Japanese History/The Asuka Period
Asuka 飛鳥 is a location on the southern edge of the Nara plain which became the center of government activity in the period when Japan first began to develop a government more elaborate than that appropriate to a tribal state. There was still nothing like a city in this era, but there was a growing concentration of palaces and, soon, Buddhist temples. Keitai Tenno had a palace near Asuka, and 9 of his next 15 successors did also. The name Asuka Period has been generally adopted to cover this era before the construction of the city of Nara, located at the north end of the plain some 30 kilometers away. It was a period of transition. The administration was conducted from the ruler's palace, and each ruler normally constructed at least one new palace at a new location. In a long reign the palace might be moved one or several times. This naturally means that the government itself, including any archives of documents, was small enough and simple enough to be portable. There are indications that by about 640 it was not quite so easy to move as it had been earlier, but it was not until the end of the Asuka period that the decision was made to construct a capital and a palace intended to be permanent (though it moved three more times in 100 years and several other moves were proposed).
The Asuka Period[edit | edit source]
The Asuka period can be divided into two main phases. The first phase covers the period when four successive heads of the Soga clan were leading figures at court, Saga no Iname 蘇我の稲目, Saga no Umako 蘇我の馬子, Siga no Emishi 蘇我の蝦夷, and Soga no Iruka 蘇我の入鹿 and lasted from 572 to 645. The second period is the phase after the violent overthrow of the Soga which was dominated by Tenchi 天智 (sometimes written Tenji) Tenno, his brother Temmu 天武 Tenno, and Temmu's widow Jito 持統 Tenno, from 645 to 692. It ends with the abdication of Jito Tenno in favor of her son Mommu 文武 Tenno which is the point at which Nihon Shoki ends. Kojiki closes with the death of Suiko 搉古 Tenno in 628. It should also be noted that the first phase of the Asuka period includes the career of Prince Umayado 廐戸, alternatively known as Shotoku Taishi 聖徳太子, "the Saintly Prince or "the Sage Prince," who is probably the only person of the Asuka period whose name is familiar to every Japanese today. He was treated as a semi-divine figure by the authors of Nihon Shoki, who viewed him as the founder of "modern" Japan, and he has continued to hold this position of reverence comparable to the way that George Washington has been viewed in the United States, or Alfred the Great in England (like Washington, Shotoku Taishi's picture is on the money).
Another important aspect of the Asuka period is that this is the era of the establishment of Buddhism alongside the traditional religion, which at some point acquired the name Shinto and underwent major changes which enabled it to survive alongside Buddhism and compete for attention. Some Japanese have always been ardent supporters of one side exclusively, but the great majority respected both and found ways to incorporate both into their lives. A simple way of looking at it is that Shinto became the religion of marriages and Buddhism the religion of funerals.
Buddhism in Japan[edit | edit source]
The story of Buddhism in Japan actually began in 538, earlier than my beginning date for the Asuka period. In that year king Song of Paekche moved his capital from a safe but remote location in the mountains to a major agricultural area. He also renamed Paekche to "Southern Puyo," though the Japanese and Chinese (and modern historians) ignored this. The site of his capital is the modern South Korean city of Puyo (spelled, confusingly, Buyo by the South Koreans after a recent "reform" of the romanization system. It is however pronounced Puyo). In his new capital he undertook reforms intended to increase the power of the state, including the establishment of a structured government inspired by China in some sense, though he was more likely impressed by contemporary reforms occurring in Koguryo and Silla. He also established Buddhism as the state religion and sent an embassy to Japan which presented Buddhist images and writings to the Japanese court and urged the adoption of Buddhism on the grounds that it would provide magical protection against dangers. There is no reason to think that in this era Buddhism had any impact in Paekche outside the walls of the capital city. In the case of Japan it would be about 200 years from this date before there is evidence of a significant popular following of Buddhism (as seen in the career of a famous street preacher).
Because Buddhism did become established in Japan, the event of 538 and its consequences have attracted a lot of attention over the years, and there are ancient Buddhist sources to supplement Nihon Shoki for the first time. The short version is that Soga no Iname advocated accepting Buddhism and the Mononobe 物部 clan strenuously opposed it as offensive to the native gods. Kimmei Tenno permitted Iname to construct a small Buddhist shrine at his mansion and worship in private. One of Iname's daughters became a nun. However, when Kimmei died in 571 the Mononobe secured permission from the new ruler Bidatsu to destroy the site (and arrest the nuns). The account of this in Nihon Shoki is not trusted. It ascribes death-bed conversions to Buddhism to Bidatsu Tenno and his successor Yomei Tenno which are believed to be attempts to make them seem more respectable by 8th century, pro-Buddhist, standards. In 587 there was a war between the Soga and Mononobe clans that grew out of a succession dispute on the death of Yomei which was won by the Soga, and it was only then that the establishment of Buddhism really began. It is also the beginning of the Soga domination at court.
It is not instantly obvious why Japan (or any Korean kingdom) should have adopted Buddhism in preference to its native religion without a lengthy period of infiltration and familiarization. There is ample evidence that there were Buddhists among the Korean immigrants to Japan, but the sudden formal adoption of Buddhism was in Japan and in all the Korean states a matter of a government decision, not the popular will. In presenting Buddhism to the Japanese ruler King Song of Paekche stated that it was a magically powerful force that would protect the nation against harmful eventualities. In the early appearance of Buddhism in both places there is almost no mention at all of the personal message of individual enlightenment and salvation, only the magical potency of its images and ceremonies. People were particularly prone to rely on Buddhist prayers and ceremonies in connection with illness.
A major factor in its early welcome had to be the Buddhist monks who came to Japan from Korea and especially from China. These were men who were highly educated and often had expertise in practical disciplines, notably architecture. Throughout the Asuka period and into the Nara period Japan put quite a large number of significant public works projects under the management of immigrant Buddhist monks. They did not merely construct temples, but also bridges and fortifications. They were the only Chinese who ordinarily ever came to Japan, and were a major channel for the transmission of Chinese thought and technology.
The Soga Clan[edit | edit source]
The claimed ancestor of the Soga was a participant in Jingu Kogo's conquest of Korea. That puts him right at the foundation of the Ojin dynasty of rulers. The oldest historical reference to a person named Soga is from a 9th century book that says that during the time of Richu Tenno, the third ruler of the Ojin dynasty, the production of goods by Korean immigrants had become voluminous enough that something had to be done to organize it. A second treasury was constructed for this purpose and a new official created to supervise it. In the reign of Yuryaku Tenno it became necessary to establish a third treasury and Soga no Machi no Sukune was assigned the task of organizing things. He took an inventory and arranged that the (Korean) Hata clan would manage one of the auxiliary treasuries and the (Korean) Aya clan would manage the other. When the Soga were defeated in 645 soldiers of the Aya clan stood by them. The Soga never appear in connection with military events, but always in connection with fiscal events and trade with Korea. In 553 Soga no Iname established, on the ruler's order, an office to keep track of shipping tax. A few years later Iname also set up an office to control seaports. The Soga were clearly much more administrators than warriors.
The Soga were highly visible in the events that followed the death of Keitai Tenno when it appears that there was for a time a pair of rival courts. The Soga were tied to the court of Kimmei and the Otomo clan backed the alternate rulers Ankan and Senka, and when the second court disappeared on the death of Senka, the Otomo vanished from political prominence, their place at the top being taken by the Soga. This is reflected in references to the Soga chief as Soga no O-Omi, whereas the title of O-Omi 大臣 had earlier belonged exclusively to the Otomo clan. It is usually thought that this transition marks a change in the Yamato state, moving away from the military orientation focused upon relations with Korea that had characterized the Ojin dynasty and survived into the reign of Keitai. Note: the title O-Omi should be understood as the word O 大 meaning "great" or "large" plus the kabane title omi 臣, which uses a Chinese character that means "minister of state". The same two characters can be pronounced as Chinese "Daijin", and you may well see other works that use that form. It seems that in the Asuka and Nara periods the Japanese normally pronounced these words as Japanese, but in the Heian period and later they were usually pronounced as Chinese. By the early Heian period, which is to say the 9th century, essentially all aristocrats were able to read and write Chinese, most government documents were written in Chinese, and it became routine to use Chinese pronunciations for technical terms related to government, a custom which continued into the period when written Japanese began to crowd out written Chinese for most purposes, and, indeed, continues today. A very large proportion of modern Japanese written prose consists of Chinese loan words.
In the period between 548 and 554 Silla emerged as the strongest state in Korea, defeating both Koguryo and Paekche. King Song of Paekche was killed in battle in 554 and for a time it seemed that Paekche might disappear, but it survived, though smaller and weaker than before. The Japanese sent small forces to Korea during this time, but not nearly enough to stand against Silla, and Silla completed the incorporation of the Mimana territories in 562. The Japanese sent a larger expedition in response, but it was routed and its leaders captured. Soon after mentions of the Otomo clan ceased and the two principal men at court were clearly Soga no Iname and Mononobe no Okoshi. The Japanese court continued for the next 200 years to contemplate attacking Silla and restoring control over Mimana, and occasionally even ordered the gathering of troops and supplies for such an expedition, but nothing much came of any of them.
The Soga were apparently related to the Kazuraki clan 葛城, politically powerful at the beginning of the Ojin dynasty. Several rulers of the Ojin dynasty had Kazuraki mothers, and we find the Soga clan now moved into a similar position in relation to the Keitai dynasty. Soga no Iname married two daughters to Kimmei Tenno, Kitashihime was the mother of Yomei Tenno and Suiko Tenno (the latter also the widow of Bidatsu Tenno), and Oanekimi was the mother of Sushun Tenno. Both ladies were grandmothers to Prince Umayado, Kitashihime on his father's side and Oanekimi on his mother's side. It is noteworthy that the status of the Mononobe clan did not permit such relationships. The Kazuraki and Soga were considered offshoots of the royal clan whereas the Mononobe were not.
The Mononobe clan held the hereditary title of O-Muraji 大連. This title is the counterpart to the O-Omi title held by the Otomo clan and then the Soga clan, and the two together were the senior "ministers" of the government, such as it was. There were also families whose title was simply Omi or Muraji. Nearly all of the families bearing the Omi title had names that were originally place names, and they controlled specific territories in the Kinai region. Well known examples are Kazuraki, Heguri, Wani, Kose, Ki, and, later Soga. Nearly all of these also claimed descent from some member of the ruling clan. The implication is, if we accept the Horse Rider theory, that these all had ancestors who were among the invaders, members of Ojin's extended family. The muraji families, on the other hand, all had names that were occupational titles. Imbe 忌部 (handler of ceremonies), Yuke 弓削 (bow maker), Kagamitsukuri 鏡作 (mirror maker), Haji 土師 (pottery maker), Tsumori 津守 (security guard), Inukai 犬飼 (kennel master), and, of course, Mononobe (blacksmith). Curiously, the O-Omi Otomo family also has a name that is an occupation, though their occupation was a special one tomo "soldier", preceded by the great "O" implying that they were not ordinary soldiers but commanders. All of these clans were aristocrats, so it is assumed that the muraji family names meant that they commanded groups of artisans without doing that kind of work themselves. Their status was definitely lower than the "omi" clans, however, and they were forbidden from marrying into the ruling clan.
The ancestor of the Mononobe clan is given as Nigihayahi no Mikoto, a descendant of a god who came down to earth before the foundation of the state by Jimmu Tenno. He was originally a member of the resistance to Jimmu's invasion, but realized that the gods were behind Jimmu and changed sides. The Mononobe name appears in the Nihon Shoki articles about Suinin Tenno and Chuai Tenno, both older than the Ojin dynasty. If there is anything to this at all, the Mononobe were aristocrats in Japan before the arrival of the invaders led by Ojin. After the death of Ingyo Tenno there was a war over the succession between two of his sons, Prince Karu and Prince Anaho (who became Anko Tenno). One person who was involved was Mononobe no Omae no Sukune, who was originally a supporter of Prince Karu. According to Kojiki he turned Prince Karu over to Prince Anaho who killed him, and according to Nihon Shoki he persuaded Prince Karu that he could not win and so should commit suicide. In any case, he was an important man. Most anecdotes involving members of the clan are military in character or involve dealing with criminals of some kind. There are certainly exceptions, but the Otomo were mainly seen fighting in Korea and the Mononobe were mostly active only in Japan. The only example I recall of their fighting in Korea was against rebels in Mimana, not a war against Silla.
