The city of Asuka in central Japan was the capital of the mighty Yamato Empire for almost two hundred years. Laid out in a grid pattern in imitation of the Chinese capital, it was home to vast palaces and Japan's first-ever Buddhist temple, and was the stage for the all manner of intrigues and political machinations between the power-hungry Soga clan and the Imperial family.

And yet today, a visitor would never have any inkling of Asuka's past at first glance, as it is but a tiny farming village of about 6,000 people nestled among rolling green hills in a quiet valley in southern Nara prefecture. For people who know the town's history, the contrast is stark, just as it was for the anonymous poet who penned this waka poem in the 8th century:

Asuka breezes
which used to flutter the sleeves
of lovely ladies
aimlessly blow on in vain
now that the court moved away.

In the above translation by yours truly, I have endeavored to maintain the orginal 5-7-5-7-7 pattern of the original Japanese, which reads:


uneme no
sode fukikaesu
asuka kaze
miyako wo toomi
itazurani fuku

- Manyoshu, book 1, poem 51

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