Previous research on Sakanoue no Iratsume (c. 695-750) is fairly limited, mostly focusing on her love poetry, marriage history, and kinship ties. This is because the typical approach to the Man’yōshū (c. eighth century) is to treat individual poets and their poems without much consideration of their place within the broader contexts of each volume and the anthology as a whole. It also shows a degree of gendered bias: Sakanoue is the third most prolific poet in the Man’yōshū (only Hitomaro and Yakamochi have more poems), but the amount and quality of scholarship dedicated to each of these figures does not reflect this.
Borrowing Gerard Genette’s concept of paratext, this paper draws upon recent trends that read the Man’yōshū as a text with two distinct narratives: the history of imperial succession and the history of the Ōtomo clan, whose political influence was weakening at the time of compilation. I consider Sakanoue’s poetry in the context of Volume Four—a book dedicated to private exchanges—because of the general perception that Sakanoue and this volume are far removed from these political narratives. By examining her poems in relation to their anthological context, including headnotes, endnotes, and the overall structure of the volume itself, we can reconsider both poet and book within the larger context of the anthology. Specifically, I argue that reading Sakanoue’s poetry within the frameworks created by these paratextual elements reveals the crucial role her poems play in linking the anthology’s two narrative threads within the space of Volume Four.