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Shimadzu Iroha-no-uta - Part 4

Samurai Wisdom from Kagoshima

kagoshima samurai

The Shimadzu Iroha-no-uta is a collection of short poems written by Shimadzu Tadayoshi in the mid-1500s.

These precepts each beginning with a letter of the traditional Japanese alphabet were used to educate the samurai of Kagoshima in basic morals for over 300 years.

This is the fourth part of a series of eight articles on the Iroha-no-uta.

Part one can be found here, part two here, and part three here.

tsurugane shrine

 つらしとて恨かへすな我れ人に 報い報いて はてしなき世ぞ

Holding grudges against others will cause them to hold grudges against you in return. Stop this cycle or it will continue endlessly.

Even if others wrong us or cause us to suffer, it is better not to hold a grudge against them. Negative feelings towards others will only breed the same reaction from them in kind and will cause an unending cycle of misery. Rather than blaming other people we should take the moral high ground and refuse to become involved, sparing both oneself and the other person from unnecessary grief.

 願わずば隔もあらじ偽の 世に誠ある 伊勢の神垣

The deity of Ise is just, though the world is wicked. If your wishes are sincere then they will surely be granted.

The twentieth teaching of the Iroha-no-uta refers to the deity of the Ise Grand Shrine, the sun goddess Amaterasu. Although the world around is unpredictable and full of wickedness, if we have conviction in righteousness and work hard then the Gods and Buddhas will surely lend us the power to achieve our goals. Essentially this teaching is a lesson to keep believing that we can succeed, and never be brought down by the sometimes harsh realities of the world around us.

 名を今に残し置ける人も人 こころも心 何かおとらん

Those who did great things were people just as we are, with the same heart and mind. Never then underestimate what you may be able to achieve.

Even the great people of the past, whose lofty achievements seem totally beyond our reach were only humans as we are, with the same heart and mind. Considering this it seems unreasonable to doubt our own abilities and assume that we ourselves cannot reach the heights of the historical figures that we look up to.

shimazu samurai

 楽も苦も時過ぎぬれば跡もなし 世に残る名を ただ思ふべし

With time pleasure and pain vanish without a trace. Think instead of the name you will leave in this world.

Pleasure and pain are fleeting and will fade away with time. Instead of worrying about these daily trivialities it is better to get on with our life and work, thinking of the reputation and name that we will leave for our descendants.

 昔より道ならずして驕る身の 天のせめにし あはざるはなし

Since ancient times those who arrogantly went against the way have always felt the vengeance of heaven.

Those who go against the way will be punished by the wrath of heaven, and this has been the case since ancient times. What is “the way”, though? Essentially it relates to the fundamental principal underlying our lives. This can be expressed through arts and skills, and even through our daily lives in society.

Part five of the Iroha-no-uta is here.

Alex Bradshaw

Alex is the Head of Overseas Business for Shimadzu Limited, and has lived in Kagoshima for over 15 years.

He has spent many years studying traditional swordsmanship, and has demonstrated martial arts for the Crown Prince of Japan as well as at many venerable shrines across Japan. He also practices calligraphy, zazen, and many other elements of Japanese culture and has translated several works on the subject.

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