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  11. Man'yōshū 【万葉集】
Encyclopedia of Japan


The earliest extant collection of Japanese poetry. Divided into 20 books, it contains 4,516 numbered waka poems, the last and most recent of which is dated New Year's Day of the Japanese year corresponding to AD 759. The earliest ascriptions are a set of four to Empress Iwanohime, who lived in the early 5th century−though all attributions earlier than the early 7th century are best regarded with skepticism. There are also extended headnotes, footnotes, prose settings, letters, and other compositions−all in Chinese−and a few Chinese poems, to which no numbers have been assigned. Of the three Japanese poetic forms represented in the anthology, there are approximately 4,200 tanka (“short poems”), 265 chōka (“long poems”), and 60 sedōka (“head-repeated poems”). The figure for tanka includes the hanka or envoys that occur at the end of many chōka. The Man'yōshū contains the overwhelming majority of poems preserved from before the end of the 8th century, which is to say almost all of what the Japanese of those days regarded as literature in their own language, and it stands alone as the monument of Japan's first literary flourishing, whose span can be defined as more or less the century preceding this anthology's terminus of 759.

During this century Japan was in a ferment of growth and change, importing Chinese culture and institutions in a deliberate attempt to catch up with the most advanced country in the world. Although 8th-century Japan was rapidly acquiring a modernism of which the Man'yōshū was one product, it was still close to its primeval preliterate roots. Partially because the poetry that interested the compilers was not as totally aristocratic in outlook as tended to be true of the later commissioned imperial anthologies, and because the poetic voice of the aristocrats was not uniformly imbued with the Chinese ideal of elegant indirection that later became so influential, the total effect of Man'yō, or Man'yōshū, poetry is one of wholeheartedness, sincerity, and robust passion−precisely the qualities that admirers of the anthology have pointed to over the centuries and that still draw readers to it as one of the most revered treasures of the national literature. The Japanese people feel that they can hear their own voices in the collection and not merely those of a high-toned literary clique. A more careful and critical reading of the anthology, however, will quickly reveal highly complex artistry and more than a little of the elegant outlook supposedly characteristic of later ages.

Title and Compilation

The name Man'yōshū is written with Chinese characters meaning “Collection of Ten Thousand Leaves.” This title has an obvious poetic appeal, whether “leaves” is taken as a metaphor for “poems” (not for “pages,” since the original manuscripts were in scroll form) or a sinicization of the Japanese word kotonoha, meaning “word,” but literally “leaf of word.” It has been plausibly argued, however, that the character for “leaf” is used here in its well-attested sense of “age” or “generation” and that the title therefore should be understood as “Collection for Ten Thousand Generations.”

Unlike some of the imperial anthologies, the Man'yōshū has no preface, nor is it mentioned in contemporary documents. Internal evidence indicates that the anthology is the culmination of a process dating back at least several decades and that the person most extensively involved in its compilation was the poet Ōtomo no Yakamochi. There are recurrent references in the Man'yōshū to older anthologies and to collections of the work of individual poets; however, none of these works has survived outside the Man'yōshū.

Ōtomo no Yakamochi, with over 400 extant poems, is the best preserved of Man'yō poets. The last 4 of the 20 books of the Man'yōshū are definitely his compilation, chronologically arranged by him, and with personal notes on the circumstances of composition of each poem. The large number of poets of the Ōtomo family included in the anthology supports the hypothesis that at least one member was instrumental in assembling the collection. Yakamochi is the most obvious candidate for the culminating role in what must have been a long process.

Native Tradition and Chinese Influence

The earliest examples of Japanese verse are found not in the Man'yōshū, but in the Kojiki (Records of Ancient Matters; tr Kojiki, 1969) and the Nihon shoki (Chronicle of Japan; tr Nihongi, repr 1972), the oldest Japanese books, histories of Japan dating respectively to 712 and 720. What apparently are the oldest songs are lacking in a set prosodic structure, that is, a sense of set line-lengths and poetic forms. They are usually exclamatory, declarative, or narrative in mode, or sometimes dramatic, as if they were acted out while they were being recited. The jo, or jokotoba (imagistic preface), is already a dominant technique. There seems to have been from earliest times a predilection for working into the song's subject by the roundabout path of wordplay, and elaborate structures leading up to a key word are found frequently in early verse.

