Man'yo Shu Poetry Anthology,Genryaku version


Man'yo Shu Poetry Anthology,Genryaku version

calligraphy / Heian

Heian period, 11th century




National Treasure

The Man'yo shu, or Anthology of Ten Thousand Leaves, is the oldest collection of Japanese waka poetry. It was compiled around the latter half of the 8th century. All extant editions of the Man'yoshu are copies produced from the Heian period, which began in 794, onwards. This edition is known as the Genryaku Version because it was collated in 1184, the first year of the Genryaku era in Japan.
Among Heian-period copies of the Man'yoshu, this work is regarded as particularly important because it includes the largest number of poems, while the calligraphy provides a magnificent example of the penmanship of that era.
The text is written on gorgeous paper made of ganpi fibers. This kind of paper is known as 'egg paper,' owing to its eggshell color. The paper here is also decorated with a pattern resembling flowing purple and indigo clouds.
The poems are written in man'yo gana, a writing system that uses Chinese characters to represent the Japanese language, with characters chosen for their sound rather than their meaning. Kana, the Japanese phonetic syllabary, is written alongside these characters. The original Man'yoshu was written purely in man'yo gana, so kana is used here to show how the original text was pronounced.
The handwriting displays a gentle, relaxed Japanese beauty, somewhat removed from the influence of Chinese calligraphy. The kana strokes in particular exude a pleasant sense of rhythm. Poetry, paper, and penmanship resonate together to offer us a glimpse into the world of Heian-period aesthetics.

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