Kakinomoto no Hitomaro (柿本人麻呂)

KAKINOMOTO no Hitomaro (male, c. 660 to c. 720) was a poet in the Asuka period. He is one of the 36 Immortal Poets. He, with YAMABE no Akahito, was called a kasei, or great poet, and has been regarded highly ever since. His name has often been written as '人丸' (Hitomaro) since the time of the Heian Period.

Personal Profile
The Kakinomoto clan is an illegitimate line of the Kasuga clan, who called themselves the descendants of the Emperor Kosho. As for Hitomaro's background, one theory suggests that KAKINOMOTO no Oba was his father and KAKINOMOTO no Saru his brother. However, as no proof has survived in contemporary historical sources there is no other choice but to consider all of his background unknown.

His career is unknown because there are no records about it even in historical works such as the "Shoku Nihongi" (Chronicle of Japan Continued). The only existing source is poems in the "Manyoshu" (Collection of Ten Thousand Leaves) and the daishi (the foreword which was written in Chinese characters) and the annotations on the left that are attached to them. In general, he is considered to have entered the service of the Imperial Court by 680 ("Manyoshu" volume 10, the annotation to the left of 2033), and it is usually suggested that he started his activities as a poet in the reign of Emperor Tenmu and flourished during the reign of Empress Jito. However, because he composed an elegy mourning for the death of a minor court lady who served the court while the Imperial Palace in Omi Otsu no Miya was the capital ("Manyoshu" volume 2, 217-219), there is a theory that he served during the period from 667 to 672 as well (Shigeo KITAYAMA).

KAMO no Mabuchi believed that he served Prince Kusakabe as his toneri (servant). Although this opinion finds much support, there is no conclusive evidence. Bearing in mind the fact that he presented his poems to several imperial princes and princesses, such as Prince Yuge, Imperial Prince Toneri and Imperial Prince Niitabe, some people do not think that he served a particular prince. Recently some scholars have suggested that he was a court poet, such as Haku ITO (scholar of Manyoshu), and Tatsuo HASHIMOTO. But there were no official positions for a court poet in the Asuka period, and the truth remains unclear. However, those of Hitomaro's poems with certain dates of composition fit almost perfectly the period from Empress Jito's accession to her death. It is likely to be true that the existence of the empress was regarded as the driving force for Hitomaro's activity. In cheap fiction of later years, such as the"Hitomaro Himitsu-sho", there are some distorted interpretations such as that he was Jito's lover, perhaps to suit the style of a novel.

In the second volume of the "Manyoshu", a poem about grief over a dead man in Sanuki Province (volume 2, 220-222) survives, and both a farewell poem at Kamoyama in Iwami Province and elegies for his death also survive (volume 2, 223-227). Therefore, it is largely thought that he became an official, was transferred to one office after another and finally died in Iwami Province. However, there are some influential theories about the death poem; one says that it is a song-drama in which Hitomaro himself pretended he was dying (Haku ITO) and another says that it is just a pretext provided by people of later generations. In addition, it is absolutely certain that he remained in the capital even after Prince Kusakabe's death due to the fact that his elegy for Princess Asuka who died in 700 still exists today. Because no poem survives which was definitely composed in the late period when the capital was placed at Fujiwara-kyo (the Imperial capital of Japan for 16 years between 694 and 710) or after the transfer of the capital to Heijokyo (the ancient capital of Japan in present-day Nara), he is considered to have passed away before the relocation of the capital to Heijokyo.

He is said to be first among the poets in the "Manyoshu" which has 19 of his choka (long poems) and 75 of his tanka (short poems) in it. His has a refined poetical style using techniques such as makura kotoba (pillow words), jo kotoba (introductive words) and rhyming freely. He also composed a poem related to having faith in the power of language: 'It has been said that this country, Yamato, is a country protected by the spirits of language, so please relax and keep safe on your journey'. He used such complicated and diverse couplets in his choka that he was even said to be the person who perfected the choka. It indicates Hitomaro's originality that half among the more than 140 kinds of makura kotoba used in his tanka were not seen before his time.

There is a character to Hitomaro's paeans, elegies, and love poems. In the paeans and elegies, he expresses praise and his deeds loudly and clearly, using expressions that indicate the emperor is a deity such as 'as the emperor is a deity', 'as a deity, which he is, he behaves as a deity is supposed to do' and 'a prince of sun that shines high into the sky'. These expressions that indicate the emperor is a deity are predominantly seen in Hitomaro's poems, although there are a few examples in the ballads in the Kojiki and the Nihonshoki among others. Hitomaro is indeed the leading exponent of it. It is also a technique that diminished quickly after Hitomaro. It can be said to be an expression produced by the energy of the time during a period from the reign of Emperor Tenmu to Jito, when the Japanese nation was being established under the ritsuryo codes, and also taking into account the limitations of the period in regard to expressions.

As for love poems, he left some choka for several women. In regard to the choka above, many theories, such as that of Mokichi SAITO, used to purport that Hitomaro had many wives and mistresses, but recent theories generally assert that he composed these poems as love stories, not on the basis of his own real-life experiences. However, extremely sexual expressions are not uncommon in Hitomaro's love poems, starting with sleeping with someone. Utsubo KUBOTA mentions that Hitomaro was a man who emphasized wedlock ("Manyoshu hyoshaku [explanatory notes]"). This comment focuses on what Hitomaro's expressions were, leaving aside whether the content of the poems was fact or fiction.

