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Continuing to mourn the passing of Emperor Tenji.




Two poems from the time the Emperor was interred at the temporary mortuary.

如是有乃 <懐>知勢婆 大御船 泊之登萬里人 標結麻思乎            [額田王]

かからむと  かねてしりせば  おほみふね  はてしとまりに  しめゆはましを

If only I had known before

That it would be like this

I’d circumscribe the harbor

Where your royal barge had docked!

Princess Nukata


八隅知之 吾期大王乃 大御船 待可将戀 四賀乃辛埼        [舎人吉年]

やすみしし  わごおほきみの  おほみふね  まちかこふらむ  しがのからさき

Do you wait in yearning

Shiga’s Karasaki

For the royal barge

Of my well-rested lord?

— Toneri no Yoshitoshi (?)

Read on for details.

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Moving right along the elegies for Emperor Tenji in the Manyoshu (MYS). We looked at #147 and #148 in previous posts. Today, #149 and #150. Continue reading for the full translation and analysis.

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Continuing with Manyoshu banka. In the last post we looked at poem #147, and now on to #148. There’s some controversy about this poem, specifically about the headnote. It seems that it doesn’t quite fit with the poem.

The headnote reads:


According to one source, poem composed by the Empress after the Omi Emperor’s (Emp. Tenchi/Tenji) affliction turned critical.

The poem:

青旗(あおはた)の 木幡(こはた)の上を 通(かよ)ふとは  目には見れども 直(ただ)に逢(あ)はぬかも

My eyes watch you come and go above green-bannered Kohata

Yet we will not meet face to face!

The controversy stems from the observation that if the Empress can see Emp. Tenji’s spirit hovering above Kohata, then to call his situation ‘critical’ is a bit of an understatement. The man is dead. However, in his study of Japanese ritual poetry, Gary Ebersole (history professor at UMKC) suggests that it might well belong here. This is  because in ancient Japan death was not considered to be instant, but a rather drawn out affair, complete only when the spirit cannot be ‘coaxed’ back into the body.

Who knows. At any rate, here’s the breakdown:

青旗(あおはた) is a makura-kotoba for 木幡(こはた), in modern day Yamashina-ku in Kyoto, where Emp. Tenji is entombed. Literally, it means green-or blue-banner. I picture it referring to treetops on a mountain.

見れども is izenkei of みる + ども, which is a concessive, meaning “although.”

逢(あ)はぬかも mizenkei of あふ + rentaikei of negative ず + かも, which is a Nara-period exclamation particle.

There is a kind of reoccurring image of deceased spirits hovering above the ground. So it would seem that Emp. Tenji’s spirit was on his way out.

Stay tuned for #149!

Manyoshu (万葉集) is the earliest extant Japanese poetry collection, dating to the 8th century, although the poems themselves vary chronologically from the 4th to the 7th centuries. It is divided into 20 books, but I will be focusing on a collection of banka (挽歌), or elegies, from Book 2. Poems 147- 155 are believed to have been composed during the period of Emperor Tenji’s (r. 662-671) illness and death by women who were intimate with him.

Read the rest of the post for analysis.

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