This penchant for preposited imagery continued to be developed in Man'yō poetry. There is also an observable tendency to alternate shorter and longer lines, and the range of verse in the chronicles includes examples of perfectly regular tanka in the syllabic pattern of 5−7−5−7−7. There are also several old-style chōka in more or less loose alternation of long and short lines, but lacking the final 7−7 couplet of the form as it eventually came to be defined. At this point the content of the Man'yōshū begins to overlap that of the chronicles. There is no completely irregular verse, but a number of old chōka are included. Most of the chōka follow the classical form and are followed by one or more tanka as envoys (hanka). Another form found in the Man'yōshū is the sedōka. The 62 examples in the Man'yōshū are the largest surviving corpus of this form. Its syllabic pattern of 5−7−7−5−7−7 seems to be based on a repetition of the ancient “half-poem” (katauta) in 5−7−7. The over 4,000 tanka, however, are clearly the numerically dominant form of Man'yō poetry. When the chōka and sedōka fell into desuetude after the 8th century, it was the tanka that continued as the classic poetic form for centuries to come.

Chinese books began to come into Japan in the 5th century, and Buddhist scriptures followed in the 6th. Knowledge of their contents was at first limited to a tiny elite, instructed by Korean and then by Chinese masters. The Japanese quickly became aware of the high value placed in China on the composition of poetry, some skill at which was a virtual requirement for a position in the bureaucracy. As part of their own training in reading and writing Chinese, the Japanese began in the late 7th century to experiment with writing shih (J: shi), the most common form of Chinese poetry. By the mid-8th century the Nara court had developed enough literati for a collection to be made of their poems in Chinese, the Kaifūsō, whose date of 751 is eight years earlier than the last poem in the Man'yōshū. See poetry and prose in Chinese.

Efforts to write in Chinese, however, did not satisfy the literary urges of the Japanese. They wished to record a literature of their own, and the Man'yōshū was their first product. The ancient songs of the oral tradition already existed and could now be put down on paper. Moreover, at the same time that the Japanese gained literacy, their reading of Chinese poetry made them aware of poetry as an art, of literary form, mode, and point of view. It is probably from this time that the basic alternation of short and long lines in the native prosody began to regularize itself into five- and seven-syllable units, and that the set forms of the tanka, chōka, and so forth started to evolve. The basic preference for preposited forms of modification and figurative expansion remained and was further developed. Long imagistic jokotoba and one-line “pillow words” (makura kotoba) continued to be standard techniques, but their possibilities were fully realized only around the end of the 7th century. Increased use of parallelism−particularly of the pattern a-b-a゜ -b゜, where the structure of a couplet is echoed and its sense altered in a contiguous couplet (for example, “In spring the mountains / Deck themselves with blossoms // In autumn the river / spreads itself with fallen leaves”)−undoubtedly owes much to the influence of balanced contrastive structures in Chinese, both prose and poetry. This mannered style of writing had been particularly popular in China during the Six Dynasties (222−589), a period whose literary ideals are reflected in the Wenxuan (Wen-hsüan; J: Monzen; early 6th century), an anthology very influential in Japan.

Japanese poetry thus became conscious of itself as an art, developed its native techniques, and adapted foreign ones, under what can only be called a beneficent Chinese influence. Other aspects of this influence have sometimes been looked at askance as corrupting the purity of the native Japanese spirit. The kotodama, or “word-soul,” of the Japanese language speaks most truly, it is held, in the accents of true love, loyalty, and honesty. Anything more devious or roundabout would be a regrettable foreign intrusion. However, the great size and variety of the Man'yōshū represent a world of diversity and growth. Simple emotions straightforwardly expressed are certainly part of that world, but only part. The effect of a poem in which a country girl speaks of her hands being chapped by hulling rice, or a fisher boy likens his girl to a sea lentil (nanoriso), is all the greater in a total context that includes the experiments of courtiers in writing Chinese-style plum-blossom poems. The sea lentil is humble and native, the plum blossoms elegant and foreign, but in both cases the poems exploit the technique of analogy. The sea lentil poem, which also employs irony, is actually very artistic−that is, as much based on fully poetic stratagems as the plum-blossom poems, if not as self-consciously “literary.”

