The seminar's members, representing the full range of academic disciplines that bear upon the study of Japan and including Japan specialists from government, business, and the nonprofit sectors, meet regularly to discuss scholarly papers on all aspects of modern Japan, from history, literature, art, and the performing arts to politics, economics, social issues, and the US-Japan bilateral relationship.

Seminar: #445

Founded: 1960

Jan 21, 2008

February 8, 2008

Klaus Antoni (University of Tuebingen, Germany)

Creating a Sacred Narrative: Kojiki Studies and Shinto Nationalism

As is very well known, all of the modern editions of the Kojiki (712 AD) are more or less based on Motoori Norinaga's (re-) constructions of the seemingly original Old Japanese wording of the text, which was written down in Chinese characters by Oho no Yasumaro, following the dictate of Hieda no Are. Extremely interesting in this context is the Kokushi taikei version, dating from 1940. Here the supposed reading dominates the whole edition in a sense that the Chinese original becomes nearly obsolete. As a consequence, one of the editors, Kinoshita Iwao (1894-1980), who also made the first complete German translation of the text (1940, and later again 1976), prepared a completely romaji version of the Kokushi taikei text, which was supposed to be an effigy of the “real” old Japanese narrative, without any hint to Chinese characters (and connotations?). This method can be interpreted as a “purification" of this text from all Chinese characteristics, thus perfectly fitting into the anti Chinese discourse of the 1940ies and, more general, the condemnation of the seemingly evil karagokoro (“Chinese spirit”), which was so fundamentally criticized by Motoori Norinaga and later nationalists.
When looking at the text this way, it becomes clear that the Kojiki in modern times became that important only because of the linguistic constructions by Norinaga and his successors. It were the ideological ideas and connotations behind the visible text that made it so important for modern usage, and therefore the Kojiki could be taken as a modern text, too, as a kind of nativistic “invented tradition” or an example of “traditionalistic” texts in Japan. These questions are of high importance for our understanding of the Kojiki’s function within modern nationalistic discourse, and it seems interesting that it was a Japanese scholar, who made the first German translation, having been responsible for the first complete romaji edition in 1940.

Discussant: Haruo Shirane (Columbia)