The Sacred Science of Ancient Japan: Lost Chronicles of the Age of the Gods

by C.B. Liddell

Special To The Japan Times

Every religion or collection of national myths requires a great deal of editing. Some texts are selected as “official,” others are discarded. A by-product of this is the world of apocrypha, mysterious manuscripts that, it is claimed, contain esoteric insights or divine revelations.

The Sacred Science of Ancient Japan: Lost Chronicles of the Age of the Gods, by Avery Morrow.
Bear and Company Books, Nonfiction.

In Japan, outside the official canon of books such as the “Nihon Shoki” and the “Kojiki,” with their accounts of Japan’s mythical past, there also exists a rich tradition of apocryphal documents, tenuously connected to the more orthodox works. This is the subject of Avery Morrow’s “The Sacred Science of Ancient Japan.”

According to the writer, there are roughly two dozen of these manuscripts, dating back centuries but rejected by orthodox scholars.

Looking at four of these, and translating from the Japanese, Morrow explores their origins and possible meanings. Are they remnants of a civilization far more advanced than conventional history tells us, and do they include prophecies?

Morrow takes an open-minded approach, combining critical analysis with the insights of philosophers Rene Guenon and Julius Evola. While examining the known historical facts, Morrow also employs the Socratic concept of “anamnesis,” a belief that humans possess knowledge from past incarnations that can be creatively “rediscovered” through apocryphal documents —even if they prove to be forgeries.

The unusual texts covered include the Katakamuna Documents, esoteric writings supposedly handed to a engineer by a mysterious hunter in the mountains of Hyogo in the 1950s. In Morrow’s hands this otherwise oddball subject matter is turned into a fascinating and readable tale.

  • Bernd Phoenix

    I met Avery Morrow at our Japanese Matsuri in Santa Fe and bought his book there. Considering the subject I expected a hard read, but it turned out to be a very exciting book that read like a mystery novel. I found it hard to stop reading and was amazed at what stories emerged. If you are interested in Japanese mythology and history I can only recommend this book.

  • ryukoyamada

    I can’t recommend this book at all! The author seems to be influenced by conspiracy theories and bizarre ideas, many of which are modern but are read back into these texts. Some of the texts claim to come from an era 500 years before we even had literacy in Japan! As early modern conspiracy theories these texts are interesting but the author buys into it and misleads the reader into all sorts of nonsense. He discusses no real scholarship in support of his arguments because no credible Japanese historian supports these ideas. That’s not because somehow he alone has found the long-hidden “truth”: it’s because it doesn’t hold up to serious research. There are many great studies of ancient history and mythology by experts in the field. This is no such thing. It is poorly-researched and based on fantasy not study. You do readers a disservice by treating this as a meaningful work.

    • Avery

      You clearly didn’t read the book, because I do discuss relevant scholarship.

      • ryukoyamada

        Thank you for taking the time to respond to my comment. I did in fact read your book. Perhaps I am just a victim of my own biases, having studied in the field for quite some time and expected to see some of the major figures in the field addressed as is usually the case. I apologize if I was offensive, which was certainly not my intention. When I said “no real scholarship” I should have perhaps said “very little academic scholarship.” Some of the work you refer to by “Shintoists” and the like is not scholarly in character. However, the style of writing also suggests you did not have an academic audience in mind, so perhaps my expectations were misplaced.

      • Avery

        Perhaps you could give me your opinion on the “major figures in the field” who I neglected to mention in the book. Harada Minoru? Fujiwara Akira? Kume Masafumi? Is there someone I’ve missed?

      • ryukoyamada

        I was going to start listing out some of the major figures in ancient archaeological and textual studies, but I changed my mind because your definition of scholarly research and mine appear to be very different. Harada Minoru, for instance, is a writer of populist “occult” takes on history and seems to believe that “mu” really existed. I don’t see how anyone can consider him an expert in anything but science fiction? You do have some scholarly works in your bibliography (e.g. Bialock’s book is a fine work of English scholarship), but putting them in the same category as this stuff seems very strange to me. Out of curiosity I looked up your publisher, since I had not heard of it before. They seem to specialize in things like templar conspiracy theories and occult “wisdom,” so unfortunately this does not put your book in good company academically speaking. I think that I am a pretty conventional researcher, approaching books on ancient Japan in a conventional way, and therefore probably not suited to address your target audience. So, I will bow out here. I am sorry if I caused any offense.

      • Avery

        In case you are curious, although Harada’s views have alienated him from the academy, he is a reliable expert on koshikoden, and he is taken seriously by researchers who would consider themselves “conventional”. One of his references in my bibliography, 奇書『先代旧事本紀』の謎をさぐる, is a scholarly work published by a psychology press and edited by a professor. Harada frequently points out errors in the research of the few “textual studies” professors who have looked at these documents, including Fujiwara Akira. I address Fujiwara’s view of koshikoden at length in my conclusion.

        It seems you think that academics have written on this topic at length. With the exception of the Taiseikyo (Kujiki-72), I can assure you that this is not the case. The reality is to be found in the pages of the Rekishi Dokuhon issues I cited, where a bizarre assembly of people have contributed articles. Because, as you said, this book was published by a New Age press, it gave me an opportunity to rely on these primary sources at length and take them at their word on some matters, where an academic press might demand a critical outlook. Although, I notice that such presses make exceptions for the well-connected. Just yesterday I saw a theological tract at my college bookstore called “The Religion of the Future”, published by Harvard University Press…