Pretended or “elegant” confusion (in such phrases as “Are they plum blossoms, or is it snow?”) makes its first appearance in Japanese poetry of the Man'yōshū, in the poems of Ōtomo no Tabito and his circle, in 730. This kind of elegant artfulness was to be deeply influential on the poetry of the Heian period (794−1185), but it is important to realize that the poets of the 8th century were already indulging in it. A poet like Ōtomo no Tabito leaves a very different impression than does his great predecessor Kakinomoto no Hitomaro. Hitomaro, who did most of his work in the last two decades of the 7th century, speaks with the voice of the ancient bard, perfecting the traditions of his native verse. He seems very “Japanese,” very close to the rootstock of his country's archaic essence. Tabito, by contrast, resembles more a Chinese literatus. The two were contemporaries at the end of the 7th century, but Tabito lived on, and his surviving work is from his old age. A great hinge of time seems to turn on the decades before and after the foundation of Heijōkyō (now Nara) in 710.

Content and Structure

The first 2 of the 20 books of the Man'yōshū form a pair. Each is arranged chronologically, as are many of the books, starting with poems attributed to figures of remote antiquity and coming down with poems attributed to the early 8th century. Together these two books present three of the anthology's main typological categories−zōka, sōmon, and banka. Zōka (“miscellaneous poems”), a term adopted from the Wenxuan, refers to verses that cannot be categorized as either love poems or elegies. The term sōmon, also borrowed from the Wenxuan, refers to love poems. The word implies an exchange of endearments; in practice, however, the poetry is predominantly one of longing. Banka are poems occasioned by death. The term originally referred to dirges accompanying the pulling of a funeral hearse and also derives from a category found in the Wenxuan. It is thought that, at least until Kakinomoto no Hitomaro's time at the end of the 7th century, dirges were actually sung at court funerals in Japan, and some of the Man'yō funeral songs are public elegies on the deaths of court nobles. Other banka in these books are private laments over the loss of a loved one, usually the poet's wife. As Buddhist ceremonies and music came to replace old native rites, banka declined.

Hiyuka are poems containing analogies, varying from metaphor to allegory, and dealing chiefly with the subject of love. Kibutsu (“referring to things”), a subcategory of hiyuka, is a love analogy in which the “thing” referred to functions as metaphor or extended allegory (the sea standing for love, the boat for the lover, and the oars for his driving passion). Eibutsuka (“poems on things”), a subcategory of zōka, deal descriptively or allegorically with natural phenomena.

The various volumes of the Man'yōshū are hardly of a piece. Book 5, for example, is half prose, all of it in Chinese, and is basically a collection of the writings of the circle of Ōtomo no Tabito and his friend Yamanoue no Okura, whose interest in a Chinese style in life and letters emerges strongly in the Man'yōshū. Book 16 is of special literary interest because it contains the forerunners of fictional forms combining prose and poetry and features highly informal, even comic material that relates to the later poetic genres of haikai (see haiku) and kyōka. The final four volumes, books 17 through 20, are definitely the compilation of Ōtomo no Yakamochi and form a kind of personal poetic diary.

Major Poets

The Man'yōshū is famed for its social range. There are poems by members of the imperial family and by members of the peasantry. Most of the named poets, however, are middle- or lower-ranking courtiers, and it is to them one must turn for a list of major poets.

