Poetic pillows, utamakura, are a feature of Japanese travel literature.  Utamakura, references to places, were first used by priests; priests often travel, and to remember the details of the places they have travelled to, they use place names, i.e. specific places, rivers, bridges to replace writing these details.  Since then, utamakura has become a common literary technique, specifically in poetry; place names can evoke certain images and emotions, and they are understood by many readers.

In Diary of the Sixteenth Night, Ōsaka is referenced in one of the poems Nun Abutsu composes.  Ōsaka literally means Meeting Hill; this place was often associated with ideas of departure and reunion.

Sadamenaki                          As life itself
inochi wa shiranu                  is uncertain,
tabi naredo                           what lies ahead on this journey is unknown.
mata Ôsaka to                       I depart, trusting
tanomete zo yuku                  that we will meet again at Ōsaka, Meeting Hill

The above poem was composed after Abutsu’s crossing of the Ōsaka Barrier; in this poem, Ōsaka is referred to as a place of reunion.  Despite the uncertainty of the journey ahead, Abutsu assures that she and her family will one day reunite.

Ōsaka was located in the old Ōmi province, which is present-day Shiga prefecture, and in the modern city of Ōtsu.

Map A
Map B







Another spelling of Ōsaka is ausaka, and the kanji characters are 逢坂.

Fig.1  Osaka no seki: The Osaka Barrier in Shiga Prefecture

Ōsaka is also mentioned in several Tale of Genji poems; Ōsaka in the section below refers to the place where lovers meet.

Genji to Oborozukiyo:

Toshitsuki no                         Are the years and months
Naka ni hedatete                   To be for us the barrier
Ausaka no                             Of Meeting Hill?
Sa mo sekigataku                  Ah, these falling tears at least
Otsuru namida ka                 Cannot be kept from passing.

The following poem, composed by Heian poet Semimaru, also makes a reference to Ōsaka as a place for friends and strangers meet.

Kore ya kono                        Here it is: the gate
Yuku mo kaeru mo               where people coming and going
Wakarete wa                        must part company,
Shiru mo shiranu mo           where both friends and strangers meet —
Ōsaka no seki                       on the slopes of Meeting Hill.

Fig.2 Artist: Hokusai


Maps and Figures

Map A – Otsu Map. Accessed March 7, 2016.
Map B – Otsu Map. Accessed March 7, 2016.
Figure 1 – 逢坂の関跡. Accessed March 7,2016. http://blogs.yahoo.co.jp/kamuya_1999/42569223.html
Figure 2 – Accessed March 7, 2016.


Works Cited

Carter, Steven D. Traditional Japanese poetry: An Anthology. Stanford, California: Stanford University Press, 1991.

Cranston, Edwin A. A Waka Anthology. Stanford, California: Stanford University Press, 1993.

Kamens, Edward. Utamakura, Allusion, and Intertextuality in Traditional Japanese poetry. Yale University Press, 1997.

Watkins, Leah. “Japanese Travel Culture: An Investigation of the Links between Early Japanese Pilgrimage and Modern Japanese Travel Behaviour.” New Zealand Journal of Asian Studies 10, no. 2 (2008): 93-110.

Contributor: Natalie Lai