The Lake of Ōmi 近江の海 is mentioned numerous times in the Man’yōshū, an anthology of poems compiled sometime after 759 AD. One example is a poem written by Kakinomoto Hitomaro:
O plovers flying over the evening
On the Lake of Omi,
When you cry, my heart grows heavy,
With memories of by-gone days.
Ahumi no umi
Na ga nakeba
Kokoro mo shino ni
The Lake of Ōmi (now called Lake Biwa, or 琵琶湖) is situated in what used to be Ōmi Province, now known to us as Shiga 滋賀 Prefecture. It is the largest lake in Japan, and takes up a large amount of the prefecture.
Emperor Tenji moved the capital to Ōtsu, a place in Ōmi Province, in 667. However, the capital was destroyed in the War of Jinshin in 672, and was moved to Yamato a year after. Hitomaro, in writing this poem, used the lake convey nostalgic feelings towards what was now a former capital left in ruins. While he himself never lived in Ōmi, the poem was written more to show sympathetic feelings towards those that did. In the Man’yōshū, there is a passage where he writes about his visit to Ōmi Province:
“Then the Emperor…Held court at Ōtsu of Sasanami, in the land of Ōmi…but now, though I am told his royal palace towered here, And they say here rose its lofty halls, Only the spring weeds grow luxuriantly, And the spring sun is dimmed with mists. As I see these ruins of the mighty palace, My heart is heavy with sorrows !” (Man’yōshū, 27)
Hitomaro used the Lake of Ōmi, considered to be the sea by Manyō poets, to convey a sense of yearning for the once great capital that stood at Ōtsu, now reduced to nothing. Not only a yearning of the capital, but there is also a sense of longing for the old days.
Ogawa, Yasuhiko. “A Yearning for the Old Days [Hitomaro](Book 3:266):.” 英訳万葉集 (An English Translation of the Man’yoshu). September 11, 2011. Accessed March 08, 2016. http://manyo-translation.seesaa.net/article/291895888.html.
The Manyoshu: The Nippon Gakujutsu Shinkokai Translation of One Thousand Poems / with a Foreword by Donald Keene. New York: Columbia University Press, 1965. Accessed March 8, 2016. http://hdl.handle.net.ezproxy.library.ubc.ca/2027/heb.06005.0001.001.
“Ōmi No Kuni Saikenzu.” Digital image. Japanese Maps of the Tokugawa Era. Accessed March 8, 2016. https://open.library.ubc.ca/collections/tokugawa/items/1.0213199#.
Digital image. Accessed March 8, 2016. http://www.istartedsomething.com/bingimages/cache/BiwaLake_JA-JP7891105526_1366x768.jpg.
“近江八景 瀬田夕照.” Digital image. 広重が描いた近江八景. Accessed March 8, 2016. http://www.shiga-bunshin.or.jp/rekisikairou/Bukaijigyou/ukiyoeroman/hakkei.html.
Contributor: Kaito Koshizuka