Kakinomoto no Hitomaro is the poet whose creativity dominates the late 7th century and, in large measure, the entire tradition of Man'yō poetry. He was a courtier-official, probably of low to middling rank, whose time was likely divided between service in provincial and central bureaucracies. He is known as an author of banka, or elegies, and he perfected the techniques of the earlier poetry, the formulaic style developed from the oral tradition, the use of metaphorical, preposited, imagistic structures, the parallelism, and the long prosodic units. He created and maintained a lofty and majestic style, flexible and varied, laced through with compassionate irony, that brought to the chōka its best moments. His themes were the sadness of parting, whether in life or death, the awesomeness of the imperial institution, and the mystery of man's fate. His surviving poems total 18 chōka and 67 tanka.

Kasa no Kanamura is known to have been active from 715 to 733 and left a small body of poems largely dealing with his travels in the imperial train. Yamabe no Akahito brought to poetry an aesthetic appreciation of nature and a descriptive lyricism in the tanka, new and recognizably his own, which were in the long run more influential than Hitomaro's grandeur. Takahashi no Mushimaro was of all the Man'yō poets the most interested in local legends and in mountains. His notable poems include celebrations of Mt. Fuji, described as a living god, and the narrative account of the legend of the fisherman Urashima (Urashima Tarō). Ōtomo no Tabito was more of a personage on the political scene than most other major Man'yō poets. While serving as governor-general at Dazaifu in northern Kyūshū he presided over a poetically active circle of subordinates and acquaintances from 727 or 728 to 730. His work, primarily tanka, shows a mind attuned to the elegance of Six Dynasties prose and poetry; he was one of the earliest Japanese poets to display a consistent and dominant interest in Chinese themes and attitudes.

Yamanoue no Okura can usefully be viewed in comparison with his friend Tabito. He too left mostly the poetry of his old age. It shows him to be a crotchety, moralistic, but also humorous and loving character, with a strong sense of social outrage. Okura is the only major Man'yō poet known to have visited China. He was a member of the official embassy of 702 and returned in 707. His poetic manner is angular, personal, sometimes angry, as in his “Dialogue on Poverty.” At the same time he experimented with the hugely popular imported theme of the lover stars Altair and Vega, who can meet only once a year (see Tanabata Festival).

Ōtomo no Yakamochi was the eldest son of Tabito. One in every 10 Man'yō poems is by him and he is the leading candidate for compiler of the anthology. Yakamochi is a poet of great variety and amplitude. As a young man he acquitted himself well in the mode of amorous tanka and he also wrote chōka in the grand manner. A note of delicate sadness is apparent in his late nature poetry and he was, like his father, an early practitioner of “elegant confusion.” He also struck some of the first self-conscious notes in Japanese poetry of specifically Buddhist awareness of life's illusory character.

It is surprising to find a large number of poems in the Man'yōshū by people outside the circle of the court, in some cases people one would hardly suspect were literate. There are, for instance, the rustic poems from Azuma (northeast Japan) in book 14 and the poems (sakimori uta) in book 20 by conscripts from the northeast stationed in Kyūshū. At the lowest estimate, 1,851 poems in the anthology are, in fact, anonymous. This great mass of verse must have come from a variety of sources, written and−directly or indirectly−oral. Internal evidence, such as it is, suggests that some of this material is by courtiers and some by commoners or by courtiers writing in a commoner mode, with a very large proportion representing a kind of universal viewpoint that could be shared by both.

The Man'yō Writing System

Japan did not invent a writing system, but adapted the script of China, the first one it encountered. The Chinese writing system was not a phonetic script, such as an alphabet or syllabary, but was composed of complex graphic units representing entire words. Each graph, however, by virtue of representing a monosyllabic Chinese word, was associated with the pronunciation of that word. If meaning was discarded the character could be used to represent its sound alone. This phonetic application is known as man'yōgana. Furthermore, as Chinese graphs represented common objects and qualities, they could also be used semantically. Thus the graph for “hand” could be read as if it were the Japanese word for the same thing. A further complication was that once the semantic application of a graph was established, for example the Japanese reading te of the graph for “hand,” it could be used to write the syllable te in any other word. The consequence of this experience with graphomania was that by the 10th century when the syllabaries, or kana, had become established, poets were no longer able to read the Man'yōshū with assurance.

