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CHAPTER 2 Nihon Shoki (720): The First National History Date of Composition The date of composition of Nihon Shoki is important because of the light it sheds on the stature ofthe work as a documentofpolitical thought. If it were begun in 681 by a team of princes and high officials and completed in 720, as the evidence suggests, two generations or more worked on the text. In those forty years, their collective skills as historians probably improved. More important, they probably found ways to make the imperial version of history acceptable to the leading families of the time. There is no evidence that anyone in 720disputed the contents of Nihon Shoki; instead the textual and stylistic evidence suggests that the interests of the major families had been incorporated into the imperial history. If it were written over those forty years, it represents a consensus on the political ideas of Japan and becomes a document of overwhelming importance. However, as with Kojiki, there are some problems regarding the date of composition. According to the most commonly held view, Nihon Shoki also arose from a command of Emperor Tenmu to compile a historical work. It seems that after commanding Hieda no Are to learn the materials that ultimately appeared in Kojiki, Emperor Tenmu gave separate orders in 681 for a different kind of historical compilation. However, it is difficult to trace the history of Nihon Shoki from its inception. This is because Nihon Shoki has no preface concerning its composition, authorship, and purpose. Probably there was originally a Notes to Chapter 2 are found on page 143. 20 NIHON SHOKI (720): THE FIRST NATIONALHISTORY 21 preface which has been lost, together with a book of genealogy that accompanied the work. They were included inthe text, according to the account of the presentation of Nihon Shoki to the throne which is given in Shoku Nihongi (Chronicle of Japan Continued).1 Such prefaces always gave a date of receiving the imperial command to compile the history, and without this essential information as a starting point, the discussion of the date of composition becomes more difficult. The apparent origin of the work is recorded in an entry in the text of Nihon Shoki itself, in the year 681 (third month, sixteenth day): The Emperortook his place in the Great Hall of Audience, and there gave orders to the ImperialPrinces Kahashima and Osakabe, to Prince Hirose, Prince Takeda, Prince Kuhada, and Prince Mino, to Michichi, Kamitsukenu no Kimi, of Lower Daikin rank, and Kobito, Imbe no Muraji, of Middle Shokinrank, Inashiki, Adzumi no Muraji, of Lower Shokinrank, Ohagata, Naniha no Muraji, Ohoshima, Nakatomi no Muraji, of Upper Daisen rank, and KobitoHegurino Omi,of Lower Daisen rank, to commit to writinga chronicle of the Emperors, and also of matters of high antiquity . Ohoshima and Kobito took the pen in hand themselves, and made notes.2 The commandis clear, yet questions arise, as in the case of Kojiki. Why did Emperor Tenmu want two history projects? Wasthe order to Hieda no Are to correct the records and thereby produce Kojiki not sufficient? Since both books are histories ofJapan, ifthe 680starting date for Kojiki is taken as correct, would it not follow that the 681 starting date for Nihon Shoki is wrong? The answer lies inthe very different nature and style ofthe two works. They cover exactly the same period of history, beginningwiththe Ageof the Gods and ending with the reign of Empress Suiko (592-628)in the case of Kojiki, and with Empress Jito (r. 690-697) in the case of Nihon Shoki. Yet their differences in language, method, and emphasis are striking, because each work sought to fill a different need at the time. Separate assignments were necessary for His Majesty's history project because of the dual nature of the development of Japanese civilization. On one hand, the rise of the Japanese state in East Asia required a local justification. Its founding by deities, and the record of its mighty and divine Emperors and great houses had to be told in Kojiki. Hence Kojiki concentrates on the early period, and narrates the Age of the Gods in considerable detail. Once past the era of the founding of Japan and the imperial house, however, Kojiki loses its strong sense of purpose . The narrative becomes thin for the later Emperors, andby the time Empress Suiko is discussed, Kojiki has nothing to say: it could not handle real history. Its emphasis on the period of founding was necessary inorder...


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