The Man-Yoshu, first collection of Japanese poems 万葉集

The origins of Japanese poetry

The first Japanese writings are historically the two collections of Kojiki (712) and Nihon-Shoki (720), where we find the founding myths of the birth of Japan and the mythological origins of the imperial line. Following them, we find the very first collection of Japanese poetry: the man-yoshu.

Copy of the man'yôshû


The Man-yogana

The Man'yôshu poems are written in man-yogana, a Japanese hybrid script that directly uses Chinese ideograms, not for their meaning but their phonetics. They are the basis of the kana, or the hiragana and the katakana.

Indeed hiragana are kanji homophograph written in cursive, and which over the centuries will take their form by alteration, while katakana are deformations of the kanji used by Buddhist students to note the pronunciation of Chinese ideograms, such as the current pinyin. We can thus consider the Man-yoshu as one of the precursors of a Japanese writing system independent of Chinese.


Hiragana chart


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