Decipherment and Exegesis

Although the first work on decipherment of the Man'yōshū was undertaken at imperial command in 951, the earliest complete extant manuscript of the anthology is the Nishi Honganji text in book form, which dates from the latter part of the Kamakura period (1185−1333). It was not until the Edo period (1600−1868), however, that Man'yōshū studies came into their own as one of the chief scholarly endeavors of the National Learning (Kokugaku) movement. The first important figure in Edo Man'yō studies was Shimokōbe Chōryū, whose work was carried on after his death in 1686 and completed by the priest Keichū. Man'yō daishō ki (ca 1683−90), the work he produced, is a complete commentary on the Man'yōshū, and displays great erudition and original research. The most voluminous premodern commentary on the anthology, Man'yōshū kōgi (141 vols, 1856), was written by Kamochi Masazumi. In the 20th century Man'yō studies have flourished as never before, and numerous multivolume commentaries have made the anthology ever more accessible to the reading public.

The Genryaku kōhon man'yōshū (1184), a manuscript in 20 fascicles containing fragments of the 20 volumes of the Man'yōshū, is one of the oldest extant versions of the work. National Treasure.
© Tōkyō National Museum
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1. Man'yōshū 【万葉集】画像
Encyclopedia of Japan
Another form found in the Man'yoshu is the sedoka. The 62 examples in the Man'yo ...
2. Agata no Inukai no Tachibana no Michiyo 【県犬養橘三千代】
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3. animism 【アニミズム】
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The chronicle Kojiki and the poetry anthology Man'yoshu (both 8th century) refer ...
4. Araragi 【アララギ】
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best source for poetic inspiration was the Man'yoshu, the great 8th-century anth ...
5. Arima, Prince 【有間皇子】
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execution are included in the 8th-century anthology Man'yoshu.  ...
6. asebi 【馬酔木】
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poems of the 8th-century poetry collection Man'yoshu. Many horticultural varieti ...
7. Asuka period 【飛鳥時代】
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mid-8th-century anthology of Japanese poetry Man'yoshu, seems to have developed  ...
8. Asukagawa 【飛鳥川】
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poems, including the 8th-century anthology Man'yoshu. Length: 23 km (14 mi).  ...
9. botanical gardens 【植物園】
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mentioned in the 8th-century poetry anthology Man'yoshu are cultivated. In 1983  ...
10. butterflies 【蝶】
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is found in the 8th-century poetry anthology Man'yoshu. By the mid-Heian period  ...
11. calligraphy 【書道】画像
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their native language. The poetry anthology Man'yoshu (mid-8th century), for exa ...
12. chōka 【長歌】
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was perfected by Kakinomoto no Hitomaro. The Man'yoshu (ca 759), the oldest exta ...
13. crickets 【蟋蟀】画像
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korogi are found in the 8th-century anthology Man'yoshu, although it is believed ...
14. cuckoos 【杜鵑】
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Japanese poets from the days of the 8th-century Man'yoshu to the present as a sy ...
15. early Japanese song 【古代歌謡】
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Chronicles of Japan) and the verse anthology Man'yoshu (mid-8th century). Howeve ...
16. early literature 【上代の文学】
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Nihon shoki (720, Chronicle of Japan), and the Man'yoshu (late 8th century, Coll ...
17. Edo period 【江戸時代】
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ancient Japanese texts such as the Kojiki, Man'yoshu, and Tale of Genji. The mat ...
18. fireflies 【蛍】
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numerous poems in the 8th-century anthology Man'yoshu, the hotaru is a metaphor  ...
19. firefly viewing 【蛍狩】
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verse since the 8th-century poetry collection Man'yoshu. Firefly viewing was mai ...
20. folk song 【民謡】
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The oldest anthology of Japanese verse, the Man'yoshu, contains many anonymous p ...
21. Fujitani Mitsue 【富士谷御杖】
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Matters), and Man'yoshu tomoshibi (1822), a similar study of the 8th-century Man ...