Another difference is that the Mononobe were particularly connected with religion. The clans which claimed to be directly descended from gods had special responsibilities in respect to their particular god, responsibilities which ultimately (after the spread of Buddhism) took the form of creating and managing a shrine devoted to the god. The Isonokami Shrine at the foot of Mt Miwa, the archaeological center of the Sujin dynasty, is the special shrine of the Mononobe clan. Subsequent events make it plausible that the Soga leaders, or Soga no Umako, at least, had a commitment to making Japan more civilized, meaning more like China, as reflected in the changes that were occurring in Paekche and Koguryo, and it is easy to see that at this point in time becoming more like China meant becoming Buddhist. The conflict between the two clans looks like something rather rare in early times, a political conflict in which there were real ideological issues at stake as well as power politics.
One thing that is relevant to the Japanese efforts at reorganizing the state that are the main subject of this era of history is that it was during the time of Kimmei that the Northern Wei and Northern Chou dynasties were setting up the first land redistribution based systems in northern China, and that these developments in China had a powerful influence upon Koguryo. Koguryo was in turn able to pass on information about such things to Japan because in the latter part of Kimmei's reign Koguryo and Japan established direct relations across the Sea of Japan passing to the north of Silla's zone of control. These Chinese dynasties were of barbarian origin and highly aristocratic, much like Japan and the Korean states. The land redistribution system was an attempt to maximize the tax returns from farming by guaranteeing that every farming family had sufficient land to permit them to pay fixed taxes, saving all of the administrative headaches and costs in trying to assess each family different taxes depending on their landholdings. It required taking a periodic census of the population and then taking land from families that had shrunk in size and giving land to families that had grown in size. It was feasible to do this because in North China at this time there was a shortage of agricultural manpower in relation to the amount of potentially arable land, due to the dislocations that occurred because of the barbarian invasions after the collapse of the Chin dynasty. The taxes were calculated on the basis of the number of available workers. Koguryo copied this system, and Japan eventually did so as well. It is speculated that it was not all that different from the methods already in use in Koguryo and in Japan resulting from the establishment of the aristocracy by conquest of an already existing farming population. This remains speculation because we know absolutely nothing about the relations between farmers and nobles in this period, other than the fact that the "be" system of organizing artisan workers looks very much like one based on taxation through production quotas, making it plausible that farmers were organized the same way.
We know that Koguryo had considerable influence in Japan from this time due to the appearance everywhere of the "Koryo foot" (Koryo is an alternate name for Koguryo and is the basis of the English name "Korea", via the Koryo dynasty of later times). This was a unit of measure that was established by the Eastern Wei dynasty of China (534-550) and adopted in Koguryo and passed from there to Japan. One foot ("shaku") was 35 centimeters. Archaeologists have found that this unit was employed in the construction of many ancient buildings, including Asukadera, the first important Buddhist temple in the country (construction beginning in 588). Buddhist monks from Koguryo were prominent in the early spread of Buddhism in Japan. The Koryo foot was apparently also used in laying out the Ishibutai Kofun (the reputed tomb of Soga no Umako, who died in 626) and all imperial Kofun from Bidatsu Tenno on. There are also many references in early Japanese writings commenting on how similar they found Koguryo to be in terms of customs and etiquette, (traditional) religion, and music and dance. Dancers from Koguryo were apparently especially popular.
Also relevant for this period is the knowledge that during the course of the 6th and 7th centuries there was a steady growth in the number of small Kofun, enough so that about 90% of all surviving Kofun in Japan are small tombs from the late Kofun period. Many of them are round mounds about 10 meters across with the same kind of burial chamber that is found in the large tombs. However, there are particularly large numbers of tombs that were commonly installed in groupings by running short tunnels into the sides of cliffs that are barely bigger than the coffin. In a great many cases these groupings are found near other small but traditionally constructed Kofun of the same age. There are some areas with cliffside tombs that also have dozens and even hundreds of small free standing tombs.
This naturally must be interpreted as meaning that in comparison to earlier times a greatly increased number of persons were considered worthy of receiving an elaborately constructed tomb. Really gigantic tombs were no longer constructed except for emperors. When the available resources must be spread across many, the individual tombs must become smaller and less expensive. It is assumed that this reflects changes in aristocratic society, lessening the power of the clan chief and increasing the amount of wealth that was under the individual control of lesser members of the clan. One gets a picture suggesting that in the early days the aristocratic clan dominated its area as a collective group and the total wealth of the clan was controlled in some sense by the clan chief, who distributed it about, but that by 550 and later the members of the clan had gradually become more like owners of relatively clearly defined landed estates within which they controlled their own revenues. However, they still constructed their tombs in concentrated clan graveyards, not dispersed about the landscape, so the collective element had not entirely vanished. It should be mentioned that when we speak of "small" tombs, they still employ numbers of multi-ton rocks and required a lot of manpower to build. There is an edict of 646 intended to regulate the scale of tombs which gives an idea of what was required. The edict said that a prince could have a tomb that required the labor of 1000 laborers for 7 days, a minister's tomb should be built by 500 laborers in 5 days, a higher level official's tomb should be built by 250 laborers in 3 days, a middle level official's tomb should be built by 100 laborers in 1 day and a lower level official's tomb should be built by 50 laborers in 1 day.
There is a rather implausible anecdote in Nihon Shoki concerning the arrival of an embassy from Koguryo in 571 that illustrates that the Japanese court at that time had two corps of scribes known as the scribes of the east and the west, and that only they could be expected to read the letter sent by the Koguryo king and written in Chinese. They were two families, Kawachi no Fumi no Fubito and Yamato no Aya no Atae, both descended from Korean immigrants (Kawachi was west of Yamato). As far as can be determined no proper Japanese aristocrat of the omi class had so far found it desirable to learn how to read and write (necessarily in Chinese), any more than he would have found it desirable to learn how to weave silk. This situation had persisted for some 200 years. The next generation was the first to become literate.
The confrontation between the Soga and Mononobe clans immediately derived from the death of Bidatsu Tenno in 585. In the Kofun period, because of the scale of the tomb of an important person, there was often a considerable delay between the time of death and the burial, up to two years, or even three in extreme cases. During this period the body was kept in a temporary facility called mogari no miya. There was a special ceremony on the installation of the body at this place and during the course of this ceremony for Bidatsu Tenno Soga no Umako and Mononobe no Moriya went out of their way to be seen to express mutual contempt, according to Nihon Shoki. There was a dispute over the succession. Bidatsu had an adult son with a distinguished mother who had a strong claim. This was Prince Oshisaka no Hikohito no Oe. However, there was also a long standing custom that the brother of a ruler had a claim on the succession, and Bidatsu had several brothers. Kimmei Tenno had had a large number of high-status wives, including two daughters of Soga no Iname. The candidate chosen was in fact a nephew of Soga no Umako who became Yomei Tenno. The oldest brother was Yata no Tamakatsu no Oe, whose mother was a daughter of Senka Tenno, and there was another prominent brother, Prince Anahobe, who openly claimed the succession for himself, according to Nihon Shoki. After Yomei had already been enthroned Prince Anahobe attempted to seize control of the temporary tomb and the person of Bidatsu's empress Kashikiyahime, who was living there in mourning until the funeral, whom he planned to forcibly marry to reinforce his claim to the throne. He was repelled by the commander of the guards at the temporary tomb. Prince Anahobe then went to the two ministers, Soga no Umako and Mononobe no Moriya, and complained that this officer had insulted him and claimed the right to kill him, which was granted. The officer tried to flee, but the prince found out where he was (a rural palace belonging to the former empress) and ordered Mononobe no Moriya to kill him and his children, which Moriya did, in person. Soga no Umako tried to prevent this but failed. Nihon Shoki says that from this time Soga no Umako and Kashikiyahime (the future Suiko Tenno) conceived a powerful enmity toward Mononobe no Moriya.
Yomei Tenno died in 587, having reigned for less than two full years, reopening the succession question. His illness lasted for several months, so the contestants had time for plotting. Mononobe no Moriya, fearing attack, withdrew from court to his fortified mansion outside Yamato and began gathering troops. One of Moriya's allies was Nakatomi no Katsumi no Muraji who, according to Nihon Shoki, attempted to harm Prince Oshisaka no Hikohito no Oe, the designated heir, through witchcraft. That having failed, he sought to visit the prince's palace, presumably hoping to plant some magical item that would bring down a curse, and when he left the palace he was cut down by one of the prince's guards, who had been watching him. All of this happened before the death of Yomei. Shortly after his death Mononobe no Moriya sent a secret message to Prince Anahobe saying that he was going to hold a hunting party as a pretext for gathering soldiers for a confrontation over the succession, but this leaked out.
Soga no Umako, claiming authority from empress Kashikiyahime, ordered troops out to immediately kill Prince Anahobe. They attacked the prince's palace at midnight in the best traditional style for this kind of event. Then Soga put together a large force to directly attack Mononobe. The party included a large number of princes, including Prince Hatsusebe (future Sushun Tenno) and Prince Umayado, as well as contingents from several prominent aristocratic uji, including just about all of the "omi" class territorial uji of Yamato. Mononobe had been making preparations, so this was no massacre but led to a formal battle, of which the outcome remained in doubt for some time. The clans listed as supporting Mononobe were all from outside Yamato. Mononobe's forces were based west of Yamato and the battle occurred shortly after Soga's army, presumably starting from Asuka, passed through Anamushi pass and ran into the Mononobe army at the Eka river. The location of this river is not accurately known, but it is presumed to have been the modern Ishi river just west of Furuichi. Moriya's residence was at Shibukawa, only a short distance to the northwest of the presumed battle site. Prince Umayado was only a youth and was not involved in the actual fighting and he supposedly made a vow at the moment of crisis promising to erect a Buddhist temple if his side was victorious. Soga no Umako, hearing this, made his own similar vow. Immediately afterward Mononobe no Moriya was killed by an arrow and his army broke. Nihon Shoki says that afterwards there were several hundred bodies at the site of the battle that had to be dealt with. It also says that many members of the Mononobe clan fled into obscurity and that others formally took new surnames to disavow any intention to attempt to revive the clan. The court no doubt tolerated the formation of the Isonokami clan because it would have been improper to neglect the god that had founded the Mononobe clan merely because of a human quarrel. Gods that were not properly worshipped became angry and caused trouble. The Mononobe clan was not entirely wiped out. We find a Mononobe no Yukimi no Muraji acting as an official in the context of a Chinese embassy in 608, and the name shows up in various contexts every once in a while, but they never again held a high ranking position.
As before there were several powerful candidates for the succession. Prince Oshisaka no Hikohito no Oe had been officially designated by Yomei as his successor, and appears to have been still alive at this time as a Muromachi period book says that his son, who became Jomei Tenno, was born in 593. Soga no Umako instead chose Prince Hatsusebe, who was a brother of the just murdered Prince Anahobe, but who had been allied with Soga from the beginning. Both princes were the sons of Soga no Iname's daughter Oanekimi and therefore nephews to Umako. Sushun Tenno was enthroned a few weeks after the battle. Sushun was apparently without much personal power. It is noteworthy that he had no princesses among his wives and his only consort mentioned in Nihon Shoki was from the Otomo clan. To judge from Nihon Shoki the dominant figure in the ruling clan at the time was Princess Kashikiyahime, who authorized Soga no Umako to attack Mononobe no Moriya, and who recommended Prince Hatsusebe for the throne. Sushun's article in Nihon Shoki is extremely short despite the fact that he was on the throne for about 5 years. Only three topics are briefly mentioned. First was an embassy from Paekche that brought Buddhist monks and materials. Soga no Umako engaged the monks in discussions and arranged for Japanese nuns, including his sister, Iname's daughter, to go to Paekche for further study. They spent 2 years in Korea, returning in 590. Umako also began the construction of the temple he had vowed. Ground was broken on what became Asukadera in 588. For the year 590 it is mentioned that several women of noble families became nuns, and that 6 monks from China arrived in the country. The second topic is that officials were dispatched in 589 along the three main routes to the north, the Hokurikudo, the Tosando, and the Tokaido, to inspect the state of the frontiers with the "Emishi" barbarians. The third topic is that a conference at court in 591 decided that it was necessary to reconquer Mimana from Silla. Five generals (all men who fought for Umako against Moriya) were appointed and given 20,000 men. They travelled to Tsukushi but never actually crossed over to Korea. When Sushun died they were ordered to return to Yamato.
