Kojiki

Kojiki

The Kojiki (古事記 – Records of Ancient Matters or An Account of Ancient Matters) is one of the earliest Japanese Chronicles we have from Japan.

Creation and Authorship

Kojiki
Copy of a page from the Kojiki.

In AD682 the Emperor Tenmu commissioned his Princes and High Officials to prepare:

a history of the Emperor’s and of matters of high antiquity,

which (as mentioned in the preface of the Kojiki) lead eventually to the Kojiki being compiled1. Though it was not completed until AD71212. The whole document was written by Ō no Yasumaro, from the recitations of Hiyeda no Are13. The book tracing Yasumaro’s lineage back to Jimmu’s middle son2.

It was submitted to the court on the 28th day, 1st month in the fifth year of Yamato Copper.

The earliest surviving example dates to the Muromachi Period (1337-1573) entitled the Shinpukuji-bon, drawing on two different textual accounts. The copyist of the script was buddhist monk called Ken’yuu, with the editor called Shin’yu, from a Buddhist Temple in Nagoya.

Ken’yu began copying the 2nd and 3rd book in 1371 from a manuscript written by court aristocrat Ōnakatomi Sadayo in 1266, belonging to Ise-born textual lineage. One year later he uses a 1282 manuscript belonging to Urabe textual lineage to complete the middle book2.

Two documents known as the Teiki and the Kyūji are thought to have also acted as a the basis for this work as well as the Kojiki and additionally the Jōgū Shōtoku Hōōtei setsu gives a lot of information which suppliments that of the Kojiki.5

Composition

The document has no chronology unlike the Nihongi though it is fuller than the other document, carrying on to later periods and discussing some parts of mythology that the Nihongi glosses over1.

It is also noted that the Kojiki gives no death date for any Emperors until Sujin and so due to this it is thought by scholars to show a series of political instability and changing alliances between clans claiming descendency from Ninigi3.

The preface of the book is dedicated to Empress Genmei, praising her wealth, written two years after the establishment of a new royal palace at Heijō-kyō.

The first book centres around the Mythos of Japan from the creation of the universe to the birth of Izanagi and Izanami. It then recounts how they create Japan eventually leading to the birth of Amaterasu, and her two brothers. The Tale concludes with Ninigi’s son and the final establishment of the Yamato line of Emperors.

The last two books centre around the rulers of Japan, each ruler given their own section, ending with Empress Suiko2.

When it comes to the legends surrounding Izumo Province they are not coherant. Therefore they are likely to be a random sampling of stories brought together at the time and unfortunately not skillfully put together. They only bear a slight resemblance to the stories in the Izumo Fudoki which was actually written in Izumo.6

Differences between the Nihongi

There are instances where names and places mentioned in the two texts differ, such as:

  • An area called the Suruga in the Nihongi is called Sagami in the Kojiki.
  • The sword called ‘Mura-kumo’ in the Nihongi is called the Kusanagi in the Kojiki4.

Legacy

Sadly after the completion of the Nihongi, it was thrown out of the limelight as the Nihongi was known to have superseded it and read out loud to the Court and Imperial House1.

Footnotes

1. Aston. W.G. (1896) “Nihongi Volume 1: Chronicles of Japan from the Earliest Times to AD697”. Tuttle Publishing.
2. Yasumaro. O, translated by Gustav Heldt. (2014) “Kojiki. An Account of Ancient Matters”. New York: Columbia University Press.
3. Martin, P. (1997) ”The Chrysanthemum Throne”. Gloucestershire: Sutton Publishing Limited.
4. Littleton. C.S. (1995) “Yamato-takeru: An Arthurian Hero in Japanese Tradition”. Asian Folklore Studies, Vol. 54, No.2, pp.259-274.
5. Kodansha. (1993) ”Japan: An Illustrated Encyclopedia”. Tokyo: Kodansha Ltd.
6. Borgen, R. (1975) “The Origins of the Sugawara. A History of the Haji Family”. Monumenta Nipponica. Vol.30 No.4 pp.405-422

Check out Japan Archives, our Japanese History Podcast

Follow us on social media.
Twitter: @japanarchives Instagram: @nexus_travels