ASIA212Varley

Although the two works contain numerous variant tales

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Unformatted text preview: en in a complex style that employs Chinese characters both in the conventional manner and to represent phonetically the sounds of the Japanese language of the eighth century. Because of its difficulty, the Kojiki received scant attention for more than a thousand years; not until the great eighteenth-century scholar Motoori Norinaga devoted more than three decades to its decipherment did its contents become widely known even among the Japanese. The Kojiki and Nihon Shoki (whose first part covers much the same ground) are, as noted, the principal repositories of Japan’s extraordinarily rich mythology, a mythology derived from a variety of materials including ancient songs and legends, word etymologies, professed genealogies, and religious rites. Although the two works contain numerous variant tales, they give essentially the same account of the course of Japan up to the eve of recorded history in the sixth century. Japanese scholars of the twentieth century have proved conclusively that this central narrative of myths, which tells of the descent of the imperial family from the omnipotent Sun Goddess and its assumption of eternal rule on earth, was entirely contrived sometime during the reform period of the late sixth and seventh centuries to justify the claim to sovereignty of the reigning imperial dynasty. Moreover, both books, but particularly the Kojiki, have been shaped to give antiquity and luster to the genealogies of the leading courtier families of the same period. In contrast to the Kojiki, the Nihon Shoki is written in Chinese and has been read and studied throughout the ages. It is also a much longer 38 The Introduction of Buddhism work and contains, in addition to the mythology, a generally reliable history of the sixth and seventh centuries. Indeed, as virtually the only written source for affairs in Japan during this age, it became the first of six “national histories” that cover events up to 887. Nara civilization reached its apogee in the Tempyò epoch of Emperor Shòmu (reigned 724–49). Shòmu is remembered as perhaps the most devoutly Buddhist emperor in Japanese history, and certainly Buddhism enjoyed unpre...
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