Hitomaro is Japan’s first great literary figure. Unfortunately, very little is known about his life, but we do know that he was a court poet for two emperors at the end of the Asuka period (550-710 AD). He had two wives, Kibitsu Uneme and Yosami no Otome, the latter a poet herself.

The oldest collection of Japanese poetry, the Manyoshu (The Collection of Ten Thousand Leaves), contains 474 of his poems, including 19 choka and 75 tanka. Many of his works were written to celebrate political or ceremonial occasions, as was no doubt his responsibility, but the ones most read today are his moving expressions of grief, sorrow, and love.

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