Wani (scholar)

Wani (scholar)

Wani (Japanese: nihongo|Wani, Wani Kishi|王仁, 和邇吉師; Korean: Wangin(왕인)) is a semi-legendary scholar dispatched by the Kingdom of Baekje in southwestern Korea to the Japanese Islands during the reign of Emperor Ōjin, bringing with him the knowledge of Confucianism and the Chinese writing system. He is mentioned in the ancient Japanese chronicles of Nihon Shoki and Kojiki. He was regarded as the founder of the Kawachi-no-Fumi (西文) clan.

Original sources and analysis

Wani is mentioned only in Japanese history books; He is not recorded in Korean sources. [Early Korean books referring to Wani were written more than a millennium later and were clearly based on Japanese sources, not on their own. See (Kim:2001).] The main sources of Wani's biography are the "Nihon Shoki" and the "Kojiki".

According to the article of the 15th year of Emperor Ōjin's reign from the "Nihon Shoki" (720), the emperor asked Achiki, who had been offered by the king of Baekje along with two horses, "Is there any Confucian master (博士) who surpasses you [in his learning] ?", and Achiki referred to Wani (王仁). Then the emperor dispatched officials to Baekje to summon him. According to the article of the 16th year, he came to Japan. Crown Prince Uji no Waki Iratsuko studied under him. Wani was the founding ancestor of the Fumi no Obito (書首) clan among others.

According to the "Kojiki" (712), Emperor Ōjin requested Baekje to offer wise men if any, and it was Wani Kishi (和邇吉師) who was offered by the request. Along with him, Baekje offered ten volumes of the "Analects", one volumes of the "Thousand Character Classic". Wani Kishi was the ancestor of the Fumi no Obito (文首) clan among others.

These stories have long been questioned by scholars. Ten volumes are too much for the "Analects", and more importantly, his alleged arrival predates the composition of the "Thousand Character Classic" (the early 6th century). Arai Hakuseki considered that Wani had brought a certain book of Elementary Learning which the "Kojiki" had confused with the "Thousand Character Classic". Motoori Norinaga claimed that it was pointless to care about details because the "Thousand Character Classic" was mentioned just as a typical book of Elementary Learning. Some assume a different version of the "Thousand Character Classic" was brought but this theory has no clear basis. In short, it is not unnatural for people like Wani to have came to Japan around that time, but there is no strong evidence determining whether Wani really existed. [(Seki:1996)]

Dating the alleged arrival of Wani is rather difficult since there are long-lasting disputes over the accuracy of these sources on early events. According to the traditional dating, it would be 285 though is considered too early by historians. Based on the reign of King Akue (阿花王; identified as King Asin 阿莘王) of Baekje, who, according to the "Nihon Shoki", died in the 16th year of Emperor Ōjin's reign, it would be 405. [(Pan:2001)] However, this theory contradicts the description of the "Kojiki", which says that Wani's arrival was during the reign of King Shōko (照古王; usually identified as King Geunchogo 近肖古王, r. 346-375) of Baekje. The "Kojiki" suggests that Wani arrived sometime after 372. [(Seki:1996)]

His name is not straightforward either. The "Kojiki" calls him "Wani Kishi". [Kishi is considered to be a kind of honorary title used then in southern Korea.] The "Nihon Shoki" and most of the subsequent documents read 王仁. Although the reading "Wani" is irregular, these characters looks like a Chinese name (the surname Wang and the personal name Ren). This lead some scholars to consider that Wani was of Chinese descent, just as his descendants claimed (described later). A supporting fact is that the Wang clan was powerful in the former Lelang Commandery of northwestern Korea. After the downfall of the commandery around 313, some members of the Wang clan might have fled to Baekje, and then to Japan. [Inoue Mitsusada 井上光貞: "Wani no kōei shizoku to sono Bukkyō" 王仁の後裔氏族と其の仏教, Nihon kodai shisōshi no kenkyū 日本古代思想史の研究, pp. 412-467, 1986.] A more skeptical view is that the legend of Wani was influenced by later events: the surname Wang was selected as the most appropriate name for the ideal man of letters because in the late 6th century, several scholars surnamed Wang came to Japan from southern China via Baekje. [(Ukeda:1988)]


The descendants of Wani, or more precisely, those who claimed Wani to be their ancestor, were commonly called Kawachi no Fumi clan. They lived in Kisaichi of Kawachi Province together with their branch families. The head family had the "uji" "Fumi" [literature] after their duty as scribes, and similarly their branch families were given the "kabane" "Fuhito" [scribe] .

