From Academic Kids

Manyoshu (万葉集 Man'yōshū, "Collection of Ten Thousand Leaves") is the oldest existing, and most highly revered, collection of Japanese poetry, compiled sometime in the Nara or early Heian periods. The compiler, or the final in a series of compilers, is believed to be Otomo no Yakamochi, and the last datable poem in the collection is from 759. The collection contains many poems from much earlier, many of them anonymous or misattributed (usually to well-known poets), but the bulk of the collection represents the period between 600 and 759. The collection is divided into twenty parts or books, mirroring a similar practice in collections of Chinese poems of the time; this number was followed in most later collections. Unlike later collections, however, the parts of the Man'yōshū are not organised into topics or ordered chronologically. The collection contains 265 chōka (long poems), 4,207 tanka (short poems), one tanrenga (short connecting poem), 1 bussokusekika (poems on the Buddha's footprints at Yakushi temple in Nara), four kanshi (Chinese poems), and 22 Chinese prose passages. There is no preface: the format of prefacing official collections, such as the Kokinshū, developed later.

It is standard to regard the Man'yōshū as a particularly Japanese work even though many entries do have a Continental tone. Some earlier poems have Confucian or Taoist themes and some later poems reflect Buddhist teachings. The compiler Otomo no Yakamochi himself also had Korean grandparents. That said, the Man'yōshū is singular, even in comparison with later works, in deriving primarily from the Yamato period mainland where Shintō virtues of forthrightness (真 makoto) and virility (丈夫振り masuraoburi) played a significant influence. The language holds a powerful sentimental appeal to readers:

[T]his early collection has something of the freshness of dawn. [...] There are irregularities not tolerated later, such as hypometric lines; there are evocative place names and [pillow talk (枕詞 makurakotoba)]; and there are evocative exclamations such as kamo, whose appeal is genuine even if incommunicable. In other words, the collection contains the appeal of an art at its pristine source with a romantic sense of venerable age and therefore of an ideal order since lost [2; page 192].

The collection is customarily divided into four periods. The earliest dates to prehistoric or legendary pasts, from the time of Yuryaku (r.?456–?479) to those of the little documented Yōmei (r.585587), Saimei (r.594661), and finally Tenji (r.668671) during the Taika reform and the time of Fujiwara no Kamatari (614669). The second period covers the end of the seventh century, coinciding with the popularity of Kakinomoto no Hitomaro, one of Japan's greatest poets. The third period spans 700–c.730 and covers the works of such poets as Yamanbe no Akahito, Otomo no Tabito, Yamanoue no Okura, and Abe no Nakamaro. Akahito chiefly among them is resolutely Japanese; the rest freely incorporate and adapt Continental elements. The fourth period spans 730760 and includes the work of the last great poet of this collection, the compiler Otomo no Yakamochi himself, who not only wrote many original poems but also edited, updated and refashioned an unknown number of ancient poems.

In addition to its artistic merits, the Man'yōshū is important for using one of the earliest Japanese writing systems, the cumbersome man'yōgana. Though it wasn't the first use of this writing system, which was either invented for the Kojiki or adapted from early Korean writing systems based on Chinese characters, it was influential enough to give the writing system its name: "the characters of the Man'yōshū". This system uses Chinese characters in a variety of functions: their usual ideographic or logographic senses; to represent Japanese syllables phonetically; and more usually in some combination of these functions. The second use of Chinese characters to represent Japanese syllables was in fact the genesis of the modern syllabic kana writing systems, being simplified forms (hiragana) or fragments (katakana) of the man'yōgana.


  1. Online edition of the Man'yōshū ( at the UVa Library Japanese Text Initiative (
  2. E. Miner, H. Odagiri and R. E. Morell, The Princeton Companion to Classical Japanese Literature, Princeton University Press, 1985, ISBN 0691065993.
  3. H. H. Honda (tr.), The Man'yoshu: a new and complete translation. Hokuseido Press, Tokyo,

ja:万葉集 pl:Man'yōshū


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