Beginning of the Japanese Poetry
and the First Writers
Professor emeritus of Doshisha University, Kyoto,
I - Introduction
“The Man’yo-Shu is the oldest of the early Japanese anthologies,
and by far the greatest, both in quantity and quality. It consists of 20 books and contains more
than 4.000 poems・・・The
Anthology reflects Japanese life and civilization of the 7th and 8th
centuries, and not only does it record the indigenous thoughts and beliefs, but
also touches, even if only casually, upon Buddhism, Confucianism, and Taoism
imported from the continent. The Man’yo-Shu is rich in the poems of the people as well
as in those of the courtiers. ・・・It forms
a happy contrast that many sovereigns and members of the imperial family are
represented in the Anthology, together with a great number of excellent works
by humble and nameless poets”, says Japanese Classics Translation Committee for
the Introduction to 1000 Poems From the
MANYOSHU, The Complete Nippon Gakujutsu Shinkoukai Translation (Dover Publications, INC. New York
2005). So I would like to use the
Anthology when I am talking of the beginning of the Japanese Poetry and the
First Poets of Japan.
When we try to talk of the beginning of the Japanese
poetry, we should know as a premise that most of the Japanese courtiers and
warriors should be competent in making poems those days… Making poems is a kind of the basic quality
for the Japanese courtiers and warriors…
In this sense they were all poets in the broadest sense of the word… So
it is difficult or impossible to define who the first poet in Japan was. It had to take more years for the appearance
of minstrels in Japan, while in ancient Greece minstrels were recognized
persons, competent in singing and making songs, and they may be called the
first poets of the day.
Probably the fact in Japan would have been like this…
Emperor wanted first to compile good poems and then he might appointed some
courtier who was well-known for his excellent poetic ability to compile good
poems and edit an anthology. It must
have been greatest honour for the courtier to be nominated as the editor of the
Emperor’s anthology. He should have
gained prestige to be a recognized or established poet in the court. Gradually there came to be formed some
groups of couriers who were good in making poems. If a member of a group should have been
appointed to be the editor of the Emperor’s anthology, the group would have
jumped into the shinning stage; while if no one of that group would have been
appointed to such a showy post, the group should have been off-stage. This may have been the first picture of the
appearance of the recognized poets in Japanese society. Gradually we can see appearance of so-called
court-poets, whose main job was to make poems for the Emperor or some courtly
II - Kakinomoto-no Hitomaro
It may be
interesting to find some “court poets”
among the nobles and royal family. They
are officers in the court but their chief duty was to write poems. A poet named Kakinomoto-no-Hitomaro
was one of them. He had written many
poems for the Royal family and the national events.
is the first poem by Hitomaro found in the anthology:
(Bk. I 29~31)
(The original poem is to be read in Japanese at the end of the paper.
Translation is mine.)
Written by Courtier Kakinomoto-no-Hitomaro
on passing the ruined palace at Ohmi
Born at Kashiwara near the Hill of Unebi,
Emperors had been reigning over the world. Now the Majesty had unexpectedly
left Yamato over the Narahills of shinning green for
the countryside of Ohmi with shining ripples and
ordered to build his palace at Ohtsu from where His
Majesty liked to reign over His Majesty’s land.
Though I hear this was the palace, and that
was the hall, spring weeds and herbs cover all over there
now. Mist rises and the spring sun
coming gloom. How sad to see the ruin of
once gorgeous palace.
Though Karasaki of Shiga is beautiful with shining ripples, there
are no glittering courtiers waiting for their boats.
death of an Emperor, Japanese capital was usually removed to another place and
new palace was built there. Singing of
the rise and fall of the capital at Ohmi, Hitomaro is praising the new capital at Nara.
Just at a
glance of this poem, we could see the Japanese poems in the earlier days are
very straight and frank in its expression.
Another example: by the same author: (.Bk. I 40).
By the bay of Ago-no-Ura,
Maidens are playing with boat.
On the flow wet will be their skirts.
The more straight and the more naïve the expression is, the more
sensitive and the more evocative the earlier Japanese poems are… But we know the fact is that this poem was
written by Hitomaro, who remained in Nara
while his Emperor left Nara
for Ise. And so, Hitomaro
did not see the scene with his naked eye but with his imagination. The description
is not an actual but a visional
scenery. Now we should know their
imagination would not transcend the actual world.
