Wednesday, May 25, 2016

"The hour is coming" - Poetry Composing Tradition of Japan

The Tokyo Station

Poetry Composing Tradition of Japan

From the middle of the seventh century to the middle of the eighth century, a project to compile poetry books was carried out in Japan, collecting poets created by people in various classes such as farmers to imperial house members.  This series of poetry books, called the Manyoshu, consists of 20 volumes including total 4500 poets. 
The Man'yōshū (literally "Collection of Ten Thousand Leaves", but see Name below) is the oldest existing collection of Japanese poetry, compiled sometime after 759 AD during the Nara period. The anthology is one of the most revered of Japan's poetic compilations. The compiler, or the last in a series of compilers, is today widely believed to be Ōtomo no Yakamochi, although numerous other theories have been proposed. 
The collection is divided into twenty parts or books; this number was followed in most later collections. The collection contains 265 chōka (long poems), 4,207 tanka (short poems), one tan-renga (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. Unlike later collections, such as the Kokin Wakashū, there is no preface.
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 was not the first use of this writing system, which was also used in the earlier Kojiki (712), it was influential enough to give the writing system its name: "the kana of the Man'yōshū". This system uses Chinese characters in a variety of functions: their usual logographic sense; to represent Japanese syllables phonetically; and sometimes in a combination of these functions. The 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.
The Manyoshu is the oldest and largest collection of poetry in the world.  It is unique in that it includes poetry created not only by emperors and noble people but also by local farmers.  It shows a higher cultural standard in Japan before the eighth century.  It also tells that people were regarded as equal in the art of poetry in Japan in the eighth century.

One of the best poems in the Manyoshu is:
Tago-no-ura-yu uchidete-mireba mashiro-nizo,
fuji-no-takane-ni yuki-wa-furikeru

Stepping out to the Tago beach,
I can see the white high summit of Mt. Fuji,
with on the top snow just falling.

This was composed by Yamabeno Akahito who was an official travelling through a Pacific Ocean coast around Mt. Fuji in the eighth century.

Though letters used to write each poem in the Manyoshu were not Japanese unique kana letters but kanji characters imported from China, it is very rare in the world that not only noble men but also local farmers enjoyed composing poems for 1200 years.  This is one of unique aspects of the Japanese culture.

This tradition of composing poems developed to the art of poetry creation, call kado (the way of poet), that was established around 10th century.  Since then, composing poetry has been one of main arts in the Japanese society.  Even today, at the beginning of each year, the Emperor hosted a poetry party in the imperial palace in Tokyo.

Especially, the precedent emperor, called Showa Emperor, created 10,000 Japanese poems in his 88-year-long life.

There is one poem Showa Emperor (Hirohito) delivered on August 15, 1945, when the Imperial Japan surrendered to the US, which put an end to WWII.

Mi-wa-ikani narutomo-ikusa todomekeri,
tada-tafureyuku tami-o-omoite

No matter what I might become,
I have stopped this long war
Only for falling people I sorrow for.

No matter what role Showa Emperor played for the Pearl Harbor Attack in December 1941, he made his full efforts to stop the war against the US after the atomic bomb attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August 1945.

Therefore, Hirohito had been emperor of Japan from 1926 to 1989 (in the era of Showa in Japan) through the Second World War, while delivering 10,000 Japanese short poems, though only 900 of his poems have been made public so far as now.

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Joh 5:25 Verily, verily, I say unto you, The hour is coming, and now is, when the dead shall hear the voice of the Son of God: and they that hear shall live.