Kojiki

Kojiki

The Kodjiki (古事記, Old Time Records) is the oldest surviving Japanese chronicle (711-712), containing myths, legends, historical and genealogical data, and song settings.

In addition to describing in detail the myths of Japanese belief, it provides a basis for the study of the contemporary Japanese language, the observation of certain literary genres, and the basic ideas of the ancient Japanese religion, Shinto.

As a historical source, however, it should be used with caution, as it was written for political reasons and contains elements that are often distorted or even fictional. It is structured in three scrolls and was compiled by Oh no Yasumaro.

Kojiki Construction

First book

The Kodjiki consists of three volumes. The first book contains a foreword by the editor, Oh no Yasumaro, and myths about the deities. The chronicle begins with the appearance of the first gods. Many deities with eloquent names are listed in the first volume.

Among them are Izanagi and Izanami, the male-female pair of gods who created Japan and humans themselves, and who, by almost every action, gave birth to countless new deities. They also gave birth to the goddess Amaterasu, whose later descendant Jinmu is chronicled as the ruler of Japan from 660 to 585 BC.

Book Two

The second volume of the chronicle deals with the deeds of rulers from Emperor Jinmu to Emperor Ojin. Descent data, historical events and information about their lives are included in these chapters.

Book Three

The third book begins with the reign of Emperor Nintoku (r. 313-399) and ends with the reign of Empress Suiko (r. 593-628).

Kojiki and Nihonsoki

Kodjiki and Nihonsoki (日本書紀, also known as Nihongi, the Chronicle of Japan) are usually referred to together. This is because they were written at almost the same time, and there is a lot of overlap between the two works.

They were written with a similar purpose and their contents are very similar - although in some places (for example, in terms of dates) the two chronicles contradict each other.

The Nihonsoki was written in its final form in 720, only seven years after the Kojiki, and immediately supplanted the older document. The Nihonsoki is approximately ten times as long as the Kojiki, and its language is much more appropriate to the current situation.

While the Kodjiki was written in a highly specific script, a combination of Chinese and Japanese, the Nihonsoki was written in a completely regular Chinese language. While the Kojiki is told in a narrative style, with narratives and songs, the Nihonsoki is more of a historical text, with precise dating. 

In addition, an important difference between the two chronicles is that while the Kodjiki follows events in Japan up to the reign of Empress Suiko, i.e. until 628, the Nihonsoki does so until 697, the end of the reign of Empress Zhito (r. 686-697).

The later work also leads the way in terms of sources: the Kodjiki is compiled from two different sources, while the Nihonsoki includes data from other records (Korean, Chinese).  Partly as a consequence of this, the Kojiki deals only and exclusively with events within Japan, and does not contain accounts of events outside the island nation.

In addition, an important difference between the two chronicles is that the Nihonsoki shows a much stronger Chinese influence, a desire to follow the Chinese model. This is borne out not only by the writing style but also by the content itself.

A good example of this is Jamato Takeru, a character in the legends of the Kojiki, who, as described in the Nihonsoki, followed Confucian principles, and even his speech, in addition to his character, contained elements that were clearly derived from Chinese sources.

The Kodjiki and the Nihonsoki (日本書紀, also known as Nihongi, the Chronicle of Japan) are usually mentioned together. This is because they were written almost at the same time, and there is a lot of overlap between the two works. They were written with a similar purpose and their contents are very similar - although in some places (for example, in terms of dates) the two chronicles contradict each other.

The Nihonsoki was written in its final form in 720, only seven years after the Kojiki, and immediately supplanted the older document. The Nihonsoki is approximately ten times as long as the Kojiki, and its language is much more appropriate to the current situation.

While the Kodjiki was written in a highly specific script, a combination of Chinese and Japanese, the Nihonsoki was written in a completely regular Chinese language. While the Kojiki is told in a narrative style, with narratives and songs, the Nihonsoki is more of a historical text, with precise dating. 

In addition, an important difference between the two chronicles is that while the Kodjiki follows events in Japan up to the reign of Empress Suiko, i.e. until 628, the Nihonsoki does so until 697, the end of the reign of Empress Zhito (r. 686-697).

The later work also leads the way in terms of sources: the Kodjiki is compiled from two different sources, while the Nihonsoki includes data from other records (Korean, Chinese).  Partly as a consequence of this, the Kojiki deals only and exclusively with events within Japan, and does not contain accounts of events outside the island nation.

In addition, an important difference between the two chronicles is that the Nihonsoki shows a much stronger Chinese influence, a desire to follow the Chinese model. This is borne out not only by the writing style but also by the content itself.

A good example of this is Jamato Takeru, a character in the legends of the Kojiki, who, as described in the Nihonsoki, followed Confucian principles, and even his speech, in addition to his character, contained elements that were clearly derived from Chinese sources.

