Prince Otsu and 7th century Japanese poetry: Death awaits

Prince Ōtsu and 7th century Japanese poetry: Death awaits

Lee Jay Walker

Modern Tokyo Times

Prince Ōtsu (663-686) enjoyed the trappings of beauty, culture, prestige, and other important things throughout his early life. It appeared that an esteemed future awaited him. However, similar to other cultures in this period, internal family and political intrigues would result in his early death. 

His world was turned upside down in 686. This concerns the death of his father, Emperor Tenmu (686). Hence, Prince Ōtsu soon understood that evil would enter his world after being accused of treachery.

Knowing that death awaited, Prince Ōtsu wrote a death poem. These poems are called jisei (farewell poems to life). His death poem is one of the earliest to survive. Therefore, you can glimpse part of his mind and worldview on the fateful day of his enforced death. 

He wrote:

Today, taking my last sight of the mallards
Crying on the pond of Iware,
Must I vanish into the clouds!

Hence, a sense of serenity abounds in this sad – but charming – poem. Prince Ōtsu was innocent of any false and improper charges of treachery and rebellion. Thus his final words of calmness highlight an individual who was prepared for death.

Internally, he likely felt anger, fear, hatred, sorrow – and other emotions. After all, he had a son and Prince Consort to worry about – knowing the world of intrigues. 

I write in another article, “Sadly, his consort killed herself immediately after Ōtsu was taken from this cold earth. Therefore, one can only imagine the tormented souls of Ōtsu and his consort in their final seconds of life.”

Hence, seeing the “last sight of the mallards” – was equally seeing the last sight of the people he cherished within his mindset during his last seconds on this earth.

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