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  • Writer's pictureAkiko Murakami

A super international man in Nara period: Abe-no Nakamaro (阿倍仲麻呂)

The year 2017 was a historical year, 1300th anniversary year since Abe-no Nakamaro left Japan's capital city Nara, "Heijokyo" in 717. He was one of the Japanese officials who were sent on a mission to bring back state of the art cultures, technologies, etc. from China-----but, he couldn't.

Literally, he could not make it back to Nara, Japan, but instead, he made a great promotion and spent his life dedicated works to the Chinese Emperor of Tang Dynasty.

Late in his life, surprisingly, Nakamaro even served as a governor of Annan, today's Vietnam!

He was a real super man, in many sense, but he is not well known as other people like KUKAI, who made great contributions to the Japanese society after coming back from China..

Actually, Nara city had tried to put light on this unique figure who lived during Nara period, but it was not so successful..and it was a bit sad about it.

From his outstanding literary skill, he is most known for a poem filled with intense longing for his home in Nara. One of his poems was included in Hyakunin Isshu (百人一首), or the anthology of 100 poems by 100 different poets. --usually memorized and used as a traditional Japanese card game.

Japanese text


ふりさけ見れば 春日なる

みかさの山に 出し月かも

Romanized Japanese English


furisake mireba kasuga naru

mikasa no yama ni ideshi tsuki kamo

English translation

When I look up into the vast sky tonight,

is it the same moon that I saw rising

from behind Mt. Mikasa at Kasuga Shrine

all those years ago?

<About Abe-no Nakamaro / personal story>

The following is the official promotion short film made by Nara prefecture:

As a young man he was admired for having outstanding academic skills, and was a great hope for the whole Abe family. He was officially assigned to go to China, but his heart was not in peace..

Why? What for? He could not find the real purpose of going to China.

"To learn and bring back new things from China? "

(meaning, accepting Japan was inferior to China)

"For the stability of the Abe family's positions in the government?"

The KAMI (god) dwelled on Kasuga mountain in Nara appears..

He realized his true purpose :"to prove that someone from Yamato (=Japan) is as great as the people in Tang Dynasty."

With this ambition in his heart, he made great promotions in a short time and won a close position to the Chinese emperor and served him and his

He tried to go back to Japan several times, but could not make it successfully due to the bad weather and other reasons.

🌟He made a poem about his longing towards Nara, imagining a rising moon on the Kasuga mountain, or Mt. Mikasa.

He ended his life at the age of 73 and was buried in China with respect.

So, I was happy to find him in the up coming mystery & fantasy movie "KUKAI" made by a joint effort between China and Japan.

The one on the left with purple robe is Abe-no Nakamaro.

He also made close friends famous Chinese poets, Li Bai and Wang Wei, Zhao Hua, etc.

I remember those names from my school studies about Chinese literature and history (and calligraphy).

Well, it must had been hard for the Japanese actors to master Chinese to act as a great historical figures to film this movie in Chinese !!

It was yesterday (on March 14) , I saw the movie ....and was kind of disappointed how Abe was described in the movie. Well, I knew the fact and this fantasy mystery movie could be very different, but it was too much..

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