Sources of Japanese Tradition
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Sources of Japanese Tradition

From Earliest Times to 1600

Wm. Theodore de Bary, Carol Gluck, Arthur Tiedemann

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eBook - ePub

Sources of Japanese Tradition

From Earliest Times to 1600

Wm. Theodore de Bary, Carol Gluck, Arthur Tiedemann

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About This Book

Sources of Japanese Tradition is a best-selling classic, unrivaled for its wide selection of source readings on history, society, politics, education, philosophy, and religion in the Land of the Rising Sun. In this long-awaited second edition, the editors have revised or retranslated most of the texts in the original 1958 edition, and added a great many selections not included or translated before. They have also restructured volume 1 to span the period from the early Japanese chronicles to the end of the sixteenth century. New additions include:

* readings on early and medieval Shinto and on the tea ceremony,

* readings on state Buddhism and Chinese political thought influential in Japan, and

* sections on women's education, medieval innovations in the uses of history, and laws and precepts of the medieval warrior houses.

Together, the selections shed light on the development of Japanese civilization in its own terms, without reference to Western parallels, and will continue to assist generations of students and lay readers in understanding Japanese culture.

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Early Japan
Chapter 1
The oldest extant annals in Japanese are the Records of Ancient Matters (Kojiki, 712 C.E.) and the Chronicles of Japan (Nihon shoki or Nihongi, 720). The Records opens with chapters on the mythological Age of the Gods and continues the story of Japan to about 500 C.E..1 Although this book reveals early Japanese ways of thinking and patterns of behavior, it contains little that can be taken as historical fact. The Chronicles, a much longer work, covers the same story from the Age of the Gods to 500 but continues for some two hundred years more until the end of the seventh century (697). The Chronicles becomes increasingly reliable as history after about the late sixth century. Indeed, the bestowal of the posthumous name of Suiko, meaning “conjecture the past,” on an empress who reigned from 592 to 628 seems to suggest that it was around this time that the Japanese, no doubt under Chinese influence, first began the serious writing of history, albeit often in the interests of the ruling house that the historians served.
An important source of written information about Japan before the sixth century is the Chinese dynastic histories. By the time Japan first came into the Chinese purview, about the first century B.C.E., the writing of history had left far behind the foundation myths of the Classic of Documents, and Chinese historians were compiling generally reliable records of the past. In the first century B.C.E., Japan was called Wa by the Chinese2 and was described as a land comprising more than a hundred tribal communities. As late as the Chinese Three Kingdoms period (220–265), according to the dynastic accounts, Wa was still divided into some thirty communities (although we know from the archaeological record in Japan that the country was then evolving into its first centralized state).
The Chinese histories do not tell us how the people now known as the Japanese first found their way to the islands. Without conclusive evidence on this subject, modern scholars have expounded various theories based on linguistics, archaeology, architecture, and a great many criteria, with some contending that the Japanese originally came from Southeast Asia and others insisting that they were a northern people. The Japanese probably had diverse origins, with various peoples entering from different directions. The mainstream of cultural influence came from the continent by way of Korea. When the first Qin emperor (247–210 B.C.E.) unified China and built the Great Wall to prevent the northern barbarians from making incursions on the fertile plains of the Yellow River, it seems likely that his actions helped direct the migrations of different peoples eastward or westward along the wall. Disturbances resulting from the movement of tribes were sometimes so severe that Emperor Wu (r. 140–87 B.C.E.) of the Han dynasty was compelled to send expeditionary forces to restore order. An outpost of the Han empire thus was established in northern Korea and served as a model of organized government to the surrounding tribes, possibly including the Japanese.
It may seem surprising that Japanese were in Korea in the first century C.E., but there appears to have been no fixed boundary at the time between the territory of the Koreans and that of the Japanese. Very likely there was a fairly steady eastward migration from north of China to the Korean peninsula and thence to the Japanese archipelago. During the third century, the Chinese withdrew from Korea, and the country was divided into three states, Koguryŏ, Paekche, and Silla, and beginning in the fourth century, Japanese periodically fought in Korea, usually siding with Paekche against Koguryŏ and Silla. Japanese historians claim that Japan established a territorial enclave at the tip of the Korean peninsula called Mimana sometime during the fourth century, although nationalistic Korean historians vigorously deny that such an enclave ever existed. Whatever interests the Japanese may have had in Korea were finally destroyed in 562. During the seventh century, Silla, with Chinese aid, subjugated the rival kingdoms of Koguryŏ and Paekche and unified the peninsula. These successes of the combined forces of Silla and Tang China drove the Japanese from the continent into the relative isolation of their islands, an event that may have helped bring about the birth of the historical Japanese state. That is, the rise of powerful dynasties in China and Korea impelled Japan to achieve a unified government in order not to be overwhelmed.
