Collection of Ten Thousand Leaves

Work Name: Collection of Ten Thousand Leaves
Work Type: Poetry anthology
Date: c. 760
Movement: Asuka and Nara Literture

Collection of Ten Thousand Leaves

The Man'ysh (, Japanese pronunciation:[majo], literally "Collection of Ten Thousand Leaves", but see Name below) is the oldest extant collection of Japanese waka (poetry in Classical Japanese), compiled sometime after AD759 during the Nara period. The anthology is one of the most revered of Japan's poetic compilations. The compiler, or the last in a series of compilers, is today widely believed to be tomo no Yakamochi, although numerous other theories have been proposed. The chronologically last datable poem in the collection is from AD759 (No.4516). It contains many poems from much earlier, the bulk of the collection represents the period between AD600 and 759. The precise significance of the title is not known with certainty.

Manyoshu contains 20 volumes and more than 4,500 waka poems, and is divided into the following three genres. "Zoka" songs at banquets and trips, "Somonka" songs about love between men and women, "Banka" songs to mourn the death of people. These songs written by people of various statuses, such as the Emperor, aristocrats, junior officials, Sakimori soldiers (Sakimori songs), street performers, peasants, and Togoku folk songs (eastern songs). There are more than 2,100 waka poems of unknown author.

The collection is divided into twenty parts or books; this number was followed in most later collections. The collection contains 265 chka (long poems), 4,207 tanka (short poems), one tan-renga (short connecting poem), one bussokusekika (a poem in the form 5-7-5-7-7-7; named for the poems inscribed on the Buddha's footprints at Yakushi-ji in Nara), four kanshi (Chinese poems), and 22 Chinese prose passages. Unlike later collections, such as the Kokin Wakash, there is no preface.

The Man'ysh is widely regarded as being a particularly unique Japanese work. This does not mean that the poems and passages of the collection differed starkly from the scholarly standard (in Yakamochi's time) of Chinese literature and poetics. Certainly many entries of the Man'ysh have a continental tone, earlier poems having Confucian or Taoist themes and later poems reflecting on Buddhist teachings. Yet, the Man'ysh is singular, even in comparison with later works, in choosing primarily Ancient Japanese themes, extolling Shint virtues of forthrightness (, makoto) and virility (masuraoburi). In addition, the language of many entries of the Man'ysh exerts a powerful sentimental appeal to readers:

[T]his early collection has something of the freshness of dawn. [...] There are irregularities not tolerated later, such as hypometric lines; there are evocative place names and makurakotoba; and there are evocative exclamations such as kamo, whose appeal is genuine even if incommunicable. In other words, the collection contains the appeal of an art at its pristine source with a romantic sense of venerable age and therefore of an ideal order since lost.


The literal translation of the kanji that make up the title Man'ysh ( ) is "ten thousand leaves collection".

The principal interpretations, according to the twentieth-century scholar Sen'ichi Hisamatsu, are (i) a book that collects a great many poems, (ii) a book for all generations, and (iii) a poetry collection that uses a large volume of paper.

Of these, supporters of (i) can be further divided into (a) those who interpret the middle character as "words" (koto no ha, lit. "leaves of speech"), thus giving "ten thousand words", i.e. "many waka", including Sengaku, Shimokbe Chry, Kada no Azumamaro and Kamo no Mabuchi, and (b) those who interpret the middle character as literally referring to leaves of a tree, but as a metaphor for poems, including Ueda Akinari, Kimura Masakoto, Masayuki Okada (), Torao Suzuki, Kiyotaka Hoshikawa and Susumu Nakanishi.

Furthermore, (ii) can be divided into: (a) it was meant to express the intention that the work should last for all time (proposed by Keich, and supported by Kamochi Masazumi, Inoue Michiyasu, Yoshio Yamada, Noriyuki Kojima and Tadashi kubo); (b) it was meant to wish for long life for the emperor and empress (Shinobu Origuchi); and (c) it was meant to indicate that the collection included poems from all ages (proposed by Yamada).

(iii) was proposed by Ykichi Takeda in his Man'ysh Shinkai j (), but Takeda also accepted (ii); his theory that the title refers to the large volume of paper used in the collection has also not gained much traction among other scholars.


