari[1] or Shakua (釈阿) and when younger (1123–67) as Akihiro (顕広). He was noted for his innovations in the waka poetic form and compiling the Senzai Wakashū ("Collection of a Thousand Years"), the seventh imperial anthology of waka poetry.

Fujiwara no Shunzei
Kotaigogu no Daibu Toshinari (no. 83) 皇太后宮大夫俊成 (Fujiwara no Toshinari) (BM 2008,3037.10642).jpg
Shunzei with page and armed attendants (Hyakunin Isshu: print by Utagawa Kuniyoshi)
Died(1204-12-22)December 22, 1204
Occupation(s)Poet, courtier, and monk

Early lifeEdit

Fujiwara no Shunzei was born in 1114.[2] He was a descendant of the statesman Fujiwara no Michinaga[2] and son of Fujiwara no Toshitada [ja] of the Mikohidari branch [ja] of the influential aristocratic and poetic Fujiwara clan.[2] His father died when he was ten years old and he was adopted by Hamuro Akiyori [ja].[2] As Akiyori's adopted son, he took the name Akihiro (顕広), but in 1167, when he was 53, he returned to the house he had been born into and took the name Toshinari.[2] (Shunzei is the Sino-Japanese reading for the same characters used to write Toshinari.[citation needed])


Shunzei attained at the imperial court the post of Kōtai Gōgū-daibu (皇太后宮大夫)[2] and held the Senior Third Rank (non-counsellor 非参議).[2]

He was commissioned in 1183 to compile the Senzai Wakashū ("Collection of a Thousand Years"), the seventh imperial anthology of waka poetry, by the Retired Emperor Go-Shirakawa, who despite Shunzei's low rank (he was "Chamberlain to the Empress Dowager", a nominal rank Earl Miner describes as "pitiably low"[3]), admired him. Go-Shirakawa's trust in Shunzei is significant, as imperial anthologies were landmarks in the poetic circles of the court, second to no other events in significance; poets were willing to risk their lives just for the chance to have a poem included.[4][5]

The Tale of the Heike relates that Shunzei was compiling the Senzai Wakashū during the Genpei War, and that Taira no Tadanori (1144–1184), who was on the opposing side (the one which did not hold the capital where Shunzei lived), ventured into enemy territory to Shunzei's residence, asking him to include a particular poem of his. Tadanori then managed to successfully escape back to his own forces without being apprehended. Shunzei eventually did decide to include Tadanori's poem, but attributed it ("tactfully" as Donald Keene characterizes it) to "Anonymous".[4][5]


Shunzei reciting his poem on the hotogisu (bird) from the Shinkokinshu (drawing by Hishikawa Moronobu)

As Shunzei's father and grandfather and a number of other relatives were all men of literature and poetry, he began writing and composing poetry at a young age. He tended to hew to an older style of poetry such as that seen in the Man'yōshū, but he also drew upon recently imported and translated T'ang dynasty Chinese poetry.[citation needed]

From a literary criticism perspective, he notably was an early supporter of the Tale of Genji, and after his 30s and 40s, he was especially known for his criticism[6] and judgments at various poetry gatherings and contests, where he favored poems that displayed his preferred poetic style of yugen (one of the ten orthodox styles of poetry which focused on conveying romantic emotion, with characteristic undertones of nostalgia and regret). His style was sometimes summarized as "old diction, new treatment". He wrote that poems "should somehow... produce an effect of both charm and of mystery and depth. If it is a good poem, it will possess a kind of atmosphere distinct from its words and their configuration and yet accompanying them."[7] An example:

His style was disciplined, determinedly sensitive and emotional. The poet Shinkei (1406–1475) wrote the following about his composition of poetry:

"Very late at night he would sit by his bed in front of an oil lamp so dim it was difficult to tell whether it was burning or not, and with a tattered court robe thrown over his shoulders and an old court cap pulled down to his ears, he would lean on an armrest, hugging a wooden brazier for warmth, while he recited verse to himself in an undertone. Deep into the night, when everyone else was asleep, he would sit there bent over, weeping softly."[9]


