Chuo Online

  • Top
  • Opinion
  • Research
  • Education
  • People
  • RSS

Top>Research>Middle Age Manyo Texts Passing Down and Significance


Takehiro Iwashita

Takehiro Iwashita [Profi;e]

Education Cource

Middle Age Manyo Texts

Passing Down and Significance

Takehiro Iwashita
Professor of Japanese Literature, Faculty of Letters, Chuo University

1 Attempting to clarify the passing down of Manyoshu 万葉集

This year marks the 1300th anniversary of the capital being moved to Nara in 710, and with many events planned, the ancient capital is buzzing with many visitors. With Manyoshu 万葉集 said to have been put together in the late 8th century, the Nara Period can also said to be the Manyo Period. As a collection of lyrical poetry, the size (over 4500 long and short poems) and early period makes it a leading cultural asset worldwide. The compilation is centered on works by Otomo no Yakamochi, but unfortunately, the original texts were not passed down. In the more than 1200 years since its compilation, many people have copied the works by hand, and a few of those copies remain, passing on the atmosphere of the Nara period.

Attempts to clarify that passing down had already started in the 12th century at the end of the Heian Period. By comparing passed down Manyoshu 万葉集 poems in a manuscript titled, Texts of Genryaku, and notes from a collated colophon in 1184 , clues to changes from the original texts dating back to the Nara Period have been left. But, one third of Texts of Genryaku has been lost, and doesn't paint the whole picture.

Attempts continued, and 13th century priest, Sengaku, made collation attempts on several occasions. One of the results of his work is Nishi-Honganjibon, the oldest manuscript totaling 20 volumes and is currently the most basic text today for reading Manyoshu 万葉集.

In recent times, the Mito-Tokugawake compiled Four Point Manyoshu 万葉集, and more recently, Nobutsuna Sasaki's, Manyoshu 万葉集 Texts (first printing 1924), have painted a rough picture of the passing down of Manyoshu 万葉集 in modern times. Until then, the limits of Kanei era printing, popularized as standard texts, became clear, and by drawing nearer to the original Nara Period scripts, the value of Nishi-Honganjibon has been confirmed through this work. Manyoshu 万葉集 Texts has since continued to be enlarged, and in the latest edition, a facsimile addition and reproduction of the complete set of non-Sengaku manuscripts, Hirose-hon has been added. Furthermore, with results of the latest collation, Nobuyuki Sakamoto has created an electronic Manyoshu 万葉集 Collation Database, making searches even more convenient.

2 The significance of confirming the passing down of Manyoshu 万葉集

Confirming the passing down of Manyoshu 万葉集 is a vital operation in approaching the original text from the Nara Period, and the construction of the database will help realize this. But another meaning of confirming the passing down of Manyoshu 万葉集 is to objectify our own reading of Manyoshu 万葉集, and put us in our position in the 1200 years of continuing research and enjoyment of Manyoshu 万葉集.

From that point of view, the attempts we have made so far are not enough. Our attempts in confirming the roots of Manyoshu 万葉集 so far have been entirely focused on "How can we get close to the original texts of the Nara Period?" That may be the most important point, and without it there may be no meaning in thinking about the beginnings of Manyoshu 万葉集 but, it may have led to us overlooking some areas.

I noticed this when I came across Torao Shibuya's Middle Age Manyoshu 万葉集 Research (1967), and Old Literary Collection of Manyoshu 万葉集 Poems (1982-1988). The significance of Shibuya's work is that he hasn't only used copied manuscripts of original Manyoshu 万葉集, he extended his range to songs that had been influenced by Manyoshu 万葉集, trying to confirm the wider influence of Manyoshu 万葉集 on future generations. With that, the significance of Manyoshu 万葉集 written in kana, which had been overlooked, was reexamined, opening a new avenue of thought in the history of the passing down of Manyoshu 万葉集.

Indeed, when realizing and reexamining this, it must be said that there is no evidence that there was no research from this standpoint beforehand. For example, Nobutsuna Sasaki, in The Complete Chronology of Manyoshu 万葉集 (1947), writes in detail about the roots of Manyoshu 万葉集, as well as historical pleasures such as transcription of manuscripts and works that were influenced by Manyoshu 万葉集, serving as a reference for the time.

From that viewpoint, Shibuya's achievements can be seen in the thoroughness of future poems that come from the ancient to middle ages.

