Tracing the notion of ‘Japanese myths’
As my thesis deals with the interpretations and commentaries on Japanese myths from Western scholars one would expect me to start with the beginnings of Mythological research in the 19th century Europe, but the more urgent topic in my opinion is the positioning of the Japanese myths at the time the first Japanologist came to the contact with them, a very complex subject reaching as far as the 8th century encompassing the story of a text, its construction, interpretation, reception as well as translation.
The concept of mythology originated in the West (I will address this complex issue later on) and did not exist in Japan prior to 19th century. The Japanese term for ‘myth’ (shinwa 神話) is believed to come in use after 1900. The term ‘Japanese myths’ today typically refers to the first part Kojiki (古事記 712) and Nihon shoki (日本書紀 720), the oldest records of the history of Yamato kingdom, with the title ‘Age of gods’ that deals with the stories of creation and the tales of deities. Prior to 19th century Kiki were not perceived as the sources of Japanese mythological canon as they are today which is well illustrated by the term Kiki myths (Kiki shinwa 記紀神話), referring to the mythological narratives of both Kojiki and Nihon shoki, being first used in the 19th century. The perception of these texts underwent a series of transformations from being the source of legitimization for the central aristocracy in the antiquity until it reached its current canonical status as the source of shared national memory. Furthermore even in the modern age the concept of ‘history’ stayed attached to the Kiki texts and the discourse on mythology and history intersects on a number of topics even today. Before we start to examine the way Japanese mythology was interpreted by Western scholars it is crucial to understand how the originally Western notion of ‘myth’ was applied and what it kind of texts it refers to. (Isomae 2010:33; Wachutka 2001:92)
The times of the compilation of both works that are perceived as the source texts for Japanese mythological canon, Nihon shoki and Kojiki, are belied to have intersected at some point and even the motivation behind their creation seems to be in both cases to provide the evidence to support the social position of various influential clans based on their origin interwoven in the narrative of these chronicles. Precisely because of these similarities up until recently the Japanese mythological research unreflectingly referred to the mythical sequences in both Kiki texts as to one tradition. The first scholars that were able to distinguish the Kojiki and Nihon shoki as two texts with distinct structure and coherence reflecting two separate cosmologies were Kōnoshi Takamitsu (神野志 隆光1946-) and Mizubayashi Takeshi (水林 彪1947-). Herman Ooms describes Kōnoshis approach as “a radical break with a centuries-old hermeneutics guided by the unquestioned aim to clarify ‘the’ Japanese mythology, where the...