Wednesday, January 7, 2015

G450 Book Review of The Kojiki: Recods of Ancient Matters by Yasumaro

Title of the book: The Kojiki; Records of Ancient Matters

Author: Yasunaro/ Translated by Basil Hall Chamberlain

Publisher: Tuttle

Publishing Date: 700s/1981

ISBN: 978-0-8048-3675-3


Written by imperial command in the eighth century, the Kojiki (Records of Ancient Matters) is Japan's classic of classics, the oldest connected literary work and the fundamental scripture of Shinto. Accepted as fact until quite recently, it is a key to the historical roots of the Japanese people-their early life and the development of their character and institutions-as well as a lively mixture of legend and history, genealogy, and poetry. It stands as one of the greatest monuments of Japanese literature because it preserves more faithfully than any other book the mythology, manners, language and traditions of Japan. It provides, furthermore, a vivid account of a nation in the making. The work opens "when chaos had begun to condense, but force and form were not yet manifest, and there was nought named, nought done..." it recounts the mythological creation of Japan by hte divine brother and sister Izanami and Izanagi, tales of the Sun Goddess and other deities, the divine origin of Jimmu the first emperor, and the histories of subsequent reigns. Epic material is complemented by a fresh bucolic vein expressed in songs and poetry.

This famous translation by the British scholar Basil Hall Chamberlain, who "taught Japanese and Japan to the Japanese," is enhanced by notes on the text and an extensive introduction discussing early Japanese society, as well as the Kojiki and its background. Important for its wealth of information, the Kojiki is indispensable to anyone interested in things Japanese.

What is it?

This is a book of Japanese myths as well as stories about the early emperors from Jinmu up until Empress Suiko. Its more fantastical than historical.

Who wrote or made it?

Originally it was written by Yasunaro who is the historian, I believe. However Basil Hall Chamberlain was the translator, and some of the racier passages, unfortunately, were translated into Latin.

When was it written or made?

Emperor Temmu asks for its composition sometime in late 600s, but due to some issues, it wasn't until Empress Gemmiyo (708-715) started to rule that Yasunaro made steps to write it and present it to the empress.

Where was it written or made?

I would guess that it was composed in Nara Period of Japan.

How was it written or made?

The story is divided into three volumes,the first deals with creation of the world and ends with the birth of the first emperor named Jinmu. (Sections 1-43, I-XLIII) The second volume begins with reign of Emperor Jimmu and ends with Emperor Ojin's death. (44-118, XLIV-CXVIII). The last volume begins with Emperor Nintoku and ends with Empress Suiko (119-180, CXIX-CLXXX)

Why Was it Written or made?

Emperor Temmu felt that "original words in the possession of the various families deviate from exact truth, and are mostly amplified by empty falsehoods. If at the present time these imperfections be not amended, 'ere many years shall have elapsed, the purport of this, the great basis of the country...will be destroyed. So now I desire to have the chronicles of the emperors selected and order to transmit to after ages." (10-11)

Personal Opinion:

I did really enjoy reading The Kojiki by Yasunaro and learning more and more about the ancient Japan. Reading Kojiki helped me have understanding for Japanese culture of today, in particular for Japanese anime such as Princess Momoke and Inuyasha. I also began to wonder at the early people's mentality of why they thought the way they did, why do touches result in children everywhere? What I wasn't very happy with though is that some of the passages are translated into Latin, and I don't know Latin, and what might have helped out is if its mentioned who became the emperor after the previous emperor. And also, the gods' names are all translated into English, and knowing the Japanese short names for them might have been helpful. For example, in what sections can I find the story about the sun Goddess? What English name was she assigned?

I would like to thank Tuttle Publishing for providing me the copy of  The Kojiki; Records of Ancient Matters translated by Basil Hall Chamberlain 

4 out of 5
(0: Stay away unless a masochist 1: Good for insomnia 2: Horrible but readable; 3: Readable and quickly forgettable, 4: Good, enjoyable 5: Buy it, keep it and never let it go.)

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