Just over a year after the 591 expedition aimed at Korea set out, Sushun Tenno made a remark during a boar hunting party that could be interpreted as an invitation to someone to do him the favor of removing a person he was having trouble with. When this was reported to Soga no Umako, he assumed that the person referenced was himself. As a result he determined to assassinate Sushun. There is a footnote that says that "one book says that" the report to Umako about Sushun's threatening remark came from a disgruntled concubine of the ruler. Umako arranged that a person named Azuma no Aya no Atai Koma be admitted to court under false pretenses and this man killed the emperor. It then says that Sushun was buried the same day in an already existing royal tomb. He is the only ruler in this era where this was done. According to the Chinese history of the Sui dynasty, which has a long article about Japan, the custom was that a nobleman was interred only after a mourning period of up to three years whereas a commoner must be buried before sunset the day of his death. Sushun was given a commoner's burial, it seems. The coverage of this incident in Nihon Shoki is no longer than mine and says nothing at all about why Sushun might want Umako eliminated. It also mentions no hint of consequences for the murder or anyone's reaction to it. The only additional material is a strange statement that Azuma no Aya no Atai Koma had a secret relationship with a daughter of Umako who was a concubine of Sushun and treated her as his wife. Umako was not aware of this at first, thinking that the girl had died, but when he found out he had Koma killed. As presented it implies that were it not for this Koma would have gone unpunished. One must believe that the killing of Sushun was presented as not a murder, but an execution for just cause.
The three rulers following Kimmei were all sons of Kimmei, however the supply of brothers had run out. It was now necessary to look at the group of grandsons. As always, there was Oshisaka no Hikohito, the son of Bidatsu Tenno. There was also Prince Takeda, also a son of Bidatsu and whose mother was the powerful Kashikiyahime. Next there was Umayado, eldest son of Yomei Tenno. Umayado was 19. Takeda's age is not known, but he had a younger sister who was already married to Umayado. Hikohito was perhaps pretty old already and apparently did not live much longer. All of the other possibles were definitely too young. Nihon Shoki tells us exactly nothing about any debate or discussion. All we know is that in the end Kashikiyahime took the throne herself, becoming Suiko Tenno. She was the first reigning ruler (since Himiko and Iyo, anyway) who was female. Since Suiko was merely the first of a lengthy list of female sovereigns, it must be clear that something must have changed to make this possible, but the sources have almost nothing to say about what it might have been. Six different women served as Tenno in ancient times (there were more in the Tokugawa period). Two of them reigned twice under different reign names, making 8 reigns altogether. The first four were already Empress (the widow of a Tenno) when they ascended the throne. It is easy to view these as place holders, waiting for a son or grandson to become old enough to reign. It can be noted that the cessation of the use of female Tenno was followed quickly by abandonment of the principle that it was not possible to put a child on the throne. Without a placeholder, you cannot afford to wait. In the case of Suiko it is clear that by taking the throne she increased the possibility that she could be succeeded by her son Prince Takeda. Soga no Umako also had good reason to want to avoid making a decision. His plan to secure his position by putting his nephew Sushun on the throne and marrying a daughter to him did not work out, so he needed some time to arrange a second chance. He had a spare daughter whom he married to Prince Umayado, but it was too early to tell whether this was going to present him with a possible ruling grandson.
However, this doesn't tell us what was new here. Why did not something like this happen before? There were two situations during the Ojin dynasty when there was an interregnum due to indecision as to who should be the next ruler, and in both cases a female member of the ruling clan presided over affairs without taking the formal title of ruler. In earlier times there were no distinctions among the ruler's wives. They were all simply called kisaki. There was only implied status which derived from her father's status, which certainly had a big impact on whether her children were eligible to be considered for the succession. However, this began to change in the time of Kimmei as the court became larger and more complicated to run. There came to be a special group of officers attached to the court who were responsible for managing the household of the designated crown prince, who became a sort of minister ranking alongside the O-Omi and O-Muraji, and the same thing happened in the case of the emperor's wives. This meant, among other things, that particular sources of revenue would be assigned to support princes and wives, and there was clear scope for marking status by assigning more to this one and less to that one. There is a book written during Suiko's reign that supports the idea that all wives before Suiko herself were just "kisaki". She, during her time as wife to Bidatsu, is referred to as "O-kisaki," which is different from kisaki the same way that O-Muraji is different from muraji. In other words, she was not merely a concubine, but Empress. During Bidatsu's reign a new institution known as kisaibe was established. This is a contraction of kisakibe, and it means a unit of farmers marked off specifically to support one particular kisaki. The fact that is written with characters best translated as "personal be" or "private be" but pronounced kisakibe is the result of Chinese influence. In China the emperor was a state institution and everything about his position was "public". However, the empress was to a significant extent still a private person, not supported by the state. She could and did have her own estates, provided by her family or by gift from the emperor. The Japanese case was different, assigning state resources, still managed as state resources, to the kisaki. So, unlike earlier kisaki, Kashikiyahime had officials who reported to her and resources that she could spend. She became a player. It may be noted that in the episode after the death of Bidatsu when Prince Anahobe attempted to kidnap and marry her, the officer who had saved her attempted to hide at a rural palace belonging to Kashikiyahime, presumably the location of a be assigned to her support. He was with little doubt an official who was specifically dedicated to her service. This added importance of the empress continued into later times, even into the period when they ceased to have a chance to become Tenno. One of the things that happened in and after the reign of Suiko was that a major attempt was made to increase the prestige and status of the ruler as compared to everyone else, and as the status of the ruler rose, so did the status of his wives, and especially his Empress, the mother of his heir. There quickly evolved a series of titles, taken from Chinese, to indicate the empress as wife, the empress as mother of a living emperor, the empress as mother of a deceased emperor, and so on. Since there could be several living women entitled to be called empress, it was necessary to have enough titles to distinguish them all. In the Heian period, when women could no longer become Tenno, more than one political scheme fell to pieces because an Empress dictated the succession on her own whim. An Empress who lived a long time, who was the mother of the reigning Emperor, could accumulate considerable political power, if she had the necessary political skills.
Shotoku Taishi[edit | edit source]
At the very beginning of the Nihon Shoki article on Suiko Tenno is notice of the appointment of Prince Umayado no Toyotomimi as crown prince. In Aston's translation it says "He was able to speak as soon as he was born, and was so wise that he could attend to the suits of ten men at once and decide them all without error. He knew beforehand what was going to happen." He was not merely designated the successor but "He had general control of the government and was entrusted with all the details of the administration." He is at the very center of the story that Nihon Shoki is trying to tell. He is presented as an expert on Buddhist and Confucian philosopy and the author of several books, including the first history of Japan (which does not survive). His appearance marks the start of modern Japanese history, from the perspective of the authors of Nihon Shoki. In medieval times he was regarded as a Buddhist saint, and in modern times he became the patron saint of the constitutional regime that came into operation in 1885. The "17 article constitution" credited to him by Nihon Shoki became a basic document in public education.
Objections have been made to the use of "crown prince" on the logical ground that in this period the title does not seem to have had much weight in determining the succession. What it did do was evidently name the chosen prince as a senior minister of state. It may be considered that whereas the Tenno was the ruler of the whole nation, above faction, the senior prince served as the faction head for the ruling clan just as the Soga and other clan chiefs represented their entire clans. Throughout the Nara period and well into the early Heian period princes were appointed to offices within the bureaucracy and it was clear that power over the day-to-day operation of the government was not going to be surrendered to the other aristocratic clans. There was normally always a "senior prince" whether the Tenno was male or female. The ritual surrounding the Tenno meant that there were many places he could not go and many people he could not speak with. The senior prince was his representative in this respect. Restrictions on a female ruler were even tighter and so having a trusted member of the clan who could sit in on meetings she could not attend was even more important. However, that does not in itself indicate where the power actually rested. That is always variable and dependent on the personalities involved. There is no reason at all to think that Suiko was not an important member of the decision making part of the government at this time.
Prince Umayado's parents were both members of the ruling clan, but his paternal grandmother was Soga Kitashihime and his maternal grandmother was Soga Oanekimi, both daughters of Soga no Iname and sisters of Soga no Umako. He is known to have had four wives, one a daughter of Umako. In 600 a Japanese embassy visited the Sui dynasty in China and the Sui History reports that the family name of the "king of the Wa" was Ame (heaven) and his personal name was Tarashihiko, carefully spelled out using Chinese characters for their sound. "Tarashi" was a common element in rulers' formal names in this period and probably simply meant "ruler." "Hiko" is a specifically male name element, the female counterpart being "hime," so it appears that Prince Umayado was meant and not Suiko Tenno, though it is also possible that the Chinese simply didn't realize that the "king of Wa" was a woman (or the Japanese were careful not to mention it). It is generally believed that Umako and Umayado got along with each other. Both believed that it was necessary to find ways to strengthen the power of the central government in respect to the provincial nobility and they agreed that doing that meant increasing the theoretical power of the ruler on the one hand and turning the collection of courtiers that hung around the palace into actual government officials on the other. Both were also scholars of Chinese literature, and they collaborated on at least one book.
China became politically united in 589 when the Sui dynasty, founded in the north in 581 by a military coup within the Northern Chou dynasty, completed the conquest of the south. Paekche was in diplomatic contact from 581 as was Silla from at least 594. In 600 the Suiko court was planning an invasion of Silla, and in the same year sent Japan's first embassy to China since the 5th century. Despite enthusiastic reports in Nihon Shoki, the force sent to Korea accomplished little, and a second and much bigger expedition was in the works for 602. It is noteworthy that the commander of this force was to be Prince Kume, a brother of Prince Umayado, not a member of one of the traditional military uji as had always been the case before. This has been taken to mean that this project was being pushed by Umayado rather than by Soga no Umako. Also, Nihon Shoki says that the forces were to be drawn from "kantomo," meaning be that had religions functions like the Imbe and Nakatomi clans, plus "kuni no miyatsuko" and "tomo no miyatsuko." This meant that none of the "omi" class clans were involved. All of the warriors would come from clans closely linked to the ruling clan and from the provincial nobility. This looks like the first attempt to set up something like a national army that would be directly loyal to the ruler as opposed to a militia of the major clans. If this understanding is correct, then it is necessary to think that the power of Prince Umayado was considerable by 602. However, the project was not a success. After the army gathered in Kyushu Prince Kume fell seriously ill and a few months later died. A later book devoted to traditions about Shotoku Taishi says that the prince thought that agents of Silla had murdered Prince Kume. Another brother of Umayado, Prince Takima was appointed to command the army and left for Kyushu, accompanied by his wife. She died on the way and the prince returned to Yamato and never did reach Kyushu. This all seems a bit strange, but it has been suggested that perhaps merely assembling a large army in Kyushu put enough pressure on Silla so that Japan could get what it wanted diplomatically. What it wanted was regular "tribute" from Korea, meaning officially sponsored trade, since there were many luxury goods that had to be imported. Whenever Silla was unhappy with Japan it tended to cut off trade, leading to Japanese threats of war.
There is a detailed account of the reception of an embassy from Silla in 610. The party of ambassadors assembled in the courtyard in front of the main hall of Suiko's palace at Asuka. Each was accompanied by a Japanese noble who had been assigned to assist him, and presumably translate for him. Four leading ministers greeted them. When the ambassadors came to the point where they would read the official letter from the King of Silla, Soga no Umako emerged from inside the hall to listen to them, then returned to report to the Tenno. The presence of Prince Umayado is not mentioned. If he was involved at all, he was inside the palace throughout. As shall be seen shortly, he may not have been in Askuka at the time.
Shortly after the abandonment of the expedition to Korea by Prince Takima, Nihon Shoki reports the enactment of a new system of "cap ranks" at court in considerable detail. The actuality of the system is not in doubt because it is mentioned in the Sui history. The Chinese court had a similar system as did all of the Korean kingdoms. The Japanese system was particularly similar to the one used by Koguryo, it seems. The outer manifestation is a formal costume officials should wear when on duty which incorporates visible badges of rank. The inner purpose is to establish a system of ranks that is directly controlled by the ruler. The Japanese kabane ranks which already existed were all traditional and hereditary and did not clearly establish relative rank. Also, they were markers for the entire clan and said nothing about the status of an individual. These were to be specifically court ranks and purely individual. The establishment of the system in effect published the fact that the nobles who participated in the activities of the court were officers of state, with duties and obligations. We don't know what the caps looked like as no examples survived. We have some examples of the assignment of ranks. A well known Buddhist devotee named Kuratsukuri (saddlemaker) no Tori, who constructed the main hall at the Hokoji Buddhist temple in Asuka, was awarded the third rank in the system in recognition. We know the names of several other people who were appointed to the first three ranks. The status of the one person known to have received first rank was significantly lower than that of Soga no Umako and of the "four ministers" who greeted the embassy from Silla, so it seems that the system applied only to relatively humble persons and not the men at the top. Some scholars have put in a lot of work trying to establish correspondences between the different rank systems that followed over the next decades, and seem to have established that the top rank here corresponded to the senior fourth rank in the system in force when Nihon Shoki was written. That point was exactly where the separation between the highest nobility and ordinary officials occurred. Only members of the top layer of the nobility ever received third rank or higher. In the next year Nihon Shoki says that special caps were designed for all of the ministers to wear also, and there is a story that in 643 when Soga no Emeshi retired, he personally handed a minister's cap to his son Iruka, who was to replace him.
