Author: Elisha Kayne
Today, more than 80% of the Japanese population engage in some form of Shinto practice. Whether visiting local shrines or attending festivals, there are millions of men and women in Japan who continue to honor their ancestors. For practitioners of traditional Japanese customs, there are two foundational texts that must be explored by those who are interested in learning about the Shinto philosophy, the Kojiki and Nihon Shoki. Out of the two, the title which boasts the most spiritual and mythological significance is the Kojiki.
The Origin of Kojiki
In the year 712 AD, O no Yasumaro presented the Kojiki to Empress Genmei. Having been commissioned with the great work years before by Emperor Tenmu, Yasumaro sought to erase falsehoods and establish truth. He was tasked with creating a collection of works comprised of the traditional oral history which began with the creation of the Earth during the Age of the Gods, and create a concise genealogical record of the Imperial family that stretched all the way back to the Goddess Amaterasu. Through the Imperial Records, or Teiki and the Ancient Myths, or Kuji, the people of Japan could have clear documentation of their origins and firmly establish a direct link which connects them to their most ancient ancestors.
The Kojiki is written in three portions. The first volume, called the Kamitsumaki or Kamiyo no Maki, focuses primarily on the story of creation and the Age of the Gods. It describes in detail the first generations of the Gods and Goddesses, explaining the formation of the heavens and earth, as well as the beginnings of the Imperial line through their descent from Amaterasu and Ninigi no Mikoto. The second and third volumes provide genealogical records of the Imperial families, beginning with Emperor Jimmu, through the reign of Emperor Ojin and Nintoku, and finally ending with Empress Suiko, the 33rd monarch of Japan.
Significance of the Work
The Kojiki was commissioned at a unique time in Japanese history, when the realm faced great challenges and difficulties. By producing such a work, the people of Japan had a document which preserved the rich heritage of oral tradition which had been passed down from father to son for many generations. The changes that swept through the Empire during 8th century AD and beyond could have resulted in the tragic loss of such knowledge and wisdom, but because of the publishing of the Kojiki, the history of Japan was kept safe for future descendants.
Reading the English Translations
The translation of the Kojiki into English has created an opportunity for people around the world to become more informed about the incredible myths and traditions of Japan. The first English language Kojiki was written by Basil Hall Chamberlain in 1882. For almost a century, his work was the only translated manuscript available to the western world. As time moved on, many criticisms of the work began to develop. Some readers and scholars were frustrated with the antiquarian language and his heavy use of footnotes, which can at times overshadow the original literature. Two other modern versions of the English translation have since been published. Kojiki, translated and edited by Donald L. Philippi in 1969 and The Kojiki: An Account of Ancient Matters, translated by Gustav Heldt in 2014 are both widely available online and in book stores around the world.