Man’yoshu Vs. Kokinshu And Their Significance

1260 words - 5 pages

The Man’yōshū and the Kokinshū are perhaps among the most revered and earliest collections of Japanese poetry. The Man’yōshū, meaning “Collection of Ten Thousand Leaves (or Generations),” is believed to be compiled by the poet Ōtomo no Yakamochi sometime after AD 759 during the Nara Period. It contains over 4,000 poems, mostly tanka, that date before the end of the eighth century, and the writings are somewhat divided chronologically into four periods. Almost two centuries later, the Kokin waka shū or Kokinshū, meaning “Collection of Poems Ancient and Modern,” was compiled under the imperial command of Emperor Daigo in AD 905 during the Heian Period by several well-known poets like Ki no Tsurayuki. Unlike the Man’yōshū, the Kokinshū’s 1,111 poems are arranged by theme into 20 books, the majority of them dealing with the four seasons and love. Although the Man’yōshū and the Kokinshū differed in authors, poetic style, and writing style, both anthologies proved to be very significant in distinguishing the developing society of Japan from the powerful and influential nation of China.
Unlike the Kokinshū, the Man’yōshū contained the works of poets from a wide spectrum of social backgrounds¬–peasants, low and middle class citizens, stately court men, and even individuals from the royal family–even though the very aristocratic poet Ōtomo no Yakamochi supposedly compiled it. While the authors of nearly 2,000 poems remain anonymous, poets such as Princess Nukata, the low-ranking court member Kakinomoto no Hitomaro, and the well-known poet Yamanoue no Okura are but a few of the most important poets whose works are found in the Man’yōshū. The Kokinshū, however, was compiled by individuals of high statuses and only contained the poetry of those in the Japanese court, perhaps to maintain a high level of artistic and poetic value. Among these great writers was one of the Kokinshū’s compilers, Ki no Tsurayuki, who was responsible for beautifully composing the kanojo, meaning “Kana Preface.” This important preface was one of the first official critiques of Japanese poetry as he analyzed and commented on the works of famous poets, explored the mythological history of poetry, and called for the return of artful writing as he wrote, “Because people nowadays value outward show and turn their minds toward frivolity, poems are mere empty verses and trivial words” (McCullough, 5). In addition, the Kokinshū also contains the manajo, or Chinese preface, which served as a political statement to China about the recognition of Japanese poetry as its own. The Man’yōshū, on the other hand, though it had many concluding envoys for its poetry, did not have a preface written by its compilers or poets.
The Man’yōshū and the Kokinshū also had different poetic forms, styles, and themes. While the majority of waka in both collections were tanka (short poems), the Man’yōshū contained much more chōka (long poems) and sedōka (head-repeated poems) than the Kokinshū, which only...

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