22. gulls 【鴎】
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miyakodori in the 8th-century poetry anthology Man'yoshu.  ...
23. gunka 【軍歌】
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court music repertoire, to certain songs in the Man'yoshu (completed in 759), an ...
24. Heian literature 【平安時代の文学】
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Waka (794−905) Whereas the pre-Heian anthology Man'yoshu (mid-8th century) comme ...
25. Heian period 【平安時代】
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disgrace. Although none matched the earlier Man'yoshu, anthologies of Japanese p ...
26. Hiraga Motoyoshi 【平賀元義】
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resources. A devotee of the 8th-century anthology Man'yoshu, he wrote virile, pa ...
27. hirugao 【昼顔】
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the time of the 8th-century poetry anthology Man'yoshu. See also morning glories ...
28. honkadori 【本歌取】
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device appears in the 8th-century anthology Man'yoshu, it was with Fujiwara no T ...
29. honor 【名誉】
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“name.” In the 8th-century poetic anthology Man'yoshu, Otomo no Yakamochi freque ...
30. hydrangea, Japanese 【紫陽花】
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31. Ise Shrine 【伊勢神宮】
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mentioned in the 8th-century poetry anthology, the Man'yoshu. During the 15th ce ...
32. Itō Sachio 【伊藤左千夫】画像
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critical works on tanka, and studies of the Man'yoshu. Saito Mokichi and Shimaki ...
33. Japanese language studies, history of 【国語学史】
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studies of the 8th-century poetry anthology Man'yoshu, Keichu noted many discrep ...
34. Kada no Arimaro 【荷田在満】
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style of the Shin kokinshu over that of the Man'yoshu. He wrote Kokka hachiron ( ...
35. Kada no Azumamaro 【荷田春満】
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private lectures on the Kojiki, Nihon shoki, and Man'yoshu and published works o ...
36. Kaifūsō 【懐風藻】
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was compiled in 751, before completion of the Man'yoshu (759), the oldest extant ...
37. Kakinomoto no Hitomaro 【柿本人麻呂】
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fl ca 685−705 Most important poet of the Man'yoshu, the earliest anthology of Ja ...
38. Kamo no Mabuchi 【賀茂真淵】
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ancient Japanese classics (particularly the Man'yoshu, the oldest anthology of J ...
39. Kamochi Masazumi 【鹿持雅澄】
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years' labor, he completed his chief work, the Man'yoshu kogi, a massive compila ...
40. kana 【仮名】
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+ kana) was the writing system used in the Man'yoshu, an 8th-century poetry anth ...
41. kanazukai 【仮名遣い】
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his study of the 8th-century poetry anthology Man'yoshu, Keichu discovered that, ...
42. Kasa no Kanamura 【笠金村】
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so-called third period of Man'yo poetry (see Man'yoshu), he was one of a group o ...
43. katauta 【片歌】
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Nihon shoki (720), but as the poetry anthology Man'yoshu (ca 759) includes none, ...
44. Katō Chikage 【加藤千蔭】
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works include a major commentary on the Man'yoshu, the Man'yoshu ryakuge (1796−1 ...
45. Katori Nahiko 【楫取魚彦】
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diction of the 8th-century poetry anthology Man'yoshu.  ...
46. Keichū 【契沖】
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daisho ki (ca 1683−90), a commentary on the Man'yoshu. Keichu also wrote comment ...
47. Kenshō 【顕昭】
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of poets. Kensho wrote commentaries on the Man'yoshu, Kokinshu, and other classi ...
48. Kinoshita Takafumi 【木下幸文】
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poetry collection, Sayasaya iko, is that of the Man'yoshu. “Hinkyu hyakushu,” a  ...
49. Kodai kenkyū 【古代研究】
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subjects as the 8th-century poetry anthology Man'yoshu, the Tale of Genji, and s ...
50. Kojiki 【古事記】
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from a later age. The 8th-century anthology Man'yoshu, however, includes quotati ...
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