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The Tanka is Back

October 12, 2005

One of CVM’s favorite ancient Japanese forms, the Tanka, is currently experiencing a bit of a revival in its country of origin, thanks to the cell phone. Tanka is perfect for the cell phone: 31 syllables in five lines (5-7-5-7-7).

These tankas have a name, keitai tanka – “mobile phone poems.” There is a keitai tanka programme on Japanese national radio, a keitai tanka magazine edited by Ms Kato, and numerous websites.

Traditionalists are getting pissed at these teen tanka rebels. The Times Online includes some examples of traditional vs. modern. You be the judge:

ANCIENT tanka v MODERN tanks

On this day in spring
When the lambent air suffuses
Soft tranquility,
Why should the cherry blossoms flutter
With unsettled hearts to earth?

— Tomonori, 9th century

Kissing in the toilet of Lotteria (Japanese burger chain)!
Maybe this is definitely the first and last time.

— Chie Kato, 21st century

I recollect the past
While the summer rain falls through the dark
About my grass-thatched hut, But,
Nightingale, singing at last among the hills,
Do not call out a freshening of my tears.

— Fujiwara Shunzei, 12th century

Gonna be a rock star, if I flunk my college exams alright, Mum?

— Anonymous, 21st century

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