“The Emperor’s Visit” by Sotōri

The fifth-century Emperor Ingyō (c. 411-453) took as his lover Princess Sotoshi no iratsume (better known to us as Sotōri), the younger sister of Empress Oshisaka no Ōnakatsuhime. To avoid offending the Empress, Ingyō provided a residence for Princess Sotoshi far away from her older sister, first in Fujiwara near Asuka and then in Chinu in Kawachi on the Inland Sea. From time to time, the Emperor would visit her in secret, though as you might expect, his wife knew everything. In spring of his eighth year in power, during the second month, Ingyō went to Fujiwara and arranged to watch his lover in secret, to see what she did when he was away. That evening Lady Sotōri was alone, pining for her lover. Unaware that the Emperor had arrived, she composed a poem that would make her famous and be included in the imperial anthology Kokin Wakashū (Kokinshū).

Note that in medieval Japan and China, cobwebs on a woman’s dress were a sign that she would be visited by the one she loved.

My sweet beloved
will surely come this evening.
Silk strands on my dress—
the spider’s busy weaving
has already given sign.

—Kokinshū 1110, translated by David Bowles
April 20, 2014

Original Japanese

waga seko ga
kubeki yoi nari
sasagani no
kumo no furumai
kanete shirushi mo

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