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A History of the Japanese People by F. Brinkley

The Nihon Shoki consisted originally of thirty one volumes


work, however, did not prove altogether satisfactory. It was written, for the most part, with a script called the Manyo syllabary; that is to say, with Chinese ideographs employed phonetically, and it did not at all attain the literary standard of its Chinese prototype. Therefore, the Empress entrusted to Prince Toneri and Ono Yasumaro the task of revising it, and their amended manuscript, concluded in 720, received the name of Nihon Shoki (Written Chronicles of Japan), the original being distinguished as Kana Nihongi, or Syllabic Chronicles. The Nihon Shoki consisted originally of thirty-one volumes, but of these one, containing the genealogies of the sovereigns, has been lost. It covers the whole of the prehistoric period and that part of the historic which extends from the accession of the Emperor Jimmu (660 B.C.) to the abdication of the Empress Jito (A.D. 697). The Kojiki extends back equally far, but terminates at the death of the Empress Suiko (A.D. 628).


In the year 713, when the Empress Gemmyo was on the throne, all the provinces of the empire received orders to submit to the Court statements setting forth the natural features of the various localities, together with traditions and remarkable occurrences. These documents were called Fudoki (Records of Natural Features). Many of them have been lost, but a few survive, as those of Izumo, Harima, and Hitachi.



The task of applying ideographic script to phonetic purposes is exceedingly difficult. In the ideographic script each character has a distinct sound and a complete meaning. Thus, in China shan signifies "mountain," and ming "light." But in Japanese "mountain" becomes yama and "light" akari. It is evident, then, that one of two things has to be done. Either the sounds of the Japanese words must be changed to those of the Chinese ideographs; or the sounds of the Chinese ideographs must alone be taken (irrespective of their meaning), and with them a phonetic syllabary must be formed. Both of these devices were employed by a Japanese scholar of early times. Sometimes disregarding the significance of the ideographs altogether, he used them simply as representing sounds, and with them built up pure Japanese words; at other times, he altered the sounds of Japanese words to those of their Chinese equivalents and then wrote them frankly with their ideographic symbols.

In this way each Japanese word came to have two pronunciations: first, its own original sound for colloquial purposes; and second, its borrowed sound for purposes of writing. At the outset the spoken and the written languages were doubtless kept tolerably distinct. But by degrees, as respect for Chinese literature developed, it became a learned accomplishment to pronounce Japanese words after the Chinese manner, and the habit ultimately acquired such a vogue that the language of men--who wrote and spoke ideographically--grew to be different from the language of women--who wrote and spoke phonetically. When Hiyeda no Are was required to memorize the annals and traditions collected and revised at the Imperial Court, the language in which he committed them to heart was pure Japanese, and in that language he dictated them, twenty-nine years later, to the scribe Yasumaro. The latter, in setting down the products of Are's memory, wrote for the most part phonetically; but sometimes, finding that method too cumbersome, he had recourse to the ideographic language, with which he was familiar. At all events, adding nothing nor taking away anything, he produced a truthful record of the myths, traditions, and salient historical incidents credited by the Japanese of the seventh century.

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