Iroha is a Japanese poem that is roughly 1000 years old. It was originally written in an older writing system (Man’yōgana) that many Japanese people now cannot read. The poem has deep and complex links to Japanese language, culture, and religion. There are a number of different translations in English but much of the poem is lost in translation.

The poem can be analyzed at a number of different ways: as a literary poem, as a historical text, as a Buddhist text of the Shingen sect, as an example of a particular kind of linguistic text. More specific theories under these umbrellas can be used to investigate the text. Each theory has the potential to add something to an understanding of the poem but an overly narrow or unproven theory can also potentially have a negative effect on what can be learned from the text.

There are cases in where there are “turf battle” over a particular text or theory. Some of the this may be due to the nature of academic debate but some times there are complications due to politics etc. Asolid TOK essay could include a detailed look at a specific academic debate regarding different theories and different understands of a text like this poem.

Image: An image of Kobo Daishi, whose teachings directly influence the writing of the poem “iroha”


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