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CHAPTER 3 The Five National Histories and Imperial Scholarship Historical Writing and Culture The completion of Nihon Shoki was an event of great importance in the history of Japan. First, it marked the end of the interlocked processes of creating the state, and of explaining and justifying its origins: both the state and its history were universally acceptable in 720. Little more needed to be done, except to keep up withchanging times. In politics this meant making adjustments to the system on a pragmatic basis, without reference to the Chinese blueprints for government. In historical writing it meant keeping the story up to date, without having to create concepts to express the history of Japan. Second, the compilation affirmed the cultural character ofthe ancient Japanese state. At the highest level, that ofthe Emperor, cultural leadership was given by both example and command. The Emperors themselves wrote poetry, played, and sang music, not out of dissolution or a desire for diversion, but in the belief that such activities were an essential component of good government. Emperor Saga (r. 809-823) said, "Nothing is greater than literature as a means of administering the state and governing one's house."1 Third, the completion of Nihon Shoki signaled the exact nature of the cultural activities of the state. While a portion of these would consist of imaginative arts such as literature, another portion would be highminded and serious scholarship. This was manifested by the periodic Notes to Chapter 3 are found on pages 143-44. 33 34 POLITICAL THOUGHTIN JAPANESE HISTORICAL WRITING readings of Nihon Shoki held throughout the Nara and Heian periods, and by the continuation of state-sponsored official histories. There are records of seven readings of Nihon Shoki (Doku Nihongi), in 721, 772, 812, 843, 878, 904, and 965. Occurring at approximately 30-year intervals in the ninth century, they were intended to keep fresh the knowledge of Nihon Shoki in each new generation of courtiers and scholars. This was necessary to maintain the fundamental political knowledge contained inthe work, and soretain a sense ofthe purpose of the imperial state. Another reason for Nihon Shoki readings was that the text itself was difficult. We have already noted Kojima Noriyuki's conclusion that the Chinese style was a composite one, reflecting the labour of many authors. Its peculiar literary competence was the work of the most skilled scholar-bureaucrats and naturalized immigrants of the age, who brought to bear their own "use of Chinese phrases, practical exegesis, employment of characters, idioms, and so on."2 Hence serious study was needed for comprehension of this historical piece. In addition, the specific customs and appurtenances of ancient times required explanation.3 This record of Nihon Shoki readings illuminates the scholarly attitudes and methods ofthe ancient court. There are no records regarding the histories written after Nihon Shoki; literally nothing exists to show how official historical scholarship was done inthe eighth and ninth centuries. But from the records of the Nihon Shoki readings we learn the collective nature of scholarship, involving the Emperor and the top courtiers. They were deeply serious about history, and they paid attention to accuracy and comprehension of the smallest details. These features made the histories they produced into sound and reliable works. They are still the first source of reference for modern historians of ancient Japan. Composition and Methods In all, five national histories were written in the era ofthe imperial court. However, when discussed in a context that includes the first national history, Nihon Shoki, they are collectively referred to as the Six National Histories (Rikkokushi}. There has been little discussion in English of the Five National Histories. Moreover, the major English article on the subject—G. W. Robinson, "Early Japanese Chronicles: The Six National Histories," in W. G. Beasley and E. G. Pulleyblank, eds., Historians of China and Japan (Oxford University Press, 1961)— is unsympathetic, so a longer treatment is in order here. The Five National Histories came about in much the same way as Nihon Shoki. From time to time there arose in this studious court a conviction that it was necessary to bring the record up to date. This resulted in an imperial command to specific persons to compile the THE FIVE NATIONAL HISTORIES AND IMPERIAL SCHOLARSHIP 35 history ofa defined period. Againinthe mannerofNihon Shoki, the task would be undertaken, only to lapse after a few years, necessitating a renewed command and the addition of more scholars to the editorial team. This was the case...

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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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