August 1, 2011｜Korean Peninsula
Lee Chang Soo
Director, Center for Japanese Studies, Institute for Global Affairs, Kyung Hee University
When dividing up Japanese history into periods, we see the term “jōdai [most ancient times]”. As the period preceding Kodai [Ancient Times], in the dictionary it has the meaning of “remote antiquity”, “primeval times” or “antiquity”, but as a specific period it refers to the time from the Asuka Period to the Nara Period. Moreover, in the Japanese world of Shinto it is taken as being up until the Kanmu Emperor, who inaugurated the Heian Period. In the on-yomi [Chinese reading] in Japanese of the characters “上代” it is “jōdai”, but if read in the kun-yomi [native Japanese reading] it becomes “kaminoyo” and “kamiyo” and has the same sound as “神代” [the age of the gods] and “神世” [the world/era of the gods]. That is, “上代” [jōdai] has the meaning of the period when humans were deeply concerned with the gods. As if in support of this, gods appear in a variety of forms in the works of Japanese literature from the Jōdai Period, and a world of multifarious gods was depicted. In the present day the things that are raised which give an understanding of the thinking of people in Japan’s Jōdai Period are, needless to say, the “Kojiki [Record of Ancient Matters]”, the oldest extant work of literature, and the “Nihon Shoki [Chronicles of Japan]”, described as the oldest history book. At the beginning of those books are the tales of the gods, “kamiyo”, and they are ordinarily called the “Nihon Shinwa [Japanese myths]”. Now in those myths, the imaginative powers of the Japanese people of the Jōdai Period, or to be exact the Japanese intellectuals of that time who were active at the Yamato court, were demonstrated to the full. Of course, in the cases where a given tradition is left behind in the form of literature, as you approach the period of its compilation, in order to have the character of being a history book the stronger the political element gets, and what doesn’t agree with the aim of the compilation or the purpose of the literature tends to be excluded. In particular, with the above-mentioned “Kojiki” and “Nihon Shoki” [together called the Kiki] being solely pieces of literature created with the political purpose of attaining the legitimacy of the Yamato court, the accounts relating to “kamiyo” are also no exception. Consequently, the “kamiyo” of the Kiki can be called a political mythology showing a profound picture of the activities of the gods concerned with the active powerful families centered on the Yamato court.
Incidentally, within this mythology, the term “韓” [Kara; Korean Han], which symbolizes ancient Korea, is seen intermittently, and piques my intellectual curiosity as a Korean. The term “韓” [Kara] of itself is likely to mean that the picture of ancient Korea was undoubtedly fixed in a form in agreement with the spiritual world of the Japanese of the Jōdai Period. Ten years ago, the present Emperor of Japan, at a press conference, mentioned himself for the first time the relations between the imperial family of ancient Japan and people coming across to Japan, and drew the attention of society. As far as my own investigations in the Kiki, the number of appearances of the term “Kara” totaled 87 instances, having an overwhelmingly high frequency compared to other places abroad, and I knew that ancient Japanese people were aware of Korea as the nearest other people. This can be considered to be something that reflects the fact that there were frequent human and material exchanges between ancient Korea and Japan. In particular, it is not too much to say that “Kara”, seen in the “kamiyo” where the world of the imaginative powers of the ancient Japanese people was shown, is a symbolic term that can indicate a profound interest of the ancient Japanese in Korea, and in addition close exchange relationships with Korea, and consideration for and harmony with people coming across the sea from Korea. The myths that have a deep relationship with Korea are more notable in the Kojiki compared to the Nihon Shoki. With the Izumo myth which climaxes with Susanoo and “Karakami”, who appears within his lineage, constituting approximately 30% of the Kojiki myths, and moreover with the fact that the main stage for the myths is mostly the regions facing the East Sea (Sea of Japan), and with the expression in the Tenson Kōrin myth, which can be called the climax of the Japanese myths, where Ninigi, the descendant of a god, proclaimed the place as a good land because the place he descended to from heaven is oriented toward Korea—with all these a global sensibility is revealed of the Kojiki compiler as an East Asian, over and above the familiarity toward Korea of the “kamiyo” Japanese.
[Translated by ERINA]