Despite Wani's fame as a scholar, the Kawachi no Fumi clan was not so active as secretaries for administration. A rare exception was Fumi no Nemaro (文禰麻呂; ?-707). Instead of being active in civil administration, he rose to a rank unusually high for a mid-level bureaucrat for his performances in the Jinshin War (672). Some historians consider that this was the reason why the legend of Wani was recorded in the "Kojiki" and the "Nihon Shoki": It is known that scribes of foreign origin had similar and mutually conflicting legends about their founders. Features common in their stories include the arrival during the reign of Emperor Ōjin, the introduction of Chinese literature and/or Confucianism, and the surname Wang. The legend of Wani was chosen with the rest of them ignored because the Kawachi no Fumi clan was relatively powerful at the time of the compilation of the history books. [(Ukeda:1988)]

In 791 Wani's descendants including Fumi no Mooto (文最弟) and Takefu no Makata (武生真象) made a successful attempt to elevate their "kabane". According to the "Shoku Nihongi" (797), their appeal was as follows::Luan (鸞) was a descendant of Emperor Gaozu of Han, Luan's descendant Wang Gou (王狗) moved to Baekje. During the reign of King Kuso of Baekje, the imperial court sent envoys to summon literati. King Kuso offered Kou's grandson Wang Ren (Wani). He was the founder of Fumi, Takefu and other clans. [The article of the wuxu day, the 4th month, Enryaku 10 (791), from the "Shoku Nihongi": 漢高帝之後曰鸞, 鸞之後王狗転至百済. 百済久素王時, 聖朝遣使徴召文人. 久素王即以狗孫王仁貢焉. 是文, 武生等之祖也.] This statement agrees with the description of the Fumi no Sukune clan by the "Shinsen Shōjiroku" (815).

Later interpretations

The article of the "Nihon Shoki" was traditionally interpreted as the introduction of Confucianism or Chinese literature although not clearly stated in the history book.

According to the preface to the "Kokin Wakashū" (905), a famous Waka poem starting with "Naniwa-zu" was traditionally attributed to Wani. [To be precise, this speculation was given as an old commentary to an ambiguous passage in the "Kokin Wakashū". Other interpretations are also possible. The poem referred to as "Naniwa-zu" in the statement in question can be a different one. An important candidate is the first tanka by Emperor Nintoku since it was created at the palace of Naniwa.] Historians and researchers of Japanese literature are skeptical about this attribution because it cannot be found in earlier sources. Anyway, from the early 10th century on, this poem was regarded as a chorus that praises Emperor Nintoku (successor to Emperor Ōjin). As a result, Wani was portrayed as a sage submitting to the emperor's virtue.

Political exploitations


The so-called tomb of Wani is located in Hirakata, Osaka Prefecture. It is, however, most likely that the alleged tomb identified in the 18th century has nothing to do with Wani.Fact|date=November 2007

Originally, the "tomb" was a pair of stones known to local people as "Oni Tomb" (於爾墓) in Fujisaka Village, Kawachi Province (part of the modern-day Hirakata city). In other words, they were not associated with Wani. The situation changed in 1731 when the Confucian scholar Namikawa Seisho (並河誠所) visited there to compile a geography monograph named "Gokinaishi" (五畿内志). He claimed that he discovered an old document at Wada Temple of Kinno Village (also part of the modern Hirakata) that read the name "Oni Tomb" was the corrupt form of "Wani Tomb". At his recommendation, a stonetomb was build behind the stones. It is generally considered that the "tomb" in Hirakata is Namikawa's fabrication. There is no ancient record that refers to Wani's burial site. Archaeologically speaking, there was no such custom of setting a tombstone on a mound before the introduction of Buddhism.

The new myth spread as the Kokugaku movement became active. Wani was praised as a talented and faithful servant to the ancient emperors. In 1827, a monument in honor of Wani was erected near the tomb, on which his name was engraved by Prince Arisugawa. After the Meiji Restoration, a ceremony was held at the tomb in 1899 to commemorate the 1500-year anniversary of the death of Emperor Nintoku.

