Japan poetry and Okura (660-733): Influence of Confucianism and East Asia
Lee Jay Walker
Modern Tokyo Times
Yamanoue no Okura (660-733?) lived a dynamic life by the standards of the day. Of course, many areas of his life remain shrouded in mystery based on the passages of time. Therefore, it isn’t fully known if he was born in Paekche (Baekje), born to Korean immigrants in Japan, or if Japanese.
Irrespective of the truth, Okura was a loyal servant of Japan. This is witnessed by his visit to T’ang China (Middle Kingdom) in 701 after being selected by the Yamato court. Thus he joined other people in an important embassy visit to the Middle Kingdom.
Okura is known for his firm attachment to the moral principles of Confucianism. Hence, the flow of Buddhism, Shintoism, and the ideals of Confucianism – and other thought patterns including Taoism – entered his world. However, what knowledge is known about Okura links him strongly with the morals of Confucianism and how this impacted on his poetry.
On the pain of mourning he wrote:
As he was so young
He will not know the way;
Take this gift,
Messenger of the realm below
And bear him on your back.
His poetry focused on themes related to normal people and children. Equally, his admiration for Buddhism and Confucianism remained deep within his soul. Thus he was rather unique for focusing on ordinary people in this period.
In a poem based on realism and sorrow he wrote:
This world of ours
Is full of horror and shame
I feel yet
I cannot fly from it
For I am not a bird.
Overall, Okura was influenced by the richness of culture that flowed naturally between the Middle Kingdom and Japan. Likewise, the world of Paekche seems evident based on his likely bloodline (even if open to debate). Therefore, the unique traits of his poetry hint at the fusions that impacted on his life.
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