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ASCJ Executive Committee

Contact the organizers: Asian Studies Conference (ASCJ) c/o Institute of Asian Cultural Studies, International Christian University 3-10-2 Osawa, Mitaka-shi, Tokyo 181

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Summer 2000 ASCJ Conference Details

15.   Reading and Writing Nara Classics (Room 207)

Chair:  David Lurie, Columbia University


   The Nara period (710-794) saw the production of three texts destined to become central classics of Japanese literature: the Kojiki (712), Nihon shoki (720), and Man'yoshu (after 759).  The first two, histories stretching from the age of the gods to the 7th century, contain some similar material but are strikingly different in style, presentation, and overall narrative framework; the third is a massive collection of poetry composed during a century and a half by over 460 named (and many unknown) individuals.

    Among the varied groups that later canonized these texts were scholars who lectured and wrote commentaries on the Nihon shoki and poets who relied on the (often unread) tradition of the Man'yoshu to support their own literary projects.  The texts on which these interpreters worked were themselves produced by compilers who had distinct ideas about what they were doing; the preface of the Kojiki, for example, serves as a dramatic reminder that the construction of a classic begins with its creation.

   Our panel will consider the composition and subsequent reception of Nara classics by examining the image of textuality presented in the preface to the Kojiki, the interaction between the Man'yoshu and the cult surrounding its most famous poet, and the complex readings performed by medieval commentators on the Nihon shoki.  By doing so we hope to foster meaningful interaction between investigations of the inception and of the reception of these early, central works.

 1)      David Lurie, Columbia University.  "The Preface to the Kojiki and Nara Period Writing Systems"

    The preface to the Kojiki is written in Chinese, in an ornate parallel prose which borrows heavily from the Wen xuan, the dedication to the Wujing zhengyi (653; the official Tang commentary on the Five Classics), and other literary sources.  Signed by O no Yasumaro (d. 723) and dated 712, it summarizes the contents of the Kojiki, traces its compilation from an order by Tenmu (r. 672-86) to its dedication to his niece Genmei (r. 707-715), and explains the mixture of logographic and phonographic characters employed to write Japanese in the body of the work.

   This last section is best known for a passage whose beginning Donald Philippi translates as: "If expressed completely in ideographic writing, the words will not correspond exactly with the meaning, and if written phonetically, the account will be much longer."  As the only explicit discussion of inscription from the Nara period, this passage is a fundamental source for the history of early Japanese writing.  Its meaning, however, cannot be understood unless it is located within the multiple contexts of the preface as a whole (Yasumaro's tendentious account of the editing process cannot be taken at face value), the use of characters in the body of the Kojiki, and the wider functions of writing at the time (as attested to by epigraphs, archaeological material, and surviving documents). Such a contextualization allows a reinterpretation of Yasumaro's assertions, providing a new perspective on both the Kojiki itself and the wider world of writing in 8th century Japan

 2)      Anne Commons, Columbia University.  "God of Poetry and Angry Ghost:  Hitomaro in and out of the Man'yoshu"

    The canonization and eventual deification of the Man'yoshu poet Kakinomoto no Hitomaro within court waka discourse was largely based on the treatment given him in Ki no Tsurayuki's Kokinshu of 905, rather than on his poems themselves.  Tsurayuki's description of Hitomaro in the kana preface as a "sage of poetry" (uta no hijiri) and the anonymous poems presented in the Kokinshu as Hitomaro's work were hugely influential on later poets, notably Rokujo (Fujiwara) no Akisue (1055-1123), who in 1118 held the first Hitomaro eigu, a ceremony drawing on Confucian and Buddhist influences in which Hitomaro was venerated as the founding figure of the Way of Japanese Poetry.

    It was Hitomaro's canonization outside court waka circles as a goryo or angry ghost, however, which drew most heavily on his poems as they appear in the Man'yoshu.  Respect for Hitomaro as a poet and the beginning of his construction as a legendary figure are evident in the structure of the anthology itself, particularly in the arrangement of his poems and of those concerned with his supposed death in the province of Iwami.  This paper explores the perceptions of Hitomaro apparent within the Man'yoshu, and the ways in which subsequent readings of Man'yoshu poems by and connected with him contributed to the development of his legend, including his continuing association with and enshrinement at Iwami (in present-day Masuda city, Shimane prefecture).

 3)      Victoria Stoilova, Tokyo University. "Yoshida Kanetomo and the Construction of 'Myths of Japan'"

     Often referred to as "myths of Japan" (Nihon shinwa), the Kojiki and Nihon shoki are in fact highly political documents, commissioned by tenno to support their legitimacy.  Furthermore, though shared episodes and similar formation processes have enabled the "myths" of these two texts to be discussed together as "kiki shinwa" (myths of the Kojiki and Nihon shoki), the world views which constitute their frameworks are so different that there is no choice but to treat them as distinct and separate works.

   This presentation examines how two such different texts were collapsed into a single body of "myth."  For about two centuries, from shortly after its compilation through the mid-Heian period, bureaucrats and intellectuals lectured on the Nihon shoki at court; by using the Kojiki and other early material to provide Japanese readings for its Chinese text, they reduced a multi-dimensional group of works into a one-dimensional narrative.

   Based on these readings, scholars and commentators from the Heian through the Edo periods labored to secure a mythic canon centered on the Nihon shoki. Those efforts saw a kind of completion in the interpretations of Yoshida no Kanetomo (1435-1511).  His "Nihon shoki jindai no maki sho" is usually dismissed as a minor, somewhat peculiar work of Shinto theory, but I will argue that it contains the key to Kanetomo's contribution to the construction of "kiki shinwa," and thus provides an opportunity to reinterpret the nature of medieval commentary on the Nihon Shoki.

Discussant: Kate Wildman Nakai, Sophia University, editor Monumenta Nipponica