The Golden Age of Japanese Culture
1. One of the clichés that still govern our thinking about Japan is that Japan is just a small country with a total land area that would hardly fill the state of California, and with a homogenous population lacking in racial and ethnic diversity. Another is that Japan as a nation of imitators that manages to accommodate influences such as the Chinese and Western Civilizations while retaining its own identity.
2. Some of Japan’s cultural achievements include the notion of a homogenous and harmonious whole through cooperation, the establishment of the imperial line, and the play of words in Japanese literature.
3. The new techniques of cultivating wet rice has gave rise to Japan’s ideal that it is best to submit individual will to the greater needs of the group.
4. In contrast with the civilizations of Mesopotamia, Egypt, Greece, India and China, the Japanese civilization rose while the inhabitants of Japan remained hunter and gatherers—an aspect that is usually described as primitive.
5. The theme of impermanence of things is a constant presence in Japanese literature as the Japanese people live close to nature in all its changing aspects as proven with the experience of common occurrences of earthquakes and typhoons.
6. China represented the most powerful, most advanced, and best administered country in the world by the seventh and eight century.
7. The rule of Japanese warrior elites established the imperial line as martial aristocrats competed for power until one clan has succeeded in asserting their dominance among the others.
8. The new governors imported Chinese theories of sovereignty and a centralized state, as well as economic and political apparatus such as land surveys, districting, taxation, law codes and bureaucratic management.
9. The Chinese model of government made use of an examination system to choose the emperor’s administrators ensuring that the bureaucrats provide the talent and diversity to help in the emperor’s rule. The Japanese tradition, on the other hand, inclined them to give administrative positions to those of good pedigree—that is to members of the aristocracy—basing their system on family connections rather than the Chinese’s examination system.
10. Buddhism has brought meaning to the Japanese experience of the impermanence of things and offered hope of escape to the painful cycle of rebirth with continuous experience of suffering.
1. The “leaves” of the title refer to both the collection of poems and the future generation of readers.
2. Japan had only recently emerged from a primitive preliterate past by the time the last dated poem in the collection was completed.
3. The Japanese learned a lot from the Chinese including the building of vast road networks, irrigation works, ports and lacquered pagodas; the creation courier service; and a hierarchy of court ranks.
4. The poems in the Man’yoshu were recorded in Chinese characters for meaning, for sound when read in Chinese, and for sound when read in Japanese.
5. The two principal forms used by the poets in the Man’yoshu were the choka and the tanka. The choka is a long poem consisting of an indeterminate number of lines of alternating five and seven syllable phrases culminating in a couplet of seven-syllable phrases while the tanka is a short poem consisting of five lines arranged in 5, 7, 5, 7, 7 syllables per line respectively.
6. The Man’yoshu has been all things to all readers because of the variety in its poems.