The year after the institution of the cap ranks, the court issued a proclamation which Nihon shoki ascribes to Prince Umayado personally. It has often been called in English "the 17 article constitution," though it is more a list of moral rules than a set of administrative laws. Nihon Shoki quotes it in its entirety. Many historians have expressed doubts as to whether Prince Umayado (or anyone else in Japan) could have written this work at this point in time, and think that it was written at least fifty or sixty years later, when there were many more people in Japan who were expert in Chinese literature. It contains references to at least 14 Chinese books, not counting items from Buddhist literature. There are also many points within the articles that cannot be considered correct as they stand, for instance in article 12 where mention is made of "provincial governors" when it would be many years before the first governors were appointed. Overall, the bulk of the text can be considered a borrowing from Chinese thinking and it may be picking nits to point to things that do not match the actual situation in Suiko's Japan. Without new evidence it is not going to be possible to resolve this. However, I think the majority of historians think that Umayado probably issued some kind of proclamation at the stated time but that the text in Nihon Shoki was written much later, after Shotoku Taishi had become a revered figure. It is speculated that the original text had been lost, so a replacement was required for Nihon Shoki.
According to Nihon Shoki Prince Umayado began construction of a new palace in 601 at Ikaruga, 20 kilometers from Asuka, at the site of Horyuji, which was constructed on the property after Umayado's death. He moved in 605. If he now spent most of his time at Ikaruga he could not have kept up an intimate involvement with the day to day affairs of the government. The implication is that, willingly or otherwise, he had surrendered that role to Soga no Umako. On the positive side, Ikaruga was not so far from Asuka that he could not travel there frequently, and it was closer to Naniwa and overseas communication and the opportunity to acquire books. Ikaruga was in fact on one of the two main roads between Asuka and Naniwa. Umayado gathered Confucian and Buddhist scholars to Ikaruga and spent much of his time reading and studying.
After discussing the cap rank system, the Sui History turned to the territorial administration of Japan. It says that Japan had 120 people called "kuni" spelled out as such. It is thought kuninomiyatsuko is meant. It says they can be compared to Chinese magistrates. It also says that 80 households were controlled by an "inagi" who can be compared to a village chief. Inagi is the kabane title associated with agatanushi. 10 of such village units made up one kuni. This information must have been gathered from Japanese visitors to China, because Chinese embassies to Japan would not have time or permission to wander about the country side asking questions. The Chinese were in the habit of interrogating foreign ambassadors about affairs in their country. The system described here was not so different from the one set up later during the Nara period. The main difference is that the kuninomiyatsuko held hereditary positions whereas the Nara period governor was appointed by the government for a limited term of years. He also had to keep accurate accounting records which would be audited at the end of his term. The descendants of the former kuninomiyatsuko and agatanushi had to content themselves with lesser offices within the provincial administration. For the time of Suiko, however, there is no information as to the nature of the relationship between the court at Asuka and the kuninomiyatsuko and agatanushi scattered about the country. Nor, do we know what kind of relationship existed between kuninomiyatsuko and agatanushi. We know that agata were smaller units and that they were geographically inside kuni, but there are those who think that the agatanushi had a direct relationship with the court and provided revenues to the ruler without passing them through the kuninomiyatsuko, whose revenues supported the local aristocracy. The evidence for this applies only to 6 agata located within Yamato. These are mentioned often enough to make it plain that they were under some sort of direct control. At least in the 7th century, it appears that those agata no longer had agata nushi but were controlled by appointed officials.
In China, the founder of the Sui Dynasty died in 604 and was succeeded by his son Yang-ti. Yang-ti became one of the famous "bad emperors" of Chinese history and he eventually ruined the dynasty, allegedly because of extravagant public works projects and wars with Koguryo, neither of which he could pay for. They involved drafting huge numbers of people who had to be moved and fed. One project to redirect the course of the Yellow River required 1 million laborers. This eventually led to large scale popular uprisings which brought the government down, which was followed by a short but sharp civil war among former Sui generals that led to the quick consolidation of a new dynasty, the T'ang, in 618. Both of these dynasties were direct inheritors of the Northern Wei dynasty, the longest lived and most successful of the northern dynasties of the 6th century. The ruling family of the Northern Wei was Turkish, and the aristocracy of the north was a mixture of Turkish and Chinese elements. Li Shih-min, the founder of the T'ang dynasty, bore an illustrious Chinese aristocratic name, but he must inevitably have also had Turkish elements in his ancestry.
Because of this background there were many aspects of the Sui and T'ang dynasties that were unusual when compared with the major dynasties before and after them. Partially this was due to the fact that the Sui and T'ang occupy a transitional position in the evolution of the Chinese economy and administrative systems. The Han dynasty and its immediate successors had been completely aristocratic in structure. The court was surrounded by a small number of clans who provided all of the officials on an essentially hereditary basis. The Sui and T'ang initially followed the same pattern. However, the Han had maintained only a loose control over the administration of the country at large. They kept a large standing army and this was sufficient to keep them in power. They appointed officials to relatively large districts, but all affairs within the districts were managed by local aristocrats, mostly autonomously. The system was that local officials had to be confirmed by the magistrate, but they were nominated by "respectable people" in the district. The Sui and T'ang had a much stronger administrative structure. Whereas the Han had maintained a hundred or so large districts, the Sui and T'ang had more than a thousand smaller districts, grouped into provinces. The magistrate of every district was appointed by the central government for a fixed term and rotated to a new district and there was a rule against a man serving in his native district. Within the district, the administration was still very thin, and the magistrate worked through "respectable" locals. This was a lot more expensive than the older system, but China was now a lot richer.
In the Han period there were no cities at all, really, only administrative centers. Money existed but was rather rarely used, and the typical merchant was an itinerant peddler. The only wealthy commoners were men who specialized in government contracts. In the Sui and T'ang period we are clearly in a society that still bears many resemblances to the old one, especially in that it was still officially aristocratic, but was transitioning in the direction of the later type of Chinese "gentry" oriented society, particularly in the last century of the T'ang dynasty. There were now real cities and a real merchant class and a significant commoner popular culture. The system of taxation and local administration that was put into effect by the founder of the T'ang dynasty had been almost totally abandoned by the end of the T'ang dynasty. Aristocratic titles continued to be given to relatives of the emperor into the twentieth century, but the aristocracy in the sense that the Han had known it or Li Shih-min had known it was extinct. The T'ang dynasty was a period of constant change and upheaval. And, it is with the Sui and the T'ang, particularly the early T'ang, that the Japanese had their first intimate contact with Chinese civilization and methods of government. An intensely aristocratic society themselves, they felt comfortable with the early T'ang system, but would have found the China of even 150 years later quite difficult to understand and impossible to emulate. The specifically Turkish elements in the early T'ang would also have been comforting, because they were similar to practices already common in the Korean kingdoms and Japan.
In 607 Paekche sent an embassy to the Sui and suggested that China should attack Koguryo. Yang-ti authorized Paekche to begin planning a joint campaign with China. Thus began a period of great change in Korea. The Japanese also sent an embassy in 607. As already mentioned, the Sui History treats Prince Umayado, "Tarashihiko," as the "king of the Wa." The letter to Yang-ti stated that the Japanese had heard that the Emperor was interested in the propagation of Buddhism and that they wished to be able to send significant numbers of people to China to study. Nihon Shoki says that the party included an immigrant official who could read and write Chinese. According to the Chinese, the letter includes the famous line "the emperor of the land where the sun rises sends this letter to the emperor of the land where the sun sets." Yang-ti was not amused by the assumption of equality. From the historians' point of view this is the first indication that the Japanese wanted their country to be known to the Chinese as Nihon rather than "Wa." The actual characters 日本 first appear in the Chinese account of a Japanese embassy to the T'ang dynasty in 648. Despite being annoyed, Yang-ti obviously thought it valuable to get to know something about an important country in a region where he was planning a war, and a Chinese embassy was immediately sent to Japan. It is in the context of these exchanges that the Japanese first started to devise a suitable Chinese term to use to refer to the ruler. The relatively few early documents that name a ruler use 大王, probably pronounced "okimi." However, by the time of these embassies the Japanese would have been aware that this ("king") is a much lesser title in Chinese than they wanted. The title used by the Chinese emperor was 皇帝 and they understood that the Chinese would not tolerate their using that. Clearly the claim that the Japanese ruler was descended from Amaterasu no Omikami suggested the use of 天, which means heaven and is used for "ama" when writing the goddess' name. Tenno is written 天皇. As a Japanese word it is pronounced "sumera mikoto" which would be translated "supreme ruler" or something like that. This term already existed, but there were before this time no special characters to use to write it. It appears in the Chinese account of the 608 embassy and is used in Nihon Shoki in an item dated 628 and a number of other early texts. In Suiko's day it was probably always sumera mikoto, but modern Japanese always say Tenno. The Chinese letter brought by the 608 embassy was addressed simply to the 皇 of Japan, which was actually pretty polite of them. Aston translated this as "sovereign."
There were four embassies in all in a comparatively short period of time. When the last one occurred the Sui dynasty was already crumbling, and the Japanese ambassadors evidently had a hard time getting home safely. After that there was nothing for sixteen years. It is plain that the Sui were very interested in Japan, putting up with a lot of barbarian uppityness, and trying to find out as much as they could about what the country was like and how it was governed. This was clearly related to their ambitions for Korea. However, the T'ang also had ambitions in Korea, and it is not at all obvious why they would not pursue relations with Japan, or why the Japanese would wish to drop relations with China because of a rather swift change of dynasty. One theory would be that the semi-retirement from politics of Prince Umayado after 605 implies that he was the main force behind the embassies and no one else cared that much about the business.
For 620 Nihon Shoki reports that Prince Umayado and Soga no Umako collaborated on the creation of a "history of the Emperors, a history of the country, and the original record of the Omi, the Muraji, the Tomo no Miyatsuko, the Kuni no Miyatsuko, the 180 be, and the free subjects." If the work actually covered all of those topics it would be enormously valuable, but there was apparently only one copy and it was destroyed in 645. That leads to the topic of the foundation of Japan, because the history had to say something about it. The standard modern theory is that in 602 a Paekche monk named Kanroku published a Chinese style calendar for the first time in Japan, and it was Prince Umayado who then took 601, the previous year, as the basis for subtracting 21 60 year cycles to reach the foundation date of 660 BC, and included this in his genealogy of the rulers. The idea that the name of the year in the cycle count corresponding to 601 had a special astrological importance as a marker of change was Chinese.
Nihon Shoki says that Prince Umayado died in 621, but any Japanese historical table you look at will say that it happened in 622. Several dates in this part of Nihon Shoki seem to be off by one year. I don't know of any theory as to why this is so. The alternate date comes from an ancient biography of the prince. They differ not only in the year but on the day of the month. There are two other very ancient sources that agree with the second date and all historians accept it. One of these sources is the dedicatory inscription on an Asuka period Buddhist statue at Horyuji. The inscription says that his mother died in the 12th month of Suiko's 29th year (621) and that the Prince fell ill the following month. His principal wife also fell ill and she died on the 11th day of the 2nd month of 622 and the prince died on the 22nd day. All three were buried in the same tomb. He was 49 at the time. The tomb is 20 kilometers from Ikaruga, but is located close to the tombs of Bidatsu and Yomei, and later the tombs of Suiko and Kotoku were also constructed in the same area. There is ample evidence that Shotoku Taishi was revered as an exceptional person from ancient times. This was initially because of his importance in the establishment of Buddhism. Buddhism did not become recognized as the state religion until the 8th century (and then the government was forced to make special arrangements to protect Shinto). In the Asuka period it was merely permitted, and there were many who had doubts about it. However, Prince Umayado and Soga no Umako both personally constructed Buddhist temples and Umayado was responsible for several of them. There is an entire cluster of temples around the site of his Ikaruga Palace, most famously Horyuji, which was reconstructed after a fire in 670 and has the oldest surviving wooden buildings in Japan. This temple was founded by Umayado as his personal temple, then known as Ikarugadera, "the Ikaruga temple." He also had significance as the first Japanese known to have written a book. Then, starting in the 14th century, he was adopted by enthusiasts of imperial autocracy as opposed to the feudal system, the forerunners of the group who gained power in Japan after 1868. Every Japanese schoolchild studied the Nihon Shoki version of the 17 article constitution. However, no one blames Shotoku Taishi for the military dictators of the twentieth century and his prestige remains high.
