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A History of the Japanese People by F. Brinkley

The Zoku Nihon Koki Supplementary Later Chronicles


may well be supposed, nevertheless, that Are's memory, however tenacious, failed in many respects, and that his historical details were comparatively meagre. An altogether different spirit presided at the work subsequently undertaken by this same Yasumaro, when, in conjunction with other scholars, he was required to collate the historical materials obtained abundantly from various sources since the vandalism of the Soga nobles. The prime object of these collaborators was to produce a Japanese history worthy to stand side by side with the classic models of China. Therefore, they used the Chinese language almost entirely, the chief exception being in the case of the old poems, a great number of which appear in the Records and the Chronicles alike. The actual words of these poems had to be preserved as well as the metre, and therefore it was necessary to indite them phonetically. For the rest, the Nihon Shoki, which resulted from the labours of these annalists and literati, was so Chinese that its authors did not hesitate to draw largely upon the cosmogonic myths of the Middle Kingdom, and to put into the mouths of Japanese monarchs, or into their decrees, quotations from Chinese literature. "As a repertory of ancient Japanese myth and legend there is little to choose between the Records and the Chronicles. The former is, on the whole, the fuller of the two, and contains legends which the latter passes over in silence; but the Chronicles, as we now have them, are enriched by variants
of the early myths, the value of which, for purposes of comparison, is recognized by scientific inquirers. But there can be no comparison between the two works when viewed as history. Hiyeda no Are's memory cannot be expected to compete in fullness and accuracy with the abundant documentary literature accessible to the writers of the Chronicles, and an examination of the two works shows that, in respect to the record of actual events, the Chronicles are far the more useful authority".*

*Aston's Nihongi.

It will readily be supposed, too, that the authors of both works confused the present with the past, and, in describing the manners and customs of by-gone eras, unconsciously limned their pictures with colours taken from the palette of their own times, "when the national thought and institutions had become deeply modified by Chinese influences." Valuable as the two books are, therefore, they cannot be accepted without large limitations. The Nihon Shoki occupied a high place in national esteem from the outset. In the year following its compilation, the Empress Gensho summoned eminent scholars to the Court and caused them to deliver lectures on the contents of the book, a custom which was followed regularly by subsequent sovereigns and still finds a place among the New Year ceremonials. This book proved to be the precursor of five others with which it is commonly associated by Japanese scholars. They are the Zoku Nihongi (Supplementary Chronicles of Japan), in forty volumes, which covers the period from 697 to 791 and was finished in 798; the Nihon Koki (Later Chronicles of Japan), in forty volumes--ten only survive--which covers the period from 792 to 833; the Zoku Nihon Koki (Supplementary Later Chronicles), in twenty volumes, which covers the single reign of the Emperor Nimmyo (834-850) and was compiled in 869; the Montoku Jitsu-roku (True Annals of Montoku), in ten volumes, covering the reign of Montoku (851-858), and compiled in 879, and the Sandai Jitsu-roku (True Annals of Three Reigns) in fifty volumes, covering the period from 859 to 887 and compiled in 901. These five compilations together with the Nihon Shoki are honoured as the Six National Histories. It is noticeable that the writers were men of the highest rank, from prime ministers downwards. In such honour was the historiographer's art held in Japan in the eighth and ninth centuries.

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