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Songs of the Archaic Period (Before 700 A.D.)

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SONGS are the earliest relics of Japanese literature.

Kejiki and Nihongi are ancient annals containing a series of songs. Most of the poems in the Kejiki and Nihongi are attributable to the sixth and seventh centuries. The poetry in these annals is not of great significance from a literary perspective although they have historical significance. For instance a primitive war song came out of this period...

  • "Ho! Now is the time,
  • Ho! Now is the time,
  • Ha! Ha! Psha!
  • Even now my boys!
  • Even now my boys!"

The PROSE of the archaic period is represented by Norito - Shinto prayers - that were presented to the Mikado (Emperor) by court officials. The Mikado acted as the high priest of Japan. The Yengishiki or Institutes of Yengi (901-923 A.D.) is a literary work that references 75 of these prayers and gives the texts of 27. Many are not dated, but some of the oldest were written before the Yengishiki. Within the pages of this collection of Shinto prayers are invocations for all manner of situations-fruitful harvests, praying for protection against pestilence and fire, etc. The most famous is the Ohari or General Purification Service. It is too long to insert the entire piece here, but to provide a sense of how it reads, here is the first and the last paragraph separated by . . .

"Of yore, our Imperial ancestors who dwell in the plain of high heaven, summoned to an assembly the eight hundred myriads of deities and held divine counsel with them. And they gave command saying, "Let our August Grandchild hold serene rule over the land of fair rice-ears, the fertile reed-plain." . . . "Attend all of you with ears pricked up to the plain of high heaven, to this great purification by which, on this interlune of the sixth month as the sun goes down, your offences are purged and purified." Yengishiki

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