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The Analects get introduced to Japan

Traditionally, the “Analects” are believed to have been first introduced to Japan in 285, in the 16th year of reign of the legendary Emperor Ōjin.

At the time, Korea was in its Baekje era (from the name of one of the Three Kingdoms), and emperor Wu of the Western Jin ruled over China. In the Kojiki (Record of Ancient Matters, 712), it is stated: “The person ordered to present [the books] was Wani kishi. He had his attendants offer 10 volumes of the Analects and 1 volume of the One Thousand Character Classic, 11 volumes in total.” Wani’s name also appears in the Nihon shoki (Chronicles of Japan, 720), albeit written in different characters (fig.1).

Old Book Fig.1 Hakase Wani hi (Portrait of Wani the Scholar) 『博士王仁碑』
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So this was how the Analects were introduced to Japan. In addition to their most common name, Rongo, the Analects were also known in Japan by a variety of other names such as Ro-ron (fig.2), “Enju-kyō”(fig.3), Rikugei kōkin (Ch. Liu Yi hou jin, The Mouthpiece of the Six Arts), etc. The name Ro-ron (“The Lu-version Analects”, “Ro” being the Japanese-style reading of “Lu”) implies that it was the original form in which the text had been handed down, in contrast to Sei-ron (“The Qi-version Analects”) and Ko-ron (“The “Old” Analects”). The name Rikugei kōkin (Ch. Liu Yi hou jin, “The Mouthpiece of the Six Arts”) is derived from a phrase in a commentary on the Mencius (another important text of Confucianism) by Zhao Qi (? – 201), who lived during the Later Han Dynasty: “The 70 disciples collected the master’s sayings into the Analects. The Analects are the linchpin of the Five Classics, and the mouthpiece of the Six Arts.”

Old Book Fig.2 Ro-ron (The Lu-version Analects) 『論語(魯論)』
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Old Book Fig.3 Enju-kyo (The All Encompassing Gem) 『論語(円珠経)』
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The name Enju-kyō (The All-encompassing Gem) derives from the following passage in Huang Kan’s Lunyu yishu (The Annotated Analects, 6th c. CE, fig. 4): “Even the largest object cannot cover all, while the smallest object can refer to all matters; to make an analogy, no matter how large a mirror is, its light will always be slanted, while a bright gem (ju in Japanese), however small, can encompass the entire universe. The Analects may be small in size but, like the gem, their virtue knows no bounds, where the other books may be large in size but their content is slanted, like the light of the giant mirror.”

Old Book Fig.4 Rongo yishu (The Annotated Analects) 『論語義疏』
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In other words, though the Analects may be small, they say everything there is to know about humanity, or something along those lines. Many centuries later, Japanese scholars of Confucianism would rate the Analects “the greatest book in the universe”, but even at this early stage (6th century CE) praise for it was very high.

In the next step, we look at how the manuscripts of the Analects were read and interpreted by early Japanese scholars.

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This article is from the free online course:

Sino-Japanese Interactions Through Rare Books

Keio University

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