Ariwara no Narihira

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Ariwara no Narihira by Kanō Tan'yū, 1648
In this Japanese name, the family name is Ariwara.

Ariwara no Narihira (在原 業平?, 825 – July 9, 880) was a Japanese waka poet and aristocrat. He was one of six waka poets referred in the preface in kana to Kokin Wakashū by Ki no Tsurayuki, and has been named as the hero of The Tales of Ise, whose hero was an anonym in itself but most of whose love affairs could be attributed to Narihira.

He was the fifth son of Prince Abo, a son of Emperor Heizei. His mother Princess Ito was a daughter of Emperor Kammu, so he was therefore linked to Emperor Kammu by both maternal and paternal lineage. Along with his other brothers, he was relegated to civilian life, receiving a new clan name, Ariwara.

Although he belonged to the noblest lineage, his political life was not prominent, especially under the reign of Emperor Montoku. During the thirteen years of the Emperor's reign, Narihira was not raised to a higher rank within the court. This setback was supposedly caused by a scandal involving him and Fujiwara no Takaiko (藤原高子), an imperial consort or another loyal lady. Both love affairs were referred to in The Tales of Ise.

Ariwara no Narihira looking for the ghost of Ono no Komachi, in an 1891 print by Yoshitoshi.

As a waka poet, his thirty waka were included in Kokin Wakashū. Traditionally he was considered the model for the hero of Tales of Ise, which contains many of his waka, although not all waka in it were his works and some of its episodes can hardly belong to his real life. Thanks to a reference to him in the preface of Kokin Wakashū he is listed as one of the Six best Waka poets and also one of the Thirty-six Poetry Immortals.

He has been traditionally regarded as the epitome of the bel homme in the Japanese culture. It is believed he was one of the men who inspired Murasaki Shikibu when she created Hikaru Genji, the hero of Genji Monogatari, especially in the aspects of her story concerning forbidden love between a high ranked woman and a member of the court.