The Man’yōshū is the earliest existing private collection of Japanese poetry compiled in 759 CE. During the Nara period when the Japanese were massively importing everything from culture to bureaucratic systems to literature from China, the Man’yōshū was created to differentiate Japanese poetry or waka from Chinese poetry. It is also known for containing poets from various social classes and areas in Japan. This is particularly unique since the later anthologies compiled under imperial order were exclusive to the aristocracy. Moreover, the poetic voices of the aristocracy were not laden with the Chinese ideals.
There were many compilers for the Man’yōshū but its most well known compiler is Ōtomo no Yakamochi who compiled the last four volumes of it. Although the translation of the title Man’yōshū literally means “collection of ten thousand leaves” it actually only contains 4,516 poems. It is possible that the “leaves” could refer to words rather than the actual poems.
Besides the content of the anthology, the writing system and style had profound effect too. The Man’yōshū also developed a writing system based on the script that was used in it—Man’yogana. Man’yogana, which is phonetically, applied Chinese characters that represented Japanese sound and sometimes meaning. It eventually evolved into the modern hiragana system. The dominant poetic form it is the tanka or short poems, which makes up about 4,200 poems.
Although the Man’yōshū contains no preface like some imperial anthologies, the major theme throughout the compilation was a sense of sincerity or mak...
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...for a lover. Judging by this point of view, the people back then did not believe in the idea of everlasting love.
Cook, Lewis. "Introduction for Kokinshū." Japanese Text Initiative. University of Virginia Library, 31 August 2004. Web. 31 Jan 2011.
McCullough, Helen Craig. Kokin Wakashu. The first imperial anthology of Japanese poetry. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1985. 3-7. Print.
"Kakinomoto Hitomaro." Encyclopedia of Japan. Kodansha, 2011. Web.
"Kokinshū." Encyclopedia of Japan. Kodansha, 2011. Web.
"Man'yōshū." Encyclopedia of Japan. Kodansha, 2011. Web.
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