The Kojiki (Record of Ancient Matters) is traditionally viewed as Japan
’s first book
. It was written in 712 by the courtier O no Yasumaro
(? - 723) at the behest of Empress Genmei
(661-721) and is in three volumes.
The Kojiki recounts the history of Japan from its mythological origins to the era of the Empress Suiko (554-628) in the Yamoto era and includes myths, legends, Imperial geneology, history, and poetry.
O no Yasumaru’s work was based on the oral recitations of Hieda no Are who had been commanded to memorize and maintain this body of work by Emperor Tenmu (622-686).
This book is extremely significant because in its sections on the "Age of Gods" and the "Age of Emperors", it set the standard framework for the measurement of Japanese history and imperial power.
The Kojiki brought together unrecorded Japanese myths and elaborated on the Age of the Gods and then described the Age of Human Emperors and in doing so constructed a standard and genealogy for future leaders to lean upon. The Kojiki imparted final authority to the imperial framework and set the standard for viewing historical facts in the context of the emperors’ reigns.
The writing of a Japanese history was in line with the Yamoto imperial aims of emphasizing imperial power as well as announce nationalistic accomplishment in having a book comparable to the great dynastic histories of China.
The project of the creation of the Kojiki was enabled by the relative political stability which centralization based upon the Chinese model allowed. It was fueled by the desire of the ruling classes to develop Japan’s own culture and history and to consolidate imperial power by imparting upon it a long heritage.
The writing of the text itself was made possible by borrowing from the Chinese and adapting foreign achievements to accommodate Japan’s own culture and society.
The writing in the Kojiki is based on Chinese characters and employs the kambun, the manyogana, and the hybrid kambun style. The kambun style is basically Chinese writing with a pure Chinese vocabulary and sentence structure. This type of writing comprises the preface of the Kojiki and is the style of the majority of extant early Japanese works. Manyogana consists of Chinese ideographs used phonetically, devoid of their original lexical meanings. The largest portion of the Kojiki however, is written in the hybrid kambun style where words are written phonetically or ideographically in Chinese writing, but read in Japanese. So, the Kojiki announced the adoption of a written form of the Japanese language.
The Kojiki is a hallmark of Japan’s development, of its creation of itself, and reflects political, social, and cultural changes of the time of its compilation as what was to become the foundation of Japan’s civilization.