Nihon ryōiki: Its “Letters”, and their Relevance for the History of Literature
Compiled in the early ninth century, Nihon ryōiki is a collection of accounts involving karmic retribution and miracles. The compilation was intended to guide readers on the Buddhist path. Much of the phraseology in Nihon ryōiki was quoted from or influenced by texts from the Chinese Buddhist canon or non-Buddhist Chinese classics. The text overall reveals a metadiscourse that associates certain personages with a saintly lineage, embodying the ideal form of the human being. However, this metadiscourse was not always faithfully recreated in subsequent writings that drew upon the text. This paper dwells on the classification of books like the Nihon ryōiki, which are today known as setsuwa anthologies. From an intertextual perspective, the study reexamines the relation between Nihon ryōiki and other texts, and discusses its historical significance. In light of this discussion, this article attempts to reevaluate the nature of ancient texts written in Chinese characters and the study thereof.