Over the next six months this website will follow a journey around Japan to photographically portray sites related to ancient Japanese literature - Utamakura. This project was originally devised three years ago in London by photographer John Tran and writer Paul St John Mackintosh. From preliminary work-in-progress an exhibition of 30 images from the Kansai region opened at the Asuka Historical Museum in October.

The history of Utamakura goes back to the first written collation of poems, the Man'youshu or 'Anthology of Myriad Leaves', which was produced in the late eighth century when Asuka was the capital of Japan. Thousands of uta - songs - were written about hundreds of places and this project will only take in a fraction of them. However it is hoped that through this work a portrait of contemporary Japan will emerge placed in the context of its extraordinary and often passionate literary history.

The website will be updated weekly by John Tran and Tamiko Nakagawa.

This project has been made possible with the generous assistance and sponsorship of:
The Asuka Historical Museum
The Asuka Preservation Fund
The Daiwa Anglo-Japanese Foundation
The Great Britain Sasakawa Foundation
The Toshiba International Foundation



歌枕 --日本の古歌に詠まれた場所-- を辿って、古今東西の歌が詠まれた空間に身を置いて写真を撮影し、その写真とオリジナルの和歌・俳句等を、このWebsiteで紹介していきます。

今現在の影像と古い歌を通して、時間 の流れや空間の持つ不思議さを少しでも感じとっていただければ幸いです。 そして半年間、私たちと旅をしているようにこのページを覗いて頂ければさらに嬉しいと思います。

John Tran & Tamiko Nakagawa



After one night in Nishinomiya we have left for Kyushu. Although there are only a few utamakura in Kyushu itself we plan to return to Kansai in short steps to cover sites on the island of Shikoku and along the south coast of Honshu. We first visit Uminonakamichi, a small peninsula north of Fukuoka which is generally known for its beaches and a large amusement park. We are looking for two utamakura on a small island at the end of the peninsula, Shikanoshima.


At Shiga, the fisherwomen
Cutting seaweed, burning salt
Too busy even to pass a comb
Through their hair

Ishikawa. Man'yoshu Vol.3 #278

A few hundred metres further on we find the second utamakura stone on a curve in the road, behind it is a mixture of rubbish and rock pools,

In Shiga, fishermen burning salt -
The smoke does not rise
Into space with the wind
But flows crooked into the mountain.

Anon. Man'yoshu Vol.7 #1246


At Dazaifu we visit the site of the Governor's palace. The main area is being excavated and covered by the kind of large blue vinyl sheet that can always be found where there is any building work being done. It is here that Otomo no Tabito was posted, far from his beloved Nara, and in nostalgia, some conjecture that it was on hearing of the death of his wife, wrote:

In realisation
Of the emptiness of the world
Deeper and deeper
Is my sorrow

Man'yoshu Vol.9 #723


At the busy shrine of Tenmangu on the other side of the town is a plum tree, which, legend has it, willed itself to Dazaifu from the Kyoto garden of courtier Sugawara no Michizane; hence its name Tobiume, 'flying plumtree'. Today in full bloom, the tree is the centre of attention for all the visitors.


When the east wind blows
Dear plum flower send your scent
And remember the spring
Even though I am not with you

Before going to Karatsuwan, a bay to the north east of Kyushu we spend one night in Fukuoka. I am able to sleep only after we check that there is no Buddhist mantra written on the back of the picture frame in our room to ward off evil spirits. A friend has told us that the hotel we are staying in is said to be haunted by numerous salarymen who have committed suicide by jumping out the window.


Karatsu is a small town at the end of a long, quiet branch line and at the mouth of the Matsura river. We reach it on a very cold cloudy day, the strong wind is sending the clouds speeding across the sky at an almost unnatural speed. Soon after checking in we go out to take a picture of the bay and hand our key over to the clerk at the front desk, who is slightly incredulous as to why anyone should want to go walking in such bad weather. It is indeed freezing outside, and my hands almost stick to the cold metal of the tripod. However, the view is dramatic,

Not a hundred days away -
The road to Matsura.
I can reach there today
And return the morrow -
So then, what stops me here?

Okura. Man'yoshu. Vol.5 #870


In the evening over dinner we are lucky enough to be able to steal a glimpse of a nearby hotel's firework display. The staff are as surprised as we are and dim the lights so that we can watch the falling orange embers extinguish as they drop into the sea outside the window.


