Sep 23, 2010


When I first came across this form I got all excited. Finally, a Japanese form that broke free of the typical five-seven syllable pattern. The Imayo is a four line poem with twelve syllables per line. However, it’s not quite as simple as that, there’s a caesura (or pause) separating each line after the seventh syllable, giving it the typical seven/five pattern.

The Imaya was popular between the middle Heian (794-1185) and the late Kamakura (1185-1333) periods. It was associated with song, and was considered the latest fashion, unlike the court poetry saibara. The word "imayo" means "modern" and seems to have begun with shortened forms of the Wasan shomyo using Japanese.

Eventually the form stabilized as four lines, each with units of seven plus five syllables. Since this was a form that originated with the common people, there were many famous performers of Imayo who were courtesans or Shirabyoshi dancers. One type of Imayo is used in Kabuki, Japanese theatre.

Toward the end of the Heian period, Imayo was taken up by imperial court aristocrats and became very popular. The original music for Imayo soon disappeared, but in the early Kamakura period, a method of singing the texts of Imayo to the melody of the famous Gagaku piece "Etenraku" was developed, which has left traces in Japanese folk song even today.

Okay, I admit it. I technically cheated with my first example. My five syllables following the caesura are in the form of single words. But it doesn't specify that the syllables have to be in more than one word. :-)

Harvest moon casting shadows, illumination
Scented breeze of summer’s end, intoxication
I stand and draw down the light, rejuvenation
Night and day of equal length, synchronization

Wish that’s made upon a star, cast adrift this night.
How strong is the soul’s belief, can it be enough
to see the wish to its end? How many wishes
to fulfill a dreamer’s soul? Perhaps just one more.

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