Tag Archives: Sutejo

Sutejo, Tsuki no katsura

I’ve been spending a lot of time reading texts related to Sutejo. Since she became a very active and serious nun after her husband died, most of it is full of Buddhist terms I don’t understand well at all.

Anyway, here’s a verse:

it’s made the the leaves drop
from moon’s sweet-olive tree —
winter rains

tsuki no katsura fuyugaresasuru shigure kana

While katsura is typically translated as “cassia” (Cinnamomum cassia), the tree on the moon is what they call in the American South “sweet-olive,” otherwise known as osmanthus (Osmanthus fragrans), an evergreen plant which blooms in the autumn with a distinctive, heady scent. It’s associated with the legend of Wu Gang 吳剛, whose arrogance was punished by setting him the task of chopping down the sweet-olive tree on the moon. Sadly for Wu Gang, the tree there is self-repairing, so whenever he finishes, he has to start all over again.

Print by Japanese artist Yoshitoshi, showing the legendary woodcutter Wu Gang pointing at the moon.

In Sutejo’s verse, the speaker conjectures that the clouds of winter’s intermittent rain (shigure) now covering the moon have surely also caused the tree to lose its leaves. This comes from a belief that shigure caused leaves to change color.

Print by Yoshitoshi, late 19th c. Public domain.


Sutejo, Nure iro ya

Another Sutejo hokku:

glittering with jewels —
rain drops 
on the princess azalea 

nure iro ya ame no shita teru hime tsutsuji 



Like the previous verse, this is from Kitamura Kigin’s anthology. I have been looking around for “hime tsutsuji” (what I’ve translated as Princess Azalea) but beyond descriptions of it being small and dainty, I don’t know what it’s called in English, or Latin for that matter.

There is word play here — “shita teru” to fall, as of rain or dew, can be read together with “hime” to recall the name of the divinity Shitateru-hime, who is mentioned in Kojiki.

Teimon haikai used a lot of word play, especially with homonyms. They tended to be a bit intellectual, like this one.


Sutejo, Mizu kagami

Today–a hokku by Sutejo 捨女 (1634-1698).

gazing into mirroring water,
eyebrows drawn gracefully —
riverside willow

mizu kagami mite ya mayu kaku kawa yanagi

Is the one gazing into the water a human speaker, or is it an anthropomorphized willow tree?

In Tang China, the eyebrows of beautiful women were described as having  the shape of willow leaves. Willow  trees in general were associated with desirable women, as the supple shape of their branches suggest pliability and modesty. Sutejo’s verse alludes to this analogy.

In “Song of Everlasting Regret” 長恨歌, the Bo Juyi 白居易 poem that was much admired in premodern Japan, the Emperor is reminded of his beloved by lotus blossoms and willows:

the lotus [blossoms] were like her face, the willow [leaves] were like her eyebrows

I wasn’t aware of the “willow leaf” ideal. I had heard of the “moth antennae” analogy, but the willow leaf shape is considerably different; a lot closer to modern beauty standards.