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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
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- Spring '13