Manyoshu poems and other legacies of Asuka

Japan’s current culture found its roots in the cultural design of the Asuka era. During this period great structures and sculptures in what is referred to as Asuka style were erected.

What we must make of ancient Asuka’s culture is to be gleaned from the architectural remains of Asuka’s many temples including the Asukadera temple, Horyuji temple in Ikaruga, and that of Yamadadera Kairou.

Built by Soga no Umako in 588, Asukadera is known to be Japan’s first official temple.  The magnificent temple remains, lay claims to be one of Japan’s oldest temples, housing the bronze Buddha statue of the Asuka Daibutsu. A great temple, covering 200 meters on one side, it is known that Korean workmen from Paekche (Kudara in Japanese) were engaged for its construction.


Almost all of the works of art that remain from the Asuka period are related to Buddhist worship. We can, for example, by examining the sculptural art of the Asuka Daibutsu, learn of Asuka’s Buddhist legacy.  The making of the Asuka Daibutsu is attributed to the noted sculptor Kuratsukuri no Tori 鞍作止利, whose family immigrated to Japan from China (possibly Korea). The seated Asuka Daibutsu sculpture is 275.2 cm (2.75 meters) in height (and is designated as an important cultural asset).

The earliest Buddhist statue, the Shaka (Sakyamuni) Triad (623) at Horyuji Temple, attributed to Kuratsukuri no Tori, shows strong Chinese influences by Northern Wei scultural style. Another important piece, from the same period is the seated bodhisattva at Chuguji.

A rare and important example of painting of the 7th century is to be found at the Tamamushi Shrine, on whose panels are depicted scenes from the previous lives of Buddha and other Buddhist scenes.

Most celebrated of all, perhaps, from the Asuka period, is however the MANYOSHU (Manyo Poems), considered the origins of Japan’s literary heritage.

The Manyoshu is Japan’s earliest collection of poems and comprise the songs or poems of Asuka’s people of that era. The poems dealing specifically with Asuka, begin near the start of the anthology with the poem composed by the Emperor Jomei (593-641) on the occasion of an “inspection of the country” (kunimi) from Ama-no-Kaguyama (one of the “Three Mountains of Yamato,” now usually called simply Kaguyama). Many of the poems dealing with Asuka were composed at the time of events, describing the landscape and the incidents of the era, including military expeditions to Korea during the reign of the Empress Saimei, various moves of the dynastic residence and the building of the new capital city at Fujiwara, the civil disturbance known as the Jinshin no ran, the uprising of Prince Otsu, and the deaths of various imperial scions.

Asuka civilization’s high level of culture is thus revealed from the poems which deal with the everyday lives and sentiments of the people of that period. They are regarded literary classics of great excellence even today.

The Asuka style which eventually transitioned to the Hakuhou and Tenpyo styles.

One response to “Manyoshu poems and other legacies of Asuka

  1. I’m reading a book of poems by Jack Gilbert, “The Great Fires” and there is a manyoshu poem in kanji in memory of his wife Michiko Nogami. Would anyone know what it says in English. Here’s the poem: Kakubakari koishikushi araba masokagami minu hi toki naku aramashimonowo

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