Profs & Pints Charlottesville: Japan's Origin Myths

By Profs and Pints (other events)

Tuesday, February 27 2024 5:30 PM 8:00 PM EDT

Profs and Pints Charlottesville presents: “Japan’s Origin Myths,” a look at how tales told in an ancient text helped shape Japanese history and culture, with Gustav Heldt, associate professor of Japanese literature at the University of Virginia and translator of The Kojiki—An Account of Ancient Matters.

Dating back to 712 C.E., the Kojki is Japan's oldest surviving written work. It describes that land's origins from the moment its islands were created by the gods up to its conquest by their mortal descendants. The genealogies, tales, and songs that it contains have helped to shape modern Japan’s views of its ancient past.

Gain a better understanding of early Japan and its people by hearing the Kojiki and its influence discussed by Professor Gustav Heldt, a scholar of Japan who has written an accessible translation of this classic text.

You’ll learn how woven through the Kojiki and the origin myths that it contains are episodes of drama involving clever tricksters, mighty warriors, and resentful spouses. Comparing its origin myths with those of other traditions sheds light on how early Japan resembled and differed from other ancient cultures.

Professor Heldt will examine two aspects of the Kojiki that are particularly striking. One is the central role that names of individuals and places play in its stories, posing a challenge to modern translators that have kept the text from being more widely read and better known. The second is the remarkable amount of stress it places on gender equality, a feature attributable to its being written at a time when Japan was ruled by an especially ambitious female sovereign.

The Kojiki's fantasy of a land untouched by foreign influences attracted interest in the eighteenth century and helped lay the groundwork for the militant nationalism of prewar Japan.

Since World War II the Kojiki has inspired films, manga, anime, and video games. You might be familiar with tales from this account of ancient matters without even knowing it. (Tickets must be purchased in advance at $13.50 plus sales tax and processing fees. No door tickets are available. Doors open to talk attendees at 5 pm and the talk itself starts at 6 pm.)

Image: The Japanese Sun goddess Amaterasu emerges from a cave in part of an 1856 painting by Utagawa Kunisada.