Abe no Nakamaro (阿倍仲麻呂)

ABE no Nakamaro (698 - 770) was a Japanese student sent to Tang Dynasty China during the Nara Period. He passed 'Kakyo' (an examination for Chinese state bureaucrats) in Tang and ascended through the ranks to become a high official of Tang Dynasty, but he could not achieve his dream of returning to Japan. His Chinese name was Choko (Zhao Heng).

Nakamaro (仲麻呂) can also be described as 仲麿 in kanji. For example, 仲麿 is used in "阿倍仲麿入唐記" (literally, a record of Nakamaro ABE's visit to Tang) written by Ryutaro HISHIYA in 1870.


Nakamaro was of royal blood of Hikofutsuoshinomakoto no mikoto, Imperial Prince of Emperor Kogen. Nakamaro was born the first son of ABE no Funamori in Yamato Province in 698 and praised for his academic ability when he was young. In 717, he accompanied the eighth Japanese envoy to Tang Dynasty China led by TAJIHI no Agatamori and studied in Changan, the capital of Tang. His peers included KIBI no Makibi (a scholar and statesman) and Genbo (high-ranking Buddhist priest). After passing Kakyo, Nakamaro was appointed as a 校書 of 司経局 in Rakuyo in 725, and promoted to 左拾遺 and 左補闕 in 728 and in 731 respectively.

As Nakamaro mainly assumed the posts of the literature department in the Imperial Court of Tang, he seemed to have fellowship with many Tang poets including Li Po (Rihaku), Wei WANG and Chu Guang-xi, and "Zentoshi" (The Whole Collection of Tang Poetry) contains several poems of Tang poets featuring Nakamaro.

In 733, another Japanese envoy to Tang Dynasty led by TAJIHI no Hironari (a younger brother of Agatamori) arrived in Tang, but Nakamaro did not embark on the ship to Japan for pursuing further career as an official in Tang. The envoy ships set sail for Japan a year later, but only one of them, ship first managed to arrived in Tanegashima Island of Japan after being adrift on the sea, and other three ships were wrecked. KIBI no Makibi and Genbo who were aboard ship first survived and reached to Japan. The ship second led by vice commander, NAKATOMI no Nashiro, drifted to Fujian Province of China and returned to Changan. While the group led by Nashiro managed to arrive in Japan later, another group led by HEGIRI no Hironari, the third officer of the envoy to Tang China, which was captured by Kingdom of Champa after being adrift on the sea, returned to Changan. Later, Hiranari's group also returned to Japan via Bokkai (Kingdom in Manchura and North Korea) successfully, thanks to Nakamaro who struggled to find a way out.

In 752, a new Japanese envoy to Tang Dynasty led by FUJIWARA no Kiyokawa arrived in Tang. After 35 years of service in Tang, Nakamaro decided to return to Japan with Kiyokawa. On Nakamaro's departure, Wei WANG wrote a poem saying, 'I sent off the chief of secretary department, Choko (Zhao Heng), returning to Japan'. However, ship first which Nakamaro and Kiyokoawa were aboard met a severe storm and drifted southward. Li Po (Rihaku) who heard a report that Nakamaro died in the storm wrote a shichigon zekku (a Chinese poem of four lines, each of seven characters), titled '哭晁卿衡' (wailing over the death of Nakamaro), one of which lines reads '明月不歸沈碧海' (a bright moon did not go back but sunk in the blue ocean), expressing Li Po's mourning over the death of Nakamaro. However, Nakamaro was not dead; the ship fortunately drifted to Kanshu of Annam (present-day, ヴィン, central Vietnam), part of Tang, by following almost the same route as HEGIRI no Hironari took previously. The group of Nakamaro came back to Changan in 755. In the same year, Anrokuzan Incident occurred and Japan who feared of the physical safety of FUJIWARA no Kiyokawa sent an envoy via Bokkai to retrieve him, but Tang Dynasty did not allow Kiyokawa to return to Japan, citing safety concerns over the route back to Japan.

Giving up his dream of returning to Japan, Nakamaro resumed his career as a governmental official in Tang, and was sent to Vietnam as Governor of the Chen-Nan Region and Chief Commander of the An Nam Region of Vietnam (Senior Third Rank) after promoted from Zuo Sanqi Changshi, a high-level advisor at the examination bureau (Junior Third Rank). Nakamaro held the office of Governor of An Nam, Hanoi for six years from 761 to 767. He was finally conferred the title of Governor-General of Roshu (潞州) (Junior Second Rank). Without fulfilling his dream of returning to his mother country, Nakamaro died in 770 at the age of 72.

Waka (Japanese poetry) and Kanshi (Chinese poetry)

The following famous poem of Nakamaro's was selected as a poem for Hyakunin Isshu (one hundred waka poems by one hundred poets); 'On the horizon—isn't that the same moon that rises in spring over the Hill of Mikasa?'
Although there are various theories about this poem, one theory says that when a farewell party for Nakamaro who was going back to Japan was held in 753, he read this poem in Japanese in front of his friends including Wei WANG.

Presently, this poem is inscribed in the form of gogonzekku on the monument in the Xingquig Palace Park in Xian City, Shan Xi Province and on another poetry monument in Beigushan hill, Zhenjiang, Jiangsu Province.

The volume 732 of "Zentoshi" contains Nakamaro's gogon-kintaishi poem (one of the poetic forms in Chinese poetry) titled '銜命還国作', which was written upon his departure from Tang to Japan (under the name of 'Choko' [Zhao Heng]).

[Original Japanese]