In 623 the question of an invasion of Korea to expel Silla from Mimana came up after a lapse of 20 years. The officials at court disagreed. One party, whose spokesman is given as Tanaka no Omi spoke in favor of sending an envoy to determine whether Mimana was being mistreated, while another led by Nakatomi no Kuni no Muraji urged sending an army, with the goal of expelling Silla and transferring control of Mimana to Paekche. In the end envoys were sent and Silla sent back an embassy offering to confirm the old arrangement where Mimana sent nominal tribute to the court. A party of Silla and Japanese officials then went to Mimana to make arrangements, but before they returned a large army was formed and sent to Korea under the command of Sakaibe no Omi Omaro, a probable close ally of Soga no Umako. However, envoys kept going back and forth and everything was settled without fighting. The Japanese force in Korea was withdrawn. It was now agreed that any time a Japanese embassy sailed to Silla it would be met on arrival by two ceremonial boats, one representing Silla and one representing Mimana. Having an army on the ground in Korea simultaneously with negotiations seems a little odd. Perhaps two factions at the court were operating independently of each other.
For 623 there is an item reporting that after a celebrated murder committed by a Buddhist monk (an ax murder, no less), the court decided that it was necessary to assert some control over the religious system, and a office of (Buddhist) religion was established with the chief positions assigned to monks. As a result of this a formal census was taken and it is reported that there were 46 temples, 816 monks, and 569 nuns in the country.
The "Taika Reform"[edit | edit source]
In 626 Soga no Umako died, and in 628 Suiko Tenno died at the age of 75. Kojiki ends with this event. With Umayado, Umako, and Suiko all dead, we have clearly entered a new political age. Shortly before his death Umako had petitioned Suiko to be allowed to possess Kazuraki agata on the grounds that it was the ancient home of his clan. This was at the time one of 6 agata in Yamato that directly supported the expenses of the ruler. Suiko turned him down. Had this been done, Soga would then have been in a position to seek to revive the Kazuraki clan name, which, if accomplished, would have in effect set up his own descendants as a new aristocratic clan independent of all of the other Sogas. This is exactly what was later done for Nakatomi no Kamatari, when, after his death, his sons were recognized as a new Fujiwara clan. However, some historians think that this was merely a case of the elderly Umako losing his sense of political reality and asking for something that could not possibly have been granted.
The next ruler was a grandson of Bidatsu Tenno and son of the unfortunate Prince Oshisaka no Hikohito, who had been passed over more than once. This was not decided for several months after the death of Suiko. Soga no Emishi, Umako's eldest son, was now the O-Omi. Eventually Emishi called a meeting of the senior officials and said that Suiko had mentioned two possible successors, Prince Tamura and Prince Yamashiro no Oe, the son of Prince Umayado, and had met with both and urged them not to fight each other over the matter. Her own son, Prince Takeda, had died earlier, and her last wish was to be buried in his tomb. According to Nihon Shoki Emishi's presentation suggested that she favored Prince Tamura, but had not designated an heir. A majority favored Prince Tamura, but several also supported Prince Yamashiro no Oe, and so Emishi adjourned without making any decision. The two princes were equal in descent and also apparently the same age. Prince Tamura was 36 and it is estimated that Yamashiro no Oe was about the same. Nihon Shoki has a very long section about this issue in which it says that Prince Yamashiro no Oe strongly claimed that when she spoke to him Suiko told him that he should be the successor. The implication is that he accused Soga no Emishi of lying about what she told him. There was eventually a resort to violence as one hold-out official was killed by Soga no Emishi and the throne was awarded to Prince Tamura at the beginning of 629. He is known as Jomei Tenno. Emishi had an obvious reason to support Prince Tamura because his principal wife was a daughter of Soga no Umako and had already (it is thought) given birth to a prince, Furuhito. On the other hand, it is pointed out that Yamashiro no Oe's mother was also a daughter of Umako. It may be that Emishi thought that he would get along better with Tamura. The enthronement of Jomei brought another young prince to prominence, Naka no Oe. Jomei's Empress was not Soga no Hote no Iratsume but Princess Takara, a granddaughter of Oshisaka no Hikohito, and Naka no Oe was her son.
The Nihon Shoki article about Jomei Tenno is very short and uninformative. Only two major items are mentioned. The first was an exchange of embassies with the T'ang dynasty in 630 and 632. One student who had been in China for 24 years was able to return home on this occasion. Another, Takamuku no Kuramaro returned in 644 after 30 years in China and became a greatly respected teacher. The second major event was the first recorded frontier battle with Emishi barbarians in 637. However, it is noted that Jomei moved his palace twice, the first time after a fire. The second move was different. The new location was north of Asuka, in an area more convenient for commuication with the rest of the country. It was the occasion for some large scale building projects. The palace of the ruler was beginning its expansion in the direction of becoming a capital city, it is thought. There is an anecdote from this reign in which the oldest living prince upbraided Emishi saying that the ministers and officials were lax in their attendance at court. They were supposed to work from 6 am to noon, and this should be regulated by using a bell. However, Emishi ignored this advice. In later times the work day at the palace was regulated by bells. One of the features of the new palace site was a Buddhist temple, the first known to be constructed by a ruler.
Jomei died in 641 without ever having designated a crown prince. His successor was his Empress, who became the second female Tenno, known for this reign as Kogyoku Tenno (she had a second reign as Saimei Tenno). Nihon Shoki says absolutely nothing about how this came about. There were two clear candidates, Princes Furuhito and Naka no Oe, sons of the emperor by different mothers. Naka no Oe was the eldest son of the Empress but was only 16 (by Japanese count, our method of counting ages would make him 15), considered a bit young to succeed to the throne. It would be some time yet before it became possible for children to take the throne. It therefore follows that one reason for the accession of Kogyoku was that she could hold the place open for her son to succeed her. Prince Furuhito's status was lower but, though his age is not known, he was certainly older than Naka no Oe. Only a few years later Naka no Oe married a daughter of Furuhito and he must have been older than 20 at this time. Then Prince Yamashiro no Oe cannot be forgotten. The fact that there were three candidates raises the possibility that the elevation of Kogyoku was because the necessary unanimity among the leading nobles was not attainable. This is plausible because Soga no Emishi had the reputation of a man who would do nothing without a consensus. In the absence of better evidence the question cannot be settled. The new Tenno was 49 years old at the time.
The account of Kogyoku's reign in Nihon Shoki focuses on the events leading to the destruction of the Soga. When Jomei was on the throne things appeared to go smoothly under the direction of Soga no Emishi. He evidently got along adequately well with the other important members of the court. However, during Kogyoku's reign his son Iruka began to push him aside as the effective leader of the Soga interest and that was a different matter entirely. There are surviving stories that Iruka was a precocious and impressive child. He grew up to be willful and self-centered and completely inconsiderate toward others. He made enemies and this did not bother him, he just pushed ahead with whatever he wanted.
The first item is an account of the construction of Kofun for himself and his son by Soga no Emishi, discussed under the heading of 642. It is said that he levied vast numbers of workers for the project as if he were the ruler of the land, including workers that were part of Yamashiro no Oe's estates. Yamashiro no Oe's sister is said to have publicly complained about this. Then, the next year, Emishi became unwell and decided that it was necessary to retire from his duties, so on his own authority he had a minister's cap made which he presented to his son Iruka who thereafter functioned as O-Omi. Immediately on taking office, Iruka is said to have begun to conspire to exclude Prince Yamashiro no Oe from the succession and secure it instead for Prince Furuhito no Oe. There is a footnote that says that "another book" says that Iruka thought of taking the throne himself. Only three weeks after becoming O-Omi, Iruka sent an army to attack the Ikaruga palace. The palace was destroyed, but Yamashiro no Oe and his family survived and escaped into the hills. However, they had no resources and eventually all committed suicide. When Soga no Emishi heard of this he berated Iruka as a fool and said, in effect, what you have done to Yamashiro no Oe, others might do to you. This occurred at the end of 643.
Nihon Shoki then says that Nakatomi no Kamako no Muraji became greatly angry as a result of Iruka's coup and took it upon himself to circulate around the surviving princes of the ruling family to see whether they could rally around a candidate for the throne. It is perhaps worthy of note that in 641 there occurred a military coup in Koguryo after which the dictator massacred most of the nobility. It is impossible that the Japanese nobility would not be aware of this event, which could have easily been used against Iruka. Nakatomi suspected that Prince Naka no Oe would be a good choice as leader, but was not personally acquainted with him, so he attended a football match in which the prince was playing so that he could be introduced, and they quickly became close friends. So that they could meet regularly without attracting suspicion, they both enrolled for lessons in Confucian philosophy and Chinese language and walked together to and from the classes. One important step of their plan was to isolate Iruka by making sure that they had allies elsewhere in the Soga clan, and Naka no Oe arranged to marry a Soga girl to this end. This alliance was with Soga no Kuroyamada no Ishikawamaro, a nephew of Soga no Emishi. His branch of the clan continued to enjoy good relations with the ruling clan and three of his daughters married rulers. The conspirators developed an elaborate plan to kill Iruka at court. Altogether, the plot developed over about a year and a half. When the time came the men who were supposed to attack Iruka became frightened and confused, so Prince Naka no Oe personally drew his sword and struck Iruka down. This was in the presence of the Tenno (Naka no Oe's mother) and the prince told her that Iruka had been a threat to the ruling clan. They then politely had Iruka's body delivered to Emishi.
They spent one day assembling forces to attack Soga no Emishi, with contingents from many princes, and Emishi did his best to prepare a defense. However, when the prince's forces arrived most of Emishi's men deserted him. Knowing he was doomed, Emishi burned the histories that had been prepared by Soga no Umako and Prince Umayado, which were in his possession, though a scribe managed to rescue at least a portion of the manuscript and handed it to Naka no Oe. At the time of these events Nakatomi no Kamako was 31 and Naka no Oe 19.
Prince Furuhito no Oe was Naka no Oe's older (half) brother. Nihon Shoki says that Nakatomi no Kamako advised Naka no Oe that it would be improper to himself take the throne over his older brother, so suggested putting his uncle Prince Karu, Kogyoku Tenno's brother, on the throne. This is what was done. He is Kotoku Tenno. Kogyoku abdicated in his favor. This was the first abdication of a sovereign, a practice which soon became routine. As another first, with many occurrences to follow, Prince Furuhito publicly removed himself from eligibility for the succession by becoming a Buddhist monk and retiring to a rural temple. All of this, including the formal enthronement of Prince Karu, took place the day after the death of Soga no Emishi.
The new regime wasted no time in asserting that change was at hand. The ancient titles of O-Omi and O-Muraji were suppressed and replaced by new titles, Hidari no Omachigimi and Migi no Omachigimi, usually called in English by the Chinese pronunciations Sadaijin and Udaijin, meaning Minister of the Left and Minister of the Right, left meaning senior and right junior in rank. Abe no Omi no Kuwaramaro was appointed to the first and Soga no Omi no Ishikawamaro to the second. Nakatomi no Kamako was given a lesser title of uchinoomi or Naijin, which later became Naidaijin and ranked third after Udaijin in the Nara period. The status of the new ministers was officially lower than that of the crown prince, which appears to be an innovation. Before there seems to have been no formal sequence of ranks among the top offices. Uchinoomi is thought to be a title borrowed from the Paekche government. It means "interior minister" and from what Nihon Shoki says it appears to mean that Nakatomi no Kamako was to have day to day administrative command over the bureaucracy, including control over promotions and demotions. The interior he was to control was the interior of the working part of the palace. The "great ministers" were to be free to think about matters of higher policy.