After the annexation of Korea, another symbolic role was given to Wani in relation to modern Korea/Koreans. As part of an effort to integrate Korea into the empire, conciliatory approaches were adopted. Wani was utilized as a historical precedent for serving the emperor loyally in spite of non-Japanese root. In 1927 a society was set up in Tokyo to build a shrine for Wani. Its member included Uchida Ryōhei from the Black Dragon Society. The project for building a shrine in the site of the Wani tomb began in 1930. In 1932 the society celebrated the 1650-year anniversary of Wani's arrival there. The construction of Wani shrine started in 1940 but was never completed. In addition to Wani Shrine, a pair of monuments was built in honor of Wani in Tokyo's Ueno Park in 1939.


Even though Korea has no historical records on Wani, "Doctor Wang In's Historical Sites" (Wang In is the Koreanized form of Wani, 왕인) are located in Gurim Village, Yeongam Country, South Jeolla Province, South Korea today. It is based on a new myth that can date back only to the early 20th century.

Earlier geography books including the "Taekriji" (1751) never link Wani to Yeongam. The first known record that associates Wani with Yeongam is the "Joseon Hwanyeo Seungnam" (朝鮮寰輿勝覧; 1922-37) by Yi Byeong-yeon (이병연, 李秉延). It claims that Wani was born in Yeongnam without providing any evidence. [Interestingly, the "Joseon Hwanyeo Seungnam" makes mention of Wani's "tomb" in Hirakata.] It is known that around the same time, a Japanese monk named Aoki Keishō claimed on the basis of "oral tradition" that Yeongam was Wani's homeland. In 1932 he made an appeal to erect a bronze statue of Wani in Yeongam.

A new myth about Wangin was publicized in South Korea in 1970s. In 1972 the social activist Kim Changsu reported a series of essays titled "Korean spirit embodied in Japan," which appealed to South Koreans who felt oppressed by the legacy of Japanese colonization. In this framework, Wani was regarded as Korean without doubt.Fact|date=November 2007 Upon being informed by a reader from Yeongam, Kim issued a statement identifying Yeongam as the birthplace of Wani in the next year. In spite of the weakness of the evidence, Wani's "relic site" was designated as Cultural Asset No. 20 of South Jeolla Province in 1976.

The development of Wani's "historical sites" was led by the governments of South Jeolla Province and Yeongam Country. [The governor of South Jeolla Province was from Yeongam Country.] The construction was carried out from 1985 to 1987, "restoring" the "birthplace", schools where Wani allegedly studied, and others. Yeongam Country started to fully exploit the old-looking new theme park as a tourist attraction because the introduction of local autonomy of 1990 forced the local government to look for its own source of revenue. For example, Youngam County began to host the annual "Wangin Culture Festival" in 1997 that was previously organized by local people under the name of "Cherry blossom festival". [(Ōishi:2004)]



* Gotō Kōji 後藤耕二, "Atogaki ni kaete, Den Wani bo wo kaishita Daikan minkoku Zenra nandō Reigan-gun to no yūkō toshi mondai wo megutte" あとがきにかえて‐伝王仁墓を介した大韓民国全羅南道霊岩郡との友好都市問題をめぐって, Zainichi Chōsenjin no rekishi 在日朝鮮人の歴史, pp. 317-328頁, 1994.
* Kim Byeong-in 金秉仁: 王仁의 "지역 영웅화" 과정에 대한 문헌사적 검토, Hanguksa yeon-gu 韓國史研究, Vol.115, pp.107-116, 2001
* Ōishi Kazuyo 大石和世: "Densetsu wo tooshite hyōshō sareru Nikkan kankei" 伝説を通して表象される日韓関係 (The Relations of Korea and Japan as represented by a Legend), From Fukuoka: Asia Pacific Study Reports 福岡発・アジア太平洋研究報告, Vol. 13, pp. 1-7, 2004.
* Pan Jixing 潘吉星: 王仁事蹟與世系考, 國學研究, Vol. 8, pp. 5-31, 2001.
* Seki Akira 関晃: Kodai no kikajin 古代の帰化人, 1996.
* Ukeda Masayuki 請田正幸: "Fuhito shūdan no ichi kōsatsu" フヒト集団の一考察, Kodaishi ronshū (jō) 古代史論集 (上), pp. 179-202, 1988.

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