III Elegy by Hitomaro with his stance changing
the chief functions or duties of the court poet is to make Elegies on occasion
of the Royal event, especially Royal funeral. The
elegy was usually read aloud at the funeral ceremony, in
front of the lines and rows of nobles.
the honourable and showy occasion for the court poet to show his excellence in
verbal expression. The words should be
rich and sonorous. Alliteration may be
the best rhyming technique in Japanese poems of the day. But the elegy should never be expression of
personal emotion. One
example: (Bk. II - 167)
Read at the funeral ceremony
for Prince Hinamishino-mikono-mikoto
by the Courtier Kakinomoto-no-Hitomaro.
the beginning of the heaven and earth eight million and ten million gods meet
together at the bank of the heavenly river, to celebrate the Prince rising up
to the heaven out of the funeral palace opening the heavenly door leading to
the heavenly throne.
With the glory of the Prince spring flowers
and the moon in the sky were shining brighter. Now that the Prince disappears far away, all
men and women can do nothing but waiting for his heavenly boat coming back to
this world, but in vain.
saw only two or three works by Hitomaro and saw his
straight and naïve but a little stereotyped expression there. It may be safe to say that his style comes
from his post as a court poet. As a
court poet he should be ever conscious of his function and role He should be obedient to his masters. He
should never be faithful to his own sentiment… Nothing is known concerning to his biography but it is
said that he belongs to some lower order of courtiers. This means that he could not have great
success in his court life. It may be
natural for him to stick to being an obedient court poet.
see the social condition of his days we can see it was an uncertain time
shifting from a primitive society to a modern constitutional society. Japan
was going through a hard trial to become a new nation following the development
of China. Buddhism and Confucianism are taking the role
of the traditional Shinto-ism and a kind of Shamanism. This means the fall of a certain privileged
classes or nobles of high order and the rise of common people. Hitomaro is said to
become gradually a poet not only for the nobles but also for the common people.
Thus it may be safe to say that Kakinomoto-no-Hitomaro
in this sense can be acknowledged as the first poet in Japan.
early time Hitomaro
sang elegies for the emperor and princes but in later days he sang elegies for
common people. We could guess that some
rich common people would have requested Hitomaro to
make Elegy for their lost relatives.
These elegies are more natural and less decorative.
example: (Bk. III - 426)
(The original poem is to be read in Japanese at the end of the paper. Translation is mine.)
-Seeing a corpse lying by Kaguyama Hill
husband is this lying on the pillow of grass?
while his family is waiting
example: (Bk. III – 428)
(The original is to be read in Japanese at the end of the paper. Translation
Read on the occasion
of attending a burning funeral of a maiden.
drifting among the hills of Hatsuse,
the soul of my girl is at a loss.
example: (Bk. III – 429)
In memory of a Drowned maiden
who burnt at Yosino.
The maiden in the
hillside of Izumo may be an incarnation of a mist.
It is hanging around
the hills of Yoshino.
wording is natural and simple but strength of their sorrow is restrained with a
certain stoic frame of mind. One of his
characteristics in making his poems, I think, is that they are always confined
and staying within an earthly framework.
IV - Yamabe-no Akahito
contrast to Hitomaro, Yamabe-no-Akahito
was excellent in strong personal expression.
He was also a court poet as well as Hitomaro. But he seems to have been more faithful to
his personal emotion than Hitomaro was. He was better in natural poems rather than in
ritual ones. Here is a poem: (Bk. III – 317)
Read on a distant view of Mount
Ever since heaven and earth were parted, it has soared
lofty, noble, divine, Mount
Fuji in Suruga! When we
look up to the plains of heaven, the light of the sky-traversing sun is shaded,
the gleam of the shining moon is not seen, white clouds dare not cross it, and
for ever it snows.
We shall tell of it from mouth to mouth,
O the lofty Mountain
of Fuji !
out to the beach
I see the
white and bright Mount Fuji
Crowned with glittering snow, far and high.
can see the Mount Fuji is sublimated into
representation of God shining high.
