Modern writing uses voiced consonant marks with dakuten. This is used as an indicator of sound changes in the spoken Japanese language in the Heian era. An English translation by Professor Ryuichi Abe  reads as: Although its scent still lingers on the form of a flower has scattered away For whom will the glory of this world remain unchanged? Arriving today at the yonder side of the deep mountains of evanescent existence We shall never allow ourselves to drift away intoxicated, in the world of shallow dreams. For this reason, the poem was frequently used as an ordering of the kana until the Meiji era reforms in the 19th century. It begins with a, i, u, e, o then ka, ki, ku
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Overview of the iroha poem Below is the iroha poem itself. First, in alphabet, second, in a kanji and hiragana mixed system, and then in hiragana as shown in parentheses. The mixed system is not only more natural than the others, but also very helpful for us to understand the meaning of this poem clearly. And then, I will also explain the idea behind this poem. Before these explanations, let me point out again that this pangram is more than just amazing.
It shows clearly how hiragana characters are different from English alphabets. As I already mentioned, every single hiragana character contains a vowel.
So, making a pangram with hiragana is much easier than doing the same thing with English alphabets. However, we need to be aware that the number of hiragana is almost double that of alphabets. If the number of alphabets were doubled, making a pangram with them would not be possible. We would be short of vowels. So, in a way, hiragana can make the impossible possible thanks to the trait. Again, but the poem itself was made approximately a thousand years ago.
So, all we can do today is assume what is the intention behind each line of it. It could be something religious, and it would be very different from what Japanese people think today. Anyhow I will give it a try. In the next paragraphs, I will focus on the meaning of each line of the poem. The first line Below is the first line of the iroha poem. And, actually, it is.
Unless flowers in bloom, they cannot be fragrant. Now we can understand this line as follows. Flowers are in bloom, but will scatter. An author of the poem tried to express the impermanence of lives. Even flowers which make us feel that they could stay beautiful forever end their lives and then scatter. The second line Below is the second line. So the expressions in alphabet and hiragana are not completely the same.
Its translation would be; In our world, who could stay gold forever? I believe that this line is understandable without any additional explanation. Apparently, at the time when Japanese people created this poem, they thought that it would be incredibly difficult for everyone to stay gold forever.
Probably, they watched a lot of those who were in power replaced, purged or killed by traitors, pretenders and so forth.
The second line helps to stress the meaning of the first line above. Nobody will stay gold forever like no flower will stay in bloom forever. The third line Below is the third line. In English, the third line could be; The deep mountain of Uwi, we will cross it today. In Japan, there is no mountain called Uwi. So, what does this part mean? Therefore, to cross it can be understood as to reach to the place which is free from karma of human beings.
Then both parts come together and mean today I will reach to the place which is free from the accumulated karma of human beings. This is the third line. The last line Below is the last line. The first one, asakiyume, means a shallow dream or even a paper dream. The second, mishi, which is written as miji in a kanji and hiragana mixed style means, I will not dream. Thus first two parts means, say, I will not have a paper dream. The iroha poem in English Then all comes together.
In our world, who could stay gold forever? Today I will reach to the place which is free from the accumulated karma of human beings. The former assumption would fit better with the original Japanese meaning, I think. And the rest In the last paragraphs, I explained the meaning of the iroha poem. Again, the iroha poem is a pangram.
This is clear as shown above. Nevertheless, there is a room for further discussion; whether the poem has been always a pangram since it was created approximately a thousand years ago. I mean that there is a possibility that the number of hiragana characters has been changing as time goes by.
I cannot say how many hiragana characters existed when the poem was created. However, I can make an assumption from the experience. Today, Japanese native speakers usually use only 44 out of 47 characters, in principal.
So, in a way, 3 hiragana characters are now dying slowly but gradually. From this fact, I can assume that there would be a trend where a hiragana writing system has been simplified as time goes by. In addition to this, I can assume that at the point of time the poem was created, the number of characters was bigger than This is all I can say here about the iroha poem.
Appendix: when to use As I explained, the poem itself is very old. So most probably some of you think that this is just an old literary topic. In reality, however, the iroha poem is still in use today. Then, a question arises naturally; when do Japanese people use such an old poem? To tell the truth, the iroha poem is inseparable from itemizations in Japanese.
Characters used in the poem are utilized for them in exactly the same way as English alphabets are. For this kind of itemization, hiragana or katakana characters are used in the order of the iroha poem. As you may guess, this order is significantly familiar to Japanese people, so it is often used without any notice.
This would be very surprising and confusing to Japanese learners. Sorry for the inconvenience, but the impressive pangram works behind. Now everything is clear. By the way, please take a look at an example of an itemization in the iroha order. To be honest, other than itemizations, it is not widely used. So even this short introduction would be sufficient to help Japanese learners a lot, I think.
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Iroha poem is the amazing Japanese pangram, explained in detail