Korean Books in Japan before Hideyoshi's Invasion

By Kornicki, Peter | The Journal of the American Oriental Society, July-September 2015 | Go to article overview

Korean Books in Japan before Hideyoshi's Invasion


Kornicki, Peter, The Journal of the American Oriental Society


In a previous article, which was mainly concerned with Korean books in Japan from the 1590s to the end of the Edo period, I was able to draw upon an extensive range of documentary evidence as well as innumerable extant books. (1) I made only passing reference to Korean books in Japan in earlier centuries, mentioning the large numbers of copies of the Korean Buddhist canon which reached Japan. There is however some scattered evidence relating to other books from Korea reaching Japan before the 1590s which is worth considering, and it is the purpose of this short piece to weigh up the available evidence.

As I wrote in the previous article, "We can probably discount the story, found in the Chronicles of Japan (Nihon shoki, completed in 720), which tells of Paekche envoys bringing books to Japan in the fourth century, and perhaps even the putative Paekche historiographical works cited in the same work, but we have clear evidence of the importation of Buddhist texts from Korea in the eighth century." (2) There is no room for doubting that from at least the eighth century onwards considerable quantities of Buddhist texts reached Japan from the Korean peninsula, particularly once the first and second editions of the Korean Buddhist Canon had been printed, but this does not mean to say that books of other kinds were not also reaching Japan from the peninsula, nor does it necessarily mean to say that books had not reached Japan from Korea before the eighth century. The evidence is slender but it is not negligible.

The earliest reference with some possible credibility comes from Shinsen shojiroku [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII], a genealogical work compiled at the command of the sovereign in 815. Only abridged versions survive but they contain an interesting detail concerning the Yamato no kusushi no omi [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] lineage, a title which evidently denoted mastery of pharmaceutical knowledge. The Yamato no kusushi no omi lineage is said in this source to be descended from an immigrant by the name of Chiso [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]; in Korean his name would be Chich'ong. (3) This Chich'ong is said in Shinsen shojiroku to have been a grandson of a man named [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] (Shoen; K. Choyon; Ch. Zhaoyuan), who in turn was supposedly the ruler of the kingdom of Wu, although no such name is recorded in historical chronicles. According to the account in Shinsen shojiroku, Chich'ong was accompanied to Japan by Otomo no Sadehiko [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII], and he brought with him when he arrived "Buddhist and Confucian books, pharmaceutical books and acupuncture charts, etc., in 164 volumes" [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]. (4) Otomo no Sadehiko is described in the Chronicles of Japan as the leader of an invasion of northern Korea undertaken in alliance with Paekche in a year supposedly equivalent to 562; a similar account is given in Nihon sandai jitsuroku [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII], a chronicle which was completed in 901, but neither of these two sources mentions Chich'ong or the books he is supposed to have brought with him. (5) The specificity of the details in the Shinsen shojiroku account is indeed striking but the fact remains that it was compiled more than two centuries after the events it purports to describe and the sources upon which it is based are unknown. If this account is to be trusted, then the likelihood is that Chich'ong brought with him Korean copies of texts imported from China rather than texts that had been written in Korea. All perhaps that can be said for sure is that in 815 it was credible that texts of the sorts described had been brought to Japan from Korea in the sixth century.

Much the same applies to the details given in the Chronicles of Japan relating to the arrival in Japan from Paekche of the Buddhist monk Kwalluk [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] in a year supposedly equivalent to 602. …

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