New Year’s and the Snow: Manyo (Collection of Ten Thousand Leaves)


Manyo-shu is the oldest anthology of short poems (waka, directly translated as short songs) in Japanese history, including 20 volumes and 4,536 short poems and Chinese verse. This huge collection ends with the following poem.


あたらしき としのはじめの はつはるの
きょうふるゆきの いやしけよごと

On this New Year’s day
As auspicious snow falls on and on
May joys be blooming on our way

For some people snow brings refreshing feel of a white, sparkly winter wonderland and sweet reminiscences of their childhood while for others it’s all about permanently runny nose and flushed cheeks as well as curing up in oversized sweater and keeping shoveling the snow.

This song is written on the New Year’s day, 759, with provincial governors greeting the Ministry building. Ohtomo no Yakamochi, the leading poet from Manyo-shu, wrote it and was arguably one of the editors.

Snow was then believed to be an auspicious sign. Some people still have a positive attitude towards occasional snowfalls but for others it’s just another sign of a cold, bleak winter. People, centuries ago, seem to see something special in a change of the weathers, and of the years. We still learn how differently people see things happening from day to day.