Kojiki History

Origins

The circumstances of the creation of the Kodjiki are described in the preface by the compiler of the chronicle, Oh no Yasumaro. It is said that it was Emperor Temmu (r. 672-686) who took the first step towards the creation of the chronicle. The main purpose of the work was to authenticate the new state system and secure power.

Even then, noble families possessed written documents with historical and descent records. Emperor Temmu ordered all these documents to be collated, examined and corrected for any errors. A subject with exceptional powers of recall, Hieda no Are was said to be able to recite accurately anything he had ever read, and to have forgotten nothing he had ever heard.

He was asked by Emperor Temmu to memorise the data he had collected. This was made up of two types of sources: those based on narratives and those containing descent data. How O no Yasumaro compiled the chronicle from these sources is still in doubt. However, before the chronicle could be finalised, the emperor died (686) and his efforts were long overshadowed.

It was the Empress Gemmei (r. 707-715) who again took up the cause of the chronicle. In 711 she ordered Ó no Yasumaro to write down everything that Hieda no Are dictated to him. This is how the Kodjiki was finally written in 712.

But the ruler's aim was not merely to organise the records of the noble families. The main mission of the Kodjiki was to justify the power of the most powerful clan, the ruling family, the Jamato family, and to provide an official background to the ranks and hierarchy of the noble families.

The mythical parts of the chronicle describe a fictional relationship between the gods and the emperor. According to the legend, Amaterasu, the sun goddess, is a direct descendant of Jinmu, the former emperor, making it clear that the entire ruling family is also the descendant of the gods.

The Chinese example also played a major role in the compilation of the chronicle: at the time of the creation of the Kojiki, China was ruled by the Tang dynasty, which had strong, centralised power. In compiling the chronicle, the Jamato family sought to establish a similar system, and the traditional Chinese way of keeping historical chronicles was also considered exemplary.

The period of neglect

Despite the serious political aims of the authors of the Kodjiki, the chronicle was eventually relegated to the background. In 720, the Nihonsoki was completed, which proved to be a much more concise and readable work than the Kojiki.

Since they were largely identical in subject matter and content, the Nihonsoki, which covered a larger period, was preferred by the people of the time, and was simpler in language and more transparent in structure. Although both the Kodjiki and the Nihonsoki were studied by scholars of the Kamakura period (1185-1333), the older chronicle did not become popular.

Kokugaku

In the 17th century, an initially peaceful philological and historical movement began in Japan, which in time took on nationalist overtones. Its primary aim was the study of purely Japanese culture, religion, literature, etc., without Chinese or Buddhist influences.

It was precisely because of this that the Kodjiki came to the fore in this period that it was able to eclipse the Nihonsoki in the eighth century. Indeed, Kodjiki was considered much more 'Japanese' than Nihonsoki, which was written in Chinese, using Chinese sources and copied from Chinese sources.

It was at this time that the first printed edition of the chronicle appeared, and was enthusiastically studied by proponents of the kokugaku movement, including Motoori Norinaga (1730-1801), author of one of the most important commentaries on the Kojiki, the Kojiki den.

He began writing this monumental work in 1764 and completed it 34 years later in 1798. Finally, it was published in 1822. What he wrote in it was particularly favorable to the movement, as the author clearly described Japan as a very special country, not only the first empire created by the gods, but also superior to all others.

Today

Today, renowned experts in a number of fields are still conducting research based on the Kodjiki text. Linguists of the contemporary Japanese language and its evolutionary history, experts on religious and cultural heritage, and even lovers of literary history regard Japan's oldest chronicle as an irreplaceable source.

Kojiki Literary importance

The Kodjiki contains a total of 112 poems, usually in the form of narratives, which appear as elevated speeches expressing the thoughts of gods or historical figures. Some of the songs probably existed before the Kodjiki was compiled. Many of them are also found in the Nihonsoki, with minor variations.

Tanka - short poem

About half of the poems in the Kodjiki fall into the tanka genre. A tanka is a poem of 31 syllables, consisting of 5 lines with a syllable count of 5-7-5-7-7. The Kodjiki contain the oldest examples of this genre. There was also a type of tanka written by two poets. The first three lines were written by the first poet and the last two lines by another, as a kind of response to the first half of the poem.

Twit - long poem

The second most exemplary verse genre in the Kodjiki is the csóka. It has less strict formal requirements than the tanka. Short (usually 5 syllables) and long (usually 7 syllables) lines alternate in this genre.

Monogatari

Although the genre itself did not emerge until the second half of the ninth century, the myths and legends of the Kojiki, the descriptions of the histories of the various clans, can be seen as the forerunner of monogatari.

Kojiki Writing system

Japanese literacy began when the islanders adopted Chinese characters and began to use them in various ways. Initially, these characters were used exclusively to describe the Chinese language.

