Study of the manyogana (the style of hiragana used to write the Manyoshu, an ancient collection of poems) indicates that at some time (around the mid-7th century) the Japanese language had at least 8 distinctly different vowel sounds that have over the centuries merged into the 5 we have today.
FWIW, the Man'yōshū was compiled in the mid-8th century, not the mid-7th, and study of the man'yōgana as used in both the Man'yōshū and Shinsen Man'yōshū indicates rather that the change happened no later than the 9th century, not "over the centuries".
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People like Ezra Vogel and Donald Keene made names for themselves by extolling the virtues of Japan and its people, e.g. perfection in manufacturing and the attractiveness of the traditional aesthetic culture.
Donald Keene "made a name for himself" by singing the praises of Japan and its people? That's a common attitude among western ex-pats in Japan who came here because of anime and video games, who have never actually read anything Keene himself wrote, and first heard about Keene from Debito's defamatory blog posts and newspaper columns, but it's not actually accurate. Keene is known in academic circles for his early translations and for his monumental and authoritative History of Japanese Literature; the "name" to which the above post refers was made not by Keene himself but by angry bloggers trying to make a name for themselves by attacking a well-regarded scholar.
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