Grove Press
Grove Press
Grove Press

Anthology of Japanese Literature

From the Earliest Era to the Mid-Nineteenth Century

by Donald Keene Edited by Donald Keene

The sweep of Japanese literature in all its great variety was made available to Western readers for the first time in this anthology.

  • Imprint Grove Paperback
  • Page Count 448
  • Publication Date February 01, 1955
  • ISBN-13 978-0-8021-5058-5
  • Dimensions 5.38" x 8.25"
  • US List Price $17.00

About The Book

The sweep of Japanese literature in all its great variety was made available to Western readers for the first time in this anthology. Every genre and style, from the celebrated Nô plays to the poetry and novels of the seventeenth century, finds a place in this book; and many of the selections have their own introductions.



The “Man’yôshû,” or “Collection of Ten Thousand Leaves,” is the oldest and greatest of the Japanese anthologies of poetry. It was compiled in the middle of the eighth century, but it includes material of a much earlier date—one cannot say with certainty just how early. There are about 4,500 poems in the “Man’yôshû,” and they display a greater variety of form and subject than any other collection. In particular the long poems—chôka or nagauta—have a sustained power that could never be achieved in the tanka of thirty-one syllables which was to be the dominant verse form in Japan for centuries. Even in the shorter poems of the “Man’yôshû” there is a passion and a directness that later poets tended to polish away.
The translations here given were made by the Japanese Classics Translation Committee under the auspices of the Nippon Gakujutsu Shinkôkai. The poet Ralph Hodgson was among those responsible for these excellent versions.

Your basket, with your pretty basket,
Your trowel, with your little trowel,
Maiden, picking herbs on this hillside,
I would ask you: Where is your home?
Will you not tell me your name?
Over the spacious Land of Yamato
It is I who reign so wide and far,
It is I who rule so wide and far.
I myself, as your lord, will tell you
Of my home, and my name.
Attributed to Emperor Yûryaku (418-479)

Climbing Kagu-yama and looking upon the land
Countless are the mountains in Yamato,
But perfect is the heavenly hill of Kagu;
When I climb it and survey my realm,
Over the wide plain the smoke-wreaths rise and rise,
Over the wide lake the gulls are on the wing;
A beautiful land it is, the Land of Yamato!
Emperor Jomei (593-641)

Upon the departure of Prince Ôtsu for the capital after his secret visit to the Shrine of Ise
To speed my brother
Parting for Yamato,
In the deep of night I stood
Till wet with the dew of dawn.
The lonely autumn mountains
Are hard to pass over
Even when two go together—
How does my brother cross them all alone!
Princess Ôku (661-701)
In the sea of Iwami,
By the cape of Kara,
There amid the stones under sea
Grows the deep-sea miru weed;
There along the rocky strand
Grows the sleek sea tangle.
Like the swaying sea tangle,
Unresisting would she lie beside me—
My wife whom I love with a love
Deep as the miru-growing ocean.
But few are the nights
We two have lain together.
Away I have come, parting from her
Even as the creeping vines do part.
My heart aches within me;
I turn back to gaze—
But because of the yellow leaves
Of Watari Hill,
Flying and fluttering in the air,
I cannot see plainly
My wife waving her sleeve to me.
Now as the moon, sailing through the cloud-rift
Above the mountain of Yakami,
Disappears, leaving me full of regret,
So vanishes my love out of sight;
Now sinks at last the sun,
Coursing down the western sky.
I thought myself a strong man,
But the sleeves of my garment
Are wetted through with tears.
My black steed
Galloping fast,
Away have I come,
Leaving under distant skies
The dwelling place of my love.
Oh, yellow leaves
Falling on the autumn hill,
Cease a while
To fly and flutter in the air,
That I may see my love’s dwelling place!
Kakinomoto Hitomaro (Seventh Century)

