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Nihon Shoki

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  • Completed: 720
  • Japanese: 日本書紀 (Nihon shoki)
  • Alternate name: 日本紀 (Nihongi)

The Nihon shoki is - along with the Kojiki - one of the earliest and most canonical ancient official histories of Japan, produced by the imperial court in the early 8th century. Completed in 720 under Empress Genshô, the Nihon shoki relates the history of Japan up to 697 in thirty volumes; it begins with two volumes containing origin myths and stories of the gods, followed by 28 volumes organized by imperial reign, from Emperor Jimmu through Empress Jitô.

Its compilation, conducted over roughly fifty years beginning around the 670s, was inspired in part by the Chinese tradition and Confucian notion of producing annals of each regime, which could then be used to guide later generations.[1]

The earliest sections describe a division between the realm of the gods and that of humanity; a deity called Ôkuninushi (roughly, "Great Master of the Land") is described as overseeing 幽, the realm of the gods, with the center of his influence or authority being at Izumo, while the emperor rules the realm of politics on earth 顕 from Yamato.

Contents

Issues of Accuracy

The Nihon Shoki is infamous for its fabrications in order to glorify the Imperial line. However, beyond its nationalistic issues, factual and dating issues must also be addressed.

Dating

The Nihon Shoki dates have long been called into question. W.G. Aston, author of the most famous and prominent English-language translation, notes that in many places the dates need to be moved up as much as 120 years.

Such an example deals with continental relations:

Nihon Shoki X:19; p.269n--Aston's note

Wu 呉, called by the Japanese Go or Kure, was a Chinese dynasty, the last sovreign of which was deposed A.D. 280, long before the despatch of [Achi no Omi and his son, Tsuga no Omi]. We learn, however, from a note to the Shukai edition that this appellation was aplied (perhaps popularly) to all the six dynasties established at Nanking or the neighbourhood from Wu to Chen inclusive, ie. from A.D. 229-589.

It can be seen, then, that a simple reference to a mission sent to "Wu China" could possibly refer to a later dynasty and period.

Terminology aside, dates presented in the Nihon Shoki must be taken with a grain of salt.

Original Text Link

  • The original Chinese text (in modernized kanji) with a few notes (kana for the poems and Western year dates) can be found in html format here [1].

Translation Purchase Link

Aston's translation ISBN 0804836752

References

  • Gallery labels, "Izumo and Yamato," special exhibition, Tokyo National Museum, Feb 2020.
  1. Conrad Totman, Early Modern Japan, University of California Press (1993), 25.
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