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A History of the Japanese People by F. Brinkley

Whom the Emperor Temmu nominated in 682


it was not until the time of the Empress Suiko (593-628) that the historical project took practical shape. Her Majesty, at the instance, doubtless, of Prince Shotoku, one of the greatest names in all Japan's annals, instructed the prince himself and her chief minister, Soga no Umako, to undertake the task of compiling historical documents, and there resulted a Record of the Emperors (Tennoki), a Record of the Country (Koki), and Original Records (Hongi) of the Free People (i.e., the Japanese proper as distinguished from aliens, captives, and aborigines), of the great families and of the 180 Hereditary Corporations (Be). This work was commenced in the year 620, but nothing is known as to the date of its completion. It represents the first Japanese history. A shortlived compilation it proved, for in the year 645, the Soga chiefs, custodians of the documents, threw them into the fire on the eve of their own execution for treason. One only, the Record of the Country, was plucked from the flames, and is believed to have been subsequently incorporated in the Kojiki '(Records of Ancient Things).' No immediate attempt seems to have been made to remedy the loss of these invaluable writings. Thirty-seven years later the Emperor Temmu took the matter in hand. One of his reasons for doing so has been historically transmitted. Learning that "the chronicles of the sovereigns and the original words in the possession of the various families deviated from the truth and were largely amplified with
empty falsehoods," his Majesty conceived that unless speedy steps were taken to correct the confusion and eliminate the errors, an irremediable state of affairs would result.

Such a preface prepares us to learn that a body of experts was appointed to distinguish the true and the false, and to set down the former alone. The Emperor did, in fact, commission a number of princes and officials to compile an authentic history, and we shall presently see how their labours resulted. But in the first place a special feature of the situation has to be noted. The Japanese language was then undergoing a transition. In order to fit it to the Chinese ideographs for literary purposes, it was being deprived of its mellifluous polysyllabic character and reduced to monosyllabic terseness. The older words were disappearing, and with them many of the old traditions. Temmu saw that if the work of compilation was abandoned solely to princely and official litterateurs, they would probably sacrifice on the altar of the ideograph much that was venerable and worthy to be preserved. He therefore himself undertook the collateral task of having the antique traditions collected and expurgated, and causing them to be memorized by a chamberlain, Hiyeda no Are, a man then in his twenty-eighth year, who was gifted with ability to repeat accurately everything heard once by him. Are's mind was soon stored with a mass of ancient facts and obsolescent phraseology, but before either the task of official compilation or that of private restoration had been carried to completion the Emperor died (686), and an interval of twenty-five years elapsed before the Empress Gemmyo, on the 18th of September, 711, ordered a scholar, Ono Yasumaro, to transcribe the records stored in Are's memory. Four months sufficed for the work, and on the 28th of January, 712, Yasumaro submitted to the Throne the Kojiki (Records of Ancient Things) which ranked as the first history of Japan, and which will be here referred to as the Records.


It is necessary to revert now to the unfinished work of the classical compilers, as they may be called, whom the Emperor Temmu nominated in 682, but whose labours had not been concluded when his Majesty died in 686. There is no evidence that their task was immediately continued in an organized form, but it is related that during the reign of Empress Jito (690-696) further steps were taken to collect historical materials, and that the Empress Gemmyo (708-715)--whom we have seen carrying out, in 712, her predecessor Temmu's plan with regard to Hiyeda no Are--added, in 714, two skilled litterateurs to Temmu's classical compilers, and thus enabled them to complete their task, which took the shape of a book called the Nihongi (Chronicle of Japan).

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