On the occasion of the temporary enshrinement of Princess Asuka
Across the river of the bird-flying Asuka
Stepping-stones are laid in the upper shallows,
And a plank bridge over the lower shallows.
The water-frond waving along the stones,
Though dead, will reappear.
The river-tresses swaying by the bridge
Wither, but they sprout again.
How is it, O Princess, that you have
Forgotten the morning bower
And forsaken the evening bower
Of him, your good lord and husband—
You who did stand handsome like a water-frond,
And who would lie with him,
Entwined like tender river-tresses?
No more can he greet you.
You make your eternal abode
At the Palace of Kinohe whither oft in your lifetime
He and you made holiday together,
Bedecked with flowers in spring,
Or with golden leaves in autumntide,
Walking hand in hand, your eyes
Fondly fixed upon your lord as upon a mirror,
Admiring him ever like the glorious moon.
So it may well be that grieving beyond measure,
And moaning like a bird unmated,
He seeks your grave each morn.
I see him go, drooping like summer grass,
Wander here and there like the evening star,
And waver as a ship wavers in the sea.
No heart have I to comfort him,
Nor know I what to do.
Only your name and your deathless fame,
Let me remember to the end of time;
Let the Asuka River, your namesake,
Bear your memory for ages,
O Princess adored!
Even the flowing water
Of the Asuka River—
If a weir were built,
Would it not stand still?
O Asuka, River of Tomorrow,
As if I thought that I should see
My Princess on the morrow,
Her name always lives in my mind.
After the death of his wife
Since in Karu lived my wife,
I wished to be with her to my heart’s content;
But I could not visit her constantly
Because of the many watching eyes—
Men would know of our troth,
Had I sought her too often.
So our love remained secret like a rock-pent pool;
I cherished her in my heart,
Looking to aftertime when we should be together,
And lived secure in my trust
As one riding a great ship.
Suddenly there came a messenger
Who told me she was dead—
Was gone like a yellow leaf of autumn.
Dead as the day dies with the setting sun,
Lost as the bright moon is lost behind the cloud,
Alas, she is no more, whose soul
Was bent to mine like bending seaweed!
When the word was brought to me
I knew not what to do nor what to say;
But restless at the mere news,
And hoping to heal my grief
Even a thousandth part,
I journeyed to Karu and searched the market place
Where my wife was wont to go!
There I stood and listened,
But no voice of her I heard,
Though the birds sang in the Unebi Mountain;
None passed by who even looked like my wife.
I could only call her name and wave my sleeve.
In the autumn mountains
The yellow leaves are so thick.
Alas, how shall I seek my love
Who has wandered away?
I know not the mountain track.
I see the messenger come
As the yellow leaves are falling.
Oh, well I remember
How on such a day we used to meet—
My wife and I!
In the days when my wife lived,
We went out to the embankment near by—
We two, hand in hand—
To view the elm trees standing there
With their outspreading branches
Thick with spring leaves. Abundant as their greenery
Was my love. On her leaned my soul.
But who evades mortality?
One morning she was gone, flown like an early bird.
Clad in a heavenly scarf of white,
To the wide fields where the shimmering kagerô rises
She went and vanished like the setting sun.
The little babe—the keepsake
My wife has left me—
Cries and clamors.
I have nothing to give; I pick up the child
And clasp it in my arms.
In our chamber, where our two pillows lie,
Where we two used to sleep together,
Days I spend alone, broken-hearted:
Nights I pass, sighing till dawn.
Though I grieve, there is no help;
Vainly I long to see her.
Men tell me that my wife is
In the mountains of Hagai—
Thither I go,
Toiling along the stony path;
But it avails me not,
For of my wife, as she lived in this world,
I find not the faintest shadow.
Tonight the autumn moon shines—
The moon that shone a year ago,
But my wife and I who watched it then together
Are divided by ever widening wastes of time.
When leaving my love behind
In the Hikite mountains—
Leaving her there in her grave,
I walk down the mountain path,
I feel not like one living.
Kakinomoto Hitomaro