Ki no Tsurayuki

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Tsurayuki by Kikuchi Yōsai
Ki no Tsurayuki by Kanō Tan'yū, 1648

Ki no Tsurayuki (紀 貫之, 872 – June 30, 945) was a Japanese author, poet and courtier of the Heian period. He is best known as the principal compiler of the Kokin Wakashū, also writing its Japanese Preface, and as a possible author of the Tosa Diary, although this was published anonymously.

Tsurayuki was a son of Ki no Mochiyuki. In the 890s he became a poet of waka, short poems composed in Japanese. In 905, under the order of Emperor Daigo, he was one of four poets selected to compile the Kokin Wakashū (Kokinshu), the first imperially-sponsored anthology (chokusen-shū) of waka poetry.

After holding a few offices in Kyoto, he was appointed the provincial governor of Tosa Province and stayed there from 930 until 935. Later he was presumably appointed the provincial governor of Suō Province, since it was recorded that he held a waka party (Utaai) at his home in Suo.

He is well known for his waka and is counted as one of the Thirty-six Poetry Immortals selected by Fujiwara no Kintō. He was also known as one of the editors of the Kokin Wakashū. Tsurayuki wrote one of two prefaces to Kokin Wakashū; the other is in Chinese. His preface was the first critical essay on waka. He wrote of its history from its mythological origin to his contemporary waka, which he grouped into genres, referred to some major poets and gave a bit of harsh criticism to his predecessors like Ariwara no Narihira.

One of his waka was included in the Hyakunin Isshu, which was compiled in the 13th century by Fujiwara no Teika.

Tsurayuki has composed well over 500 poems throughout his life, including those included in the Kokinshu, imperial collections, and personal collections.

Early life[edit]

Ki no Tsurayuki, who had the childhood name (幼名 youmei) of Akokuso (阿古久曽 あこくそ). His mother was dancing girl of the naikyoubou (内教坊), whose name is unknown. He was born in either 866 or 872.


Kokin Wakashu[edit]

In 905, under the order of Emperor Daigo, Ki no Tsurayuki was one of four poets selected to compile the Kokin Wakashū (Kokinshū), the first imperially-sponsored anthology (chokusenshū) of waka. Tsurayuki was the chief editor of the Kokinshu, and was the author of its Japanese preface (

Tosa Nikki faithfully copied by Fujiwara no Teika (1162–1241) (Museum of the Imperial Collections)

Tosa Nikki[edit]

In addition to the Kokinshu, Tsurayuki's supposed major literary work (though it was published anonymously) was the Tosa Nikki (土佐日記, "Tosa Diary"), which was written using kana. The Tosa Diary is written from the perspective of a woman who embarks on a 55 day trip in 934 to the capital (present day Kyoto), where Tsurayuki had been the provincial governor, from her home in the Tosa Province. The female perspective of the diary, though written by a man (Tsurayuki), has sparked debate among scholars regarding gender and social status within the realm of linguistics of the time period. Ki no Tsurayuki left the Tosa Province at the age of 66 in 934 after completing his term as Provincial Governor and wrote the Tosa Nikki after returning to the capital. There are quite a few references within the diary that allude to events that took place in Ki no Tsurayuki’s life, including the death of his daughter. It also includes many poems, presumably written by Tsurayuki.

Tale of Genji[edit]

In the Tale of Genji, Tsurayuki is referred to as a waka master, and it is stated that the Emperor Uda ordered him and a number of female poets to write waka on panels as accessories for his palace.


His death is recorded in the Sanjurokunin kasenden (三十六人歌仙伝) as potentially being May 18, 945, but it is also reported as being on June 30 of the same year.


The names of Ki no Tsurayuki’s mother and wife are unknown. He had at least two children, a son by the name of Ki no Tokibumi, and a daughter called Samurai Kiuchi.

Official history (官歴)[edit]

In Sanjurokunin kasenden (三十六人歌仙伝), which documents the life of the Thirty-Six Immortals of Poetry, Ki no Tsurayuki’s life is documented as follows.

  • Born in either 866 or 872.
  • April 18, 905: Wrote the Kokin Wakashū.
  • February 906: Held the position of junior subordinate official (少掾 Shoujou) in Echizen Province, present day Fukui Prefecture. Also the Keeper of the Library of the Imperial Court (御書所預 Goshodoko-azukari).
  • February 27, 907: in charge of preparing the Emperor’s meals (内膳司 naizenshi) ( September: Accompanied Emperor Uda on an imperial visit to Ōi River to perform waka poetry.
  • February 910: Held the position of Junior scribe (少内記 Shounaiki) (
  • March 13, 913: Participated in the Uda Waka Poetry Competition (亭子院歌合 Teijin Uta-awase) ( organized by Emperor Uda. April: Held the position of senior scribe (大内記 Dainaiki).
  • January 7, 917: Held the position of Lower fifth court rank (従五位下 Juugoinoge) ( January: Provincial governor of Kaga Province, present day Ishikawa Prefecture.
  • February 918: Provincial governor of Mino Province, present day Gifu Prefecture.
  • June 923: Held the position of Daiketsumotsu (大監物) (
  • September 929: Held the position of Ukyounosuke (右京亮) (
  • January 930: Provincial governor of Tosa Province, present day Kochi Prefecture. Compiled the Shinsen Waka (新撰和歌), a personal collection of waka poetry, by the command of Emperor Daigo.
  • February 935: Finished his term as the provincial governor of Tosa Province, and returned to the capital (Kyoto). Wrote the Tosa Nikki based on his travel diary from this trip.
  • March 940: Head of the Ministry of Buddhists and Foreigners (玄蕃頭 Genba-no-kami).
  • January 7 943: Held the position of Upper fifth court rank (従五位上 Juugoi-no-jou).
  • March 28, 945: Head of the Mokunogon Ministry (木工権頭) .
  • May 18?: Death.
  • March 18, 1904: Posthumously awarded the Second court rank (従二位 Juunii).


  • Mostow, J. S. (1996). Pictures of the Heart: The Hyakunin Isshu in Word and Image (University of Hawaii Press).
  • Heldt, G. (2005). "Writing Like a Man: Poetic Literacy, Textual Property, and Gender in the Tosa Diary," The Journal of Asian Studies, 64(1), 7-34.
  • Encyclopedia Britannica, "Ki no Tsurayuki"
  • McCullough, Helen Craig (1990). Classical Japanese Prose: An Anthology (Stanford University Press).

External links[edit]