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Nihongi: Chronicles of Japan from the…

Nihongi: Chronicles of Japan from the Earliest Times to A.D. 697 (Tut…

by W. G. Aston

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W.G. Aston's Nihongi is the standard translation of one of Japan's greatest works of early literature. For those studying early Japanese history or folklore it is a must read. It describes the creation myths of Japan, the origin of Amaterasu, the sun goddess and the descent of the emperors from the gods (kami). It transitions slowly from myth to history somewhere around 400 AD as it begins to describe the acts of the emperors and Japan's interaction with its neighbours, most notably the kingdoms of Pekche, Silla and Koryo in what is now Korea.

The creation myths are somewhat jumbled in format and, without Aston's copious footnotes, would be almost unintelligible to the uninitiated. While at times the translator's commentary threatens to overwhelm the actual text, for the most part it plays a key role in aiding our understanding. The expert may find the notes annoying (and possibly dated since the book was translated in 1896) but I found them quite helpful. As the book proceeds into the more narrative historical sections, the footnotes decrease accordingly.

It appears that the Nihongi was written to provide the back-story to the role of the emperor as it existed circa 800 AD. Thus genealogical information forms a large part of the book and there are a lot of names in here. Aston also points out, with considerable annoyance, that many of the speeches and acts of the Nihongi are anachronistically cribbed from Chinese material extant at the time of the Nihongi's writing. Poetry, as well, is a large component of the work, often with inscrutable translations but tempered by copious notes. It should also be noted that to avoid corrupting the morals of the youth, passages dealing with sex are translated from Japanese into Latin. The curious and prurient may wish to brush up on their classical studies.

I was completely unaware, as I read the book, that the Cosimo edition of the Nihongi is only the first of two original volumes. Nowhere in the book is it made clear that there is another volume, although if you read the preface closely you will note that Aston refers to the "thirty books" of the Nihongi - in this edition there are only 16. The errata published at the back are for two volumes, one of which is that in hand while the other is clearly not present, and the title indicates the book will take us to 637 AD while the table of contents only goes as far as Muretsu in AD 499. It is difficult to believe you could publish this book without being aware that there was a second volume and almost as difficult to believe the publisher deliberately misled the readers into buying what was effectively only half of a book. Whatever the answer, I am quite disappointed in the lack of a second volume.

The writings themselves are excellent. While I usually enjoy folklore more than history, in this case, the best and most moving tales belong to the "historical" portion of the book. Tales of the evil emperor Yoriaku, the bold empress Okinaga and others are quite entertaining, while obviously not completely factual. I would have to give the Nihongi 5 stars as a great work of literature, Aston's translation 4 stars due to is dated nature and the publisher 1 star for delivering only half of the great tale. ( )
  Neutiquam_Erro | Mar 18, 2008 |
The first major English translation of one of the two basic Japanese chronicles. The material is a bit old-fashined, especially the transcription of the divine names. ( )
  antiquary | Dec 12, 2007 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0804809844, Paperback)

This historic book may have numerous typos and missing text. Purchasers can download a free scanned copy of the original book (without typos) from the publisher. Not indexed. Not illustrated. 1896 edition. Excerpt: ...evergreen oak Of Mount Heguri--(Fold within fold). This child!' This is called a song of longing for one's country. i8th year, Spring, 3rd month. The Emperor, when.about to turn his way towards the capital, made a tour of inspection to the Land of Tsukushi.5 He first arrived at Hina-mori. There was at this time on the bank of the River Ihase a crowd of men assembled. The Emperor, looking down on them from afar, addressed his courtiers, saying:--" Who are these men who are assembled? Are they an enemy? " So he sent two men, Hinamori the Elder and Hinamori the Younger, to see. Now Hinamori the Younger returned and reported, saying:--" Idzumi-hime, the Kimi of Muro-kata, is about to VII. 14 offer your Majesty a banquet, and therefore have people gathered together." Summer, 4th month, 3rd day. The Emperor arrived at the district of Kuma. In this place there wefe two brothers called Kuma-tsu-hiko.8 The Emperor first sent to summon Kuma the Elder to him. Accordingly he came along with the messenger. Then he summoned Kuma the Younger, but he would not come. Therefore he sent soldiers and put him to death. 1 The text and interpretation of this poem present considerable difficulty, and the above rendering is in parts only tentative. The " Kojiki" makes three distinct poems of it, and attributes them to Yamato-dake no Mikoto. Cf. Ch. K., p. 219. Awo-gaki means green-fence. ' Fold within fold " is a mere epithet, or makura-kotoba. of Mount Heguri. 5 Tsukushi is here evidently the northern part of the island. 3 Prince of Kuma. nth day. Proceeding by the sea route, he anchored at a small island in Ashikita, where he partook of food. Then he told Wo-hidari, ancestor of the Yama no Ahiko,1 to give him some cold water. Just at this time there was no water in the...

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:25:50 -0400)

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