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The Kojiki (古事記, "Records of Ancient Matters" or "An Account of Ancient Matters"), also sometimes read as Furukotofumi or Furukotobumi,[a] is an early Japanese chronicle of myths, legends, hymns, genealogies, oral traditions, and semi-historical accounts down to 641 concerning the origin of the Japanese archipelago, the kami (神), and the Japanese imperial line. It is claimed in its preface to have been composed by Ō no Yasumaro at the request of Empress Genmei in the early 8th century (711–712), and thus is usually considered to be the oldest extant literary work in Japan.
The myths contained in the Kojiki as well as the Nihon Shoki (日本書紀) are part of the inspiration behind many practices. Later, they were incorporated into Shinto practices such as the misogi purification ritual.
It is believed that the compilation of various genealogical and anecdotal histories of the imperial (Yamato) court and prominent clans began during the reigns of Emperors Keitai and Kinmei in the 6th century, with the first concerted effort at historical compilation of which we have record being the one made in 620 under the auspices of Prince Shotoku and Soga no Umako. According to the Nihon Shoki, the documents compiled under their initiative were the Tennōki (天皇記, also Sumera-mikoto no fumi) or the "Record of the Emperors", the Kokki (国記, also Kunitsufumi) or the "National Record", and other "fundamental records" (本記, hongi or mototsufumi) pertaining to influential clans and free subjects. Out of these texts, only the Kokki survived the burning of Soga no Emishi's estate (where these documents were kept) during the Isshi incident of 645, and was itself apparently lost soon after.
The Kojiki's preface indicates that leading families also kept their own historical and genealogical records; indeed, one of the reasons it gives for the compilation of the Kojiki is the correction of errors that had supposedly crept into these documents. According to the preface, Emperor Tenmu (reigned 673–686) ordered the review and emendation of clan documents and commissioned a certain court attendant (toneri) of exceptional memory named Hieda no Are to memorize records and oral traditions concerning the imperial lineage. Beyond this memorization, nothing occurred until the reign of Empress Genmei (reigned 707–715), who on the 18th of the 9th month of 711 (Wadō 4) ordered the courtier Ō no Yasumaro to record what had been learned by Hieda no Are. He finished and presented his work to Empress Genmei on the 28th of the 1st month of 712 (Wadō 5).
The Kojiki is a collation of different traditions woven into a single "official" mythology, made in an attempt to justify the rule of the imperial Yamato polity and at the same time to subsume different interest groups under its wing by giving them a place and an interest in the national genealogy-mythology. Apart from furthering the imperial agenda, an increased interest in the nation's origins in reaction to the influx of foreign culture and the need for an authoritative genealogical account by which to consider the claims of noble families and to reorganize them into a new system of ranks and titles are also possible factors for its compilation.
The Kojiki's narrative establishes the Yamato line's right to rule via myth and legend, portraying it as the progeny of heavenly deities and the rightful heir to the land of Japan. A good part of the latter portion of the text is spent recounting various genealogies which served not only to give the imperial family an air of antiquity (which may not necessarily reflect historical reality), but also served to tie, whether true or not, many existing clans' genealogies to their own. Regardless of the work's original intent, it finalized and possibly even formulated the framework by which Japanese history was examined in terms of the reign of emperors.
In contrast to the Nihon Shoki (compiled 720), the first of six histories commissioned by the imperial court, which was modeled on Chinese dynastic histories and was intended to be a national chronicle that could be shown with pride to foreign envoys, the Kojiki is inward looking, concerned mainly with the ruling family and prominent clans, and is apparently intended for internal consumption. Whereas the Nihon Shoki uses a variety of source documents (including Chinese texts), the Kojiki is apparently based on sources handed down within the court.
Whereas the Nihon Shoki, owing to its status as one of the six imperial histories, was widely read and studied during the Heian period (794–1185), the Kojiki was mostly treated as an ancillary text. Indeed, a work known as the Sendai Kuji Hongi (also known as the Kujiki), claimed to have been authored by Prince Shōtoku and Soga no Umako, was considered to be earlier and more reliable than the Kojiki. (Modern scholarly consensus holds the Kuji Hongi to be a Heian period forgery based on both the Kojiki and the Shoki, although certain portions may indeed preserve genuine early traditions and sources.) By the Kamakura period (1185–1333), the work languished in obscurity such that very few people had access to the text, particularly that of the middle (second) volume. It is due to this neglect that the Kojiki is available only in comparatively late manuscripts, the earliest of which dates to the late 14th century.
It was with the advent of printing in the early modern period that the Kojiki first reached a wide audience. The earliest printed edition of the text was the Kan'ei Kojiki (寛永古事記), published in Kyoto in 1644 (Kan'ei 21). A second edition, the Gōtō Kojiki (鼇頭古事記, "Kojiki with Marginal Notes") was printed by Deguchi (Watarai) Nobuyoshi, a priest at Ise Shrine, in 1687 (Jōkyō 4).