In the poem below, makura kotoba and jo kotoba are used freely and skillfully, and this poem appears in the Hyakunin Isshu (100 waka poems by 100 poets). However, there is a similar poem among those poems which are "based on different stories" in the "Manyoshu" volume 12, 2802, but there is no positive proof that this was composed by Hitomaro. Because "Shui wakashu" (Collection of Gleanings of Japanese Poems) also contains this poem, it is likely to be one modeled after Hitomaro, as many of Hitomaro's poems in the Heian Period and afterwards are.
足日木乃 山鳥之尾乃 四垂尾之 長永夜乎 一鴨將宿
Ashibiki no Yamadori no o no Shidari o no Naga nagashi yo wo Hitori kamo nemu
I'll sleep alone through the long, long night, which is like a drooping tail of a mountain pheasant that is said to sleep alone in the night, separated from his partner in the valley beyond.

Representative Works
Coming away from the countryside with a pining heart, I saw the mountains of Yamato from the Strait of Akashi. While the rosy light of day is breaking over the eastern edge of the field, the thinning last quarter of the moon is shining faintly when I turn to the west. Although it is a wasteland, I came here because this is the place to remember the deceased prince. Alas, plovers flying over the sea of Omi in the evening, you remind me of the old days with my heart sinking.

In addition to the works above, the Aikoku Hyakunin Isshu (100 Patriotic Poems by 100 Poets) contains a poem praising an emperor: 'As an emperor is a deity, he is living in the palace on a mountain of thunderbolts covered with clouds'.

The Mystery of Hitomaro
As mentioned above, there are no records of Hitomaro in any history book and his life is considered a mystery. In the pre-medieval period, the manajo (a preface written in Chinese) of the "Kokin Wakashu" (Collection of Ancient and Modern Poems) described him as 'Kakinomoto no taifu', indicating that he was ranked as in the fifth grade or higher, and its kanajo (a preface written in kana) describes him as 'oki mitsu no kurai', showing that he was Shosanmi (Senior Third Rank). In addition to this, considering his work of composing paeans for the Imperial family and elegies for princes and princesses and the importance of that work, he must have been a high official.

In the Edo Period, Keichu and KAMO no Mabuchi believed that Hitomaro ended his life as a subordinate official of the sixth grade or lower, for the following reasons which are based on historical sources.

Since then, and up to the present, this has been considered as the generally accepted historical theory.

The achievements of someone ranked as fifth grade or higher had to be recorded in an official history, but Hitomaro's name does not appear in any of them.

According to the Ritsuryo codes, 薨 should be written if the person is ranked as third grade or higher, 卒 should be written if they are ranked as fourth or fifth grade, and if they are ranked as sixth or lower, it should be written as 死. However, in the foreword of a poem in the "Manyoshu" about the death of Hitomaro, it is recorded as '死'.

The place of his death is also unknown. Present-day Masuda City in Shimane Prefecture (Iwami Province) is regarded as a likely candidate. That place, as being the place of Hitomaro's death, is taken as a given among local people, and they show their praise for his tours de force through Kakinomoto-jinja Shrine. However, the real place Hitomaru died is Kamoshima Island, which used to be near Masuda City. The reason why it 'used to be' is, that Kamoshima Island no longer exists. Therefore, it was relayed to later generations as the legend of Kamoshima Island. The place where Kamoshima Island is considered to have existed is said to have been submerged sometime in the medieval period due to an earthquake (the Manju earthquake) and a tsunami. In 1993, this submergence was scientifically recognized through research, and it was ascertained that this event was likely to be a historical fact. However, the relation between this historical fact and the place of Hitomaro's death remains buried in the legend. Theories indicating several places in the prefecture also twine together, and they remain within the bounds of legend.

There is another theory by Mokichi SAITO that his place of death was in Kamoyama in Yugakae hot springs in Misato Town, Ochi County (Shimane Prefecture). This theory became the target of a refutation in the work of Takeshi UMEHARA, who supported the theory of Masuda City.

Heretical and Popular Theories Related to Hitomaro
In opposition to the commonly accepted theory, Takeshi UMEHARA adventurously studied and discussed other theories in his "Minasoko no uta: KAKINOMOTO no Hitomaro Ron" (Underwater poems: on KAKINOMOTO no Hitomaro). He advocated 'the theory of Hitomaro being exiled and dying by execution' suggesting that, although Hitomaro was a highly ranked official, he was involved in a political dispute and was executed, and that this was well known. In addition, Umehara pointed out the possibility that Hitomaro and Sarumarutayu were the very same person. However, this has not been accepted in academic circles because it has the following problems. The ancient penal law did not have the death penalty by drowning that Umehara supposed existed. Also, if Hitomaro was as highly ranked an official as Umehara claimed, it is odd that nothing was recorded in documents such as the "Shoku Nihongi". In addition, Motohiko IZAWA made his debut with a novel based on this theory of Umehara's, called "Sarumaru Genshi Ko"(Illusionary Travel around Sarumaru).

There is an obituary for KAKINOMOTO no Ason Saru for the entry of May 18, 708 in the Shoku Nihongi. There is a theory that this KAKINOMOTO no Saru might be Hitomaro himself, made to change his name like WAKE no Kiyomaro through being involved in political strife and provoking the displeasure of a member of the Imperial family.

However, it has already been pointed out that in those days there were many people whose name included the name of an animal or an insect such as FUJIWARA no Umakai and TAKAHASHI no Mushimaro, and it is hard to consider the name 'saru' (monkey) a derogatory name.
For that reason, Motohiko IZAWA mentions in the second volume of the "Gyakusetsu no Nihonshi" (Japanese History from a Paradoxical View) that he was 'promoted' from 'Saru' (an ape) to Hitomaro (Hito means a man.)
However, there is no positive proof that being 'Hito' (man) means being paid respect, and his opinion also has the same problems as Umehara's. As for KAKINOMOTO no Saru, it should be said that we do not know anything except that he was of the same family of Hitomaro and a contemporary.