36 Poems


A masterpiece Japanese kyushu teapot with rice grain size  calligraphy of 36 poems by Gisui (Kondo Yoshikazu). He is one of the famous teapot artist based in Tokoname, Japan. He is born in 1947 and has recently retired from making teapot. He has won many awards for his works and held many prestigious exhibitions.

This teapot is a great legacy of the past. It was done before 1980s on unknown year. The pot was held on by Gisui all these years until it came to my collection by the kind blessing of fate.

The pot is engraved by late Ms. Matsuda Shidu who was a calligraphy teacher. Apart from her work as a calligraphy teacher, she also engraved large brazier and teapots. Her excellent calligraphy technique is reflected in the engraving. The carvings are impossibly smaller than rice grain size ; delicate and gentle yet fluid and enchanting. I can almost hear the whisper of the poems.

Calligraphy carving with a grain of rice

The subject of the calligraphy carved on this teapot is based on the poems composed by a group of poets. The Thirty-six Immortals of Poetry (三十六歌仙 Sanjūrokkasen) are a group of Japanese poets of the Nara, Asuka and Heian periods selected by Fujiwara no Kintō as exemplars of Japanese poetic ability. There are five female poets among them.

Many thanks to Mr Toru Yoshikawa for his assistance to write the poems in Japanese and translate it. According to him, some of the calligraphy is done in ancient character and cannot be presented digitally. I guess we have to fill that gap with a nice pot of tea.


The 36 immortal poets with their poems are:

1. Kakinomoto no Hitomaro 柿本人麿
ほのぼのと あかしのうらの あさぎりに しまがくれゆく ふねをしぞおもふ
As the sky slowly lightens, my heart boards that ship
disappearing into the shadow of the island enshrouded in the morning mist.

2. Ki no Tsurayuki 紀貫之
さくらちるこのしたかぜはさむからで そらにしられぬゆきぞふりける
The wind under the tree where cherry blossoms flutter is not cold, and the sky is unware of the falling snow.

3. Oushikouchi no Mitsune 凡河内躬恒
いづくともはるのひかりはわかなくに まだみよしののやまはゆきふる
Spring has come to many a place but snow still falls on the mountains of Yoshino.

4. Ise 伊勢
みわのやま いかにまちみむ としふとも たづぬるひとも あらじとおもへば
I beg thee Mikuni, God of my hometown, tell me how I can bear this wait for the one I love. Many years may pass and still she will not come…

5. Ootomo no Yakamochi 大伴家持
In Spring the pheasant scrabbling for food in the field sings a love song to his mate and alerts us of his presence.

6. Yamabe no Akahito 山部赤人
High tide at Waka Bay
The stork abandons the receding sands and calls out as he flies off in search of food on the grassy coastal plains.

7. Ariwara no Narihira 在原業平
よのなかにたえてさくらのなかりせば はるのこころはのどけからまし
Our hearts would rest easier in Spring if such a phenomenom as cherry blossom did not exist.

8. Bishop Henjou (Henjou Soujou 遍照僧正)
Had I known that such a thing would happen to my mother, I would not have stroked her black hair so hard as a child.

9. The priest Sosei (Sosei Houshi 素性法師)
Seen from here, the green of the willows and the pink of the cherry blossoms make the capital seem part of a splendid brocade

10. Ki no Tomonori 紀友則
ゆうされば ほのかわらのかわきりに ともまよわせるちどりなくなり
As evening approaches on the riverbank, the haunting cry of the assembled Plovers penetrates through the mist.

11. Sarumaru Dayuu 猿丸太夫
Lost in the mountains, the plaintive cry of the plover haunts my soul.

12. Ono no Komachi 小野小町
The feelings in our hearts and minds change as frequently as flowers fade and wilt.

13. Fujiwara no Kanesuke 藤原兼輔
As the hour grows later, the deepening chords of the koto reminds me of wind whistling through the pines on the Peak of Takasago.

14. Fujiwara no Asatada 藤原朝忠
あふことの たえてしなくは なかなかに ひとをもみをも うらみざらまし
Had I never met you, my life would not have been filled with such sorrow.

