Ōtomo no Yakamochi

Hear about Ōtomo no Yakamochi on Episode 19 and 49 of our Podcast, the Japan Archives.

Ōtomo no Yakamochi
Ōtomo no Yakamochi by Kanō Tan’yū.

Ōtomo no Yakamochi

Ōtomo no Yakamochi (大伴 家持) was a Poet who lived from perhaps 718 until 7851.

Family

He was the son of Ōtomo no Tabito34, his aunt was Sakanoue no Iratsume and his cousin was Ōiratsume.4

Life

When his father died, Yakamochi found himself in the care of his aunt (who was also a poet). He is known to have exchange many love poems to women at court, including his cousin who he eventually married. When he reached the age of thirty he was made the Governor of Etchū Province and whilst there he is known to have spent many days on excursions so he could write poetry. Many of these can be found in books 17 and 19 of the Man’yōshū. It is said the poems from book 19 are his greatest, on the subject of nature. His poetry used both traditional and old fashioned forms and language.

After Etchū he retured to the capital in Nara and there served as Minister of Military Affairs and during this time he collected poems written by drafted frontier guards. We are not sure if he continued with poetry after this as known are known. It may be that they did not survive.4

Poetic/Literary Legacy

Due to his prowess in poetry he is thought as one of the four best poets of the Man’yōshū Period and he has the largest number of poems of any poet within the Man’yōshū. In total this amounts to 479. 46 choka, 431 tanka and 1 in kanshi (Chinese).

There are some who believed he compiled the last four parts of the Man’yōshū as it reads almost like a poetic diary.1 Other sources cite Yakamochi as taking a leading role in the compilation of the Man’yōshū, not only providing his poems, but also giving access from the Otomo Families collections of earlier poetic compilations as well as related documents and textual sources.5

He also has a poem (No.6) in the Ogura Hyakunin Isshu which goes as follows:1

Japanese text2
Romanized Japanese1
English translation1
かささぎの
渡せる橋に
置く霜の
白きを見れば
夜ぞふけにける
Kasasagi no
Wataseru hashi ni
Oku shimo no
Shiroki o mireba
Yo zo fukenikeru
How the night deepens.
A ribbon of the whitest frost
Is stretched across
The bridge of magpie wings
The lovers will cross.

Footnotes

1. MacMillan, P. (2018) ”One Hundred Poets, One Poem Each: A Treasury of Classical Japanese Verse”. St. Ives: Penguin Classics.
2. Suzuki, H. et al. (1997) ”Genshoku: Ogura Hyakunin Isshu”. Tokyo: Bun’eidō.
3. Louis Frederic, translated by Kathe Roth (2002) “Japan Encyclopedia”. London: Harvard University Press.
4. Kodansha. (1993) ”Japan: An Illustrated Encyclopedia”. Tokyo: Kodansha Ltd.
5. Miller, R. A.. (1981) “The Lost Poetic Sequence of the Priest Manzei”. Monumenta Nipponica. Vol.36 No.2 pp.133-172

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