Over time, however, the need arose to write Japanese words with characters borrowed from the mainland, creating a kind of modified Chinese script.

A system was also developed which took into account only the phonetic value of the Chinese characters, leaving out the conceptual meaning altogether. So, in total, three ways of using Chinese characters have been developed, and there are examples of all three in the Kodjiki.

Kambun

Kambun is the name given to regular Chinese writing with Chinese vocabulary and sentence structure. This is how most contemporary texts have survived, including the Nihonsoki as a whole (except for the verse insertions).

The preface to the Kodjiki is written in this way, and there are also fragments written in kambun scattered throughout the chronicle.

Manjogana

The manjógana script takes only the phonetic value of Chinese characters and completely disregards their meaning. This method was also used by the Chinese themselves, who transcribed Buddhist expressions in Indian in this way.

In this system, each Japanese syllable had one or more Chinese characters assigned to it, the original pronunciation of which was roughly the same as the Japanese syllable. The manjōgana was the cradle of the two later writing systems, hiragana and katakana.

This writing system was not particularly widespread: it was used almost exclusively for transcribing songs and poems. In the Kodjiki, too, only the verses of songs are written in manjogana.

Hentai kambun

Chinese characters were also used in hybrid, modified forms. In the Hentai kambun system, words were either phonetically or conceptually similar to Chinese characters, but were read out in Japanese.

The interpretation and translation of the texts written in this way is a source of much difficulty for researchers, because no uniform conventions have been developed for the use of the signs.

For example, although conventions have been developed for transcribing grammatical particles, these puzzling passages are often simply omitted from the texts, making interpretation very difficult.

Most of the Kojiki was written in this way, and the editor of the work has therefore added notes to the text of the chronicle in a few places to help the reader. In the preface to the chronicle, Oh no Yasumaro states that the kambun script would be difficult to work with and the manjogana transcription would be too long, so he will use a combination of the two.

Kojiki Religious and cultural significance

Shinto, the ancient religion of Japan, does not have a holy book in the literal sense. Most of what is known about the system of the religion can be found in the Kodjiki and Nihonsoki, the two chronicles that are the most authoritative sources for the earliest characteristics of the religion.

The Kodjiki also sheds light on several important aspects of Shinto, as well as Japanese religious beliefs in general, through the myths it describes. However, it is important to note that the term Shinto itself is not mentioned once in the chronicle.

Based on the myths described in the Kodjiki, it is clear that there is no specific creator deity in Shinto religion, unlike, for example, the belief system of Christianity. The gods who first appear in the chronicle are numerous from the very beginning, and the task of creation falls to all of them together.

In one of these myths, experts believe that the ancestor of today's Shinto festivals can be found. When the sun goddess Amaterasu, hiding in a cave, deprives the world of light, many of her companions begin to play loud, joyful music and dance outside to lure the goddess out.

The taboo on death is revealed in one of the myths about Izanagi and Izanami. After Izanami dies and is sent to hell, Izanagi goes after him to bring him back, but Izanami's body is already rotting by this time.

As Izanagi sees this, she cries out in horror, and Izanami becomes furious and chases after her former husband. Izanagi escapes the inferno and rolls a huge stone in front of the entrance. It symbolises the irrevocability and finality of death and explains why the Japanese were so terrified of death in the early Shinto period.

The Shinto's unbroken will to live and the superiority of life over death are also echoed in the myths. When Izanami threatens to take the lives of 1,000 people every day, Izanagi responds by saying that for every 1,000 lives he destroys, he will create 1,500.

One of the most important rites in Shinto is purification. This is evidenced by the scene in which Izanagi, returning from hell, cleanses his body of the filth of the underworld, and at the same time, numerous new deities come into the world, including one of the most important goddesses, Amaterasu.

There are also references to the male-centred, patriarchal structure of Japanese society in the Kodjiki myths. When Izanagi and Izanami marry, the woman is the first to initiate, she speaks out, leading to the birth of imperfect children.

On the advice of the other gods, the couple repeats the ceremony, this time at the man's initiative, restoring order and giving birth to healthy children. This story may symbolise the patriarchalisation of matriarchal society.

Kojiki Manuscripts

There are 32 manuscripts of the Kodjiki, some of which contain the full text, while others record only excerpts.

The oldest manuscript is the so-called Simpukuji, copied in the Simpukuji temple in 1371-72. It does not contain any reading aids.

The so-called Doka manuscript contains part of the first volume and dates from 1381.

The so-called Dós manuscript, also known as the Isse-bon and Isse manuscript, contains the first volume in its entirety.

The so-called Sunyu manuscript is also called the Second Isis Manuscript, because it was based on the Dósó in 1426.

The remaining manuscripts all belong to the Urabe family. One such manuscript is the Maeda manuscript, the Júhan-bon (1522), which is still in the possession of the Maeda family.