Yamanoue no Okura (山上憶良)

Yamanoue no Okura (660? – 733?) was a poet during the early Nara Period. He was a contributor to "Manyoshu" (the oldest anthology of tanka). His rank was Jugoinoge (Junior Fifth Rank, Lower Grade). He came from a family of lower-ranking nobles (some literary scholars such as Susumu NAKANISHI stated that he was a naturalized citizen from the kingdom of Baekje), and his kabane (hereditary title) was Omi.

Personal Profile
In 702, Yamanoue no Okura accompanied the seventh mission to Tang Dynasty China as an envoy where he studied the latest teachings of Confucianism and Buddhism. After he returned to Japan, he became a tutor to the crown prince and afterward, he served as the Governor of Hoki and Chikuzen Provinces, during which time he wrote many poems.

Because of his devotion to the teachings of Buddhism and Confucius, he was sensitive to death, poverty, aging, and illness, and he was a keen observer of social injustice. Although he was a government official, this awareness allowed him to write many poems by keenly observing the weak among society, such as farmers burdened by heavy taxes, or a wife whose husband was recruited as a sakimori (soldiers deployed for boarder defenses), and therefore was known as a socialist poet that was rare in that period.

He excelled at lyric description of emotions, and many of his poems described his own feelings as well. His famous works include "Hinkyu mondo ka" (Dialogue on poverty) and "A poem longing for his children." With 78 poems included in the "Manyoshu," Yamanoue no Okura is one of the most prominent poets of the Nara Period together with OTOMO no Yakamochi, KAKINOMOTO no Hitomaro and YAMABE no Akahito.

Works

From the Age of Gods This has been the saying passed down: Sky-seen Yamato Is a land hallowed in power Wielded in the hand Of a sovereign deity, A land where the word soul Works its potency for weal: This have they told, Passing down the saying age to age
('神代欲理 云傳久良久 虚見通 倭國者 皇神能 伊都久志吉國 言霊能 佐吉播布國等 加多利継 伊比都賀比計理'("Manyoshu" Volume 5, No.894))

Though we think of life as a vale of misery, a bitter trial, it is not as if we were birds who can simply fly away.

"Kahi" (A stone monument inscribed with poetry)

There are many kahi in the Chikugo and Chikuho regions (Fukuoka Prefecture) such as in Kama City (most of his famous poems were made in this region).

In addition, an inscription by calligrapher Goho Hibino of 'A poem longing for his children' and its Hanka (tanka appendage to a Choka long poem) is placed as a monument at the town office of Godo Town, Gifu Prefecture.