and Writing Nara Classics
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
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.
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
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
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"
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
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