Authentic 'Kujiki'


Northern Illinois University's John R. Bentley pokes holes in the view that 'Sendai Kuji Hongi' ('Kujiki') is a derivative historical text.

Kamata's work, in a nutshell, is what 99.9 percent of the people who know about Kujiki believe.

The ancient Japanese historical text Sendai Kuji Hongi, also known as Kuji hongi or Kujiki, may be an authentic work--not mainly derivative, as many scholars assume. The text covers the history of ancient Japan up to the reign of Emperor Suiko (593-628).

John R. Bentley discussed the research that led him to that conclusion about Kujiki at a March 10, 2008, event at UCLA. Bentley is an associate professor in the foreign languages and literatures department at Northern Illinois University. The Paul I. and Hisako Terasaki Center for Japanese Studies sponsored his lecture, which was based on his book The Authenticity of Sendai Kuji Hongi: A New Examination of Texts, with a Translation and Commentary (2006).

Bentley discussed a new manuscript of the text that he discovered, which is a fragment of the work without a preface that was added to it at some point after its composition.

A prevailing scholarly view holds that Kujiki originated in the late ninth century and certainly after 807, because it contains sections from Kogo shui, which was presented to the court that year. For centuries prior to the 18th century, when Kujiki was effectively banished from the Japanese historical canon, it was thought to have been a highly valuable work that appeared in the 620s--prior to three works that are now considered its sources.

The prevailing view is reinforced by the work of Kamata Jun'ichi, the first modern scholar to critically examine the text.

"[Kamata's work], in a nutshell, is what 99.9 percent of the people who know about Kujiki believe," Bentley said. "While his work is perceptive and very useful, I have problems with his methodology."

Bentley said that Kamata and other scholars seem to accept that there were "scribal mistakes" or that the copier was sloppy. His own textual analysis of sentence structure and wording argues that Kojiki (712), Nihon shoki (720), and Kogo shui may have appeared after Kujiki, not before it. He dates the work to the early Nara era (710-794) rather than the Heian (794-1185).

Bentley said many people are not interested in studying a text because it is believed to be derivative.

He raised questions about the generally accepted view that the author-editor, or compiler, of Kujiki was associated with the Mononobe family.

Texts are branded as gisho ("derivative" or "forged") particularly when they are falsely attributed to famous historical figures from the past in order to give credence to a a favored perspective or purpose. During its heyday beginning in the 10th century, Kujiki was thought to be written by Shotoku Taishi, an author and influential regent of Japan. Bentley is in agreement with other scholars in rejecting that attribution.

Bentley said he hoped his lecture and book would lead scholars to draw new conclusions about Japanese history and Kujiki's place in it.

"Kujiki is an important work for scholars to get a better grasp of the early stage of historiography in Japan," Bentley said.

Published: Monday, March 24, 2008