3 Changing viewpoints of the passing down of Manyoshu 万葉集

Being guided by those past scholars, I, myself, became interested in the passing down of middle age Manyoshu 万葉集 15 to 16 years ago. To be precise, joint research at the National Institute of Japanese Literature from 1993 to 1996 got me started. By conducting general research of Sanetaka Sanjonishi's handwritten book Ichiyosho, stored at the institute at the time, I had the valuable experience of directly experiencing a middle age Manyoshu 万葉集 text written in kana. At the same time, I realized the importance of middle age Manyoshu 万葉集 texts written in kana.

While proceeding with the previously mentioned revisions of Sengaku's Manyoshu 万葉集, I also tried putting it into the kun reading. In the same manner as the comparisons, attempting kun reading was a delicate process, becoming the basis for kun reading Manyoshu 万葉集 today. But because of that, we no longer look back in the past in research of middle age Manyoshu 万葉集 other than Sengaku. I was made aware of that point.

Personally, when looking at Manyoshu 万葉集, I examine old Heian Period manuscripts and the post-Sengaku Nishi-Honganjibin, and books from that line, paying little attention to other post-middle age kana written texts. I have a feeling somewhere that makes me distrust anything other than the original kanji text. But, when I think about it, it is doubtful to how much contact they, who were used to kana from the Heian Period onwards, had with Manyoshu 万葉集 written in kanji. Rather, they probably came in contact with kana written Manyoshu 万葉集. It is because of those people, who copied, copied and passed down, that we can read Manyoshu 万葉集 today.

If that is the case, we should be asking the question of what we can read into from kana written texts. I finally realized that point.

4 he middle ages, an historical era in the passing down of Manyoshu 万葉集

In realizing this, in terms of passing down Manyoshu 万葉集, the middle ages were a virtually untouched rich field. Through the achievements of the previously mentioned Torao Shibuya, basic materials have been put together, but little progress has been made since then. Furthermore, with the completion of Japanese Poetry Overview New Edition and such books as An Outline of Poetry Literature and The Complete Private Edition of Poems, we have seen the publication of a new type of text critique, and with the publication of The Reisen Shigure Pavilion Series, we have found new material and are at the stage where we must review even Shibuya's work.

And, in the likes of Eigu Hitomaro, where the study of middle age poetry involves customs and the enjoyment of Manyoshu 万葉集, and not just the composition of songs and verse linking, our sights have been spread to the whole of middle age literature, and in confirming the passing down and influences of Manyoshu 万葉集, we can possibly confirm the differences in middle age classics research and how they were enjoyed, from what we know now.

I have started working along that line of thinking, and while it is easy to say so, when I actually started, I encountered limitless paths, and didn't know which route to take in the beginning. For the time being, I started with a reexamination of Shibuya's Original Ichiyosho but, although my ideas expanded on going over the Ichiyosho line of books, replacing the original and adding in visual data for a future database, the road ahead is still long.

But, on the other hand, while Ichiyosho in itself may be valuable as research material, by making inferences from its existence when considering the extent and depth of Manyoshu 万葉集 research and enjoyment, I firmly believe that this theme takes on a dimension involving middle age literature as a whole.

5 Research of middle age Manyoshu 万葉集 and enjoyment of Manyoshu 万葉集 today

From the viewpoints I have stated, when thinking about the passing down of middle age Manyoshu 万葉集, while the study of tanka may be traditionally based on a range of aspects from the Collection of Ancient and Modern Japanese Poetry, the focal point of the aspects of Manyoshu 万葉集 research and enjoyment in the form of the history in which I have independently created, shines a light on a new area of Manyoshu 万葉集 research and enjoyment.

Also, in this way, by reconfirming the extent and depth of middle age Manyoshu 万葉集 research and enjoyment, methodical criticism of middle age classics research can take root, leading to a reexamination of the foundations of early-modern times Japanese classical literature. And there, while traditions of Japanese classical literature continue to be handed down, we are facing a watershed moment in modern Japanese literature, namely, the need to reexamine the way we research the classics.

The road ahead may be long, but I think it is a study worth following.

Takehiro Iwashita
Professor of Japanese Literature, Faculty of Letters, Chuo University
Born in 1946 in Kumamoto Prefecture. Graduated from Department of Japanese Literature, Faculty of Letters, University of Tokyo in 1971. Obtained his Master's degree from Graduate School of Humanities and Sociology, University of Tokyo in 1974. Assistant at the National Institute of Japanese Literature in 1974, and after working as a full-time lecturer at the Faculty of Economics at Nagoya Gakuin University, and full-time lecturer, assistant professor and professor at Tokyo Woman's Christian University's Faculty of Humanities and Sciences, became a professor of Faculty of Letters, Chuo University in April 1995.