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The Land of the Dead – International Motifs in the Oldest Work of Japanese Literature

The Land of the Dead – International Motifs in the Oldest Work of Japanese Literature

By Danijela Vasić

Trans, No.9 (2009)

Introduction: The Kojiki (Records of Ancient Matters) is the oldest extant work of Japanese literature. It was written in 712 AD with an aim to show the Imperial family’s legitimacy to the people and prove the Emperor’s divine origin. Court scientist Oo no Yasumaro edited the Kojiki on the basis of a rich oral tradition, ancient myths, tales, legends and songs, in addition to the Japanese Emperors’ genealogies. The Kojiki consists of three volumes. The first volume describes the creation of the world and Japan’s origins; the second volume includes the period from the legendary Emperor Jimmu to the Emperor Ojin (according to tradition, from 600 BC to AD 310); whereas the third presents the time from the Emperor Nintoku to the Empress Suiko (from 313 to 628). Apart from treating the Japanese people’s original cultural heritage, this rich work is also of vital interest to many students thanks to its numerous international motifs. Such universal themes and motifs prove interesting for comparative and typological study, and are found in the cultures of people worldwide, which certainly had no contact with ancient Japan, in particular Serbian folk tradition.

The worldview represented in the Kojiki is founded on the ancient polytheistic religion, Shinto, which is integrated into Japanese culture. This autochthonous animist religion primarily rests on the belief that every segment of nature contains a kami, i.e. a god, that is, a spirit. That also means that the gods of the Japanese pantheon (the Kojiki presents them as genealogically related anthropomorphic characters) in fact personify the concrete natural elements, various human activities and imaginary concepts. The phenomenon personified by a kami is visible in its own name. We can find progenitors among the gods in question – the demiurges, cultural heroes, and tricksters, who have an inherent capacity of alternatively creating and disorganizing.

Click here to read this article from the University of Paris

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