Iroha Uta いろは歌 - The poem without repetition

Iroha Uta  (いろは歌) is a poem written by Kukai (空海) a Buddhist monk and famous poet in the early Heian period 79 時代 (794-1185). The interesting thing about this poem is that it never repeats a “kana” or phoneme, and it still has a beautiful meaning. In this article, we will examine this poem.



ゑひもせす 京(ん)


わが世 誰ぞ
酔いもせず 京(ん)

There aren't any 濁点 - Dakuten - ゛ -Since this poem uses ancient language and writing, some Japanese rules are different:

  • 匂えど is spelled 匂へど
  • ん if you write む
  • きょう is spelled けふ
  • 酔い if spelled 酔ひ
  • There are some kana that are not used today: ゐ, ゑ

Studying poem Iroha Uta

Original 「色は匂へど散りぬるを」
(いろはにおえど ちりぬるを)
Modern Japanese この世にあるおもしろおかしいことは、美しく咲き、匂う花のようなものだ。なぜならそれは、いつしか散ってしまう(終わってしまうものなのだから)。
Meaning The colors of the flowers are so beautiful and fragrant - like the beauty of a person or the interesting things in this world.

The flowers that shine today fall one day

色 (いろ) here is the color of the flowers, but it also has the meaning of the affairs of men and women, or the many events of this world. Like flowers, the beauties of life will one day disappear.


Original 「わが世 誰ぞ常ならむ」

(わがよ だれぞ つねならん)

Modern Japanese 私の人生もそれと同じだ。誰が、ずっと同じように変わらずあるものだと言えようか。いや、誰も言えない。いつかは終わってしまうのだ。
Meaning My life is like that. Who can say that my life will last forever without change? No, nobody can. One day it will end.

Nothing exists forever


Some say that わが世 means “I rule my world”

Original 「宇井(有為)の奥山今日越えて」

(ういのおくやま きょうこえて)

Modern Japanese 宇井という名の山奥を今日越えて
Meaning Today I’m going beyond the mountains called ui. (In Kyoto) 

Today you will cross the depths of the mountain of life

The Author was formerly a warrior samurai, but decided to dedicate his life to becoming a Buddhist monk. The author abandoned his past life and went beyond the mountains.

有為 (うい) is also a word that means “waking up to the true reality” in order to stop being a true slave to our daily life. In Buddhism, what to say: achieve enlightenment.

今日 (kyou) also rhymes with 京 de 京都 (Kyouto).


Original 「浅き夢見し酔いもせず 京」

(あさきゆめみし よいもせず きょう)

Modern Japanese 有為の奥山を越えて見たが(人生の色々な経験をしてきたが)それは、浅い夢のようなものであり、酔っ払っていたようなものでもある。今は、その夢に酔うようなこともなく、煩悩の火が消えたように、やすらぎや、悟りの境地を感じ、一切のものごとへのこだわりや、とらわれの心がなくなった状態で、京の都を旅立ち、寺の門へと向かう道である。
Meaning Futile dreams do not feed me or make me drunk.

This means that his life no longer affects him, he does not dream or feel drunk because of the past. At this point the author is on his way to Kyoto towards the temple gate. The Author tries to express that his worldly desires have been clarified, and he feels at peace in the state of enlightenment.


It is really difficult to stop being anxious about all the greedy desires and feelings in our lives. But I think the author thought of everything when he wrote this poem or song.

Iroha Uta is a very short poem, but it contains many ideas. There are many allusions in this poem, Japanese is really an incredible language. We noticed simplicity and complexity together. The modern Japanese version is a simple language, and ancient Japanese is very much, but with only a few phonemes the poem expressed numerous things.


It was not easy to translate this poem into English and give a valid meaning, just knowing the Japanese you will understand more the feeling that the author wanted to pass in Iroha Uta.

Source: thejapanesepage