Thursday, December 08, 2022

First novel imported into Japan, screened in Kyoto

Japan has produced many novelists over the course of history, whose works have been popular not only among the people of the country but also internationally. However, above all, the Japanese wanted to expand their horizons by reading the works of foreign authors. The first novels imported into Japan can be seen today in Kyoto.

The story, titled Yu Jian Ku (‘A Visit to the Hermit’s Grotto’), originated in China and was written during the Tang Dynasty. A previously missing part of this first novel was found after a long search at the Kongji Temple in Kawachi-Nagano (Osaka Prefecture). The fragment found there is the oldest of all surviving copies of the book and the last part of the story. The first part of the story was found almost a century ago, the ending of which can now be read by everyone.

a long awaited journey

The novel written by Zhang Wencheng (660–740) is said to have been brought to Japan during the Nara period (710–784). The focus of the story is the protagonist who is lost in the cave of a supernatural being. She is warmly welcomed by the fairy who lives there. The two spend time together and become close, exchanging poems. The work is known for its elegant style of writing, witty dialogue and poetry.

A researcher at the Kyoto National Museum discovered a previously lost part of the novel. This underscores the immense importance of fiction for the people of that time. For the people of that time, the novel was what it is today television series from abroad. The work was extremely popular among the people of the time because of its simple text and its influence on the collections of poems Manoshu (The Collection of Ten Thousand Lives) and Genji Monogatari (The Tale of Genji).

Although copies of the story have been scattered throughout China and are mostly lost, there is more than one historical reproduction in Japan that survives to this day. As early as 1918, a historian reported that one of these copies was kept in Kongji. The folded and glued leaves that originally made up the book were found separately. The efforts of many later researchers meant that the text could be gradually reworked.

Roman first time again almost complete

A version rediscovered in 1986 states that the writing part was added in 1321, making it the oldest extant reproduction to date. The work was classified by the government as an Important Cultural Property in early 2014, although only 16 of the original 40 pages could be identified. In 2017, a full 99 years after the first part of the reproduction was discovered, 22 pages of the second part of the story were found when investigating Kongji’s Manjin Hall.

After the last two missing pages, researchers are still searching. The 38 pages found so far have been restored and re-added so that the material can be read again. The researchers and temple staff who discovered the 22 pages were very surprised at their discovery at the time, as they really only wanted to see if anything of historical value could be found in the old boxes in the Manjin Hall. At that time no one had the courage to think of “Yu Jian Kuo”.

Today the most joyful thing is that the temple decided to open its gates to the scientists. The book, which has now almost regained its former glory, is currently on display at the Kyoto National Museum as part of a special exhibition. Interested parties can view the historical manuscript by mid-September.

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