Overlooking the bay and the Matsura river is Mt Kagami, which for us is only reachable by taxi. The taxi driver is clearly proud of his home town and relates all the local history on the way up including the legend of Princess Sayo, who waved goodbye to her lover from the top of the mountain as a boat took him away on an Imperial mission. The story caused the place to be named Hirefurumine ミscar waving peak. At the top we walk around and admire the panorama from the observatory, before we find a strange junk shop which is named after princess. The shop is home to numerous cats who insist on posing in front of the seemingly deserted shop, however after a few minutes the shutters rattle and the owner of the shop starts putting out his wares on hangers by the window, plastic dolls, wooden carvings and Buddhist talismans. He notices me taking pictures and when I am finished asks if I would like to have a coffee. It turns out that he is a bit of a snapper himself, and during his 38 years living on the top of the hill he has taken photos of the view in all kinds of weather. The shop is a collection of odds and ends, which he says he hardly ever sells; he makes his living mostly from a part-time teaching job and through my imperfect Japanese I understand that he dislikes the rote learning that is such a major part of the education system. I can only mumble an inarticulate agreement, which, although it is completely sincere, comes out rather half-heartedly as I do not want to appear too eager to criticise. It is with some regret that I say goodbye, since I have not been able to really say anything sensible, and have understood very little of a rather one-sided conversation which was potentially of some interest.

When Princess Sayo waved
Her scarf upon this peak
Did she mean the mountain's name
To speak of her sorrow
For years to come

Anon. Man'yoshu Vol.5 #872


In the intervening thousand years since the writing of the Man'yoshu the name of Matsuragawa has moved to the broad tidal river that runs through the centre of Katsura. The original Matsura river is now named Tamashimagawa, a much less conspicuous ribbon of water to the east of Katsura; the taxi driver that takes us there informs us that it is most beautiful near it source, up in the mountains, where, it seems, there are quite a few spa resorts. He is a little perplexed when we ask him to let us off opposite a petrol station, where the river is lined with green houses and building work.

Standing in the river -
Maiden catching sweetfish,
The hem of your robe is wet
In the glittering shallows
Of the Matsura river

Anon. Man'yoshu. Vol. 5 #855


Returning to Fukuoka we plan to leave on the evening ferry to Matsuyama, and in the intervening hours have a late lunch and I take some time to browse through the photography section of a large book shop. It is well-stocked and to see so many photographers together - Ansel Adams next to Bernd and Hilla Becher and Ryuji Miyamoto, Cartier -Bresson next to Matt Mahurin and Sebastiao Salgado - is a feast for a gourmand. I come away blinking, my head in Kowloon, Yellowstone, Baton Rouge and Paris all at the same time. Too late we realise that the banks are closed and we are stranded in Fukuoka with only two thousand yen, but with some relief we find a hotel that accepts my credit card, dinner is a few snacks from a nearby convenience store.


Next to the five days that the rain kept us in Takaoka this has been our only other major delay, and it feels unnatural to have had spare time. Tamiko, however, is pleased to have the opportunity to spend a few hours walking around her old hometown, Kokura, before we leave for Matsuyama, and we have lunch in a cafe that she used to go to when she was at school here. She tells me that the neither the decor nor the menu have changed in the fifteen years she's been away.

We arrive in Matsuyama just after the sun has set, and go to meet an English friend of mine who is putting us up. Tamiko elects to stay in this evening and Richard and I go out for the drink, pool playing and political arguments that are the staple of our friendship. In the first bar we go to the tone of the evening is set by us happening upon 90% proof Polish Spirit and a wild-eyed American friend of Richard's who claims, and is largely disbelieved by the rest of the bar, to be a veteran of the war in Vietnam. Coming from two Vietnamese families who were both active in the war in various ways, and with a tendency towards argumentativeness, discussing the war with American veterans is a perverse pleasure of mine. So, with perhaps an over-determined curiosity, I ask him a few probing questions, and it seems to me that this off-kilter but strangely gentle man in front of me either was there during the war, or at least knows far more about it than most people generally would. His face lights up when I tell him that some of my family worked for the South Vietnamese government, and he is clearly about to let down his guard when I ask him if he has ever heard of Albert Pham Ngoc Thao. He pauses for a minute, his eyes dart around searching for something to say; at this point I think the rest of the bar are right, it's all an act, but then slowly, carefully, and with a trace of what I think is bitterness, he says 'He really played a fine line'. Is he talking about himself now, or is this an American patriot's way of grudgingly acknowledging the activities of a master spy? The conversation continues and I am not astute enough to judge, I can only guess that the net result, either way, is that the man in front of me must feel alone. He offers to get me a drink, and unwittingly I choose the most expensive whisky in the bar, I try to choose a more reasonable alternative, but he pats me on the arm and says it's alright. He wants to drink to our respective home countries but, argumentatively, I say that I'm happy not to have one.


