During the Heian Period (794 – 1185 AD) in Japan, poetry became a very popular art form. Two of the most significant pieces that came out of this time period were the Manyōshū and Kokinshū. The Manyōshū was the first anthology of poems ever created and the Kokinshū was the first anthology of poems ordered by imperial rule. They are not only important because they were the beginning of recorded Japanese art, but also because they greatly influenced and represented the culture and society at that time.
When the Manyōshū was created around 759 AD, Japan wanted to create their own form of literature and poetry unique to their country. Korean and Chinese masters that taught poetry from their countries inspired the Japanese to follow suit. The Manyōshū was comprised of 4,516 waka, Japanese poems, and the different styles used in order of popularity were tanka, choka, and hanka. Poems were labeled as such, based on their syllabic pattern. Within the tanka, choka, and hanka writing techniques such as makurakotoba, pillow words, were commonly used. Formulation of these different types of poems helped to not only record folk songs, but to also create writing styles and techniques that were unique Japan.
Half of the authors in the Manyōshū are unknown, and many of them ranged from emperors to merchants to soldiers to farmers, even males and females. People of any social status were allowed to compose for the Manyōshū because as long as one could compose good poetry, one was highly revered. It is also important to note that this was a private, not imperial, collection because the authors had the freedom to write about whatever they pleased. This is significant because it was very rare to have authors from different backgrounds contribute to an anthology, which in turn helped poetry flourish amongst all classes.
The Manyōshū is a twenty-book compilation and grouped based on its content. Poems in the first two books of this collection were categorized as zoka, somon, and banka. Zoka, or miscellaneous poems, had to do with themes such as nature and hunting, or anything that did not deal with love. Somon comprised of poems based on exchange of love, or a longing for someone. Banka poems dealt with death. Book five included half prose written in Chinese and in the Chinese style of writing. The last four books were written by the compiler and editor Otomo no Yakamochi. Overall, the majority of the poems in this piece were about love and the male-female relationship and their feelings of the moment. These are just a few descriptions of the variety in this collection that helped start the popularity of composing poems because it eventually lead to courtship amongst wide ranges of people from all classes.
The Kokinshū was compiled in 905 AD and ordered by Emperor Daigo. He wanted to refine Japanese art so that they could be comparable to China. As mentioned before, this was also the first collection made by imperial request. The Kokinshū...