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CHAPTER 1 Kojiki (712): Japan'sFirst Book Date and Authorship The Preface of Kojiki says that Emperor Tenmu (r. 673-686) commanded a young man of prodigious memory named Hieda no Are, aged 28, to learn by heart certain texts of history. All these texts, whose titles indicate that they contained chronicles and genealogies of the imperial house and of the leading families, seem to have been lost by about the eighth century. According to the Preface, Hieda no Are did as commanded and learned the texts, but nothing further materialized. No explanation is given for this lapse of activity. Emperor Tenmu died, and "the times went on and the reign changed before this was accomplished."1 Empress Jito (r. 690-697) and Emperor Monmu (r. 696-707) came and went, bringingto the throne Empress Genmei. She expressed concern at the state of historical knowledge: "Appalled at the mistakes in the Ancient Words, she determined to correct the corruptions in the Records of Former Reigns."2 Her remedy was to order a courtier by the name of O no Yasumaro, on the 18th of the ninth month of 711, "to record and present the Ancient Words learned by imperial command" by Hieda no Are.3 Yasumaro reports that he complied despite the difficulties posed by the current condition of orthography, in which Chinese characters were still in process of being adapted to a variety of Japanese uses. He presented Kojiki to the throne in very short order, on the 28th of the first monthof 712—just three months later. Notes to Chapter 1 are found on pages 142-43. 8 KOJIKI (712): JAPAN'S FIRST BOOK 9 The question of the author and date of Kojiki has given rise to much discussion among Japanese scholars. It is extremely important to them because of the traditional view that Kojiki was Japan's first book. Indeed, anything about Kojiki is important to them, because its ideas were the staple ingredients ofthe traditional Japanese world view, as we shall see. A survey of scholarship in 1977 by Tokumitsu Kyuya lists 60 publications on the date of composition of Kojiki from the 1940s to the early 1970s.4 The flow of publications continues. However, despite an abundance of ingenious approaches, there is no clear consensus that Kojiki ought to be assigned a date of composition other than 712. Likewise, although strong doubt hasbeen cast upon Hieda no Are and 6 no Yasumaro, no one else has been convincingly identified as the author. A review of scholarship on the subject is little to our point, since it is inconclusive. Instead, we shall accept the circumstances of composition substantially as stated in the book's Preface.5 Creating Imperial History Kojiki is not just a transcription of the materials at hand in 712. The imperial state had a strong purpose in writing history: to establish an understanding of the past that wouldenhance its supremacy. Here is the command of Emperor Tenmu to Hieda no Are, which is recorded in the Preface to Kojiki: I hear that the Imperial Chronicles and Basic Records handed down by the various houses have come to differ from the truth and that many falsehoods have been added to them. If these errors are not remedied at this time, their meaning will be lost before many years have passed. This is the framework of the state, the great foundation of the imperial influence. Therefore, recording the Imperial Chronicles and examining the Ancient Words, discarding the mistaken and establishing the true, I desire to hand them on to later generations.6 The concern to establish an orthodox history, favourable to the imperial position, could not be expressed more clearly. The impression is given that the memorizing done by Hieda no Are, and the transcribing done by 6 no Yasumaro, were both passive in nature. According to the Preface, their work consisted merely of accepting and passing on tales of the past. These tales may have been transmitted by specialists such as the hereditary guild of reciters (katari-be} and people with similar functions who were attached to the various clans. The impression that it was a passive recording is further enhanced by the contents of the work, which appear to be the natural beliefs of simple people of long ago. The tales of Kojiki are told with no sense of incongruity; the bad and disheartening stories about gods and Emperors 10 POLITICAL THOUGHT IN JAPANESEHISTORICAL WRITIN are recited side by side with the...

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Additional Information

ISBN
9780889208742
Related ISBN
9780889209978
MARC Record
OCLC
243566096
Pages
174
Launched on MUSE
2012-06-26
Language
English
Open Access
No
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