The collection is customarily divided into four periods. The earliest dates to prehistoric or legendary pasts, from the time of Emperor Yryaku (r.c.456 c.479) to those of the little documented Emperor Ymei (r.585587), Saimei (r.594661), and finally Tenji (r.668671) during the Taika Reforms and the time of Fujiwara no Kamatari (614669). The second period covers the end of the seventh century, coinciding with the popularity of Kakinomoto no Hitomaro, one of Japan's greatest poets. The third period spans 700 c.730 and covers the works of such poets as Yamabe no Akahito, tomo no Tabito and Yamanoue no Okura. The fourth period spans 730760 and includes the work of the last great poet of this collection, the compiler tomo no Yakamochi himself, who not only wrote many original poems but also edited, updated and refashioned an unknown number of ancient poems.


The vast majority of the poems of the Man'ysh were composed over a period of roughly a century, with scholars assigning the major poets of the collection to one or another of the four "periods" discussed above. Princess Nukata's poetry is included in that of the first period (645672), while the second period (673701) is represented by the poetry of Kakinomoto no Hitomaro, generally regarded as the greatest of Man'ysh poets and one of the most important poets in Japanese history. The third period (702729) includes the poems of Takechi no Kurohito, whom Donald Keene called "[t]he only new poet of importance" of the early part of this period, when Fujiwara no Fuhito promoted the composition of kanshi (poetry in classical Chinese). Other "third period" poets include: Yamabe no Akahito, a poet who was once paired with Hitomaro but whose reputation has suffered in modern times; Takahashi no Mushimaro, one of the last great chka poets, who recorded a number of Japanese legends such as that of Ura no Shimako; and Kasa no Kanamura, a high-ranking courtier who also composed chka but not as well as Hitomaro or Mushimaro. But the most prominent and important poets of the third period were tomo no Tabito, Yakamochi's father and the head of a poetic circle in the Dazaifu, and Tabito's friend Yamanoue no Okura, possibly an immigrant from the Korean kingdom of Paekche, whose poetry is highly idiosyncratic in both its language and subject matter and has been highly praised in modern times. Yakamochi himself was a poet of the fourth period (730759), and according to Keene he "dominated" this period. He composed the last dated poem of the anthology in 759.

Linguistic significance

In addition to its artistic merits the Man'ysh is important for using one of the earliest Japanese writing systems, the cumbersome man'ygana. Though it was not the first use of this writing system, which was also used in the earlier Kojiki (712), it was influential enough to give the writing system its name: "the kana of the Man'ysh". This system uses Chinese characters in a variety of functions: their usual logographic sense; to represent Japanese syllables phonetically; and sometimes in a combination of these functions. The use of Chinese characters to represent Japanese syllables was in fact the genesis of the modern syllabic kana writing systems, being simplified forms (hiragana) or fragments (katakana) of the man'ygana.

The collection, particularly volumes14 and 20, is also highly valued by historical linguists for the information it provides on early Old Japanese dialects.


Julius Klaproth produced some early, severely flawed translations of Man'ysh poetry. Donald Keene explained in a preface to the Nihon Gakujutsu Shink Kai edition of the Man'ysh:

One "envoy" (hanka) to a long poem was translated as early as 1834 by the celebrated German orientalist Heinrich Julius Klaproth (17831835). Klaproth, having journeyed to Siberia in pursuit of strange languages, encountered some Japanese castaways, fishermen, hardly ideal mentors for the study of 8thcentury poetry. Not surprisingly, his translation was anything but accurate.

In 1940, Columbia University Press published a translation created by a committee of Japanese scholars and revised by the English poet, Ralph Hodgson. This translation was accepted in the Japanese Translation Series of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).


In premodern Japan, officials used wooden slips or tablets of various sizes, known as mokkan, for recording memoranda, simple correspondence, and official dispatches. Three mokkan that have been excavated contain text from the Man'ysh. A mokkan excavated from an archaeological site in Kizugawa, Kyoto, contains the first 11characters of poem2205 in volume10, written in Man'ygana. It is dated between 750 and 780, and its size is 23.4 by 2.4 by 1.2cm (9.21 by 0.94 by 0.47in). Inspection with an infrared camera revealed other characters, suggesting that the mokkan was used for writing practice. Another mokkan, excavated in 1997 from the Miyamachi archaeological site in Kka, Shiga, contains poem3807 in volume16. It is dated to the middle of the 8thcentury, and is 2cm wide by 1mm thick. Lastly, a mokkan excavated at the Ishigami archaeological site in Asuka, Nara, contains the first 14characters of poem1391, in volume7, written in Man'ygana. Its size is 9.1 by 5.5 by 0.6cm (3.58 by 2.17 by 0.24in), and it is dated to the late 7thcentury, making it the oldest of the three.