Five days after the enthronement of Kotoku there was an assembly of all the officials of the palace where the above changes were announced. The Emperor, the retired Empress, and the Crown Prince were all present, and the officials were made to swear an oath of loyalty and obedience to the will of the emperor. This was also the occasion for the proclamation of the Taika reign title. There soon followed a steady flow of edicts that enacted major changes in the organization of government throughout the country, not merely within the palace.
There is an enormous amount of scholarly controversy about almost everything that occurred from this time down to the end of the century. In particular, there are some historians who think that just about everything I have written so far, based as it is on Nihon Shoki, is completely wrong. In particular, there are claims that the assassination of Iruka and the accession of Kotoku did not inaugurate a major change in government, that Naka no Oe was merely the standard "senior prince" required by the informal constitution and that Nakatomi no Kamako was a middle rank official of no special importance and that the entire story about his role in the uprising was made up because his descendants were men of power at the time that Nihon Shoki was written, there was no office of "inner minister", there was no Taika reign title, and no reform edicts. Most historians take a more moderate view, but few are willing to accept everything that Nihon Shoki says without subjecting it to close examination.
Nihon Shoki asserts that we are now witnessing the origins of the regime in power at the time it was published. It is unquestionably a work of propaganda. However, there is a small amount of other evidence now, other 8th century books that were not written by a government committee, and even a tiny handful of actual government documents, wooden tallies that accompanied tax shipments. There is distinct evidence of early efforts to set up a province/district system of local administration, and too many references to important happenings in other books for it all to be a hoax. And, the authors were writing of events only 75 years before the publication of the book. Their fathers or grandfathers had been participants and their readers' fathers or grandfathers had also been participants. There was much less room for maneuver than when writing about the 5th century. However, we need to be aware that the account is not disinterested.
The first matter the new government had to deal with was the simultaneous arrival of embassies from the three Korean kingdoms. Nihon Shoki is anything but clear about what happened, but the Japanese side was unhappy with the presentation from Paekche which included a claim to represent Mimana. This presumably derived from the fact that Paekche and Koguryo had formed an alliance in 642 and inflicted a major defeat on Silla, perhaps extending to capturing Mimana or a part of it. Eight months later another set of embassies arrived and there were more quarrels about Mimana. It seems that at this point the new government decided it was silly to keep fighting about what had become a meaningless distinction. Takamune no Kuramaro, a highly regarded scholar who had recently returned after 30 years in China, was sent to Silla and negotiated an end to the issue. Mimana ceased to exist as a diplomatic entity and Japan abandoned all claims on the territory. It is a general fact that under steady Chinese pressure, Korea was tearing itself apart during this period. In 644 Koguryo had fought off a massive Chinese assault on its Liao River frontier in Manchuria, and more was to come. The Japanese had to be very worried about what was happening, and this must have provided some of the urgency about changing Japan in ways that would make it better able to defend itself.
Within a few days of taking power the two senior ministers were ordered to find out from the "maetsukimi" and tomo no miyatsuko their views on how best to handle the assessment of labor taxes so that the people would not object to them. Maetsukimi is associated with Chinese characters used (in China) to designate the upper echelons of the bureaucracy. It is thought that it is used here as a general term covering the omi and muraji classes of aristocratic clans. It might also refer to the first and second ranks of the cap rank system, which, it is estimated, might have amounted to around 10 men. It is pretty consistent in later times that the committee of clan heads that constituted the decision making body at the top was in the neighborhood of 10 men, under Parkinson's limit of 12 as the largest committee that can ever actually decide something. The tomo no miyatsuko were local officers who were in charge of conscription of men for military service and for public works labor. I haven't said anything about taxation, because we know nothing concrete for early times. However, all Asian societies at this time from China on down relied on three types of taxation, grain from farmers, handicrafts, mostly cloth, but many other things also, from commoners who were not farmers, and labor for public projects. We assume that the system in this early period was not nearly so precisely organized as the system of the Nara period, but it was inevitable that they had something. Otherwise there would be no kofun. The tomo no miyatsuko were the people who provided the workers for such activities and, probably, saw to it that they were fed.
In trying to understand what Nihon Shoki says about what happened next we have one big advantage, we know where this was all going. We have a lot of information about how the early Nara period government was organized and we even have significant numbers of documents like census registers and tax records to show how it actually worked in certain areas. Nihon Shoki, still almost the only source, gives us a series of edicts, but says little about how the edicts were implemented or how things worked after they were. It is possible to gather that there was definitely a trial-and-error element in the process, for some edicts clearly led to nothing and were quickly followed by new edicts covering the same topic. We can divide the process into three stages, with one important extra topic. The stages are the period immediately after 645, then the crisis in Korea that began with T'ang conquest of Paekche in 660 and its consequences for Japan, and then the period after Naka no Oe's younger brother Prince Oama seized the throne in 672. The additional topic is the so-called Jinshin War of 672 that brought Oama to power. This is important because Nihon Shoki describes it in considerable detail, so that we get a chance to see Asuka period society actually working. And, the war was only 48 years before the publication of the book, so many participants were still alive.
Because the story is told as a sequence of government edicts, we cannot say anything about the presumed partnership between Prince Naka no Oe and Nakatomi no Kamako (later renamed Kamatari). One of them was perhaps the man of ideas and the other the worker who made things happen, or they may have shared those roles. We don't know. We do know that the ruling clan was profoundly grateful to Kamako because they elevated his descendants to an unprecedented niche of their own within the aristocracy as the Fujiwara clan, an event that had a profound effect on the evolution of government in Japan over the next several centuries. This future elevation of the Fujiwara alone proves, in my opinion, that Kamako must had had a lot to do with the events of 645 and what happened after.
Two months after the new government was established it issued a series of edicts establishing policy in five major areas. In the first it announced the appointment of governors to "eastern provinces" with orders to establish a census of the entire population regardless of whether they were under the control of the government or of local nobles and also to register the amounts of land they were farming. The men selected as governors were all powerful nobles from the center. The edict included a considerable amount of instruction as to how the governors were to manage their responsibilities. These were not permanent governors as established later, for it is clear that they were to perform their tasks in a few months and then return to the capital. They were also directly instructed not to get involved in criminal investigations and other disputes, but to stick to the task of gathering information about the size and wealth of the population and then return with it. However, it must be obvious that this was merely a first, preparatory step toward the establishment of a regular provincial administration under central control. The edict does not say exactly what was included in the "eastern provinces." These officials actually left the capital about one month later.
The second announcement was of the appointment of officials to the 6 agata of Yamato with the same mandate to take a census and register landholdings. These were the districts of Takechi, Katsuraki, Tochi, Shiki, Yamabe, and So which had long provided revenues directly to the ruling clan. It is thought that they were to be used as test locations for working out the details of local administration.
The third announcement was of the establishment at the palace of a mailbox and a bell. People with complaints were to take them to their superiors, but if their problem was ignored, they were authorized to write out the particulars and drop the document in the box. If even that did not seem to produce a result, they were allowed to ring the bell and an official would come out to speak with them. This was an established Chinese custom.
The fourth item was to regulate the status of children. If a child was born to two free parents, it would be registered with the father's family. However, if one parent were unfree the child would be registered with the unfree parent regardless of whether this was the father or the mother. If two unfree persons belonging to different masters had a child, the child went with the mother. We don't actually know anything about unfree people for this period, but in later times there were many categories. There was a class of hereditary servants who were not slaves and who could not be sold, then there were people who counted as slaves. Some were apparently permanent slaves, probably originating in captives of warfare. In the Nara period criminals could be condemned to slavery for some term of years, and it was permitted for the children of criminals to voluntarily enslave themselves to keep their parent free. People could also fall into slavery through debt. The purpose of this edict would be to establish a person's status for tax assessments. Unfree persons were not taxed directly, but their master was taxed on their behalf.
The last measure in this group was to regulate Buddhist temples. Every temple was required to set up an internal administration on a standard pattern with three officers.
Immediately after this burst of legislation, Nihon Shoki announced that Prince Furuhito and several other named persons plotted rebellion. This became known when Kibi no Kasa no Omi Shitaru voluntarily turned himself in as a co-conspirator. Troops were sent to kill Prince Furuhito and succeeded in doing so. Two of the alleged conspirators were members of the Soga and Aya clans. This type of event occured frequently over the next hundred years and more, and it is impossible to say which were real plots and which were purges of persons seen as inconvenient to have around. I have no doubt that there were cases in both categories. Prince Naka no Oe/Tenchi Tenno had several of these cases during his time. It would naturally not be surprising if there were some among the nobility who tried to organize resistance against his reform schemes, but it is equally possible that he shared Joseph Stalin's way of thinking about inconvenient people.
At the end of the year the palace was moved from Asuka to Naniwa on the Inland Sea. The founders of the Ojin dynasty, Ojin and his son Nintoku had had their palaces at Naniwa, but this was the first time since then. On the first day of the new year, at Naniwa, the government issued the main reform edict, conventionally known in Japan as the "New Years Day Edict." This is the clearest statement of their plan for ruling the country. It is divided into four sections.
Section one proclaims the abolition of all current forms of landholding in favor of a rule that all of the land and all of the people will be controlled by the government directly. Instead of living off of landholdings, the nobility (all of whom would become government officials) would receive salaries. The remainder of the section discusses how this is to be implemented.
Section two says that a comprehensive system of regional and local administration must be set up, including a capital city with its own internal structure and officials plus a system of provinces and districts plus such smaller entities as barriers and outposts with guards, post stations with horses, and so on. It says that this will be first done for the inner provinces only, and clearly describes the zone that is covered.
Section three mandates the preparation of comprehensive census registers and states that this is for the purpose of enacting a system of regular land redistribution of the sort currently in effect in China and Koguryo. The document specifically describes how land will be measured in terms of Chinese units of cho (2.45 acres) and tan (one tenth of a cho), which were used in Japan up to the introduction of the metric system, and specifies a basic tax rate in terms of "sheaves" of rice per cho.
Section 4 abolishes the entire current system of taxes and sets up a simplified one comprising the basic land tax paid in rice, head taxes to be assessed in terms of specific amounts of silk cloth, but which can be paid in whatever local products are suitable so long as the value is the same, and a set of standard labor taxes, which will include the provision of soldiers (fully equipped) and horses, ordinary laborers, and women suitable to work as maids and attendants in the nobles' palaces. Provision was made for people to buy out of the labor taxes at a fixed price.
This was extremely ambitious and it is abundantly obvious that it was not instantly put into effect, but only realized after several painful decades of work. Many think that the edict as presented in Nihon Shoki was only written after all of these arrangements were in fact in force, and thus describes what succeeded, not what was originally intended. However, it was taken directly from the current administrative law codes of China and/or Koguryo. There can be little doubt that the intention was to establish in Japan a version of the system those countries were using. If successful, it would have the effect that a vastly larger proportion of the total wealth produced through farming would pass through the hands of the government than before, allowing the government leeway to affect how it was spent. It was certainly intended that a higher proportion go to state purposes and a smaller proportion go to maintaining aristocratic lifestyles. This would permit a considerable increase in the military power available to protect Japan from the consequences of the troubles that were beginning to envelop Korea.
However, many scholars are troubled by things like the precise definition of the tan (a strip of land 30 tsubo (180 feet) long and 12 tsubo (72 feet) wide) and the cho (10 tan), and the assignment of a very specific land tax rate for them. These are identical to the provisions of the Taiho Code which was completed 50 years later. There is no other example of the use of cho and tan and tsubo for land measure before the "Asuka no Kiyomihara Code" published in 689. The earlier system seems to have depended on multiples of a unit called shiro that was about 30 feet long. There is also the matter of the districts into which provinces are to be divided. The edict says "if the district is made up of 40 villages it is a large district, if it is between 4 and 30 villages it is a middle district, and if 3 villages or less it is a small district." The Taiho code has the same provision except that it recognizes five classes of districts and the sizes are different. Although the contents are different, the layout and wording of the provisions are identical. The common word for district from the Nara period on, kori 郡, is used in the edict, but there are no examples of its use in the original documents that survive from the 7th century. Instead 評 was used. The edict also uses the Nara period names for the district magistrate and assistant magistrate whereas 7th century documents use different names. 郡 for a district and the office titles associated with it are Chinese usages, whereas 評 and its offices come from the Korean kingdoms.
As a result of this it is not believed that the edict as quoted in Nihon Shoki actually describes the provincial administrative system as it existed before the Asuka Kiyomihara Code, but instead gives a later version. If those parts of the edict are not valid, then how do we know that any parts are? The first article relating to the abolition of the ancient modes of landholding could hardly be taken from a Nara period source. The provisions in the fourth article using silk cloth as a unit of value to convert from one type of tax to another is not part of the Taiho Code, which did not permit any conversion of one type of tax into another.
