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ASUKA romance (historical)

**Update: Just found a song from youtube – thought it’d fit in with the theme here perfectly…. Enjoy! : )

The song, 「遣唐使船再現プロジェクト」, to celebrate the re-make of an ancient Japanese envoy ship in the Tang Dynasty of China.



I have always wanted to open a post, about the legendary and fascinating romance between Nukata (額田王), Ōama (大海人) and Naka-no-Ōe (中大兄) of the Asuka period in Japanese history….

Nukata was born a princess and later became Prince Ōama’s favourite wife. Their daughter, Princess Tochi (十市皇女) would become Emperor Kobun’s consort many years later.

Nukata was also known as a famous poet of the Asuka period of Japan. Many of her poems were featured in the Man’yōshū (万葉集 Collection of Ten Thousand Leaves).

Albeit the lack of historical evidence, it is a famous legend that Nukata became one of the consorts of Emperor Tenji (天智天皇), whom was also known as Prince Naka-no-Ōe before accession, and the elder brother of Prince Ōama. It consequently led to the inevitable conflict between the two brothers; after the death of Emperor Tenji, Prince Ōama successfully deposed his nephew, Emperor Kōbun (弘文天皇) during the Jinshin War and claimed himself the throne to become Emperor Temmu (天武天皇).

In particular, there were two poems from  the Man’yōshū suggesting Nukata’s relationship with Emperor Tenji:

茜草射す 紫草野行き 標野行き 野守 のは見ずや 君 が袖振る
(あかねさす むらさきのゆき しめのゆき のもりはみずや きみがそでふる)

– Poem No. 1-20 By Princess Nukata when Emperor Tenji had a hunt in the fields of Gamō in 668

You ride back and forth through the Imperial fields of gromwell plants:
Isn’t the groundkeeper watching your waving of the sleeves at me?

This poem was addressed to her former lover, Prince Ōama. At the time this poem was written (668), Princess Nukata was nearly forty years old. For years now she had been rumored to be one of the consorts of Emperor Tenji, Prince Ōama’s elder brother. This poem and the envoy to it (Poem 1-21) by Prince Ōama were presumably exchanged half in jest at a banquet in the presence of Emperor Tenji. These pieces are perhaps the most famous and popular of all the Man’yōshū poems.

紫草の  匂へる妹を  憎く有らば  人妻故に  我戀ひめやも
(むらさきの  にほへるいもを  にくくあらば  ひとづまゆゑに  われこひめやも)

– Poem No. 1-21 By Prince Ōama, an envoy addressed to Poem 1-20 by Princess Nukata

If I did not care for you, who are as beautiful as the glowing purple of gromwell plants, would I dare to be so madly in love with you, knowing full well that you are another’s wife?

The suggestion of an entangled relationships has left many rooms for imagination for shoujo mangakas, such as:

In Tenjo no Niji (天上の虹) by SATONAKA Machiko, Prince Naka-no-Ōe showed his interest in the talent and beauty of Nukata. He then offered Prince Ōama his daughter for marriage, in exchange for Nukata. Prince Ōama was in agony as he was devoted to his brother but in the mean time, he loved Nukata. In the end, he chose to let go of Nukata as a gesture of loyalty to his brother, however heartbroken. This was the beginning of the long and epic series of  Tenjo no Niji, in which Princess Uno-Sarara, Prince Ōama’s then young bride, would become his ally in succeeding the throne and later made herself Empress Jitō…..

Likewise in YAMATO Waki’s Ten no Hate Chi no Kagiri  (天の果て地の限り), Prince Naka-no-Ōe developed an interest in Nukata. Although vowed never to marry in order to serve as a priestess to the imperial family, Nukata developed a relationship with Prince Ōama whom was deeply in love with her. But as she became Prince Naka-no-Ōe’s (rumoured) consort, she gradually found herself being attracted to this “forceful” man. In this series, Nakuta’s elder sister, Kagami (鏡王女) was also mentioned; she had been a consort at Emperor Tenji’s favour but was later married off at the sametime as Nakuta becoming the emperor’s new consort.

 Naka-no-Ōe and young Ōama in TennoHateChinoKagiri

Kaze no Utau tai (風の歌うたい), a short story included in Honoka ni Purple (vol.1) by SAITO Chiho, was also about Nukata being the love of  Prince Ōama, turned consort of Prince Naka-no-Ōe, and then later found herself being in love with the later. As expected in any Saito’s shoujos, the enmeshed romance was of course the central concern of the story. ^^

Yume no Katami (夢のかたみ) is the sequel about Princess Tochi and her “romance” between Prince Ōtomo (大友皇子), later known as Emperor Kōbun, and Prince Takechi (高市皇子). The short story was also included in Honoka ni Purple (vol.3) by SAITO Chiho

On a minor note about Asuka no Oujo (明日香の王女 by KAWAMURA Eri) – I have not read the series myself, but based on others’ reviews, this story was about Princess Asuka, a sister of Emperor Tenji. In this series, Nukata chose to be Naka-no-Ōe’s consort herself for the sake of Ōama’s safety, i.e. a different approach compared to the rest of the shoujo series mentioned above. In real life, Princess Asuka was one of the many daughters of Naka-no-Ōe and would be married to Prince Ōtomo with her sister.


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