Otomo no Yakamochi (大伴家持)

OTOMO no Yakamochi (c.718 - October 5, 785) was a politician and kajin (waka poet) who lived during the Nara period. He was one of the 36 Immortal Poets. He was the grandchild of Dainagon (chief councilor of state) OTOMO no Yasumaro. He was the child of Dainagon (chief councilor of state) OTOMO no Tabito. He was Jusanmi (Junior Third Rank) and Chunagon (vice-councilor of state).

Personal profile and biography

OTOMO no Yakamochi is often identified as the kajin involved in the compilation of "Manyoshu" (Collection of Ten Thousand Leaves), but the Otomo clan had been a military family since the Yamato Dynasty and he earned his place in history as a politician just as his grandfather Yasumaro and father Tabito had done before him. He lived until the political strife in Tenpyo era and reached the level of Chunagon in the Enryaku era.

He became udoneri (Ministerial equerry) in 738 and attended the imperial visit of Emperor Shomu to Ise Province to pray for the suppression of the incident that FUJIWARA no Hirotsugu caused in Dazai-fu, Kyushu region in 740. He was appointed to Jugoi (Junior Fifth Rank) in 745.

He became Kunai shoyu/Kunai no sho (Junior Assistant Minister of the Sovereign's Household) in March 746 and Ecchu no kuni no kami (Governor of Ecchu Province) in July. He was transferred to a new post in 751. He wrote over 220 poems during this time. After becoming Shonagon (lesser councilor of state) and returning to Kyoto, he became Hyobushoyu (deputy minister of military arm) in 754, and in the following year was involved in the inspection of sakimori (soldiers deployed for boarder defenses) in Nanba. Meeting with sakimori at this time led him to collect Sakimori-no-uta (poetry written by Sakimori soldiers) in Manyoshu.

He became Inaba no kuni no kami (Governor of Inaba Province) in 758. He wrote the last poem in Manyoshu in Kokufu-cho (Tottori Prefecture) in February, 759.

He did not participate in the TACHIBANA no Naramaro Disturbance but made plans to assassinate FUJIWARA no Nakamaro with FUJIWARA no Yoshitsugu (Sukunamaro), ISONOKAMI no Yakatsugu, and SAEKI no Imaemishi. The incident failed, and FUJIWARA no Yoshitsugu accepted sole responsibility, so Yakamochi was not accused of the crime. However, he was punished by being appointed Satsuma no kuni no kami (Governor of Satsuma Province) in 764. In 767, he became Dazai no daini (Senior Assistant Governor-General of the Dazai-fu offices), and the Usa Hachiman-gu Shrine oracle plot occurred before he became Minbu shoyu (Junior Assistant Minister of Popular Affairs) in 770, but it was unknown how he was involved in the plot.

He became Ise no kuni no kami (Governor of Ise Province) in 776. He served for 5 years according to the records of Ise-jingu Shrine. Yakamochi's strength as a politician is demonstrated by the fact that although he was promoted to Sangi (councilor) in 780, he was expelled from the capital after being suspected of involvement in HIKAMI no Kawatsugu's plot (HIKAMI no Kawatsugu's Rebellion). In 783, he was promoted to Chunagon but died while staying in Mutsu Province to serve as Mutsu no Azechi (Inspector of Mutsu) and Jisetsu Seito Shogun (the general of conquering east-barbarians).

The assassination of FUJIWARA no Tanetsugu occurred after Yakamochi's death, and Yakamochi was considered to be involved in the assassination, so he was expelled without burial. His child OTOMO no Naganushi was exiled to Oki Province. Naganushi was restored as Jusanmi in 806.

Yakamochi as a poet

473 of his choka (long epic songs) and tanka (thirty-one-syllable poems) were collected in "Manyoshu," accounting for over tenth of the total poems in "Manyoshu." It is for this reason that Yakamochi was considered to be involved in the compilation of "Manyoshu." "Manyoshu" volumes 17 to 20 appear to be a shikashu (private poetry collection). The last poem of "Manyoshu" was made in February 759, 'Like the snow that falls on this first day of the new year, may there be ever more good things to come' (Volume 20-4516). OTOMO no Yakamochi, Jugoinojo (Junior Fifth Rank, Upper Grade), Inaba no kami (Governor of Inaba Province) was 42 years old at the time. He became Shogoi (Senior Fifth Rank) 11 years later. His poem (On the night of the Star Festival, a magpie bridges over the Milky Way, looking at the stairs in the palace with white frost, I feel evening deepens into the night) in "Hyakunin Isshu" (one hundred waka poems by one hundred poets) was not included in "Manyoshu."