Rokkasen = Six laureates of Waka poets Over View
"Rokkasen" are six "waka" poets in the early Heian period(792-1192), who were referred
to by Kino Tsurayuki in the "kana" (= hirakana) preface to the "Kokinshu"
as those "widely renowned in recent times". Accurately saying, it is only
two persons Kakinomoto-no-Hitomaro and Yamabe-no-Akahito who gained laurels
of poetry in the "Kokinshu"'s "kana" and "mana" (kanji) prefaces. So it is
untrue that Kino Tsurayuki himself honored the six poets as laureates. It
was later on that the appellation "Rokkasen" (Six "waka" laureates) was used.
So when exactly was the "recent times" mentioned by Kino Tsurayuki? Recent
studies of the historical records of these six poets suggest that this "recent
times" may have been the era of or earlier than the Emperor Yozei's (876 -
884, in the early Heian period).
Kino Tsurayuku did not necessarily consider these six as the most distinguished
poets of the age prior to the Yozei era. When picking exemplars "who have
a profound knowledge of poetry and are able to compose poems themselves",
Kino Tsurayuki announced that he had omitted those who were high in rank because
to choose the work of such privileged people was so commonplace that his task
might not be taken seriously. He then named these six people as having been
chosen from among poets who did not enjoy such privileges.
The fact is that there were a number of prominent poets among the court nobles
during and before the Yozei era. Tsurayuki however refrained from referring
to these poets of high rank. Instead, he chose six officials and priests of
lower rank from outside the nobility who afterwards became widely known as
the six laureate poets. N.B. Nobles are defined as courtiers of or higher
than the third rank or having the status of counselors.