The conservative view is that the authors of Nihon Shoki did not have a complete text of the edict and so filled in missing parts, but that the basic purport of the document, the abolition of existing forms of landholding and taxation and the establishment of a new system on Chinese and Korean models is authentic. This is, after all, what was eventually accomplished, and this is the point where the ancient Japanese say the transition began.
One area of debate is how the initial land distribution system was intended to work. In the Taiho Code there were elaborate rules to account for every individual member of a household who was old enough to be expected to work and specific amounts of land were credited to each one (varying by age, sex, and status) and then added up to get the total allotment for a family. This then determined the final crop tax. The alternate way of doing it was to simply assign standard blocks of land to families without worrying about the details of the composition of the family. Many historians feel that the main thrust of the "New Years Day Edict" was to break the traditional connections between the aristocrats and the farmers and force the aristocrats to become officials living off of salaries and that it would have been too much to simultaneously set out to radicalize the way that individual farming families were dealt with. It would be much more practical to take the farming communities and their households as they existed and keep the new systems relatively simple at that level. In later times attempting to administer the Taiho Code requirements for the census and redistribution cycle turned out to be almost impossibly difficult. Historians find it hard to believe that they would have put such a complex system in the Taiho Code if they had known from actual experience how hard it was to administer. Also, it is widely assumed that it was understood in 646 that such a system could not be imposed simultaneously throughout the country, that it was going to have to be instituted in stages over time, though the edict says nothing about that.
There was nothing in this edict that would necessarily have had a noticeable impact on the daily lives of ordinary farmers except for the taxation rates. It is not known whether the published rates represented an increase or a decrease in the tax burden. If an increased portion of the revenues were going to pass through the capital, then there was going to have to be a significant assessment of labor to handle the transportation. Under the land distribution system the primary responsibility for farming the land and paying the taxes on it was assigned to the family unit. We do not know whether this was a continuation of current practices or something new. The alternate method, which became the norm in feudal Japan, was to make the village the fundamental point of contact between the rulers and the ruled. Each village was assessed a tax and was left alone to divide it up among the families. If something like the "be" system applied to farmers, then Kofun Japan may have been structured similarly and the new system would be a major change.
In the second month of 646 there was a further general edict which covered two topics. It reinforced and amplified the earlier announcement of a national suggestion box and made a point of specifying that anonymous suggestions and complaints would be accepted, and it also indicated that the second topic was a response to complaints that had come through this system. It said that people who had come to the capital on account of being drafted for labor were often not allowed to return home when their term was expired, but were retained by officials and nobles for additional work. It informed the assembled officials that steps had been taken to prevent this.
In the third month the officials that had been sent to the eastern provinces the previous year returned. This was announced in an edict which said that eight officials had been sent out and six of them had performed their duties but two had failed, and were being punished for it. Two weeks later a quite lengthy edict (as reported in Nihon Shoki) went into details and named names. The main problem was that some of the officials took advantage of their position to embezzle tax revenues and extort bribes from the people. They were forced to pay everything back and fined double the amount of the thefts. The fact of their guilt had become known through complaints from the locals. Some local nobles were also guilty of voluntarily offering bribes, but in the spirit of the effort to set up a new system they were all given amnesty. And, in compensation for all of the trouble caused to the people by the construction of the new palace, a general amnesty was also granted. This apparently means that people who fell behind on other taxes because of being forced to labor on the palace were let off. A few days later Prince Naka no Oe submitted a petition to the emperor calling for the abolition of certain customary types of estates held by the nobles, and returned to the Emperor 524 members of an Imbe unit (essentially the staff of a Shinto shrine) and 161 miyake (revenue producing units of various types) that had been his private possessions. That was followed by another edict that attempted to regulate the construction of Kofun and the ceremonies associated with them. Its main thrust was to limit the size and cost and to require their construction on land that could not be farmed. This is the edict described earlier that specified that the tomb of a prince should cost only 7000 man days of labor with lower limits for successive lower classes. Lavish grave goods of the type that fill our museums today were prohibited. There was also a lengthy edict seeking to apply order to marriage customs, an edict seeking to change local customs that had the effect of impeding travellers from moving freely about the country, and further instructions on how the abolition of private holdings was to be implemented.
There must have been many nobles, central and local, who were not pleased by these edicts and the system that they announced, but there are no signs of any significant resistance. There are some indications that the local nobles may have actually welcomed support in keeping the commoners under control. In the autumn of 644 Nihon Shoki reports the outbreak of a popular cult among the people in an area of the Kanto region. A local man preached that a certain insect, evidently a caterpillar of some kind, was the intermediary of a god who, if the caterpillar was properly worshipped, would bring wealth and long life to all without the necessity to work. People stopped working and travelled about in groups singing and drinking and it seems that the local authorities were unable to do anything about it. Normality was not restored until an official from the capital, Hata no Miyatsuko Kawakatsu, went down and arrested and executed the preacher. Events like this usually occurred in times of stress. It has been speculated that this movement was a reaction to the establishment of silk production by immigrants from Korea. Silkworms make these Koreans rich, so this local caterpillar might make us rich, people might think. The Hata clan was intimately connected with the production of silk, and some have wondered whether Hata Kawakatsu was sent out to find out whether the locals had perhaps discovered a worm that could also make usable silk.
The change that has been observed in the number and scale of late period Kofun has convinced most historians that the rural clan chiefs, the kuni no miyatsuko, had lost their quasi-royal status and powers in the course of a trend towards equalization among the rural nobles and this likely meant that the traditional form of local government had lost its effectiveness, so that when the central government began to send out governors it was to some extent filling a vacuum. Rather than suppressing the local nobility it was helping to secure their positions. However, making a transition from support from privately controlled holdings to a salary provided by the government was a major change and it had to cause concern as to how it was going to work out. The stream of edicts of 646 included a specific promise that all nobles whose private landholding were to be abolished would receive appointment to government office and receive official salaries. The subtext, of course, was that everyone who did not receive appointment to government office was by definition a commoner. It included a warning that people who claimed noble status without actually being entitled to it were to be weeded out.
The pace of change slowed in 647. There was an edict directed to try to ensure that elements used in the names of the rulers were not also employed in personal names of nobles and in place names. In China it was frequently the rule that characters used in the writing of the emperor's name and certain other important usages, especially relating to the rites of the state cult in which the emperor participated personally, could not be used for any other purpose. People had to come up with substitute characters. This would appear to be an attempt to apply that rule to Japan. The major development was an expansion and reorganization of the cap rank system. The former twelve ranks were compressed into six, one new rank was added at the bottom, and six new ranks were added at the top, thus incorporating the top nobles in the system for the first time. All the names were completely changed. Then, only two years later it was restructured again. The six compressed ranks were broken out into twelve again, and the names of all but the top six ranks were changed again. No explanations are offered, but it is assumed that the adjustments were a result of a rapid expansion of the size and scope of the bureaucracy which would have increased the complexity of the government. The ranks would obviously be the basis for the determination of salaries, so more ranks meant more different salary grades.
After this reorganization every noble except for princes of the ruling clan was covered in the system. There is a note in Nihon Shoki for the date in 648 when the 647 rank changes were supposed to go into effect, but it says that the ministers continued to use their old caps. This implies that there was a certain amount of dissatisfaction, so the revision and expansion of the number of ranks in 649 must have been a response, to make sure that everyone was comfortable that he was not being lumped in with people he thought belonged beneath him. Another sign of change is the institution in 647 of a system of bells to control attendance. The officials were supposed to present themselves in orderly lines outside the palace by 5 AM. At 5 a bell would be rung and the doors of the offices opened, and after a reasonable amount of time for people to all get inside, the bell would be rung again and the doors closed and anyone who was late would not be admitted. Everyone was supposed to be at his desk and working by 6. The bell would be rung again at the close of the working day which was noon. It was a very ancient custom that really important business at court was to be conducted at or before sunrise and this structure for office hours was long continued.
The amended system of 19 ranks went into effect early in 649 and at that time it was determined that a structure of government departments, offices, and bureaus based on the Chinese system would be put into effect. Takamune no Kuramaro and a Buddhist monk named Bin were to oversee this operation. It is time to summarize what had been accomplished to date. One, the principle centering government on the emperor had been established. The expansion of the rank system to include even the highest officials meant that the emperor now formally controlled the status of all, by granting or withholding promotion in rank, and the nobility would be defined by its status within the system of ranks. Two, it had been established that the government was to be highly centralized with the provinces directly managed from the palace under a uniform bureaucratic system. Three, the principle had been established that all land and the commoners who worked on it were the property of the state. The work to make all of this a functioning reality was still ahead, but the principles were laid down and there was no open opposition to them. Finally, four, it was also established that this new system would be managed and controlled by the exact same block of nobles from (what were to become) Yamato and Kawachi provinces that had been on top of the heap before. A revolution in the structure and effectiveness of the government was being attempted, but there was no effort to revolutionize the membership of the ruling group either nationally or locally. Everyone was to be granted a rank and an office and income suitable to his existing status.
A new Chinese dynasty usually came to power through warfare. The dynastic founder was a successful general with a powerful army at his back. He had a free hand in the design of his new government, but he had to come up with something that would work, or his dynasty would not last long. The successful dynasties always fit in reasonably smoothly with the long-standing expectations of how a proper Chinese government was supposed to operate, so that the amount of freedom of design was actually restricted. The same clearly applied here. No matter what the ambitions of the group in control of the palace, the detail work of ruling the country was going to be performed by the traditional aristocracy. There was no alternative. It would have been possible for essentially the old regime to continue under a set of new names. The challenge for the remainder of the Asuka period was to make sure that that did not happen and that the government really did change, really did become more centralized and more structured so that a greater share of the national resources passed through the hands of the palace, which in turn would have made the nation stronger in a world dominated by China. Of all of the proposed changes, the most important was the land redistribution system. If that were to be put into actual operation, then the government would really capture the entire surplus wealth of the nation into the taxation system and control how it was redistributed and spent. Most of it would go out to the nobles in official salaries, of course, but the remainder could be used for nation-building activities and the salary system itself would put enormous pressure on the nobles to behave themselves. New ministries and new ranks were all very well. It was the detailed administration of the farmers of the countryside which was the key.
It seems appropriate that immediately after all of this work laying out the guidelines for the construction of a new kind of government, traditional Kofun politics intruded themselves. In the third month of 649 the senior minister Abe no Kurahashimaro died. Only seven days later Soga no Himuka secretly accused the Minister of the Right Soga no Ishikawamaro of plotting treason, specifically of planning the assassination of Prince Naka no Oe. Most historians believe that this was not true. Himuka was Ishikawamaro's younger brother and presumably hoped to become the top minister himself. Naka no Oe communicated this information to Kotoku Tenno, who sent officials to interview Ishikawamaro. Ishikawamaro said that he would not talk to intermediaries and demanded an interview with the emperor. Kotoku refused this and ordered troops to arrest Ishikawamaro. Ishikawamaro fled his palace at Naniwa and went to Yamadadera in Yamato where his eldest son was managing the construction of the temple. According to Nihon Shoki the son was all for attempting to raise troops and make a fight of it, but Ishikawamaro refused. He and his entire immediate family committed suicide by hanging. A number of other people associated with him were subsequently executed by the government, and many others were banished. One problem with structuring a government aristocratically is that it is very hard to fire someone. Over the next two hundred and fifty years, I can think of only two cases where a man was removed from a position of power without killing him, and both cases involved men of relatively low status who lacked the private resources to attempt to raise an army and make a fight of it. These were the priest Dokyo in the Nara period and Sugawara no Michizane in the Heian period, both of whom had been plucked from relative obscurity for high office by persons much more powerful than themselves and who fell when that backing was removed. There was no prison system, then or later. The main punishment lesser than death was banishment. This entailed removal to a specific location where the person would live under the supervision of local officials in a form of house arrest. Not a few high status persons were sentenced to banishment over the years, but most of those either died mysteriously while being transported to the place of banishment or soon after arrival. Many lower status persons who were banished eventually escaped and were hidden by their relatives. However, that amounted to a milder form of house arrest. In this case it is natural to suspect that the event was orchestrated by Naka no Oe, who did not want to see a Soga rise to the highest position in the bureaucracy. If Soga no Himuka expected to succeed his brother, he was to be disappointed. Naka no Oe appointed him to an office that required him to move to Kyushu, a popular form of polite banishment in later times (this is what happened to Sugawara no Michizane). Personal relations among the aristocracy had their peculiar side at times. Naka no Oe's principal wife was a daughter of Ishikawamaro and the mother of Jito Tenno, and she is said to have died of grief after the fall of her father.
