For more than 1,000 years prior to the Meiji Restoration, waka (Japanese verse)—also known as tanka (short verse)—reigned as the quintessential Japanese lyric form. Waka does not employ the concept of rhyme and is not organized into lines. Instead, waka employs a system of units and phrases, often turned into lines in English translations, composed of 31 syllables (7–7–5–7–5). By the early Meiji period, waka had been thoroughly explored, codified, and canonized. Along with calls for narrative reforms, Meiji critics, such as Tsubouchi Shoyo, urged a reassessment of waka, and the genre was soon targeted by avant-garde poets who used the term tanka for their efforts to distinguish it from earlier, hidebound waka. Expanding into topical and expressive realism that had been taboo prior to the Meiji period, tanka underwent reform under the influence of such poets as Yosano Tekkan and his wife, Yosano Akiko, as well as Masaoka Shiki and Saito Mokichi. Their works were published to great acclaim in Myojo (Venus) and other literary journals. A revival of tanka began in the 1980s, and, with poetry circles common, many newspapers run tanka contests and publish the winning poems monthly.

Historical dictionary of modern Japanese literature and theater. . 2009.

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