Plant species cited

More than 150 species of grasses and trees are mentioned in approximately 1,500 entries of the Man'ysh. A Man'y shokubutsu-en () is a botanical garden that attempts to contain every species and variety of plant mentioned in the anthology. There are dozens of these gardens around Japan. The first Man'y shokubutsu-en opened in Kasuga Shrine in 1932.

See also

  • Kotodama
  • Umi Yukaba
  • Reiwa




Works cited

Further reading

Texts and translations
  • J.L.Pierson (1929): The Many. Translated and Annotated, Book 1. Late E.J.Brill LTD, Leyden 1929
  • The Japanese Classics Translation Committee (1940): The Manysh. One Thousand Poems Selected and Translated from the Japanese. Iwanami, Tokyo 1940
  • Kenneth Yasuda (1960): The Reed Plains. Ancient Japanese Lyrics from the Many with Interpretive Paintings by Sanko Inoue. Charles E. Tuttle Company, Tokyo 1960
  • Honda, H. H. (tr.) (1967). The Manyoshu: A New and Complete Translation. The Hokuseido Press, Tokyo.
  • Theodore De Bary: Manysh. Columbia University Press, New York 1969
  • Cranston, Edwin A. (1993). A Waka Anthology: Volume One: The Gem-Glistening Cup. Stanford University Press. ISBN978-0-8047-3157-7.
  • Kodansha (1983). "Man'yoshu". Kodansha Encyclopedia of Japan. Kodansha.
  • Nakanishi, Susumu (1985). Man'ysh Jiten (Man'ysh zen'yakuch genbun-tsuki bekkan) (paperbacked.). Tokyo: Kdansha. ISBN978-4-06-183651-8.
  • Levy, Ian Hideo (1987). The Ten Thousand Leaves: A Translation of the Man'yoshu. Japan's Premier Anthology of Classical Poetry, Volume One. Princeton University Press. ISBN978-0-691-00029-9.
  • Suga, Teruo (1991). The Man'yo-shu: a complete English translation in 57 rhythm. Japan's Premier Anthology of Classical Poetry, Volume One. Tokyo: Kanda Educational Foundation, Kanda Institute of Foreign Languages. ISBN978-4-483-00140-2., Kanda University of International Studies, Chiba City
  • Nippon Gakujutsu Shinkokai (2005). 1000 Poems From The Manyoshu: The Complete Nippon Gakujutsu Shinkokai Translation. Dover Publications. ISBN978-0-486-43959-4.
  • "Online edition of the Man'ysh" (in Japanese). University of Virginia Library Japanese Text Initiative. Archived from the original on 2006-05-19. Retrieved 2006-07-10.
  • Cranston, Edwin A. (1993). A Waka Anthology: Volume One: The Gem-Glistening Cup. Stanford University Press. ISBN978-0-8047-3157-7.
  • Nakanishi, Susumu; It, Haku; Gomi, Tomohide; Ono, Hiroshi; Inaoka, Kji; Kinoshita, Masatoshi; kubo, Tadashi; Hayashi, Tsutomu (1983). "Man'ysh" . Nihon Koten Bungaku Daijiten (in Japanese). 5. Tokyo: Iwanami Shoten. pp.554571. OCLC11917421.
  • [Manyoshu] (in Japanese) (paperbacked.). Kadokawa Shoten. 2001. ISBN978-4043574063.
  • Sugano, Ayako (2006). "78" [A Study on Costumes in the 7th and 8th Centuries Represented in 'Manyoshu': Meaning and Role Implied by Costume]. Bunka Gakuen University Bulletin (in Japanese). 37: 6776.

External links

  • Manysh from the University of Virginia Japanese Text Initiative website
  • Manuscript scans at Waseda University Library: 1709, 1858, unknown
  • Manysh Columbia University Press, Nippon Gakujutsu Shinkokai translation 1940, 1965

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