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The scenery of Wakura, unchanged since the time of Manyo-shu (万葉集), the oldest collection of poems in Japan
  • The scenery of Wakura, unchanged since the time of Manyo-shu (万葉集), the oldest collection of poems in Japan

The scenery of Wakura, unchanged since the time of Manyo-shu (万葉集), the oldest collection of poems in Japan

Ishikawa 2015.03.14

Just like there are poems around the world since the ancient times, there are poems called waka (和歌) in Japan that date more than 1200 years back. The most prominent collection of those waka (和歌) s are the Manyou-shu (万葉集). It is the oldest and the larges

Translated by Moeko Noda

Written by OguraOsamu

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Just like there are poems around the world since the ancient times, there are poems called waka (和歌) in Japan that date more than 1200 years back. The most prominent collection of those waka (和歌) s are the Manyou-shu (万葉集). It is the oldest and the largest volume of poem collections in Japan. Man (万) means many, and you (葉) means words. More than 4500 poems made by people from a range of social classes are included in it.

Scenery of Wakura recorded in a poem that is more than 1200 years old

One of the celebrity poets in this poem collection is Otomono Yakamochi (大伴家持, おおとものやかもち). 473 of his poems are included in the Manyo-shu, and he is also said to be the editor of this collection. He came to this area from Nara at the age of 29 in 748 A.D as a government official, with the task to govern the area including Noto, where Wakura Onsen (hot springs) is in. He loved poems, so of course he has made many at Noto. One of those poems is the one cited below:

From Kashima(かしまより)To Kumaki(くまきをさして)Of the boat I am rowing (こぐふねの)No restく(かぢとるまなく)Thinking of the capital(みやこしおもほゆ)

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Because the poems are written in ancient Japanese, many Japanese nowadays do not know the detailed meanings of these poems. According to academics and researchers, this poem can be translated as follows: “Like the boatman rowing a boat from Kashima for Kumaki does not rest during his job, I think about the capital without rest.” It is also said that he made this poem out of nostalgia for the then-capital Nara after he came to Noto, a place far away from the capital.

The poetic emotions brought about by the calm seas of Wakura

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In Wakura Onsen, there is a statue of a poem by Otomono Yakamochi

This poem takes place in Nanao Bay. Kashima is one of the sea towns in Nanao city, where Wakura Onsen is in. The poem was made when he was heading for Kumaki, a neighboring town of Kashima. It must have been easier to cross the seas than to hit the road to get to the neighboring town. But that he wanted to take the sea route can be understood just by looking at Nanao Bay. The sea is very very calm. For one thing, no one can create a poem this romantic if the sea is not calm, right? Nanao Bay is an inland sea whose entrance is narrow, which makes it difficult for it to be influenced by the wind. This fact makes the sea calm throughout the year. It is one of the rare seas that are calm even in Japan, a country surrounded by the sea. The morning calm (あさなぎ) is the best moment. The surface of the water becomes almost like a mirror, and the state of no wind or water makes it seem as if time has stopped. It is a very fantastic moment.

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Indeed, the sea that spreads out in front of the Wakura Onsen remains the same since the ancient times that the Manyou-shu was made. Many poets after the era of Manyo-shu have visited Wakura Onsen, and made poems based on the scenery. Why not visit there and make a poem as you look at this beautiful sea?

Sea cucumbers stood as tax!?

There is another thing in this area that hasn’t changed since the ancient times–the sea cucumbers caught in Nanao Bay. At the time when Otomono Yakamochi lived, this food was dedicated to the court as a very valuable ingredient. This product was also used for tax at the time. Otomono Yakamochi must have eaten some of those as well.

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The visual aspect of this animal is quite unique, but it has a crunchy taste to it and is served at meals in Japan. Iriko (いりこ), pickled and dried sea cucumber, konowata (このわた), pickled sea cucumber bowel, and kuchiko (くちこ), dried sea cucumber ovary, are all a little spicy but has very good taste and match well with Japanese sake. If you eat little by little as you drink, the alcohol in the cup starts to seem like the sea of Nanao.

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Sea cucumbers are very popular in China. It is known as quality food, and many people buy them at shops here at Wakura Onsen. There are also sweet and delicious puddings sold at the shops! Sea cucumbers may not look too pretty, but they are very tasty food. They are also good for souvenirs!

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