Shunzei drawing by Kikuchi Yosai

Shunzei took Buddhist vows in 1176 when he was 62.[2] He adopted the dharma name of Shakuagaku (釈阿覚)[2][better source needed] or Shakua (釈阿).[2] Most of his critical philosophy of poetry is known from his sole major work of criticism, written a decade (in 1197, and revised in 1201) after he was asked by the emperor to compile the anthology, Fūteishō ("Notes on Poetic Style through the Ages").[citation needed] He died on December 22, 1204 at age 90.[citation needed]


Shunzei's son, Fujiwara no Teika, succeeded him in prominence as a poet, and was more successful in court politics than his father.[10] Teika is considered one of the four best poets in Japanese history.[citation needed] Shunzei's granddaughter, Fujiwara Toshinari no Musume (c. 1200; often simply called "Shunzei's Daughter"), whom he raised and taught, was also successful as a poet in the vein of Teika (who sought her advice after Shunzei died).[10]

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ "...there is the further problem, the rendition of the name in romanized form. Teika probably referred to himself as Sadaie, and his father probably called himself Toshinari, but the Sino-Japanese versions of their names were used by their contemporaries, and this practice is still observed." Keene, Donald (1999). Seeds in the Heart. Columbia University Press. pp. 681–692 (note 2). ISBN 0-231-11441-9.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i j Ariyoshi 1975, p. 172.
  3. ^ Miner, Earl (1968). An Introduction to Japanese Court Poetry. Stanford University Press. p. 110. LC 68-17138.
  4. ^ a b The Tales of the Heike. Translated by Burton Watson. Columbia University Press. 2006. pp. 75–77. ISBN 9780231138031.
  5. ^ a b Keene, Donald (1988). The Pleasures of Japanese Literature. Columbia University Press. p. 61. ISBN 0-231-06736-4.
  6. ^ "The high quality of poetic theory (karon) in this age depends chiefly upon the poetic writings of Fujiwara Shunzei and his son Teika. The other theorists of tanka writing, stimulated by father and son either to agreement or disagreement, contributed also toward the high level of poetic theory, but we may say that Shunzei and Teika were most representative of the age." This quote is sourced to Odagiri Hideo in pg 10 of his "Nihon ni okeru bungei hyōron no seiritsu" (The Rise of Art Criticism in Japan), pub. by Geijutsuron-shū ("Collection of Discussions of Art"), Tokyo 1962; see Shun'ichi H. Takayanagi 's review of Japanese Court Poetry by Robert H. Brower and Earl Miner in Monumenta Nipponica, Vol. 18, No. 1/4. (1963), pp. 352-364. JSTOR 2383146
  7. ^ Miner attributes the source for his translation to Shunzei's "Jichin Oshō Jikaawase in NKGT, II, 358." ("NKGT" here refers to the Nihon Kagaku Taikei edited by N, Sasaki and published in Tokyo in 1935, and its various reprints.) Miner, Earl (1968). An Introduction to Japanese Court Poetry. Stanford University Press. p. 102. LC 68-17138.
  8. ^ Miner attributes the source for his poem to "SKKS, IV: 291", where SKKS refers to the Shin Kokin Wakashū (the 8th imperial anthology, compiled ~ 1206). Miner, Earl (1968). An Introduction to Japanese Court Poetry. Stanford University Press. p. 109. LC 68-17138.
  9. ^ pg. 34; Miner adds this in a footnote: "Sasamegoto, NKGT, V, 268". An Introduction to Japanese Court Poetry, by Earl Miner. 1968, Stanford University Press, LC 68-17138 However, Shun'ichi H. Takayanagi in his review of Japanese Court Poetry by Robert H. Brower and Earl Miner (Monumenta Nipponica, Vol. 18, No. 1/4. (1963), pp. 352–364. JSTOR 2383146) says that this quote is actually from Shunzei's son, Teika, when Teika was describing his father to his son, Tameie.
  10. ^ a b Miner, Earl; Brower, Robert H. (1961). Japanese Court Poetry. Stanford University Press. p. 265. LCCN 61-10925. OCLC 326761.