August 30, 2023

“Uta Makura”: A Symbol of Emotion and History in Japanese Culture

Japanese and Waka Poetry

Japanese culture breathes with delicacy and profundity. One such manifestation is “Waka” poetry. Waka is an ancient Japanese poetic form, especially known for the 31-syllable variant called “Tanka”. Through crafting these poems, the intangible feelings and thoughts of a person were entrusted to the ever-changing nature and various phenomena, thereby expressing their heart in song. As a result, Japanese people couldn’t resist penning verses about the beautiful landscapes they beheld.

Uta-makura and the Scenery

Over time, as locations were repeatedly depicted in Waka, they began to acquire specific imagery associated with them. These images became widely shared among poets. Eventually, even if one did not know the actual scenery, they could convey their emotions simply through the image associated with a particular place. Such locations that were symbolically tethered by Waka are referred to today as “Uta-makura”. For instance, the place name “Yoshino” in Nara Prefecture signifies cherry blossoms, while “Tatsuta River”, also in Nara, symbolizes autumn leaves. Each Uta-makura phrase encapsulates aspects of Japanese geography, seasons, and even historical backgrounds or tales.

Intersections of Uta-makura and Craft Art

The Uta-makura, which in essence became landscapes of the Japanese heart, have a profound relationship with art. Observing various craft artworks adorned with Uta-makura motifs, one realizes that Uta-makura has richly infused the content of Japanese art, with many shared expressions and backgrounds.