The following day I get up feeling very tender, and it is late afternoon when Tamiko and I go to the area behind Dogo onsen, famous for being one of the oldest spas in the country. The hill behind, Izaniwa no oka, has seen better days; large new chains of modern hotels have severely the damaged the smaller businesses, and, like Sessho Seki some months ago, we see numerous buildings that are either on the verge of being deserted or half ruined.


Our divine Princes and Emperors
Rule over many lands
But in Iyo our noble Lord
Finds good the mountains and the islands,
And on Izaniwa no oka
Below its jagged rocky peak
He writes words
And composes songs

I look upon the glistening springs
With trees about them -
A white fir already grown a generation,
And I hear birdsong,
Unchanged since the beginning of history.
Let this holy place
Which saw our Lord's procession pass
From this time on endure
For ages hence.

Yamabe Akahito. Man'yoshu Vol.3 #322


Before we leave Matsuyama and cross the Seto inland sea we have one more picture to take; Nikitatsu, that used to be a sea port but is now on the outskirts on the town and many kilometres inland. The house where we are staying is within this area. The uta stone itself stands in the grounds of the nationalist Gokokujinja, or Shrine to Five Countries, which is dedicated to the dead of Japan's imperialist wars. However, despite an hour looking at the stone from all angles I cannot find a composition that pleases me. The picture I eventually take is of the bedroom in which we stayed, just before we set off to catch our ferry to the mainland.


About to embark
From the harbour at Nikita
We waited for the moon -
Now the tide is right
Let us set sail

Emperor Jomei. Man'yoshu Vol.1 #8

Our ferry takes us to Kure port, and we are approaching a beautiful area of many small islands that, until now, I have only been able to see from car or train windows. The fact that it has always been a landscape that I could only admire during intermittent glimpses has made it all the more beautiful in my imagination. Today, as we slowly sail through it, the sunset spreads a red blanket of colour on the sea and sky around us.



From Kure port we take an hour bus ride to Kurahashijima, a peninsula to the south-east where there is a small beach lined with pine trees. The day is hot and muggy and the featureless beach is a difficult subject to take, especially with the strong shadows cast by the midday sun. However, just as we are about to catch the bus back to Kure, a delicate band of cloud softens the light on the beach and I quickly take a shot of a burned out bonfire around which are scattered spent fireworks. The uta of this place is sung by a warrior on his way to battle in the land of Kudara, his thoughts turning to the possibility of not returning to his loved one,

If only my life
Had the grace
And countless years
Of this small pine forest
At Nagato Island

Anon. Man'yoshu Vol.15 #3621


It is nearly dark as we reach the next utamakura, several kilometres up the coast, but fortunately the train station is only a short walk from the shoreline where I must take my shot. Again, this evening, the sea has a rich glow, but this time my appreciation of it is limited to a few minutes during which I am frantic to catch the remains of the daylight on the boats and crusted oyster shells at the water's edge.


My departure
Must cause my wife to grieve.
I pause to think
As the mist flows over the sea
At the bay of Kazahaya

Anon. Manユyoshu Vol.15 #3615

After the sun has gone down, a chilling mist takes over the sky and when we arrive in Onomichi, where we will spend the night, it is clear that the weather is changing. After a brief panic when we find out that all the cheap business hotels are full Tamiko sets us up in a resort hotel next to the castle overlooking the city. Before we go to sleep we take a walk along the tree lined promenade that runs along the top of the hill, now guarded by groups of cats of varying friendliness.

We are up early and see that the town is covered with a thick grey mist, wooden houses line the hill down to a river that splits the town in two. Onomichi was a favourite retreat for Meiji period writers and the feeling of that time has been well-preserved. We walk to Nagae-cho which was once a bay and I struggle with spots of rain on the lens and large four wheel drive cars blocking the view,


The cry of cranes
As they fly across the bay
Searching for food
At Tama, I wonder
Is the dark night over?

Anon. Man'yoshu Vol.15 #3598

It would be nice to see Onomichi in better weather, but we move on , travelling by bus to a small fishing village by the bay of Tomo here Otomo no Tabito, before returning to Nara in the winter of the year 730 wrote:

This juniper tree
Still stands at Tomo no ura -
My wife is gone
Who once saw it too

Man'yoshu Vol.3 #446

Low cloud clings to the top of the surrounding hills, and when I take a light reading the weather is so grey it seems as though we are almost on the edge of night time, even though it is early afternoon. This dreariness is not appropriate to the sharp poignancy of Otomo no Tabito's lament, but then it is certain that I would not want to encounter an image so sad as this song.



