Priest Manzei

Hear about Priest Manzei on Episode 55 of our Podcast, the Japan Archives.

Priest Manzei

Priest Manzei (満誓 沙弥 – He Who Fulfills the Vow/Compleat Votary) was the religous name of Kasa Maro (笠[朝臣] 麻呂).

His famiy name of Kasa (笠) is cited as almost surley a loan word from Korean into Japanese which could hint at a continental origin for his family.

Though it is not mentioned in the journal being cited for this page currently, the two Kanji in Manzei’s name [朝臣] in the journal translate as Ason. This was a high level rank given to people under the Kabane System.

Life

We first seen Manzei mentioned in 704 where he is given the rank of Junior Fifth-rank Lower-grade. By 706 he is posted as the Governor of Mino Province, which he was posted to again in 708. During this time he oversaw major road projects including the Kiso Highway. His work here led him to be decorated with merit in 714.

By 717 he had progressed to the rank Junior Fourth-rank Upper-grade and we subsequently see him made General of Owari, Mikawa and Shinano Provinces.

In 720 he was appointed to the office of Udaiben (Great Councilor of the Right).

Turn to Religion/Exile

In 721 we see Manzei turning to religion, though we are unsure why, he petitioned the throne to ‘leave secular life and enter religion.’ This desire was granted and he became a priest.

This change of careeer coincided with a petition from the throne stating for ‘a hundred consecrated men and women shoud be dedicated to religion as votaries to secure [Empress Genmei’s] recovery,’ as the Empress has fallen ill.

Manzei asked for his career change a mere 6 days after this decree.

Empress Genmei, however, died within the year and following a series of unfortunate events the clergy is chastised for these events. After this we see Manzei posted (exiled) to Kyushu in 723 as a bettō (Intendant) to supervise the construction of Tsukushi Kanzeonji.

During his exile here he comes into contact with Ōtomo no Tabito and other members of the Tsukushi Poetic Circle.

From what we can tell, Manzei lived here until his death, but we do know he had one son with a woman indentured to his temple.

Descendants

In 866 we have records of 3 men who claimed a 5th generational descent from Manzei.

Poetry

In total we know of only 7 poems of Manzei’s that have come down to us.

His poems were cut up and placed in Books 3, 4 and 5 of the Man’yōshū. Luckily their original order was preserved when being placed into this text which has allowed scholars to easily restore them as a poetic sequence. Additionally, the use of colophons and other notations next to these poems has allowed us to establish they were all written by Manzei.

This information has show the sequence was likely written between 723-728, and certainly no later than 730.

The way in which he talks of faith in the poems shows that they only have a ‘veneer’ of Buddhism in them. This is due to the fact that during the time he turned to religion everyone who did so was self ordained and did not need a great understanding of the religion. In fact the title he held of sami translates to ‘cleric of minor orders,’ and not actually a ‘priest’ of Buddhism.

The second poem in his sequence can also be found included in the Shuishū and this poem was subjected to the art of honkadori. For instance, in the Tōkan Kikō it states that Manzei wrote this poem whilst standing on Mt. Hiei gazing over Lake Biwa.

We also see this poem alluded to in the Hōjōki where it states:

‘on mornings when I feel myself short-lived as the white wake building behind a boat, I go to the banks of the river and, gazing at the boats plying to and fro, compose verses in the style of Priest Manzei.’1

Footnotes

1. 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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Priest Manzei