Japan scholar and poet Abe no Nakamaro (698-770) and China

Japan scholar and poet Abe no Nakamaro (698-770) and China

Lee Jay Walker

Modern Tokyo Times

The Japanese scholar and poet Abe no Nakamaro (698-770) belongs to a period when Chinese influence was extremely potent in Japan and further afield. Hence, the Middle Kingdom (China) – similar to Muslims seeking out Mecca or Christians going on pilgrimage to Jerusalem (sacred to all Abrahamic faiths) – was a land of fascination for Nakamaro and so many others.

Nakamaro excelled in the world of academia. Thus, Nakamaro – and other important scholars – served Japan during important missions to China. This includes Genbo, Kibi no Makibi, and other highly educated individuals. 

However, Nakamaro never envisaged that he would never see his native Japan after visiting China. Hence, he wrote poetry concerning his sadness and yearning to return to Japan – despite adoring Chinese high culture. 

The MET Museum highlights one lovely poem of lament by Nakamaro. He wrote:

It might be the moon that shone  
above Mount Mikasa in Nara  
that I see in this faraway land  
when now I look  
across the vast fields of the stars.

Court officials from Japan, Buddhist monks, diplomats, engineers, merchants, scholars, and others visited China on important missions. The lore of the Middle Kingdom was extremely potent concerning high culture, trade, and an array of important factors. 

The Tang Dynasty enriched Nakamaro – despite his longing to return to his native land that became ill-fated. Ultimately, despite trying to return to Japan, he would pass away in China. 

He met esteemed Chinese individuals. This includes Li Bai, Chu Guangxi, Zhao Hua, Wang Wei, and Bao Xin. Equally, one can only imagine the impact of architecture, Buddhist compounds, and new philosophical ideas that impacted his worldview. However, the love of his native land never left his heart and soul. 

He wrote:

When I look up into the vast sky tonight,
is it the same moon I saw rising
from behind Mt. Mikasa at Kasuga Shrine
all those years ago?

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