Man'yōshū Criticism - Essay

W. G. Aston (essay date 1899)

(Poetry Criticism)

SOURCE: Aston, W. G. “Japanese Poetry Generally—The ‘Manyōshiu’—Works in Chinese.” In A History of Japanese Literature, pp. 24-52. New York: D. Appleton and Company, 1899.

[In the following excerpt from his survey of Japanese literature, Aston summarizes the principal characteristics of the Man'yōshū and offers several translated examples of the poetry it contains.]


While the eighth century has left us little or no [Japanese] prose literature of importance, it was emphatically the golden age of poetry. Japan had now outgrown the artless effusions … [of a previous era], and during this period produced a body...

(The entire section is 2325 words.)

Eric B. Ceadel (essay date 1953)

(Poetry Criticism)

SOURCE: Ceadel, Eric B. “Japanese Literature.” In Literature of the East, An Appreciation, edited by Eric B. Ceadel, pp. 161-88. London: John Murray (Publishers) Ltd., 1953.

[In the following excerpt, Ceadel comments on the distinctive qualities of the long and short poems in the Man'yōshū.]

… The waka is a poem consisting of a succession of pairs of five-syllabled and seven-syllabled lines, the end of the poem being marked by an extra line of seven syllables. This alternation between lines of five syllables and lines of seven syllables was virtually the only technical requirement, and such factors as rhyme, stress, rhythmical feet, and so on, which are...

(The entire section is 1202 words.)

Edward Putzar (essay date 1973)

(Poetry Criticism)

SOURCE: Putzar, Edward. “The Man'yōshū.” In Japanese Literature: A Historical Outline, pp. 27-35. Tucson: University of Arizona Press, 1973.

[In the following excerpt, Putzar traces the development of the Man'yōshū over four periods ranging from 629 to 759 and surveys the collection's principal poetic contributors.]


The twenty scrolls of the Man'yōshū record approximately 4,500 poems. In addition to the dominant forms of chōka and waka there are sixty-two sedōka, one poem in the Buddha's footprint-stone poems form (bussokuseki katai), and one linked verse...

(The entire section is 4004 words.)

Roy E. Teele (essay date October 1976)

(Poetry Criticism)

SOURCE: Teele, Roy E. “Speculations on the Critical Principles Underlying the Editing of the Man'yōshū.Tamkang Review 7, no. 2 (October 1976): 1-15.

[In the following essay, Teele studies the structure of the Man'yōshū, submitting an outline of its contents and offering insights into its editorial organization under Ōtomo Yakamochi and others.]

On New Year's Day in 759 Otomo no Yakamochi wrote this hopeful poem:

Once again          the New Year's beginning:          the first of spring's
Today, and the falling snow's          density foreshadows good things.

Assigned to the governorship of the province of Inaba,...

(The entire section is 5567 words.)

Harold Wright (essay date 1979)

(Poetry Criticism)

SOURCE: Wright, Harold. Introduction to Ten Thousand Leaves: Love Poems from the ‘Manyōshū,’ translated by Harold Wright, pp. 7-11. Boulder, Colo.: Shambhala Publications, 1979.

[In the following excerpt, Wright considers love themes in the context of seventh- and eighth-century Japanese poetry.]

The Manyōshū “needs no apologies,” Donald Keene writes in the introduction to his Anthology of Japanese Literature. “It is one of the world's great collections of poetry.”1 The title of this outstanding work, Manyōshū, translates literally as “A Collection of Ten Thousand Leaves,” but through implication Manyōshū...

(The entire section is 1431 words.)

Roy Andrew Miller (essay date summer 1981)

(Poetry Criticism)

SOURCE: Miller, Roy Andrew. “The Lost Poetic Sequence of the Priest Manzei.” Monumenta Nipponica: Studies in Japanese Culture 36, no. 2 (summer 1981): 133-72.

[In the following excerpt, Miller probes the editorial reconstruction of the Man'yōshū over the centuries, examining the myriad ways in which the anthology has been rearranged by focusing on an author of seven Old Japanese poems in the collection, Kasa Maro, better known as the Priest Manzei.]

We still understand very little—and we know far less than we would like to—about the ways in which the Man'yōshū was originally put together.1 That the overriding motivation for the...

(The entire section is 8777 words.)

Jin'ichi Konishi (essay date 1984)

(Poetry Criticism)

SOURCE: Konishi, Jin'ichi. “Waka Composition.” In A History of Japanese Literature, Volume One: The Archaic and Ancient Ages, translated by Aileen Gatten and Nicholas Teele, edited by Earl Miner, pp. 393-417. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1984.