To understand some of the important influences on Japanese thought since earliest times, we turn next to the islands’ geographical features. The Chinese account of Japan in the History of the Latter Han Dynasty opens with the words “The people of Wa live on mountainous islands in the ocean,” and in fact, the two elements of water and mountains, together with a kind of sun worship, have always been very close to the Japanese. Although we are likely to find in any country’s religious beliefs a worship of noticeable or beneficial aspects of nature, the combination of these three elements is especially characteristic of Japan. The numerous clear streams and the ever-present ocean have always delighted the Japanese, as we can tell from their earliest poetry. To their love of water the Japanese joined a passion for lustration and cleanliness and, in our own day, for swimming. The Japanese love of mountains is not surprising in a country renowned for its numerous peaks, especially the incomparable Mount Fuji, and the worship of the sun is not unnatural in a country blessed with a temperate climate. Today we can still appreciate what an awe-inspiring experience it must have been for the Japanese of any age to stand on the summit of Mount Fuji and greet the sun as it rose from the waters of the Pacific. Other characteristics of the Japanese recorded in the early Chinese accounts that are still noticeable today include honesty, politeness, gentleness in peace and bravery in war, a love of liquor, and religious rites of purification and divination.
The Japanese accounts of the birth of the gods and of the foundation of their country belong, of course, to the realm of mythology rather than history, but they afford us a glimpse of Japanese attitudes toward the world and nature. Also, since later Japanese attached importance to these legends, some knowledge of them is indispensable to understanding Japanese thought.
The following extracts are from the official histories of successive Chinese dynasties, beginning with the Latter Han (25–220 C.E.), although the first of these accounts was written for the Kingdom of Wei (220–265) and compiled about 297 C.E.. The History of the Latter Han was compiled about 445 and incorporates much from the earlier description of the Japanese.
These accounts are contained in a section devoted to the barbarian neighbors of China at the end of each history. Thus they do not occupy a prominent place in these works, being more in the nature of an afterthought or footnote. Particularly in the earlier accounts, the information is apt to be scattered and disconnected and, not surprisingly, is presented by official chroniclers who viewed Japanese affairs with an eye to Chinese interests and prestige.
Nevertheless, we can discern some of the main outlines of Japan’s development in these early centuries. In the first accounts, Japan appears to be a heterogeneous group of communities in contact with China, with one ruling house bidding for Chinese recognition of its supremacy over the others. In one case, the influence of the Chinese ambassador is said to have been the decisive factor in settling a dispute over the succession to the Yamato throne. The kings of Wa, as the Yamato rulers were known, also made strong claims to military supremacy in Korea, which were at times acknowledged by the Chinese court. In the later accounts, the unification of Japan has progressed noticeably. The sovereignty of the Yamato house has been asserted over hitherto autonomous regions, and its government displays many of the trappings of the Chinese imperial structure. On occasion, the Japanese court is rebuked for its pretensions to equality with the Chinese and even for its hinted superiority, as when the Japanese ruler addressed the Chinese, “The Child3 of Heaven in the land where the sun rises addresses a letter to the Child of Heaven in the land where the sun sets.”
The people of Wa [Japan] dwell in the middle of the ocean on the mountainous islands southeast of [the prefecture of] Daifang. They formerly comprised more than one hundred communities. During the Han dynasty, [Wa] envoys appeared at the court; today, thirty of their communities maintain intercourse with us through envoys and scribes. . . .
The land of Wa is warm and mild. In winter as in summer the people live on raw vegetables and go about barefooted. They have [or live in] houses; father and mother, elder and younger, sleep separately. They smear their bodies with pink and scarlet, just as the Chinese use powder. They serve food on bamboo and wooden trays, helping themselves with their fingers. When a person dies, they prepare a single coffin, without an outer one. They cover the graves with earth to make a mound. When death occurs, mourning is observed for more than ten days, during which period they do not eat meat. The head mourners wail and lament, while friends sing, dance and drink liquor. When the funeral is over, all members of the family go into the water to cleanse themselves in a bath of purification.
When they go on voyages across the sea to visit China, they always select a man who does not comb his hair, does not rid himself of fleas, lets his clothing get as dirty as it will, does not eat meat, and does not lie with women. This man behaves like a mourner and is known as the “mourning keeper.” When the voyage meets with good fortune, they all lavish on him slaves and other valuables. In case there is disease or mishap, they kill him, saying that he was not scrupulous in observing the taboos. . . .
Whenever they undertake an enterprise or a journey and discussion arises, they bake bones and divine in order to tell whether fortune will be good or bad. First they announce the object of divination, using the same manner of speech as in tortoise shell divination; then they examine the cracks made by fire and tell what is to come to pass.
In their meetings and in their deportment, there is no distinction between father and son or between men and women. They are fond of liquor. In their worship, men of importance simply clap their hands instead of kneeling or bowing. The people live long, some to one hundred and others to eighty or ninety years. Ordinarily, men of importance have four or five wives; the lesser ones, two or three. Women are not loose in morals or jealous. There is no theft, and litigation is infrequent. In case of violations o...

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