Yamanoue no Okura

Hear about Yamanoue no Okura on Episode 8A of our Podcast, the Japan Archives.

Yamanoue no Okura

Yamanoue no Okura (山上 憶良) was a waka poet and lived during the Nara period. He is said to have died at the age of 74 in 733AD1, and inspired Ōtomo no Tabito to persue his poetic endeavors.3

It is known that in 701AD he was sent to China, as part of an embassy which was led by a man known as Awata Mahito.

By 721 he had become tutor to the Crown Prince and went on to become Governor of the Chikuzen Province. He is also thought to be the compiler of the Ruiji-Karin (Forest of Classified Verses). This document though no longer in existence, is often cited and metioned in the original notes of the Manyōshū.

As a poet his poems are well known, and some of them are of Chinese composition. Most notably his poems on his children and of the suffering of the poor are famous.1

One of his poems from the Manyōshū (Book 5, poem 893) goes as follows:

Japanese text2
Romanized Japanese2
English translation
世閒を
憂しとやさしと
思へども
飛び立ちかねつ
鳥にしあらねば
Yo no nako wo
ushi to yasashi to
omoe domo
tobitachi kanetsu
tori ni shi araneba
Even if this world is full of pain or easy,
it doesn’t matter
I can’t help staying here
I am not a bird at all.

Footnotes

1. Nippon Gakujutsu Shinkokai. (2005) “1000 Poems from the Manyōshū: The Complete Nippon Gakujutsu Shinkokai Translation”. New York: Dover Publications, Inc.
2. WakaPoetry.net. Online depository of Japanese Poetry.
3. Louis Frederic, translated by Kathe Roth (2002) “Japan Encyclopedia”. London: Harvard University Press.

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Yamanoue no Okura