Always alongside the empresses
From what we know of the poems on the previous page, Lady Nukata lived into her 60s or 70s. Her life spanned the eras of three empresses—Suiko, Saimei (Kogyoku), and Jito—who each helped to shape the Asuka Period. Nukata was the inspiration behind many stories that go beyond historical facts—stories of dramatic human events, the natural splendor of Asuka, and personal feelings that we can relate to even today. Apart from her poetry, almost everything about her is a mystery—including what happened to her remains after she died. Some think she was buried near the former site of Noguchi Ueyama Castle (in present-day Asuka Village, Nara Prefecture), but the truth remains unknown.
The bird you say / longs for the past / is the cuckoo. / Its cry must echo what I feel.* (Book 1, Poem 112)
Here “the past” refers to Emperor Tenmu’s reign. In Yoshino, an area closely associated with Tenmu, his son Prince Yuge wrote a poem. In it, as he mourned his late father, he implicitly likened Lady Nukata to a bird that longed for the past. In her response, Nukata suggested that the bird must be a little cuckoo. She was alluding to an ancient Chinese story about a deposed king of Shu. Frustrated in his efforts to win back his crown, the king dies and turns into a little cuckoo that sings wistful lamentations day and night. This exchange of poems took place when Prince Yuge was in his 20s; at the time, Lady Nukata was probably in her 60s.
*Translation by Ian Hideo Levy
The Life of Lady Nukata
- Born as a daughter of Prince Kagami.
- Gives birth to Princess Tochi by Prince Oama.
- Accompanies the imperial navy on its mission to help restore Baekje.
- Moves to the new capital of Omi-otsu along with Prince Nakano-oe.
- Daughter Princess Tochi dies.
- Exchanges poems with Prince Yuge.
- Year of death
Editor’s note: While edited for readability, this story is based on actual historical accounts. Lady Nukata was undoubtedly one of the “Heroines of Asuka”. We hope her life story will inspire your interest in the culture and history of Asuka.