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A History of the Japanese People by F. Brinkley

Was subsequently invited from Kudara to take Atogi's place



It is not infrequently stated that a knowledge of Chinese ideographs was acquired by the Japanese for the first time during the reign of Ojin. The basis of this belief are that, in A.D. 284, according to the Japanese chronology--a date to which must be added two sexagenary cycles, bringing it to A.D. 404--the King of Kudara sent two fine horses to the Yamato sovereign, and the man who accompanied them, Atogi by name, showed himself a competent reader of the Chinese classics and was appointed tutor to the Prince Imperial. By Atogi's advice a still abler scholar, Wani (Wang-in), was subsequently invited from Kudara to take Atogi's place, and it is added that the latter received the title of fumi-bito (scribe), which he transmitted to his descendants in Japan. But close scrutiny does not support the inference that Chinese script had remained unknown to Japan until the above incidents. What is proved is merely that the Chinese classics then for the first time became an open book in Japan.

As for the ideographs themselves, they must have been long familiar, though doubtless to a very limited circle. Chinese history affords conclusive evidence. Thus, in the records of the later Han (A.D. 25-220) we read that from the time when Wu-Ti (140-86 B.C.) overthrew Korea, the Japanese of thirty-two provinces communicated with the Chinese authorities in the peninsula by means of a postal service. The Wei annals

(A.D. 220-265) state that in A.D. 238, the Chinese sovereign sent a written reply to a communication from the "Queen of Japan"--Jingo was then on the throne. In the same year, the Japanese Court addressed a written answer to a Chinese rescript forwarded to Yamato by the governor of Thepang--the modern Namwon in Chollado--and in A.D. 247, a despatch was sent by the Chinese authorities admonishing the Japanese to desist from internecine quarrels. These references indicate that the use of the ideographs was known in Japan long before the reign of Ojin, whether we take the Japanese or the corrected date for the latter. It will probably be just to assume, however, that the study of the ideographs had scarcely any vogue in Japan until the coming of Atogi and Wani, nor does it appear to have attracted much attention outside Court circles even subsequently to that date, for the records show that, in the reign of the Emperor Bidatsu (A.D. 572-585), a memorial sent by Korea to the Yamato Court was illegible to all the officials except one man, by name Wang-sin-i, who seems to have been a descendant of the Paikche emigrant, Wan-i.

Buddhism, introduced into Japan in A.D. 552, doubtless supplied the chief incentive to the acquisition of knowledge. But had the Japanese a script of their own at any period of their history? The two oldest manuscripts which contain a reference to this subject are the Kogo-shui, compiled by Hironari in A.D. 808, and a memorial (kammori) presented to the Throne in A.D. 901 by Miyoshi Kiyotsura. Both explicitly state that in remote antiquity there were no letters, and that all events or discourses had to be transmitted orally. Not until the thirteenth century does the theory of a purely Japanese script seem to have been conceived, and its author* had no basis for the hypothesis other than the idea that, as divination was practised in the age of the Kami, letters of some kind must have been in use. Since then the matter has been much discussed. Caves used in ancient times as habitations or sepulchres and old shrines occasionally offer evidence in the form of symbols which, since they bear some resemblance to the letters of the Korean alphabet (onmuri), have been imagined to be at once the origin of the latter and the script of the Kami-no-yo (Age of the Kami). But such fancies are no longer seriously entertained. It is agreed that the so-called "letters" are nothing more than copies of marks produced by the action of fire upon bones used in divination. The Japanese cleverly adapted the Chinese ideographs to syllabic purposes, but they never devised a script of their own.

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