Academic journal article Japanese Journal of Religious Studies

The Credibility of the Gangoji Engi

Academic journal article Japanese Journal of Religious Studies

The Credibility of the Gangoji Engi

Article excerpt

(ProQuest: ... denotes non-US-ASCII text omitted.)

WITH REGARD to the date for the transmission of Buddhism to Japan, Japanese who received their education before the war (pre-1945) will identify the date as 552 ce. This theory is based on the records of the Nihon shoki ..., in an entry for the tenth month of Kinmei 13. Those who went to school after the war, including myself, learned that the date was 538 ce. In my case, I remember a large banner showing a chart with a detailed timeline of Japanese history strung across the top of the blackboard at the front of my elementary school classroom. Here it was clearly noted: "538, the transmission of Buddhism." This date was also taught in middle and high school history classes. This is based on two texts, the Gangoji garan engi narabini ruki shizaicho ... and the Jogu Shotoku hootei setsu ..., which record that the transmission of Buddhism occurred in Kinmei 7, a bogo ... year in the sixty-year cycle, matching the year 538 in the Western calendar. Many recent junior and senior high school textbooks list both dates, since it is difficult for historians to decide between them.

Which of these dates is correct? Or perhaps neither is correct? The report of the transmission in the Nihon Shoki is very problematic, and it is difficult to support the historicity of its account and the date of 552.1 But there are also problems with the 538 date, and one should not simply accept it as a substitute for 552. The main problem with this theory is that both of the documents in which it is found are full of enigmas, authorship is uncertain, it is not clear when the text was produced, and it is not known to what extent we can believe what it says. In short, its credibility as a historical document is suspect. Here I would like to take up one of these texts, the Gangoji garan engi narabini ruki shizaicho, and examine its textual characteristics, the possible date of its composition, and the credibility of its content.

The Gangoji engi

The Gangoji garan engi narabini ruki shizaicho is not a well- nor long-known text; it is a newly-discovered historical document that came to light in the Meiji period (1868-1912), discovered in the temple archives of Daigoji by the art histo- rian Hirako Takurei. The Daigoji archives included a collection of engi in eighteen volumes, of which the second volume was labeled "Gangoji engi," which included the Gangoji garan engi narabini ruki shizai. Hirako came across these documents at Daigoji in Meiji 39 (1906), and introduced them to the scholarly community the next year (see Hirako 1907a and 1907b). This was the first time that these texts (and their contents) became known to the world.

The Gangoji engi consists of a bound booklet 27.1 cm long and 16.1 cm wide of thick Japanese paper. Including the cover, it is made of thirty-eight pages (cho ...). Each half-page has six lines of text. The cover is light brown with a small chrysanthemum pattern, and "Gangoji engi" is written on the top left corner. The inside pages use a whiter shade of Japanese paper made from mulberry (choshi ...). All of the eighteen volumes of the engi documents kept at Daigoji have the same characteristics, such that they appear to have been copied by a single person at one time. Volume one on Todaiji ... and volume 6 on Shodaiji konryu engi ... include postscripts stating that these were copied by a monk named Bengo ... in the seventh month of Ken'ei 2 (1207), and proofread by a monk named Koen ... in the ninth month of the same year. The Gangoji engi also has a postscript attributed to Koen, so it is safe to conclude that this booklet as a whole was copied on this date by Bengo and Koen.2

The Gangoji engi booklet contains four texts:

1. Buppon denraiki ...

2. Gangoji garan engi narabini ruki shizaicho

3. Bo koki ...

4. Jishun shikanmon ...

It was the second item on Gangoji that drew the attention of Hirako and other researchers and that concerns us here. …

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