We have spent the night in the town of Fukuyama, where there is a large Museum of Art. After breakfast we have some time to look around, and it is a pleasant change of environment, from the inside of trains and buses, to be in this spacious carpeted silence. There is an empty library with a photography section where I can browse through a good number of editions on Japanese photographers. For a few moments I can indulge in other people's journeys and flick rapidly through as many books as possible before we set off for our next site.

We take a bus to the port, where there are only a handful of people taking the late morning ferry to Shikoku, this may have something to do with the weather report, which we watch while waiting to board and warns us that there are gale force winds in the Seto inland sea today. Despite this our ferry is running and the ship is large enough for the crossing to be uneventful. It is only when we see fifteen metre high waves crash over the sea wall when we reach Tadotsu that we realise that the wind really has been more than merely bracing.


The wind chases us to Sakaide where we find a hotel and leave our bags. The Utamakura here belongs to one of the most well-known of Man'yoshu songs which relates of Kakinomoto no Hitomaro discovering a dead body among the rocks of Samine island. We take a taxi to the peninsula which is dominated by the spans of the Seto bridge, and the billows of smoke and steam from a huge Kawasaki plant. The exact place that purports to be the location of the Utamakura I doubt has many visitors.


This land of Sanuki,
Abundant in rich seaweed
Is it for the beauty of the land
that we do not tire
to look upon it?
Or for its holiness
That we find it thus inspiring?
Eternally flourishing -
with heaven and earth,
with the sun and the moon,
this very image of grace -
so we have come to know it.
From Naka harbour,
we set out
came rowing on when
the tide winds
blew through the sky;
In the offing
we saw the towering waves,
upon the shore
white crests billowing,
In great fear of these
whale-hunted seas,
our ship ploughed on-
as we bent the oars.
So many scattered islands
here and there
but we set to
on rugged Samine-
we praise its name-
and built a shelter
on the rocky shore.

And there you lay -
we saw you
fallen on a bed of stones,
with only a beach
to serve as pillow,
with the endless roar of waves.
And if I knew your home,
I would go and bring them news.
If your wife but knew,
She would surely come and seek you out.
But not knowing
even the road straight
as a spear of jade.
she waits and waits,
with anxious heart,
your beloved wife.

Manユyoshu Vol.2 #220

We walk back into town after the sun has gone down, and take a long bath in the empty sento at the hotel. On tele there is the recently popular film 'Shall We Dance?'. I can't decide whether it's depiction of Blackpool as a dreamlike wonderland is laughable or truly pathetic in the classic sense. However, on reflection, it is quite possible that the local residents here might view my interest in the wasteland under the pillars of the Seto bridge in a similar light.


I cannot doubt that Otomo no Tabito felt deeply about losing his wife, but on the other side of the inland sea at the foot of the Seto bridge, we find a love song written as he returns to the capital, from his post in Dazaifu. But it is to his lover that he has left behind in Kyushu, whose name is a homophone of this spot, that he writes:

On the way to Yamato
Passing the isle
Of Kojima in the land of Kibi
I will think of you -
My lover Kojima
Far away in Tsukushi

Otomo no Tabito. Vol. 6 #967


The second site we visit today brings us nearly half way home, from the main train line it is a forty minute bus ride to a quiet little town on the coast, with the odd name of Cow Window. Miniature waves a few centimetres high roll across the beach and a strong wind blows bright white clouds around the sun. The view from the beach of the empty horizon is beautiful, but, like many of the best views we have seen on this trip, would not make a very interesting picture. Rather than be a literal transcriber of the poetry I turn the camera around and take a picture of a rundown caf? incongruously named ヤHawaiiユ


The sound of the waves
Echoes around the shores of Ushimado -
As rumours of you and I
Weave their way around this island
Though you come to me no longer

Anon. Man'yoshu Vol.11 #2731

Today is our last day of travel outside Kansai, and in a few hours we are back at my parents-in-lawユs apartment. Effectively it is the end of a journey that started half a year ago, and the completion of a project that has taken three years to plan and execute. As we enter the apartment we say ヤtadaimaユ ミ I am here now ミ and it is only if I keep this exact thought at the front of my mind at all times that I will not be too sad that this great journey is over.