15. Fujiwara no Atsutada 藤原敦忠
Should I go searching, what unusual shells would the wide sands of Ise yield?
(Written as a reference to his love, who was placed in the Emperor’s household and therefore far out of his reach)

16. Fujiwara no Takamitsu 藤原高光
Reflecting on my life’s daily struggles, how envious I feel of the shimmering moon rising in the clear night sky.

17. Minamoto no Kintada 源公忠
The cry of cuckoo wrapped me in nostalgia and left me hungry for more.
Stranded on the mountain path until twilight, unable to reach my goal.

18. Mibu no Tadamine 壬生忠岑
このひするのべにこまつのなかりせば ちよのためしになにをひかまし
Children uproot pine saplings praying for longevity.
Without the saplings, what would we use to measure our existence?

19. Saiguu no Nyougo 斎宮女御
ことのねにみねのまつかぜかよふらし いづれのおよりしらべそめけむ
Where did they come from and how did they meet?
The strains of the koto and the wind in the pines.

20. Ounakatomi no Yorimoto 大中臣頼基
The Emperor’s walking stick wears down with time
But his life will stretch eternally as each section represents a thousand years.

21. Fujiwara no Toshiyuki 藤原敏行
I could not see the arrival of Autumn but my ears signaled its approach.

22. Minamoto no Shigeyuki 源重之
かぜをいたみ いわうつなみの おのれのみ くだけてものを おもふころかな
My heart is as troubled as rocks pounded by stormy waves, while yours is calm.
Still I cannot stop thinking of you…

23. Minamoto no Muneyuki 源宗于
In Spring, even the evergreen pine’s foliage seems a deeper shade.

24. Minamoto no Saneakira 源信明
Your feelings do not reflect mine, but tonight we are looking at the same moon.

25. Fujiwara no Kiyotada 藤原清忠
あまつかぜ ふけいのうらに いるたつの なとかくもいに かへらさるへき
Who says that the crane buffeted by the wind in Fukei Bay can never return home?

26. Minamoto no Shitagou 源順
Counting the moonlight’s ripples on the water, I recognize the Autumn full moon.

27. Fujiwara no Okikaze 藤原興風
たれをかも しるひとにせむ たかさごの まつもむかしの ともならなくに
How long do I have to know you before I can count you as a true friend? Not even the oldest pine tree has the answer.

28. Kiyohara no Motosuke 清原元輔
How I wish I could take the deer’s song back with me, along with this Bush clover brocade.

29. Sakanoue no Korenori 坂上是則
みよしのの やまのしらゆき つもるらし ふるさとさむく なりまさるなり
The old capital of Nara grows colder as the snow on the Yoshino mountains grows deeper by the day

30. Fujiwara no Motozane 藤原元真
The Deutzia flowers bloom on the mountains of my hometown even though snow still clings to the clifftop.

31. Kodai no Kimi 小大君
いわはしのよるのちきりもたえぬへし あくるわひしき かつらきのかみ
Like the God of the stone bridge, I show my face only at night.
If you should see my face in the morning, I fear that you would never return.

32. Fujiwara no Nakafumi 藤原仲文
ありあけのつきのひかりをまつほどに わがよのいたくふけにけるかな
While waiting for the dawn, the night draws to a close. (Waiting for success, life comes to an end)

33. Oonakatomi no Yoshinobu 大中臣能宣
ちとせまでかぎれるまつもけふよりはきみにひかれて よろづよやへむ
Just as the child is said to attain longevity by uprooting a pine sapling, so will this pine tree live ten thousand years by sharing in your glory (written for the Emperor’s son)

34. Mibu no Tadami 壬生忠見
Do not burn the land to get grass to grow. Leave it to the Spring sunlight.

35. Taira no Kanemori 平兼盛
As Autumn fades I find not frost upon my head but white hair.

36. Nakatsukasa 中務
うぐいすの こえなかりせば ゆききえぬ やまざといかて はるをしらまし
On the mountainside where snow still remains, only the song of the nightingale heralds the coming of Spring.