The birth of nativist studies (kokugaku) and nationalist sentiment during the Edo period saw a reappraisal of the Kojiki. Kokugaku scholars saw Japan's earliest writings as the repository of a uniquely superior Japanese identity that could be revived by recovering the ancient language they were written in; the Kojiki, by virtue of its antiquity, gained the status of a sacred text. The Kojiki came to be highly regarded that scholars such as Kada no Azumamaro and Kamo no Mabuchi – himself a student of Azumamaro – produced annotated versions of it.
The Kojiki received its most serious study and exposition in the hands of Motoori Norinaga, who obtained a copy of the Kan'ei printed edition in 1754. After meeting Mabuchi in 1763, Norinaga began to devote his efforts to an in-depth scholarly study of the text. A monumental 44-volume study of the Kojiki called Kojiki-den (古事記伝, "Commentary on the Kojiki"), composed over a 34-year period (1764–1798), was the fruit of his labor. With Norinaga, the Kojiki assumed an importance equal to the Nihon Shoki; in fact, in his view the Kojiki was a more trustworthy source for ancient Japanese traditions than was the Shoki precisely because it was free of "Chinese mentality". He viewed the Kojiki as a true account of actual events that when read correctly, could reveal Japan in its pristine, ideal state as a community where the kami, the emperor and the people lived in harmony. Norinaga's work was carried on in different directions by his disciple Hirata Atsutane and his rivals Fujitani Mitsue (1781–1849) and Tachibana Moribe (1768–1823), who each produced commentaries and treatises on the text.
The Kojiki became once more the object of scholarly focus and discussion in the Meiji period with the introduction of Western academic disciplines such as philology and comparative mythology. The importance of the text as a work of literary value was recognized, and scholars realized that its accounts were comparable in many ways to ancient Greek and Roman myths. At the same time, however, the Kojiki and Nihon Shoki achieved a sort of scriptural status under State Shintō, which viewed the stories contained therein as orthodox national history. Official ideology upheld as unquestionable fact the belief in the emperor's divinity and the idea of Japan as a racially superior "national body" (kokutai), with scholars who questioned their veracity facing the threat of censorship, forced resignation, or even trial in court.
In 1913, Tsuda Sōkichi argued in a study that the Kojiki, particularly in its earlier sections, was neither history nor myth but a document created to legitimize the rule of the imperial line. While his conclusions led to considerable controversy, his influence remains in subsequent studies of the text (particularly in post-World War II scholarship), which amounts largely to development and correction of the line of thought originally proposed by him. In reaction to Tsuda, Watsuji Tetsurō (1920) argued for a literary appreciation of the Kojiki, claiming that this gave it inner coherence. Kurano Kenji (1927) took it a step further, proposing that the Kojiki may best be compared with Western epic literature and regarded as a national epic like Beowulf is in the English-speaking world. During the 1920s and 30s, linguist Hashimoto Shinkichi studied the phonology of the Old Japanese language, and his conclusions were applied by scholars to the study of the text.
The Kojiki continued to attract the attention of academics and other specialists in the post-war period, which saw the appearance of numerous editions, translations and commentaries on the text by authors such as Kurano Kenji, Takeda Yūkichi, Saigō Nobutsuna, and Kōnoshi Takamitsu.
There are two major branches of Kojiki manuscripts: Ise and Urabe. The extant Urabe branch consists of 36 existing manuscripts all based on the 1522 copies by Urabe Kanenaga. The Ise branch may be subdivided into the Shinpukuji-bon (真福寺本) manuscript of 1371–1372 and the Dōka-bon (道果本) manuscripts. The Dōka sub-branch consists of:
The Shinpukuji-bon manuscript (1371–1372) is the oldest existing manuscript. While divided into the Ise branch, it is actually a mixture of the two branches. The monk Ken'yu based his copy on Ōnakatomi Sadayo's copy. In 1266, Sadayo copied volumes one and three but did not have access to the second volume. Finally, in 1282, he obtained access to the second volume through a Urabe-branch manuscript that he used to transcribe.
The Kojiki contains various songs and poems. While the historical records and myths are written in a form of Chinese with a heavy mixture of Japanese elements, the songs are written with Chinese characters, though only used phonetically. This special use of Chinese characters is called Man'yōgana, a knowledge of which is critical to understanding these songs, which are written in Old Japanese.
The Kojiki is divided into three parts: the Kamitsumaki (上巻, "upper volume"), the Nakatsumaki (中巻, "middle volume") and the Shimotsumaki (下巻, "lower volume").