世間は 空しきものと 知る時し いよよますます 悲しかりけり
(大伴旅人 万葉集 5-793)


東風吹かば 包ひおこせよ 梅の花 主なしとて 春な忘れそ




志賀の海人は め刈り塩焼き 暇なみ くしげの小櫛 取りも見なくに
(石川君子 万葉集 3-278)


志賀の海人の 塩焼く煙 風をいたみ 立ちは上らず 山にたなびく
(万葉集 7-1246)










松浦川 七瀬の淀は 淀むとも 我は淀まず 君をし待たむ
(万葉集 5-860)





百日しも 行かぬ松浦道 今日行きて 明日は来なむを 何か障れる
(山上憶良 万葉集 5-870)

山の名と 言ひ継げとかも 佐用姫が この山の上に 領布を振りけむ
(万葉集 5-872)










皇神祖の 神の命の 敷きいます 国のことごと 湯はしも さはにあれども 島山の 宜しき国と こごしかも 伊予の高嶺の 射狭庭の 岡に立たして 歌思ひ 辞思ほしし み湯の上の 木群を見れば 臣の木も 生ひ継ぎにけり 鳴く鳥の 声も変はらず 遠き代に 神さび行かむ 行幸処
(山部赤人 万葉集 3-322)

ももしきの 大宮人の 熟田津に 舟乗りしけむ 年の知らなく
(山部赤人 万葉集 3-323)




熟田津に 舟乗りせむと 月待てば 潮もかなひぬ 今は漕ぎ出でな
(額田王 万葉集 1-8)





我が命を 長門の島の 小松原 幾代を経てか 神さび渡る
(万葉集 15-3621)


我が故に 妹嘆くらし 風早の 浦の沖辺に 霧たなびけり
(万葉集 15-3615)





ぬばたまの 夜は明けぬらし 玉の浦に あさりする鶴 鳴き渡るなり
(万葉集 15-3598)


鞆の浦の 磯のむろの木 見むごとに 相見し妹は 忘らえめやも
(大伴旅人 万葉集 3-447)

海人小舟 帆かも張れると 見るまでに 鞆の浦回に 波立てり見ゆ
(万葉集 7-1182)



朝のニュースで海上波浪注意報がでているのを見てしまい、どきどきしながら福山港へ行く。やはり高い波のため30分遅れでフェリーが着き、出港は40分遅れる。上下に揺れるフェリーで香川県多度津港へ。多度津駅まで歩き、JRで坂出へ。駅の案内所で調べてもらうと沙弥島行きのバスは夕方6時まで無いのでがっくり、タクシーで行くことにする。案内所のおばさんは遠いよお、高いよお、と心配してくれるが、2千円はしないらしい。乗ったタクシーの運転手さんに沙弥島まで、と言うと、それどこですか? と聞かれる。高知からお客を乗せてきた帰りで、この辺の地理はあまりわからないらしい。でも、持っていた地図を見せると分かる様子で、ほっとする。大きな工場地帯を通り抜けたところにぽつんとある、周囲2キロほどのかつての小島に着く。ここで詠われた万葉歌は、Johnが一番撮りたかったものだと言う。岩の間の死体を詠ったもの。

玉藻よし 讃岐の国は 国からか 見れども飽かぬ 神からか ここだ貴き 天地 日月と共に 足り行かむ 神の御面と 継ぎ来る 中の湊ゆ 舟浮けて 我が漕ぎ来れば 時つ風 雲居に吹くに 沖見れば とい波立ち 辺見れば 白波さわく いさなとり 海を恐み 行く舟の 梶引き折りて をちこちの 島は多けど 名ぐはし 狭峯の島の 荒磯面に 庵りて見れば 波の音の しげき浜辺を しきたへの 枕になして 荒床に ころ臥す君が 家知らば 行きても告げむ 妻知らば 来も問はましを 玉鉾の 道だに知らず おほほしく 待ちか恋ふらむ 愛しき妻らは
(柿本人麻呂 万葉集 2-220)




大和路の 吉備の児島を 過ぎて行かば 筑紫の児島 思ほえむかも
(大伴旅人 万葉集 6-967)

その後また電車で岡山へ。地下街の炉端屋でさんまの塩焼き定食を食べ力をつけて、バスで牛窓へ。瀬戸内のエーゲ海だそうだ。牛窓ってどういう意味?cow window?と繰り返し聞かれるが、ややこしいので聞こえないふりをする。砂浜を見つけてそこで撮影。カップルが数組海辺で遊んでいる。子供連れもいる。波が静かに打ち寄せる。風の強い日で、雲が頭上で動くたびに海の色が変わっていく。エメラルドグリーンの海は、確かに南の島のそれを思わせる。

牛窓の 波の潮さい 島とよみ 寄そりし君は 逢はずかもあらむ
(万葉集 11-2731)



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Copyright (c) 1995 ASUKA HISTORICAL MUSEUM All Rights Reserved.
Any request to kakiya@lint.ne.jp
Authoring: Yasuhito Kakiya [K@KID'S]