Singing of Mount Fuji itself, Akahito, it can be said, has made a natural scenery a
sublimated representation of something lofty and awful beyond this
two lines are very much helpful to make us feel
the natural figure of Mount Fuji
unnatural. In fact, we can hardly see
the natural figure of the mountain here in the poem but feel the author’s sense
of awfulness and worship to the Mount Fuji. The figure of Mount Fuji
is not a natural figure but changed into an inscape (inner-landscape) of his
own mind. Here we can see a definite
difference between Akahito's world and that of Hitomaro’s which is always straight and simple however
pathetic and evocative it might be.
difference of Akahito from Hitomaro
is this: Akahito sings much on nature. while Hitomaro sings much of
persons. As a court poet Hitomaro made many elegies, though the character of the
subject person has been changing from nobles to common people. He seems to have ever been conscious of human
being in general. On the other hand Akahito seems to have ever been concentrated upon nature
and its awful effect rather than upon human being itself.
V - A Tentative Conclusion: Two senses of Time
Thus I would
like to appoint the two poets, Hitomaro and Akahito, as the first poets of Japan. And I pointed out the difference found
between the two. Now I would like to add
to it another point characteristic to them.
It is a
difference found between their sense of time: In the world of Hitomaro’s
poems there streams Time as it does in our daily life. There Time streams away from the eternal past
to the eternal future. Human being is
like a bubble born out of the water, floating along with water, and vanishing
away somewhere. Time as a streaming
water is called Time as khronos or kronos in Greek (time), while there is another Time
which is not streaming away. In the
Bible they called the Time as kairos in Greek. The
Greek-English Lexicon of Oxford interprets the word as “the right point of time
or critical time.” Using these
definitions of Time, we could distinguish the two poets: one is the poet of kronos, and the other is the poet of kairos. Akahito’s Mount Fuji is not a mountain existing in the world
dominated by kronos but in the world of kairos.
are dominated by the Time as kronos,
I think, forgetting the Time as kairos. Isn’t this a Time feeling awfulness and
loftiness of something great beyond human-being. as Akahito did? As long as we are too much concerned with
trivial existence of human-being, Peace will not come to us. And the use of poet should be to show people
the “inscape” of kairos which could only
poet see and feel.
(A panoramic view of Mount Fuji is to
be seen in the Spanish version)
The quoted songs in original Japanese
from the Man’yo-Shu
Ｂｋ．Ｉ － ２９～３１
玉だすき 畝傍の山の 橿原の 日知の御代ゆ
生れましし 神のことごと つがの木の いやつぎつぎに 天の下 知らしめししを 天にみつ 大和をおきて あおによし 奈良山を越え いかさまに おもほしめせか 天ざかる 鄙にはあれど 石走る 淡海の国の ささなみの大津の宮に 天の下 知らしめけむ 天皇の 神の尊の 大宮は ここと聞けども 大殿は ここと言へども 春草の茂く生ひたる かすみたつ 春日の霧れる ももしきの 大宮処 見れば悲しも
Ｂｋ． Ｉ － ４０
Ｂｋ ＩＩ－ １６７
日並皇子尊のあらきのみやの時、柿本朝臣人麻呂の作れる歌一首並びに短歌 天地の 初の時 ひさかたの 天の河原に 八百萬 千萬神の 神集ひ 集ひいまして 神分ち 分ちし時に 天照らす ひるめの尊 天おば知らしめすと 葦原の 瑞穂の国を 天地の 依り合いの極 知らしめす 神の命と 天雲の 八重かき別きて 神下し いませまつりし 高照らす 日の皇子は 飛鳥の 浄の宮に 神ながら 太しきまして 天皇の 敷きます国と 天の原 岩戸を開き 神上り 上りいましぬ わが大王 皇子の命の 天の下 知らしめしせば 春花の 貴からむと 望月の 満はしけむと
天の下 四方の人の 大船の 思いたのみて 天つ水 仰ぎて待つに いかさまに 思ほしめせか つれもなき 真弓の岡に 宮柱 太しきまし 御殿を 高知りまして 明言に 御言問はさず 日月の まねくなりぬれ そこ故に 皇子の宮人 行方知らずも
天地の 分れしときゆ 神さびて 高く貴き 駿河なる 富士の高嶺を 天の原 ふりさけ見れば 渡る日の 影も隠らひ 照る月の 光も見えず 白雲も い行きはばかり 時じくぞ 雪は降りける 語り継ぎ 言い継ぎ行かむ 富士の高嶺は