Shinkokin Wakashu (informally, Shinkokinshu) is an anthology of nearly 2,000 Japanese poems (uta, or waka), all in the same standard prosodic form, 31 syllables in five measures.* It was compiled and edited during the first two decades of the 13th century, and was the eighth in what was to be a series of 21 anthologies of classical poetry created in response to an imperial edict, beginning with Kokinshu (early 10th century) and ending with the Shinshoku Kokinshu (1439). Its title --- literally "New Collection of Ancient and Modern Poems" or "New Kokinshu" --- implies that Shinkokinshu was conceived and edited in calculated emulation of the first such imperially-commissioned collection, and the attempt to produce an anthology that would match, if not surpass, the achievements of Kokinshu was widely deemed successful in the judgement of later generations. Its chronological scope is broader, not only because it postdates Kokinshu by three centuries but because it includes poetry by ancient authors deliberately excluded from the earlier anthology, and the range of styles encompassed is arguably richer. The question of which of these collections is superior, makes for better reading, or serves as a more reliable model for aspiring poets, has been the subject of lively debate for several centuries, and remains controversial.
Following the precedent of Kokinshu, Shinkokinshu includes two prefaces, one in kanbun (Sino-Japanese) and one in kana (Japanese prose). The poems (a total of 1,978 in the text on which the Japanese Text Initiative edition is based, including those marked for deletion and one which is duplicated) are arranged by topics into 20 "scrolls" (maki) or, to follow the usual English translation, books. The topics or poetic themes of these books generally follow the conventions established by Kokinshu, but in their details are much closer to the precedent of Senzaishu, the 7th imperially-commissioned anthology. In order from one through twenty they consist of two books of Spring, one of Summer, two of Fall, one of Winter, one each of Felicitations, Mourning, Parting, and Travel, five books of Love, three of Miscellany, and one each of poems on Shinto and Buddhist topics. Quantitatively, the emphasis is thus on seasonal poems and poems of love, the favored genres for public, formal poetic composition, though Shinkokinshu allows for considerably more coverage, compared to Kokinshu, of "miscellaneous" topics, which tend to consist of personal reflections on the contingencies of life, experiences not readily subsumed under the scope of the formal topoi.
The typology of the twenty books of Shinkokinshu was sufficient to encompass the entire range of topics considered suitable, as of the late 12th century, for the composition of court poetry, and thus gives a rough overview of how the world of poetic experience was delimited and partitioned at the time. Given the immense authority accorded Kokinshu in the construction of this world, even the less conspicuous departures from its precedent are significant. Kokinshu contains virtually no poetry on specifically Buddhist topics, and its few more or less explicitly Shinto-inspired poems are dispersed mainly among the two books of Miscellany. Anagrammatic poems, which make up the entirety of the tenth book of Kokinshu, have disappeared. All poems in variant prosody are omitted as well. Especially significant for appreciating the changes in the topography of decorum which the editors of Shinkokinshu seemed intent on demarcating is the resulting exclusion of haikai (discordant or dissonant poems), which were included among poems of variant prosody in Kokinshu. Haikai poems as represented in Kokinshu are not in fact prosodically different from conventional waka, but rather violate the esthetic ideals of court poetry, lexically or thematically, through their use of archaic or "inelegant" diction, tendentious humor, or extravagant conceits --- and thus they served by contraries to define the bounds of decorum. The exclusion of haikai is notable given that while Fujiwara Shunzei, the sole editor of Senzaishu, had demoted "Poems in Variant Prosody," the topic of a separate book (No. 19) in Kokinshu, to the subtitle of his third book of Miscellany, he nevertheless followed the precedent of Kokinshu to the extent of including some 22 haikai poems in his collection (although these do tend to be only modestly deviant compared to those in Kokinshu).
The question raised by the exclusion of haikai from Shinkokinshu is one among many about the the designs of this collection's editors and, by extension, the meaning of its title. Was the "renewal" of courtly poetic traditions suggested by its title meant to be a return to the origins, a restoration of the hallowed traditions of early court poetry, or an affirmation of new directions in poetic practice? Numerous and diverse answers have been proposed, but it is up to the reader, of course, to decide.
* For a brief account of the prosody of waka, please refer to the introduction to the JTI edition of Kokinshu.
I am grateful to the Witter Bynner foundation for a grant in support of this edition.
To the Shinkokinshu contents
Last revised November 13, 1999