[In the following excerpt, Konishi discusses the prevailing style of lyric composition in the Man'yōshū, emphasizing individualistic expression and technical innovation.]


[Kakinomoto] Hitomaro's chief intent was to use contact with the advances of Chinese civilization to give him personal insight into the indigenous Yamato [or, early central Japanese]...

(The entire section is 8921 words.)

Donald Keene (essay date 1988)

(Poetry Criticism)

SOURCE: Keene, Donald. “The Uses of Japanese Poetry.” In The Pleasures of Japanese Literature, pp. 45-70. New York: Columbia University Press, 1988.

[In the following excerpt, Keene concentrates on the eulogies of Hitomaro and Okaru's “Dialogue on Poverty” as representative works within the Man'yōshū.]

… About fifty years after the compilation of the Kojiki the greatest collection of Japanese poetry, the Man'yōshū, was put into more or less its present shape. It is almost inconceivable that Japanese poetry could have evolved so rapidly. Many poems in the Man'yōshū were in fact composed well before the presentation of the...

(The entire section is 2152 words.)

J. Thomas Rimer (essay date 1988)

(Poetry Criticism)

SOURCE: Rimer, J. Thomas. “The Anthology of Ten Thousand Leaves: Man'yōshū.” In A Reader's Guide to Japanese Literature, pp. 24-27. Tokyo: Kodansha International, 1988.

[In the following essay, Rimer briefly encapsulates the Man'yōshū, calling it “the first extensive record of the Japanese emotional response to the world of men and nature.”]

The Man'yōshū, the title of which might be translated as “The Anthology of Ten Thousand Leaves” or “An Anthology of Myriad Leaves,” is the first great collection of Japanese poetry. For some Japanese readers and critics it remains the very best. Compiled sometime during the latter part of...

(The entire section is 1087 words.)

Angela Yiu (essay date November 1989)

(Poetry Criticism)

SOURCE: Yiu, Angela. “The Category of Metaphorical Poems (Hiyuka) in the Man'yōshū: Its Characteristics and Chinese Origins.” Journal of the Association of Teachers of Japanese 23, no. 2 (November 1989): 7-33.

[In the following essay, Yiu classifies and analyzes hiyuka poetry as found in the Man'yōshū, defining such works as highly metaphorical poems of Chinese origin but removed from their political dimension.]


Hiyuka (metaphorical poems) as a category appears in the Man'yôshû and disappears altogether in later anthologies. Its existence raises interesting questions concerning...

(The entire section is 10510 words.)

Donald Keene (essay date 1994)

(Poetry Criticism)

SOURCE: Keene, Donald. “The Man'yōshū and Kokinshū Collections.” In Masterworks of Asian Literature in Comparative Perspective: A Guide for Teaching, edited by Barbara Stoler Miller, pp. 363-77. Armonk, N.Y.: M. E. Sharpe, 1994.

[In the following excerpt, Keene elucidates the principal features of the Man'yōshū, including its incorporation of Chinese poetic techniques together with an aversion to Chinese words, and compares the reputations of the anthology's major contributors.]


The Man'yōshū is the first, and in the opinion of most scholars of Japanese literature, the greatest...

(The entire section is 3275 words.)

Norio Haga (essay date July 1999)

(Poetry Criticism)

SOURCE: Haga, Norio. “The Poetic Style of Yamanoue no Okura: With Reference to His Elegy on the Death of Furuhi.” Acta Asiatica: Bulletin of the Institute of Eastern Culture, no. 77 (July 1999): 50-73.

[In the following essay, Haga attributes three Man'yōshū elegies to a lost child to Yamanoue no Okura, and analyzes these verses in conjunction with others by Okura on similar themes.]



What worth to me the seven treasures,
So prized and desired by all the world?
Furuhi, born of us two,
Our love, our dear white...

(The entire section is 8976 words.)

Shu Kugé (essay date December 2001)

(Poetry Criticism)

SOURCE: Kugé, Shu. “Addressing a Dead Body: From Dedication to Tele-Community.” Mosaic 34, no. 4. (December 2001): 183-98.

[In the following essay, Kugé analyzes a poem by Kakinomoto no Hitomaro (Man'yōshū no. 358) on the subject of communing with the dead.]


What does it mean to dedicate a poem to a dead body? What compels a poet to compose a poem for a corpse? A dead body's presence is haunting. Its being-there does not produce “knowledge” but a distance, both material and imaginary, which exposes us to the limit of knowledge and simultaneously to the experience of finitude. Weaving this sense of mortality...

(The entire section is 6124 words.)