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The Nihongi (日本紀 – Japanese Chronicles) also called the Nihon Shoki (日本書紀 – The Chronicles of Japan) is one of the oldest documents we have concerning early and mythological Japanese history.

Early Heian period page from a copy of the Nihongi

Creation and Sources

The document was completed in AD7201, however, its inception may have begun in AD714 when Empress Genshō ordered the preparation of a national history. After the document was finally completed by Ō no Yasumaro (overseen by Prince Toneri) it was lain before the Empress according to the Kōnin Shiki.

The Kana Nihongi is said to have existed before the creation of the Nihongi, and so may have been used in the composition of the Nihongi. The Kōnin Shiki, compiled between AD810-824, describes the Nihongi as “selected afresh” meaning the work was not a new composition but a compilation of old texts and stories. Access to genealogical records were likely used to compile the events from the reign of Empress Jitō, with the survival and collection of more legendary parts of the text most likely due to the Katari Be, the hereditary corporation of reciters.1

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.3 Additionally, the Jōgū Shōtoku Hōōtei setsu suppliments information from this text.3

The Nihongi only slightly bares a resemblence to stories from the Izumo Fudoki (which was actually written in Izumo Province) and private records of families were important sources consulted in the creation of this documenht. The stories inside of it relating to the Haji Clan and haniwa were likely to have been drawn from family records of the Haji Clan. The Haji Clan itself is first seen in this document during the reign of Emperor Nintoku. The Nihongi additionally mentions Haji living in Kawachi.6


It is thought that much of earliest parts, excluding books 1 and 2 were written by reputed author Ō no Yasumaro. Written in Chinese the text uses many Chinese manners and customs, battles axes, for instance, are mentioned which aren’t used in Japan, stone mallets are called swords. The term Temples of the Earth and of Grain is used, a Chinese term for Empire.

The first two books deal with the kami and eventual end with Ninigi the grandfather of the first Emperor Jimmu.

Books three to sixteen dealing with the Emperors up to the reign of Emperor Buretsu. The eight records of the Emperors after Jimmu records are most likely simply fictitious. After these Emperors, up until the fifth century, the Nihongi is most likely genuine, however, after that, it can be seen as a very much true account.

The text also gives years months and days of events which in all likelihood in the first books are mere fabrications, around 500AD the dates are likely true.

The dying speech of Emperor Yūryaku was taken from a Chinese Emperor from the Sui dynasty who died 125 years later after Yūryaku did.1

Differences between the Kojiki

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 Kojiki.2


It is known to have been publicly read to the court. Throwing the Kojiki into the shade and superseded recitations of the Katari Be.

The Shaku Nihongi dating to the 13th Century, preserves some of the Commentaries written concerning the Nihongi soon after its completion.1

During the Heian Period, the Nihon Kiryaku, takes the mythological section of its book from the Nihongi.3


The earliest mentioning of the Yōkai known as the Tengu is thought to be from this document.4 Additionally the Mujina is also mentioned within the document from the reign of Empress Suiko when one sung a song for her in Mutsu Province.5

External Links


1. Aston. W.G. (1896) “Nihongi Volume 1: Chronicles of Japan from the Earliest Times to AD697”. Tuttle Publishing.
2. Littleton. C.S. (1995) “Yamato-takeru: An Arthurian Hero in Japanese Tradition”. Asian Folklore Studies, Vol. 54, No.2, pp.259-274.
3. Kodansha. (1993) ”Japan: An Illustrated Encyclopedia”. Tokyo: Kodansha Ltd.
4. Yoda, H & Alt, M. (2008) “Yokai Attack: The Japanese Monster Survival Guide” Tokyo: Kodansha International Ltd.
5. Yoda, H. and Alt, M. (2016) “Japandemonium: Illustrated: The Yokai Encyclopaedia of Toriyama Sekien.”. New York: Dover Publications, Inc.
6. Borgen, R. (1975) “The Origins of the Sugawara. A History of the Haji Family”. Monumenta Nipponica. Vol.30 No.4 pp.405-422

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