Poetry of Japan: Fusions of cultural ideas in bygone days

Poetry of Japan: Fusions of cultural ideas in bygone days

Lee Jay Walker

Modern Tokyo Times

Yamanoue no Okura (660-733?) lived a very fascinating life. Naturally, many areas of his life remain unknown and are open to interpretation. This is based on the passages of time. Therefore, his true nationality isn’t fully known alongside many other areas of his life.

Okura visited T’ang China (Middle Kingdom) in 701 after being selected by the Yamato court. Thus he joined other people in an important embassy visit to the Middle Kingdom.

He was guided strongly by the principles of Confucianism. Thus while Buddhism, Shintoism, and Taoism also entered his world; it was the morals and ideas of Confucianism that shaped Okura.

On the pain of mourning he wrote:

As he was so young
He will not know the way;
Take this gift,
Messenger of the realm below
And bear him on your back.

His poetry focused on themes related to normal people and children. Equally, his admiration for Buddhism and Confucianism remained deep within his soul. Thus he was rather unique for focusing on ordinary people in this period.

In a poem based on realism and sorrow he wrote:

This world of ours
Is full of horror and shame
I feel yet
I cannot fly from it
For I am not a bird.

Overall, Okura was influenced by the richness of culture that flowed naturally between the Middle Kingdom and Japan. Likewise, the world of Paekche seems evident based on his likely bloodline (even if open to debate). Therefore, the unique traits of his poetry hint at the fusions that impacted his life.

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