fbpx

いろは歌(うた) is an ancient Japanese poem which contains each sound in the Japanese syllabary. This is similar to "The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog" which contains all the letters in the English alphabet, except the いろは歌うた doesn't repeat any letter and the ã„ろは歌うた is sometimes used as an ordering of the kana.

This is an updated article originally by ち~よん.


いろは歌(うた) is an old poem said to have been written by 空海(くうかい)(くうかい 774~835)who was a famous Japanese monk in the early 平安時代(へいあんじだい)(Heian Era 794~1185). According to Wikipedia, it is now thought to have originated later.

It is a poem with all the letters (like あいうえお), but it has meaning.

In Kana

In Kanji

いろはにほへと
ちりぬるを
わかよたれそ
つねならむ
うゐのおくやま
けふこえて
あさきゆめみし
ゑひもせす 京(ん)

色は匂へど
散りぬるを
わが世 誰ぞ
常ならむ
宇井(有為)の奥山
今日越えて
浅き夢見し
酔いもせず 京(ん)

Because it is an old poem, the way it uses the かな is different from now. There are also many rules that are different from modern grammar. 

  • Some don’t have 濁点(dakuten – the voiced consonant mark that looks like a quote ゛)
  • 匂えど is written as 匂へど
  • ん is written as む
  • きょう is written as けふ
  • 酔い is written as 酔ひ
  • Some old letters are used (like ゐ, ゑ), etc.


A breakdown of each sentence, how to read it, and the meaning of it in Japanese and English:

 

Original「色は匂へど散りぬるを」
(いろはにおえど ちりぬるを)
Modern Japanese

この世にあるおもしろおかしいことは、美しく咲き、匂う花のようなものだ。なぜならそれは、いつしか散ってしまう(終わってしまうものなのだから)。

English

The colors of the flowers are so beautiful and fragrant–like a person’s beauty or the interesting things in this world.

色(いろ) here is the color of flowers, but it has also the meaning of the affairs of men and women, or the many events of this world.  These flowers, despite their beauty today, will disappear. My life is also ephemeral just like these flowers. There are many things I enjoy in my life, but they all have an end.

 

 

Original

「わが世 誰ぞ常ならむ」

(わがよ だれぞ つねならん)

Modern Japanese

私の人生もそれと同じだ。誰が、ずっと同じように変わらずあるものだと言えようか。いや、誰も言えない。いつかは終わってしまうのだ。

English

My life is like that. Who can say it won’t long last forever without change? No, nobody can. It ends at last.

Some says ã‚ãŒä¸– is “I rule my world” and the author is the one who ruled that era.

 

 

Original

「宇井(有為)の奥山今日越えて」

(ういのおくやま きょうこえて)

Modern Japanese

宇井という名の山奥を今日越えて

English

I pass over the deep mountain called 宇井(うい)in 京都(Kyoto) today.

 

He was a 武士 (ぶし samurai warrior) and he decided to leave his life as a 武士 to become a monk to go to the temple in 高野山(こうやさん Mt. Koya in Wakayama prefecture). He travels by foot passing over the mountain in Kyoto. He leaves behind the 武士 life because he has an unendurable angst in his life. I don’t know what it was, but I imagine it may have arisen from too much killing, or his love affairs, or the struggle for power within the 武士 system, etc.

有為(うい) is also the word which means to wake up to the true reality; to remove from being a slave of mutable matters in our daily life which he compared to flowers. That is to say, to attain enlightenment in Buddhism.

So, "passing that mountain" means, he chose to become a pupil of Buddhism, leaving his enjoyable life behind, but having sorrow, too.

今日 also rhymes with äº¬of äº¬éƒ½.

 

 

Original

「浅き夢見し酔いもせず 京」

(あさきゆめみし よいもせず きょう)

Modern Japanese

有為の奥山を越えて見たが(人生の色々な経験をしてきたが)それは、浅い夢のようなものであり、酔っ払っていたようなものでもある。今は、その夢に酔うようなこともなく、煩悩の火が消えたように、やすらぎや、悟りの境地を感じ、一切のものごとへのこだわりや、とらわれの心がなくなった状態で、京の都を旅立ち、寺の門へと向かう道である。

English

No more shallow dreams; no more wanton drunkenness.

I passed over the mountain of life, but it was like having a shallow dream or being drunk. But now that dream no longer intoxicates me anymore. I’ve cleared up worldly desires, feel peace and the state of enlightenment. 
I don’t have any concerns about anything at all. I’m on the way from Kyoto toward the gate of the temple.


It is really difficult to stop being anxious about all desires and greedy feelings in our lives.  But I think he thought on how to accomplish that when making this poem.

It is a very short poem, but it contains many ideas. The New Year's card game Karuta is based on this ordering.


{"email":"Email address invalid","url":"Website address invalid","required":"Required field missing"}

Subscribe to Makoto+ for a few bucks a month and get Makoto ezine, haiku lessons, repetition and shadowing, tongue twisters, and much more!

CLICK HERE TO LEARN MORE

Check out our growing library of our highly-discounted, instant downloadable digital bundles.

CLICK HERE TO VIEW ALL BUNDLES
>