The literature of Japan is very rich and it is thanks to the great minds that have contributed greatly to the creation of all kinds of literary works from different periods and eras. Some artists or writers convey different messages through their art as compared to the others with their own respective art and that is okay because it comes with the changes that time creates. In other words, what all artists have in common is that they are conveying messages. Of all the Japanese writers you can look into when researching about the most important and influential Japanese writers who ever lived, with this topic in mind, a writer that should be at the top of your list would be the man named Otomo no Yakamochi.
Otomo no Yakamochi’s Life as a Politician
The Otomo family or clan was a notable family in Japan once upon a time. Their clan was made up of warriors and bureaucrats from the Yamato Court so it was only natural for Yakamochi to eventually get involved in Japanese politics as well. His grandfather was a great politician and so was his father so you could say that politics was in his blood. He served as a kokushi or a provincial governor in multiple provinces in Japan and by the era of Enryaku, he had been able to rise up to the rank of chunagon, which was the highest bureaucratic position.
Other notable events in his life as a politician were in the year of 740 when he went to Dazaifu, now known as Kyushu, on the request of Emperor Shomu to aid in the suppression of the rebellion of Fujiwara no Hirotsugu. They were successful in this quest and by the year of 745, he would be promoted to a jogoika. A year after that, blessings continue to rain down upon him because, by July of that next year, he gained an even higher position when he became the governor of the Etchu Province. He kept and took care of this title and responsibility until the year of 751.
3 years after he served as the governor in the Etchu Province, in the year of 754, he was appointed to serve as a military commander or heibu shosuke in that province as well. During this period in Japan, there were a lot of rebellions happening. Yakamochi did not take part in any of the rebellions of his time but he did, however, play a part in the plot to assassinate Fujiwara no Nakamaro. He plotted this scheme with Fujiwara no Yoshitsugu, Isonokami Yakatsugu, and Saeki no Imaemishi but in the end, Yoshitsugu took the fall for all of it. Sadly, things didn’t work as planned because the suspicions of Yakamochi’s involvement with the assassination sent him to serve as a governor in the province of Satsuma.
Somehow, someway, Yakamochi eventually rose to be the governor of the Ise Province in the year of 777. By 780, he would again be promoted to the rank of councilor and by the year of 783, he would once again attain the ranking of chunagon. He was able to do so while keeping quiet about the allegations of his involvement with Hikami no Kawatsugu’s rebellion which wasn’t an easy thing to do considering the gravity of the allegation that was being pinned on him.
His life would come to an abrupt end because he died due to drowning in the province of Mutsu on the month of October in the year of 785. He was attending to his post as shogun then. Since he died a shogun, he was supposed to have a great burial but because of suspicions that he was involved in the assassination of Fujiwara no Tanetsugu, who was killed soon after the drowning of Yakamochi, he was denied these rites. It didn’t stop there as well because he was also disgraced posthumously as well as excommunicated. If that wasn’t enough, his son would also be at the receiving end of this drama despite having no connection or contact with the victim as he was stripped of his rank and forced into exile as well. Luckily, in the year of 806, Yakamochi’s son’s titles and rank were once again given to him.
Otomo no Yakamochi’s Life as a Writer as well as the Poems and Quotes that He Made
As you can see from what has just been mentioned about this man, he had a pretty eventful life as a politician. What wasn’t mentioned earlier was that throughout all his earlier political years, he was also a very active waka poet. If you don’t know what waka poetry is, it is practically like a haiku but it isn’t limited to observations about nature nor it is limited to 3 lines. A waka poem also follows a syllable limit per line and is usually an interchanging 5 syllables and 7 syllables, depending on the type of waka you are reading or writing.
To give you an idea of just how active Yakamochi was with his writing, he already had made 220 waka poems by the time that he was the governor of the Etchu Province which was a reign that lasted from the year of 745 until the year of 751. He was described as a writer that had it all because he had a piece of work for almost every need there was. He had poems that were about his mourning for his concubine which conveyed a message of deep sorrow. He had intense love poems he made for his wife who was the Elder Maiden of Sakanoue and these poems showed his passion. He was also a capable writer of humor and a memorable quote to justify this claim was when he advised a man who had just lost weight to eat eels. The variety of writing he had showcases just how poetically versatile of a writer Omoto no Yakamochi was.
If that wasn’t enough to impress you, he had 46 nagauta and 432 tanka included in the Manyoshu, which is a compilation of numerous great works of Japanese literature. These contributions were nearly 10 percent of the entire thing and that isn’t a light contribution whatsoever because this compilation is a massive one. He is not only contributed to the creation of the Manyoshu by having his work included in this compilations. He contributed to this historical compilation by being the compiler of the compilation.
To compile something as complicated as the Manyoshu is no joke. It isn’t just copying and putting together different works of great literature. Some of these works were in foreign languages which needed to be transcribed while others needed to be refashioned. His completion of his massive compilation is his proof that he was, during his time, the most talented and prominent writer in Japan because to accomplish something of that pedigree and to still have that compilation looked upon as one of the most important literary works is something beyond amazing. That instantly could make him a literary legend in Japan if people wanted him to be called or referred to as that because he does deserve such a title.
His Importance to the Literature and History of Japan
Taking into consideration all the facts mentioned above, it should be bright as day to you by now that Otomo no Yakamochi is a one of the most important, if not the most important, historical figure in Japanese literature. No one else has done something nearly as difficult as what he did and no one ever needed to do it again after he did it because he did such a great job at it. His achievements and accomplishments in the field of writing even earned him a spot on the Hyakunin Isshu.
He didn’t particularly set or create any new foundation for Japanese poetry and literature but that doesn’t mean that what he did do isn’t deserving of an article of appreciation or recognition on a magazine. With his expertise in writing, if there were ever an utaawase or poem competition that Yakamochi was part of it, he would surely be the one taking home the grand prize. This is not to say that he would not be rivaled at all by another great Japanese writer but he would definitely be one of the probable winners because of his mere experience and the gravity of the work that he was able to accomplish in his time.
Despite all the political dirt in Otomo no Yakamochi’s life, he was apparent that he was a good politician of his time as well as a writer of his time and of all time. If finding out these things about him intrigued you, feel free to look his story up online or in museums or libraries that contain his works. It will surely be worth your time because this man and the things he was able to do with his life puts him to a level of existence that only comes once and a while in this world.