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The Man’yōshū (万葉集) is an important literary collection of Japanese poetry.
It is generally unknown how the entire piece was compiled, though the Japanese at this time would have been familiar with Chinese poetic compilations such as the wen shuan as well as Tang Dynasty collections.
However, the consensus is that it was compiled over a rather long period by five/six or as many as ten people in its intial state. A lead role taken in the compilation was by Ōtomo no Yakamochi. He provided his own poetry for the piece, but also provided access to the Ōtomo Clan poetic compilations as well as related documents and sources.1
It appears to us that an earlier version of this initial version existed (an ur-man’yōshū) as we know one was submitted into the court archives sometime between the years 759-771 (Nara Period), with its final first iteration happening some time after 771.
Other references state the use of ‘paste and scissors’ (nori to hasami) were used in the compilation, though it perhaps should not be taken literally.
We can also see that the piece also underwent later revisions, though people believe it was undertaken by unqualified scholars as we can see orthographic and textual blunders in the revised copies.
The compilation of the man’yōshū also preserves the names of earlier japanese poetic compilations, these being the Ruijū Karin (類聚歌林 – Forest of Classified Verses), several texts called the kokashū (古歌集 – Collections of Antique Poems), as well as at least four family or individual anthologies known as kashū (家集) belonging to Hitomaro, Kanamura, Mushimaro and Sakimaro.1
Additionally, many poems found in the man’yōshū were created during the reign of Empress Jitō and it is thought that perhaps the idea of compiling waka together in what would later become the man’yōshū was thought up during her reign.3
- See also: List of man’yōshū poets.
There are many people included within the books of the man’yōshū, included Emperors and Empresses.
Some poets who made smaller poetic sequences found their poems included in this document, however, their poems were broken up and scattered throughout. A good example of this being Priest Manzei whose seven poems were placed in Books 3, 4 and 5.1
Several commentaries and critiques have been written about the man’yōshū.
1. Miller, R. A.. (1981) “The Lost Poetic Sequence of the Priest Manzei”. Monumenta Nipponica. Vol.36 No.2 pp.133-172
2. Kodansha. (1993) ”Japan: An Illustrated Encyclopedia”. Tokyo: Kodansha Ltd.
3. MacMillan, P. (2018) ”One Hundred Poets, One Poem Each: A Treasury of Classical Japanese Verse”. St. Ives: Penguin Classics.
4. Louis Frederic, translated by Kathe Roth (2002) “Japan Encyclopedia”. London: Harvard University Press.
5. Yasumaro. O, translated by Gustav Heldt. (2014) “Kojiki. An Account of Ancient Matters”. New York: Columbia University Press.
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