Kojiki or Furukotofumi (古事記), ( “Records of Ancient Matters”), is the oldest surviving book dealing with ancient Japanese history. It was codified in the first half of 680 C.E., by decree of Emperor Temmu. The author of this codification, called “the original Kojiki," is unknown but is supposed to have been Wani or another member of his family, because the text contains numerous passages praising the Wani clan. In 712 C.E., O no Yasumaro added some improvements and a supplementary explanation and presented it to the emperor. The oldest handwritten copy extant is the one which was transcribed in 1371-1372 C.E. by the head monk of Shinpuku-ji Temple.
The introduction of writing in the fifth century C.E. and Buddhism in the sixth century C.E. had a profound impact on the development of a unified system of Shinto beliefs. Within a few years, during the early Nara period, the Kojiki (712 C.E.) and the Nihon shoki (The Chronicles of Japan, 720 C.E.) were written by compiling existing myths and legends into unified accounts. These accounts were written for the purpose of shoring up support for the Imperial house, by legitimizing its lineage as descended from the Sun Goddess Amaterasu. Much of the area which is now Japan was under only fragmentary control by the Imperial family, and rival ethnic groups continued to war against the encroachment of the Japanese. These two mythological anthologies were meant to justify the authenticity of the Imperial family's control over Japan. While Nihon shoki focused on establishing the Imperial family as the authentic rulers of a Japan unified against the neighboring countries of China and Korea, Kojiki, the older text, focused on establishing the identity of the Imperial family as descendants of a divine being. Kojiki, together with Nihon shoki, has been a primary sacred text in Shinto.
Around 672 C.E., after the Jinshin Rebellion, Emperor Temmu desired to enhance the Imperial genealogy and the existing oral traditions concerning aristocratic families, so that these could be passed down to future generations. Hieda no Are, a 28-year-old supporter of the emperor, had the ability to read passages of text at a glance and to remember stories as they were told in detail. Emperor Temmu ordered Hieda no Are to learn Teiki (an Imperial genealogy which was maintained by government officials and is no longer in existence) and Kuji (the oral traditions of each clan’s history, also no longer in existence). However, these researches ended with the passing of Emperor Temmu. At the start of the Nara period (710- 784 C.E.), Emperor Genmei again wanted to correct and organize Teiki and Kuji. According to its preface, in 712 C.E. under the order of Emperor Genmei’s imperial court, O no Yasumaro presented Kojiki, based on a story memorized by Hieda no Are.
Kojiki consisted of two parts; the genealogy of the Emperor, and oral tradition. The former contained the names of the first to the thirty-third Emperors and the names of their empresses, the Imperial princes and princesses, and their descendants. It also gave the names of all the Imperial palaces and reigns; the year of each reign’s collapse according to the sexagenary cycle; their life spans of the members of the royal family; the locations of their tombs; and the events took place during each reign. During official rituals, these details had been recited by memory by a clan of narrators in the service of the Imperial Court, until they were finally recorded in the middle of the sixth century C.E. The oral traditions included stories of the court and tales of the origin of the Imperial family and the nation of Japan.
Disputes About Authenticity
The Kojiki was followed by the Nihon shoki, and does not recount official history like the later Nihon shoki. Kojiki is the only history that claims that it was compiled by Imperial order. This has led to claims that the Kojiki was a forgery and actually appeared much later than the Nihon shoki, but these claims have little support. Some scholars assert that Teiki and Kuji were created, in the first half and middle of the sixth century C.E., by the Imperial aristocracies to explain the progression of the Japanese emperors’ reigns, and could not be considered true oral traditions of national and racial history. Other scholars say that in order for Teiki and Kuji to be widely accepted by the general public, they had to reflect genuine traditional oral history and folklore. The name “Nippon” (Japan), which would indicate an official nationalistic viewpoint, does not appear; this is evidence against the interference of the government.
Some scholars argue that Kojiki is a forgery because there are no direct external records of editing and compilation of Kojiki outside of the document itself. Since the earliest existing manuscript was transcribed in the fourteenth century, we cannot be sure that it has preserved the original form of Kojiki from before that time. In this manner, the authenticity of Kojiki has been disputed since early modern times. Kamo no Mabuchi and several other scholars argued that the creation of Kojiki is not mentioned in official historical records of ancient times. This view was accepted by the general public, but not by scholars of ancient literature and historical writings. The main reason for this is that the transcription of the pronunciation “mo” remained in Kojiki, even though this pronunciation had already disappeared in Manyoshu (759 C.E.) and Nihonshoki (720). There are two schools of thought among those who believe Kojiki to be a forgery. Some base their premise on an analysis of the entire document, and others only on the preface. The latter questioned why O no Yasumaro’s Chinese inscription in the preface differed from the inscription of his name in other historical books. However, in 1979, a stone engraved with O no Yasumaro’s name was unearthed in Nara city, and added support to the claims that Kojiki is authentic.
Research of Kojiki flourished after early modern times. The Kojiki-den, written by Motoori Norinaga in 1798 (during the Edo age), was a 44-volume annotated edition, an important classic of Kojiki research whose rigorous and empirical revision have had a great influence on subsequent studies. Motoori Norinaga was one of the leading figures of the Kokugaku movement, and his research using the viewpoint of monono aware (the sorrow which results from the passage of things) revived an awareness of the deeper meaning of Kojiki. At the present time, the focus of Kojiki research is shifting from theories of its origins and formation to the construction and content of the work.
Kojiki starts with the very beginning of the world as it was created by the kami (deities) Izanagi and Izanami and ends with the era of the Empress Suiko. It contains various Japanese myths and legends as well as songs. While the historical records and myths are written in a form of Chinese with a heavy admixture of Japanese elements, the songs are written with Chinese characters used to convey only sounds. This special use of Chinese characters is called Manyogana, knowledge of which is critical to understanding these songs. These songs are in the dialect of the Yamato area from about seventh century to eighth century C.E., a language called "Jſdai Nihongo" (lit. "upper age Japanese").
The Kojiki is divided into three parts: Kamitsumaki (lit. upper roll), Nakatsumaki (lit. middle roll), and Shimotsumaki (lit. lower roll). The Kamitsumaki includes the preface and is focused on the deities that made Japan and the births of various deities. The Nakatsumaki begins with the story of Emperor Jimmu, the first Emperor, and his conquest of Japan, and ends with the fifteenth emperor, Emperor Ojin. Many of the stories it contains are mythological, and the allegedly historical information in them is highly suspect. For unknown reasons, the second to ninth emperors are listed but their achievements are largely missing. The Shimotsumaki covers the sixteenth to thirty-third emperors, and, unlike previous volumes, has very limited references to the interactions with deities so prominent in the first and second volumes. Information on the twenty-fourth to thirty-third Emperors is largely missing.
- Chamberlain, Basil Hall, translator. The Kojiki: Records of Ancient Matters (Tuttle Classics of Japanese Literature); Boston, MA: Tuttle Publishing; 1981.
- De Bary, William Theodore; Keene, Donald; Tanabe, George; Varley, Paul. Sources of Japanese Tradition (Second Edition), Volume One: From Earliest Times to 1600. New York: Columbia University Press, 2001.
- Motoori, Norinaga; Ann Wehmeyer, translator. Kojiki-Den (Cornell East Asia, No. 87). New York: Cornell University Press.
- The Internet Sacred Text Archive - An online version of Basil Hall Chamberlain's 1919 translation of Kojiki.
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