Shōwa Man’yō Forest

A poem by Emperor Yūryaku
A poem by Emperor Yūryaku

Name

昭和万葉の森
しょうわまんようのもり
Shōwa man’yō no mori
Shōwa Man’yō Forest

Location

Ōhira in Miyagi Prefecture, near Sendai.

Address

〒981−3602宮城県黒川郡大衡村大衡字平林117
117 Tairabayashi, Ōhira-aza, Ōhira-mura, Kurokawa-gun, Miyaki-ken, 981-3602

Contact

TEL: 022-345-4623 (Japanese only)

Email: info@ohira-manyo.co.jp (Japanese only)

Website

http://ohira-manyo.co.jp/mori.html
The website (Japanese) provides brief information about the forest’s history and contents, opening hours and transport links.

Opening hours

The forest is open seven days a week, during the following times:

April-October
9:00 a.m. – 4:30 p.m.

November-March
9:00 a.m. – 4:00 p.m.

It is closed every year for the New Year Holiday (28 December-4 January).

Access

The forest is most conveniently reached by car.

Visitors wishing to use public transport should take the Miyakō Bus (ミアコーバス)  from Sendai station (either the Sendai-Kami Express Line (高速仙台加美線), or the Sendai-Ōhira Express Line (高速仙台大衡線)) and get off at Ōhira-mura Yakuba-mae (大衡村役場前). The journey takes about 50 minutes each way, depending upon traffic.

On descending from the bus, you will have the Ōhira Village Office (ōhira yakuba 大衡村役場) on your right, on the opposite side of the road. Turn around, and cross over the road, so that the Village Office is on your left. Walk to the end of the road, and turn left, so that the Village Office remains on your left, and walk along the road, past the Ōhira Regional Comprehensive Support Centre (ōhira-mura chi’iki hōkatsu shien sentā 大衡村地域包括支援センター) until you come to an elevated pedestrian bridge over National Route 57. Cross the bridge, and follow the road on the far side round to the left, and you will shortly walk into the Forest. The total distance from the bus stop to the forest is about 350 metres.

Description

Man'yō trees and poems
Man’yō trees and poems

As its name suggests, Shōwa Man’yō Forest is a forest, where a major concern has been to leave the environment as untouched as possible, while still providing a space for walking and enjoying the environment.  As a result a series of paths of varying widths, named for a variety of poetic epithets from the Man’yōshū,  meander through the 23 hectares of the site – some are quite level, wide and easy going, while others are both narrow and steep. As one walks the paths one is surrounded by the Japanese red pines that make up the forest, extensive undergrowth and, of course, the Man’yō plants themselves. While the majority of Man’yō species are present and represented, only about forty are marked with plaques and poems, making it a botanical challenge to locate and identify the remainder. As well as a wide variety of bird and insect life, one may also encounter wild boar, or deer, although both of these are only likely to be found early in the morning when the park is quiet. To do a full circuit of all the forest’s paths will take between 2-3 hours, depending upon your walking speed.

A separate section is devoted to Man’yō trees, accompanied by poems carved, in the calligraphy of an eminent scholar from Miyagi University, onto low, grey stone plaques. These are accompanied, as all the poems are, with versions written in a script more accessible to the general Japanese reader, and a summary of the poem’s meaning, in modern Japanese.

For further information, there is a small display of local plants, animals and seasonal activities in the garden offices, and refreshments can be obtained at the Man’yō Chaya 万葉茶屋 next to the car park. In addition, Ōhira Village Art Museum is within easy walking distance, and the Forest is neighboured by Man’yō Create Park (万葉クリエートパーク) which offers a variety of sporting and other activities.

History

The forest began in 1955 on the occasion of the Sixth National Tree Planting Festival (Dai rokkai zenkoku shokuju sai 第6回全国植樹祭). As part of these events, Emperor Shōwa [Hirohito] (1901-1989; r. 1926-1989) visited Ōhira accompanied by Empress Nagako, and planted the first of what were to become 6000 Japanese red pines making up the forest. Thirty years later in 1985, the year marking the 60th Anniversary of Hirohito’s accession to the throne, a decision was taken to mark the event with the creation of a Man’yō garden. The creation of this took some four years, with the result that the Man’yō Forest only opened in 1989, the year of Emperor Shōwa’s death.

At this time, there were already about thirty Man’yō Botanical Gardens throughout Japan, but none in the Tōhoku region, and the creation of the Shōwa Man’yō Forest was intended to remedy this lack. All of the 160 odd plants mentioned in the Man’yōshū were collected for the forest but, in keeping with the desire to interfere with nature as little as possible, it was decided that only some would be marked with poems, with the choice of which poems to use delegated to a committee of Man’yō experts at Miyagi University. When I visited this summer [2015], I was told that about 120 plants survive and remain in the forest.

The prefecture enjoys a number of Man’yō links: Ōtomo no Yakamochi, the anthology’s principal compiler died in the region, and the most northerly identifiable location lies there, too. In addition, many of the plants mentioned as foodstuffs in the collection originated from the region, and it was also memorialised by Emperor Shōmu (701-756; r. 724-749), in gratitude for supplying gold which was used for the construction of the Great Buddha of the Tōdaiji in Nara. For all these reasons, it was felt that Miyagi needed a Man’yō facility, and it continues to attact approximately 40,000 visitors a year – mostly in the summer.

Poems

The following Man’yō poems can be found on plaques in the forest:

MYS I: 1
MYS I: 20
MYS I: 21
MYS I: 28
MYS I: 63
MYS II: 90
MYS II: 107
MYS II: 108
MYS II: 142
MYS II: 158
MYS III: 289
MYS III: 434
MYX IV: 632
MYS V: 798
MYS V: 822
MYS VI: 1042
MYS VIII: 1461
MYS VIII: 1418
MYS VIII: 1424
MYS VIII: 1444
MYS VIII: 1448
MYS VIII: 1490
MYS VIII: 1500
MYS VIII: 1537
MYS VIII: 1538
MYS VIII: 1623
MYS X: 1814
MYS X: 1821
MYS X: 1872
MYS X: 1895
MYS X: 1903
MYS X: 1953
MYS X: 2103
MYS X: 2115
MYS X: 2225
MYS X: 2233
MYS X: 2315
MYS XI: 2656
MYS XII: 2968
MYS XVII: 3921
MYS XVIII: 4109
MYS XIX: 4139
MYS XIX: 4143
MYS XIX: 4159
MYS XIX: 4193
MYS XIX: 4204
MYS XIX: 4278
MYS XX: 4493

'Simply moving and elegant'