Yamabe no Akahito (山部赤人)

YAMABE no AKAHITO (dates of birth and death unknown) was a poet who lived during the Nara Period. He was one of the Sanjurokkasen (thirty-six poets chosen by FUJIWARA no Kinto). His kabane (hereditary title) was Sukune. He was a son of YAMABE no Ashijima. His government post was Kokushi (an officer of local government) in Kazusa Province. In later years, his name was sometimes written as 山邊(辺)赤人.

In the kanajo (a preface written in kana) for "Kokin Wakashu" (A Collection of Ancient and Modern Japanese Poetry), he was feted as a kasei (great poet) together with KAKINOMOTO no Hitomaro. These two great people were first mentioned in a work by OTOMO no Yakamochi, written in Chinese, which was collected in "Manyoshu" (Collection of Ten Thousand Leaves) as 'A school of 山柿' ('山' means Yamabe, and '柿' means Kakinomoto).

The details of his life are unknown, but it is thought that he was a lower-ranking government official as his name does not appear in history books such as "Shoku Nihongi" (Chronicle of Japan Continued). Poems remain from only the Jinki and Tenpyo eras, and he composed many poems in praise of the Emperor during imperial visits. For this reason it is assumed that he was a court poet who lived during the reign of Emperor Shomu. Judging from his waka poems, he seems to have traveled to various provinces. Okura and OTOMO no Tabito were his contemporaries. "Manyoshu" contains 13 of his choka (long poems) and 37 tanka (short poems of 31 syllables). He had a reputation for descriptive poetry dealing with the beauty and cleanliness of nature.

During the middle of the Heian Period, around the time when "Shui Wakashu" (Collection of Gleanings of Japanese Poems) was compiled, his private poetry collection, "Akahito shu," (one of the Sanjurokunin shu, or Collected Poems of Thirty-six Poets) was written as his reputation grew. This was a collection which contained some poems from the 11th volume of Manyoshu, but as with "Hitomaroshu" (the collection of KAKINOMOTO no Hitomaro) and "Yakamochishu" (the Collected Works of OTOMO no Yakamochi), it hardly included any works by Akahito of the Manyo period. Poems by Manyo poets such as Hitomaro were not included until "Gosen Wakashu" (Later Selected Collection of Japanese Poetry), but in the period of "Shuishu" (Collection of Gleanings of Japanese Poems) the number of poems suddenly increased, and this is considered relevant.

Works

The best known poem by Akahito seems to be that which appears in the Hyakunin Isshu (a collection of one hundred waka poems by one hundred poets). Tago no ura ni uchi idete mireba shirotae no fuji no takane ni yuki ha furi tsutsu (When I am walking along the Tago coast, I can see the snow falling on the lofty peak of Mt. Fuji). However, it is a revised version of a Manyo poem. In Manyoshu, the poem was 'Tago no ura yu uchi idete mireba mashiro ni so fuji no takane ni yuki ha furi keru' which is similar in meaning.