What follows is a condensed summary of the contents of the text, including many of the names of gods, emperors, and locations as well as events which took place in association with them. The original Japanese is included in parentheses where appropriate.
Ō no Yasumaro's preface, in the form of a dedicatory address to Empress Genmei, begins with a poem summarizing the main contents of the work. He then relates how Emperor Tenmu commissioned Hieda no Are to memorize the genealogies and records of the imperial house years earlier, and how Genmei in turn ordered Yasumaro to compile a written record of what Are had learned. He finally concludes the preface with a brief explanation of the Chinese characters used to transcribe native Japanese words in the text and the division of the work into three volumes.
Izanagi divides the world among his three children: Amaterasu was allotted Takamagahara (高天原, the "Plain of High Heaven"), Tsukuyomi the night, and Susanoo the seas. Susanoo, who missed his mother and kept weeping and howling incessantly, rejects his appointed task, leading Izanagi to expel him. Susanoo then goes up to Takamagahara, claiming to wish to see his sister. When a suspicious Amaterasu went out to meet him clad in armor, Susanoo protested his innocence and proposed that they exchange oaths. Five male kami (Amaterasu's sons) and three female kami (Susanoo's daughters) come into existence when the two gods each chewed and spat out an object carried by the other (Amaterasu Susanoo's sword, Susanoo Amaterasu's magatama beads) during the rite of oath-taking. Susanoo, declaring himself the winner of the contest, "raged with victory" and proceeds to wreak havoc upon Takamagahara, causing Amaterasu to hide in the Ama-no-Iwato (天岩戸, the "Heavenly Rock Cave"), plunging heaven and earth into total darkness. The gods, led by the wise Omoikane-no-Kami (思金神), eventually persuade her to come out of the cave, restoring light to the world. As punishment for his misdeeds, Susanoo is thrown out of Takamagahara.Susanoo asks the kami of food, Ōgetsuhime-no-Kami (大気都比売神), to give him something to eat. When the goddess produced foodstuffs from her mouth, nose, and rectum, a disgusted Susanoo kills her, at which various crops, plants and seeds spring from her dead body. Susanoo then makes his way down to Ashihara-no-Nakatsukuni (葦原中国, the "Central Land of Reed Plains", i.e. the earthly land of Japan), to the land of Izumo, where he slays a monstrous eight-headed serpent called the Yamata-no-Orochi (八俣遠呂智) to rescue the earthly goddess Kushinadahime (櫛名田比売), whom he married. Out of the serpent's carcass, Susanoo finds the sword Ame-no-Murakumo-no-Tsurugi (天叢雲剣, "Heavenly Sword of Gathering Clouds"), which he presents to Amaterasu as a reconciliatory gift.
A descendant of Susanoo, Ōnamuji-no-Kami (大穴牟遅神), helps a hapless hare that had been mistreated by his eighty brothers (八十神, yasogami); the hare, in turn, helps Ōnamuji win the hand of the goddess Yagamihime (八上比売) of Inaba. This earns Ōnamuji the jealousy of his brothers, who begin to make repeated attempts on his life. Seeking refuge in a subterranean realm ruled by Susanoo called Ne-no-Katasukuni (根之堅洲国), Ōnamuji meets and falls in love with Susanoo's daughter Suseribime-no-Mikoto (須勢理毘売). Upon learning of their affair, Susanoo imposes four trials on Ōnamuji, each of which he overcame with Suseribime's help. Ōnamuji manages to outwit Susanoo and leave the realm, taking his new wife Suseribime as well as Susanoo's sword, koto, and bow and arrows back with him, but not before being advised by Susanoo to change his name to Ōkuninushi-no-Kami (大国主神, "Master of the Great Land"). Ōkuninushi defeats his wicked brothers and becomes the lord of Ashihara-no-Nakatsukuni. Under the name Yachihoko-no-Kami (八千矛神, "Eight Thousand Spears"), he takes a third wife, Nunakawahime (沼河比売) of Koshi.
A tiny god riding on the waves of the sea in a bean-pod appears before Ōkuninushi. A god in the form of a scarecrow named Kuebiko (久延毘古) identifies the dwarf as Sukunabikona-no-Kami (少名毘古那神), a son of Kamimusubi-no-Kami (神産巣日神), one of the three primordial Kotoamatsukami. Sukunabikona assists Ōkuninushi in his task of creating and developing the land (kuni-zukuri), but eventually crosses over to the "eternal land" (常世国, tokoyo no kuni), leaving Ōkuninushi without a partner. Another deity, Ōmononushi-no-Kami (大物主神), then appears and promises to aid Ōkuninushi if he will worship him. Ōkuninushi then enshrines Ōmononushi in Mount Mimoro in Yamato Province.
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