Thursday, April 23, 2015

Shotoku: Sinification and Buddhism

Prince Shotoku (Middle)
From the troubles of succession and division about religion, Prince Shotoku emerged as one of the famous regent during the time of ancient Japan. He contributed a lot in changing the religious and administrative landscape of country.

Born in the year 572, Shotoku Taisho or originally named Prince Umayado no Oji or Toyosatomimi no Oji (only became known as Shotoku after his demise) was the second son of Emperor Yomei, who reigned from 685 to 687. At a young age he received education from a Korean Buddhist monk named Eji and from that point on, he became a devout Buddhist. He read Buddhist scriptures and even wrote commentaries. His devotion to Buddhism made him at odds with a faction in the Imperial Yamato court led by Momonobe no Moriya. Momonobe clan disliked Buddhism and saw it as a threat to Shintoism. Shotoku, however, found allies with his relatives in the rising Soga Clan, led by Soga no Umako, who also strongly supported Buddhism as well.

In 685, the Imperial court of Yamato went into a turbulent period. Emperor Bidatsu passed away without leaving a clear heir. Succession became an issue because primogeniture had not been well established. Rival faction fought for the position of Emperor. Among them included the Momonobe Clan and the Soga Clan. Shotoku’s father, became Emperor Yomei and reigned only for two years. Afterwhich, another chaotic succession period followed. This time, the Soga Clan prevailed by defeating the Momonobe Clan in battle. Soga no Umako then supported the ascension of Emperor Sushun. The new Emperor, however, felt threatened by the influence and power of Soga no Umako and wanted to vanquish him. But the Soga moved first and had Emperor Sushun assassinated.

Soga and Prince Shotoku then installed the widow of the late Emperor Bidatsu as Empress Suiko, the first woman to become Empress. Suiko then proclaimed Shotoku and Soga no Umako as her regent in 593. Shotoku became a prominent figure even under the more powerful shadow of Soga no Umako.

Shotoku made advancement during his regency. He contributed to the growth of Buddhism in Japan. He also initiated new administrative system. Finally, he also proceeded in Sinification of Yamato court.

As a regent he promoted Buddhism and helped it to spread throughout the Yamato domain. In 594, he made Buddhism the state religion, replacing Shintoism. He also ordered the construction of Buddhist temples, like Shitenno-ji in Osaka and Hoko-ji in Nara. Because of the Shotoku’s and the dominating Soga Clan, number of Buddhist temples in Japan skyrocketed.

In addition to his religious policies, Shotoku also began changes in the administration system. In 604, he reformed the bureaucracy by changing promotion and position from hereditary-based to merit-based, he began also the system of classifying officials by the famous Twelve Ranks. Each rank had a distinct color of a feather in their headdress and design in their purple silk robes. The system had a lot of influence from the Sui China. The Twelve Ranks were the following:

1. Greater Goodness/Virtue
2. Lesser Goodness/ Virtue
3. Greater Benevolence/Compassion
4. Lesser Benevolence/Compassion
5. Greater Propriety
6. Lesser Propriety
7. Greater Faith
8. Lesser Faith
9. Greater Justice/Righteousness
10. Lesser Justice/Righteousness
11. Greater Wisdom
12. Lesser Wisdom

The names of the ranks came from virtues based in Confucianism and Sui China.

Besides the Twelve Ranks, Shotoku has been said to have written the Seventeen Injunctions or Article or Jushichijo No Kempo. In the seventeen article it promoted harmony and peace. It also showed Shotoku’s preference towards Buddhism by placing Buddha among the three treasures that needed to be respected along with law and monks. It also showed deep respect to the will of the Emperor. It also placed restrictions on officials about putting peasants in labor. According to the Article, officials should not disturbed peasants during agricultural season, which was from spring to autumn. A complete display of the Confucian ideal of taking care of the peasants. Many contested that the Seventeen article was a constitution. In a sense, the Seventeen Articles actually provided more of an ethical guide rather than a true law. It was also a matter of debate whether Shotoku even composed the Seventeen Articles. Some argued that Shotoku had already passed away by the time the articles had been written and that the author only dedicated it to the great regent.

In the field of foreign relations, Shotoku enjoyed good relations with China and kingdoms from Korea. During the reign of Empress Suiko, which also meant under Shotoku’s regency, Korean Kingdoms, like Baekje and Koguryu sent missions to Japan. These missions brought monks and scholars that brought ideas from the mainland that Japan could use. It was also through this way that Korean Buddhist monks arrived in Japan and contribute to the strengthening of the religion in the country.

But Shotoku had a special relation with China. For centuries China had been rattled by division until it became united once more under the Sui Dynasty. It became a model for other East Asian countries, Japan included. Shotoku sent missions to Sui China and later its successor, Tang China, first in 600 and another in 607. And from that point it became frequent and then traditional. Envoys sent by Japan to China did not just served as to pay homage to the Emperor of the Middle Kingdom, they served also the purpose of study groups. They gathered text and ideas from China and bringing them back home to Japan for application. Shotoku became open to this, and saw China as a model. And so, he used China as a model in instituting the Twelve Rank System. Chinese Confucian principle became apparent in the Seventeen Articles. And in 604, he adopted the Chinese calendar in Japan.  

Prince Shotoku passed away in 622 in the Ikaruga Palace, many mourned his passing. Shotoku made a marked in Japanese history for many reasons. One, he contributed to the growth of Buddhism in Japan. Second, he expanded the Sinification of Japan. Lastly, he provided a model of a statesman that inspired the Taika Reform decades later after his death.

See also:
Queen Himiko

"Scroll 22 - Empress Suiko." wikidot. Accessed April 22, 2015.

"Shotoku, Prince" in Historical Dictionary of Japan to 1945. Edited by Kenneth Henshall. Lanham, Maryland: Scarecrow Press, 2014.

"Shotoku Taishi" in Japan Encyclopedia by Louis Frederic. United States: Harvard University Press, 2002.

"Yamato" in Encyclopedia of Ancient Asian Civilizations. Edited by Charles Higham. New York, New York: Facts on File, 2004.

Walker, Hugh Dyson. East Asia: A New History. Bloomington, Indiana: AuthorHouse, 2012.


  1. Good blog... keep-up the good work... May I share a vlog about Tokyo at Asakusa Temple in
    Watch also the video in youtube

  2. I learnt today the differences of China and Japan in economic and science development I presume quality in technology exceeds quantity of sales brought about by price differences in marketing and production. Quantity is trade = sales revenues and quality is life= a threat to your overall health.

  3. Choose between being qualitatively strategic and quantitativelly present!