Death in Kakinimoto No Hitomaro's Work in the 'Manyoshu'. Essay Example

Published: 2023-08-02
Death in Kakinimoto No Hitomaro's Work in the 'Manyoshu'. Essay Example
Essay type:  Analytical essays
Categories:  Poem Analysis Asia Writers
Pages: 4
Wordcount: 942 words
8 min read

The Manyoshu is a collection of Japanese poetry from the seventh and eighth centuries. The collection also referred to as the ‘Anthology of Myriad Leaves’ contains more than four thousand poems divided into twenty volumes (Vovin, 1). The poems vary in themes and texts from traveling, love poetry, religious poems, poems about sorrow, and many other areas that defined the lives of the Japanese during those periods. The texts also have different linguistic styles owing to some influences from the Chinese culture and language (Manyoshu, 1083). Among the more than 400 writers whose works are contained in the anthology, some of the significant ones include Yamanoue Okura, Otomo Yakamochi, and Kakinomoto no Hitomaro. In this essay, I want to analyze two works by Hitomaro.

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Hitomaro's work thrived between 680 and 700 AD, and by the tenth century, he had been given the title of the ‘sage of poetry’ (Manyoshu, 1085). He even became a religiously venerated figure. Hitomaro often accompanied Empress Jito in his travels across Japan, and most of his work is derived from these travels. This paper explores the theme of death as a stage of life as expressed in the poem he wrote ‘upon seeing a dead man lying on the rock on the Island of Samine in Samuki’ (Manyoshu, 1092), and another that he wrote ‘on passing the ruined capital of Omi’ (Manyoshu, 1087).

Death is juxtaposed against family and love. In the poem about the dead man in Samuki, Hitomaro feels remorse for both the dead man and his wife. He says, ‘if your wife knew/she would come and seek you out…. does she not wait for you/worrying and longing/ your beloved wife?’ Hitomaro did not know this man as demonstrated in the lines ‘If I knew your home/I would go and tell them’ (Manyoshu, 1093). Despite this, he assumes that the man had a wife. This shows how death is intertwined with love in families. He feels that the family should know that the man is dead. Maybe they will stop worrying and longing for him.

The poem about the dead man in Samuki also acts as a premonition for Hitomaro’s death. There are similarities between the things written about in this poem with the poem he wrote in his deathbed, and the other written by his wife after he died. In his poem, at his point of death, he writes, ‘Here I rest my head/Unknowing, my beloved wife/Must even now be waiting’ (Manyoshu, 1094). If the dead man in Samuki had a wife, these would have been his words too. They both died in lands that were far away from their homes. Hitomaro dies at a mountain ‘embedded in boulders’ (Hitomaro, 1094). Similarly, they discovered the body of the man ‘on a jagged bed of stones.’ The poem written by the man’s wife would be, presumably, the same one written by the wife of the dead man. She writes, ‘You for whom I wait/day after day.’ These two deaths seem parallel even though we do not have the account of the dead man and his wife.

The theme of death surfaces too in the poem about the ruined capital of Omi. As a capital, Omi was great and exalted. Hitomaro feels remorse too as he looks at it, similar to the remorse of the dead man in Samuki. In the same way that he did not know the man, he also did not know this city in ruins. However, he had heard about it, and he recounts the former image of Omi, based on what he heard. He says, ‘He ruled this realm beneath the sky/that sovereign god/… upon this spot, as I have heard’, ‘rose here, so all men say’ (Manyoshu, 1088). He mourns the death of this city the same way he mourns the dead man. Yet, he did not know either of them.

Hitomaro writes about death in a personal way. The way he talks about the dead man and the ruined city makes the reader think that he had encounters with them before. Death is written about an actual person and place. Stuart Picken contrasts this writing to Medieval Europe writings, which were usually impersonal and symbolic instead of being about real persons. Perhaps it is the realness of these deaths that make Hitomaro’s work so relatable. We can relate to the remorse of losing a loved one and the nostalgia of going back to a ruined town that once stood so great. He describes these deaths in a structural way (Stuart Picken).

Death is a natural stage of life, but one which most people do not often talk or write about. Hitomaro’s work explores death as the natural process that it is. People and places that were once great end up dying. These deaths are sad, and Hitomaro brings forth this emotion in his work. It is, however, not filled with the pain that wishes life back upon death. Instead, it acknowledges death, mourns it, and then refocuses on those left behind. The death he writes about the man in Samuki ends up being parallel to his own death. His remorse towards the dead man’s wife not being able to know that her husband died, is the same worry he has at his deathbed. However, unlike his wife and the dead man’s wife, he gets to see the dead city of Omi, ‘Now I view this site/Where once the mighty palace stood/And it is sad to see’ (Manyoshu, 1088).

Work Cited

Picken, Stuart. "Death and the Dead in Japan's Literary Classics (3/20)." THINK.IAFOR.ORG, 24 May 2019, Accessed 13 May 2020.The Manyoshu. 1969.

Vovin, Alexander. "Introduction". Introduction. Leiden, The Netherlands: Global Oriental, 2009. Web.

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Death in Kakinimoto No Hitomaro's Work in the 'Manyoshu'. Essay Example. (2023, Aug 02). Retrieved from

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