Poetry of Japan in bygone days and rich linkage with Northeast Asia

Poetry of Japan in bygone days and rich linkage with Northeast Asia

Lee Jay Walker

Modern Tokyo Times

The life of Yamanoue no Okura (660-733?) is extremely fascinating. Hence, while many areas of his life remain shrouded in mystery based on the passages of time, the richness of culture emanating from Northeast Asia is strongly felt. Thus the influence of Paekche (Baekje), the Middle Kingdom (China), and Japan is felt strongly when reading the poetry of Okura.

Okura was a loyal servant of Japan despite his family background being shrouded in mystery. This is witnessed by his visit to T’ang China (Middle Kingdom) in 701, after being selected by the Yamato court. Hence he joined other people in an important embassy visit to the Middle Kingdom.

Okura is known for his firm attachment to the moral principles of Confucianism. Thus ideas emanating from Buddhism, Confucianism, Shintoism, and Taoism all enriched him. However, it was the morals of Confucianism that especially appealed to 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.

Okura’s poetry focused on themes related to ordinary people and children. Hence his admiration of Buddhism and Confucianism remained deep within his soul. Thus he attached himself to themes that concerned the masses. In this sense, he was rather unique because most individuals linked to high culture neglected ordinary people.

He wrote morosely:

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

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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