Manyoshu vs. Kokinshu: Roles and Significance

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The Manyoshu (meaning the "collection to be handed down throughout ten thousand eras" or the "collection of ten thousand leaves") is known as the oldest existing collection of Japanese poetry and was compiled during the Nara period. This anthology is highly revered in Japan because of this and contains some 4,500 poems spread among 20 volumes. The collection contains 265 choka (long poems), 4,207 tanka (short poems), one tanrenga (short connecting poem), one bussokusekika (poems on the Buddha's footprints at Yakushi-ji in Nara), four kanshi (Chinese poems), and 22 Chinese prose passages(Man'yōshū). Of particular note is that unlike later anthologies, the Manyoshu does not have a preface and included poems from common people as well as nobles and royalty. Of the 400 identified authors Otomo no Yakamochi stands out as the last great poet that not only added many of his own poems to the collection but also edited and compiled them as well.

The role of the Manyoshu at the time was to differentiate Japanese poetry from Chinese poetry by striking out away from the traditional Chinese method. Many entries of the Manyoshu still had Chinese based Confucian, Taoist, or even Buddhist roots, but as a whole had a mainly ancient Japanese theme leaning towards Japanese based Shinto. It is because of this that it stands out as a Japanese piece of literature showing the transition from Chinese literature to become something original.

Not only did it have an impact on Literature but it also was of great importance in changing the Japanese writing system, being composed in manyogana. Though manyogana was used earlier, it wasn’t until Manyoshu that it became influential enough to get its name. This system used Chinese character to represent Japa...

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...splay. This in turn led to increased exposure to the public and made it less of an aristocracy only activity.

Works Cited

"Japanese literature :: The significance of the Man'yoshu -- Britannica Online Encyclopedia." Encyclopedia - Britannica Online Encyclopedia. 15 Feb. 2011 .

Keene, Donald. Anthology of Japanese literature, from the earliest era to the mid-nineteenth century. New York: Grove P, 1955.

"Kokin Wakashū." Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. 15 Feb. 2011 .

"Man'yōshū." Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. 15 Feb. 2011 .

Rodd, Laurel Rasplica., and Mary Catherine. Henkenius. Kokinshu%u0304: a collection of poems ancient and modern. Princeton: Princeton UP, 1984.

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