KANSAI Close-up

Historic Kansai:Intellectual attraction in psychological home of Japanese

By Junzo Tanaka
'Asuka' in Nara Prefecture is the psychological home of the Japanese people. Its mountains shrouded in fog, roofs with black tiles and white-washed walls all capture our hearts in nostalgia.
Asuka was the capital of the nation from the sixth to the seventh century. The Asuka period was one of glory with international flavor as many migrants moved to Japan from the Eurasian Continent during this period. Today, it is a quiet mountain village visited only by hikers. But, the ancient residents of Asuka have left a spiritual treasure to the later generations.
It is 'Man'yo Shu,' or a collection of poetry that is well-known in the history of world literature. It comprises 4,500 short poems composed by Japanese during the 350 years up to the year 759 A.D. Man'yo Shu includes many poems written by ordinary people as well as works by noblemen and poets. Today, more than 1,200 years after these poems were composed, many people still recite such works as those that express longings for home felt by soldiers being sent to guard remote places, or a lowly bureaucrat's lament for his wife and children who cry from hunger. For the Japanese people, they are the home of their hearts.
A new institution for research on Man'yo Shu recently opened in Asuka and began to present lectures and exhibitions among other things. The institution is Nara Prefecture Complex of Man'yo Culture (Asuka, Asuka Village, Takaichi County, Nara Prefecture). The appointment of Professor Susumu Nakanishi, a Man'yo scholar, as its director has attracted wide attention among Man'yo fans in Japan.
As Professor Nakanishi is a noted scholar of comparative literature, many researchers from other countries also visit the institution. The creation of an intellectual attraction in Asuka, which used to offer only the opportunity to appreciate nature, is attracting many hikers to the institution.