Waka (poetry)

The Kokin Wakashū is generally regarded as the definitive anthology of waka poetry.

Waka (和歌, "Japanese poem") is a type of poetry in classical Japanese literature. Waka are composed in Japanese, and are contrasted with poetry composed by Japanese poets in Classical Chinese, which are known as kanshi. Although waka in modern Japanese is written as 和歌, in the past it was also written as 倭歌 (see Wa (Japan)), and a variant name is yamato-uta (大和歌).


The word waka has two different but related meanings: the original meaning was "poetry in Japanese" and encompassed several genres such as chōka and sedōka (discussed below); the later, more common definition refers to poetry in a 5-7-5-7-7 metre. Up to and during the compilation of the Man'yōshū in the eighth century, the word waka was a general term for poetry composed in Japanese, and included several genres such as tanka (短歌, "short poem"), chōka (長歌, "long poem"), bussokusekika (仏足石歌, "Buddha footprint poem") and sedōka (旋頭歌, "repeating-the-first-part poem"). However, by the time of the Kokinshū's compilation at the beginning of the tenth century, all of these forms except for the tanka and chōka had effectively gone extinct, and chōka had significantly diminished in prominence. As a result, the word waka became effectively synonymous with tanka, and the word tanka fell out of use until it was revived at the end of the nineteenth century (see Tanka).

Tanka (hereafter referred to as waka) consist of five lines (, ku, literally "phrases") of 5-7-5-7-7 on or syllabic units. Therefore, tanka is sometimes called Misohitomoji (三十一文字), meaning it contains 31 syllables in total.