The Manyoshu (meaning the "collection to be handed down throughout ten thousand eras" or the "collection of ten thousand leaves") is known as the oldest existing collection of Japanese poetry and was compiled during the Nara period. This anthology is highly revered in Japan because of this and contains some 4,500 poems spread among 20 volumes. The collection contains 265 choka (long poems), 4,207 tanka (short poems), one tanrenga (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(Man'yōshū). Of particular note is that unlike later anthologies, the Manyoshu does not have a preface and included poems from common people as well as nobles and royalty. Of the 400 identified authors Otomo no Yakamochi stands out as the last great poet that not only added many of his own poems to the collection but also edited and compiled them as well.
The role of the Manyoshu at the time was to differentiate Japanese poetry from Chinese poetry by striking out away from the traditional Chinese method. Many entries of the Manyoshu still had Chinese based Confucian, Taoist, or even Buddhist roots, but as a whole had a mainly ancient Japanese theme leaning towards Japanese based Shinto. It is because of this that it stands out as a Japanese piece of literature showing the transition from Chinese literature to become something original.
Not only did it have an impact on Literature but it also was of great importance in changing the Japanese writing system, being composed in manyogana. Though manyogana was used earlier, it wasn’t until Manyoshu that it became influential enough to get its name. This system used Chinese character to represent Japanese syllables phonetically rather than by their meaning. This use led to the creation of the modern kana writing system used today.
As I mentioned earlier another key difference that sets apart the Manyoshu from other works is the inclusion of poems from commoners. The Manyoshu is exceptional in the number of poems composed outside of court, whether by frontier guards or persons of humble occupation. Some of these poems may have even been written by courtiers in the guise of commoners, but the use of dialect and familiar imagery contrasts with the strict poetic diction imposed during the 10th century. The diversity of themes and poetic forms also distinguishes the Manyoshu from the more polished but narrower verse of later times such as its successor the Kokinshu (The significance of the Man'yoshu). This gave the anthology, as a whole, a more general feel when it came to being a Japanese piece of literature as is had not only the voice of the common folk, but spanned to the royalty as well. Because of this the Manyoshu can be interpreted as representing all walks of Japanese lifestyle at that time also making it very meaningful to commoner and noble alike. With this the Manyoshu really captured the heart of all...