In the news: Wooden strip with ‘Manyoshu’ poem believed oldest of its kind

NARA–A wooden strip unearthed in 2003 from the Ishigami remains in Asukamura, Nara Prefecture, was found to have been inscribed with part of an ancient poem that was later included in the “Manyoshu” anthology and is believed to be oldest of its kind, The Yomiuri Shimbun has learned.

The wooden strip, known as a mokkan, dating to the late seventh century and bearing the poem written in kanji in the phonetic Manyo style, is 60 to 70 years older than one bearing a pair of “Manyoshu” poems excavated from remains of the Shigarakinomiya palace (742-745) in Koka, Shiga Prefecture. The wooden strip from the Ishigami remains indicates that poems were already being composed in the Asuka period (593-710).

The discovery is of major importance in understanding how “Manyoshu,” the nation’s oldest existing poetry anthology, was compiled.

The paddle-shaped wooden strip is 9.1 centimeters long, 5.5 centimeters wide and six millimeters thick. The anonymous poem on the strip, from the seventh volume of the “Manyoshu,” can be translated as, “I hope to see whitecaps lapping at the shore on a calm morning, but the wind doesn’t blow.”

The wooden strip was removed from the area near a channel during excavation work in 2003 by the Nara National Research Institute for Cultural Properties.

Another wooden strip bearing the name of the year, “tsuchinoto u” (679), was discovered near the site, suggesting that the wooden strip is from the same period.

Various facilities, including a banquet room where a delegation from the Korean Peninsula was entertained and a government office, are believed to have been built in the Ishigami remains, indicating the poem is likely to have been composed at a banquet.

Although the “Manyoshu” is estimated to have been edited by 785, much is unknown about how it was compiled.

Takashi Morioka, an associate professor of Tsukuba University, said: “It’s become clear that composing poems in kanji in the phonetic Manyo style was popular among people of a certain social class in the Asuka period.

“The wooden strip provides clues to understanding how people of that time tried to compile poems and how they decided which characters to use to write them.”

Prof. Takashi Inukai of Aichi Prefectural University said people might have transcribed a poem they heard at a banquet or maybe wrote a poem to read aloud in the same situation, adding that the wooden strip shows that poems were written with one sound per character in the seventh century.

(Oct. 18, 2008) Daily Yomiuri

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