The final result of this was that there were two vacant positions at the top of the bureaucracy. The new Sadaijin was Kuse no Omi Tokuta and the new Udaijin was Otomo no Muraji Nakatoko. These had both been in the 6th rank of the new system and were now promoted to the 5th rank. Kuse had been an active member of the government since 645 and Otomo was the head of a major clan. Both Abe no Kurahashimaro and Soga no Ishikawamaro had refused to wear the new badges of rank and had continued to wear their old ministers' caps. These were the first ministers to rise under the new rank system. The implication of their new ranks was that the top four ranks in the new system were all empty at the time. The next year, 650, saw a change of reign title from Taika to Hakuchi. This was perhaps intended as a signal that the main effort of reform was complete and now began the work of consolidating the new system. The name came from a report of the sighting and capture of a white pheasant, considered an auspicious omen. The change was accompanied by considerable ceremony. The province (at the western end of Honshu) that had presented the bird was given a three year tax holiday and the hunting of pheasants in that province was banned. To judge from Nihon Shoki there had always been a lot of ceremonial associated with being ruler, but it had been conducted for the most part in seclusion. Now we find the government frequently assembling all of the officials for big ceremonials in the open air. It is not clear at this stage whether commoners were permitted to view these, but it certainly became routine in the Nara and Heian periods that many of the ceremonials surrounding the ruling family were conducted in such a way as to permit the people to line the streets and watch processions and the like. This is all a part of moving the government and the emperor into a more prominent part in the life of the nation.
In 651 the government moved from the palace it had been occupying for six years at Okori to a new one, also in Naniwa, called Nagara no Toyosaki palace. According to Nihon Shoki the construction of this palace had involved the destruction of a large number of kofun and the displacement of many farmers, who were all compensated. The implication was that it was quite a large construction. Work continued even after the government moved in and it was not completed for another year and a half. Nihon Shoki says that it surpassed in magnificence any previous construction in the country. The site of the palace has been discovered and excavated archaeologically. It is right next to the site of Osaka Castle, the area of modern Osaka that is the highest above sea level.
In 651 a party of envoys from Silla arrived in Kyushu wearing T'ang dynasty Chinese clothing instead of traditional Korean attire. This caused the government to conclude that Silla had, without consulting Japan, concluded an alliance with China, and the embassy was rejected. Silla had changed the official costume at court to the Chinese style in 649. Two years later, in 653 the Japanese sent an embassy to China consisting of two ships and 242 persons, and followed this by a second one in 654 headed by Takamune Kuromaro and Abe no Omi Maro. The Old T'ang History (there is also a New T'ang History) mentions the second of these. Takamune must have been very old by then and he died while in China. One of the two ships of the 653 embassy carrying 121 persons was wrecked with only 5 survivors.
For the first month of 652 Nihon Shoki has a very brief announcement that a land redistribution was conducted during the course of the month and there is a note for the fourth month of the same year that census registers were prepared. Few details are given. The first item is a little odd. It says "from the first month to this month the land distribution was completed." Normally the census comes first so that you know how many families there are to distribute land to. The Taiho code called for a census and redistribution cycle of six years. It has been speculated that these items mark the completion of a redistribution effort that was begun six years earlier in 646, then the start of work on the census for the next cycle three months afterward. It has been also proposed that what happened was a relatively small trial project on lands already under direct control, the six Agata of Yamato and possibly the lands of imperial miyake. Given the very lengthy preparations for the first certain land distribution much later, most historians find it difficult to believe that a nationwide distribution was conducted at this time. The Hitachi fudoki says that Kashima district in the province was first established in 649 and Shinoda, Namekata, and Iwaki districts were created in 663. It looks like the government was still working on putting together a framework for rural administration, and that conducting censuses and distributions was a long way in the future.
In 653 there was a public disagreement between Kotoku Tenno and Prince Naka no Oe. Naka no Oe proposed moving the palace back to Yamato province and the emperor refused. So, Naka no Oe left anyway and was accompanied by his mother, the former Kogyoku Tenno and the current Empress (Naka no Oe's sister) and her children. No explanation is offered. Nor is any date given, except for the year. In the 10th month of the following year the emperor fell ill and everyone returned to Naniwa and were present when he died shortly after. The speculation is that Naka no Oe had begun to think that the efforts to put the emperor at the center of the government had been too successful and his own position was weakening, so that by proposing a move when they had just settled into their new and very expensive palace at Nagara he had found something that the emperor was almost certain to reject. Then, by leaving in a huff and moving to Yamato he forced everyone to make up their mind who was the real power in the government. Almost everyone of importance followed him to Yamato.
There is a modern theory that the real cause of the dispute was that Naka no Oe was sleeping with his sister, the Empress. Nihon Shoki quotes a poem the emperor sent to the empress which can be interpreted as hinting at this. This theory also says that such a thing would explain why Naka no Oe resisted being elevated to the throne for 23 years. As emperor he would have essentially no privacy and no freedom of movement and could not have maintained a secret relationship. Moreover, it is argued that after the death of Kotoku Tenno Naka no Oe openly treated his sister as his wife. Marriages that we would consider incestuous were common among the aristocracy, but there were definite rules and this marriage violated them, if it existed. There are precedents to the effect that people would think Naka no Oe was ritually polluted so that he could not ascend the throne while this relationship lasted. He became emperor (668) only after the death of his sister.
Kotoku Tenno had one son, Prince Arima. He was 15 at the time of Kotoku's death. Under the circumstances one would think it automatic that Naka no Oe would take the throne at this time. However, he did not. Instead his mother assumed the throne a second time, this time known as Saimei Tenno. Nihon Shoki offers not one word in explanation. There was a considerable risk involved in that by not immediately taking the throne himself he was leaving open the possibility that circumstance might yet give it to Prince Arima. This has been taken to support the theory that Naka no Oe was unable to take the throne at this time because of his personal life.
The deceased emperor was buried only two months after his death and the court moved to Yamato the same day, settling in Itabuki Palace at Asuka. This was where Saimei had lived at the time of the assassination of Soga no Iruka and her abdication. She was now 62 years of age. It was approximately at this point that Naka no Oe's younger brother Prince Oama began to take a role in affairs at the age of 25. Naka no Oe's son Prince Otomo was 8 and his daughter Princess Uno no Sarara, eventually Empress to Oama and Jito Tenno after his death, was 11. Itabuki Palace was intended as a temporary home while a new one was constructed that was to be bigger and fancier than the palace at Naniwa. The Itabuki Palace burned down late in 655 and they moved to Yahara Palace.
The court now embarked on a series of large construction projects, and Nihon Shoki records popular complaints about the extravagance and expense of the work. According to Nihon Shoki, in the 9th month of 657 Prince Arima began laying the groundwork for rebellion. It is alleged that he praised the benefit of visiting a certain hot spring to Saimei Tenno in order to get her to leave the capital to visit it, so that he could stage a takeover while she was out of the way. The Empress did go to visit the hot spring about one year later, leaving Soga no Omi no Akae in charge at Asuka. Akae allegedly approached Prince Arima with a set of complaints about the rule of Saimei. The first was that the government was extracting too much in taxes from the people, the second is that it was drafting too many people for work on canals, and the third was she was wasting resources on hauling great stones up a hill (to construct a flower viewing platform high on a mountain outside Asuka). They retired to Atae's house to plot rebellion. However, an armrest spontaneously broke while they were talking and they recognized it as a bad omen and broke up. Atae immediately armed a group of men who were working on construction of the new palace and surrounded Arima's palace and sent off messengers to the court informing them that Prince Arima had spoken treason. Nihon Shoki then quotes "another book" that gives a more detailed and plausible account of a discussion among several conspirators ending in most of the participants concluding that Prince Arima was not competent to pull off a successful coup d'etat. In the end Prince Arima and two others were executed and two additional men were exiled. Soga no Atae was a man who was very much in the confidence of Naka no Oe. After all, he was left in charge of the capital while the royal family was away. He also had a daughter who was married to Naka no Oe. It therefore is plausible that Soga no Atae deliberately set Prince Arima up for a fall on orders from Naka no Oe, who had amply made it plain that he regarded anyone with a claim to the succession as a threat. When questioned, Prince Arima is quoted as saying "Heaven and Akae know what happened. I am completely ignorant." This story is referenced in a number of surviving poems, two attributed to the prince before his execution, and it appears that there was a lot of sympathy for Prince Arima among the nobility.
658 was also the occasion for military activity on the eastern frontier. The word used for the eastern barbarians 蝦夷 has normally been pronounced Ezo since the Tokugawa period. Ezo was also the common name for the island of Hokkaido at that time. However, it is well understood that in ancient times the word was pronounced Emishi. It is the same word as the personal name of Soga no Emishi. The first mention of a military expedition against Emishi in Nihon Shoki is assigned to the reign of Keiko Tenno, one of the presumed imaginary rulers between Jimmu and Sujin. There are stories about such expeditions in tales about Takeuchi no Sukune, Yamato Takeru no Mikoto and Prince Mimorowake. There are also references to tribute paid by Emishi in the articles on Ojin, Nintoku, Yuryaku and Seinei in the fourth and fifth centuries. Modern historians do not have much confidence in any of this material. Kojiki has not been much mentioned in my observations because it contains very little material that is intended as substantive history, but it is believed to be more authentically based on ancient traditions than Nihon Shoki. It was not a government project, but had a single author. Emishi are not named as a people even once in Kojiki. The famous letter submitted to the Chinese as part of the 478 embassy says that the Japanese ruler had conquered 55 countries of 毛人, literally "hairy people," in the east and in the west 66 countries of 衆夷. There is a book about Shotoku Taishi that uses 毛人 to write the name of Soga no Emishi, so it is likely that that is what was intended. 毛人 itself is a common Chinese word for barbarians.
All in all, it seems that the uncontrolled peoples living in the far east of Japan only became a matter of concern in the latter part of the 6th century. In 589 Omi no Omi Matsu had been sent out along the Tosando route to inspect the frontier with the Emishi. Some historians reject this notice but most accept it as authentic. Other officials were simultaneously sent out to inspect the east along the Hokurikudo and Tokaido routes. However, the next mention of any note does not occur for another half century until 642 when "several thousand" Emishi of the Koshi region (the Hokurikudo) "submitted" to the court. The leaders of these people came to the court, where they were entertained at the mansion of Soga no Emishi. In 645 after the coup the special governors were sent out to inspect conditions in the east, and in 647 a fort was constructed at a place called Nutari. The character used implies a wooden stockade type fort. In the next year a second fort was built at Iwafune. People were then relocated from more internal areas to grow food for the forts and provide other services who were referred to as kinobe or "fortress" be. No trace of the Nutari fort has been found, but there is a neighborhood with that name in the city of Niigata. Iwafune is a modern placename also. It is located at a favorable site with a harbor and farmland nearby, about 20 kilometers up the coast from Niigata.
There has been much discussion over the years as to whether the Emishi were Ainu or whether they were ethnically Japanese and merely beyond the control of the Yamato state. Up to the 1920's it was pretty much assumed that they were Ainu, not least because of the use of 蝦夷 to write Ezo (in older books often romanized as Yezo). Then, there was the belief that the Japanese people came to the country with Yayoi culture and that the Jomon culture belonged to a different race of people, and the obvious candidates for the surviving remnants of the Jomon people were the Ainu. The Ainu have conspicuously more body hair than Japanese do, so the use of 毛人 seemed significant also. However, people began to develop doubts. There is no question that Ezo meant Ainu, but that does not mean that Emishi meant Ainu. Japanese are quite used to the portability of Chinese characters and the fact that they can be used for different Japanese words at different times and places. Anthropological studies of Jomon human remains have consistently failed to find any close correlation with modern Ainu physical types. Even if the Emishi were Jomon survivors, they do not appear to have been Ainu from that point of view. However, this does not preclude the possibility that the Emishi were contributors to the current Ainu population along with others from elsewhere. Modern archaeologists have found signs that there have been several movements into Hokkaido of peoples from Siberia over the centuries. The Chinese term 毛人 does not appear to have been originally applied to people who were naturally hairy, but to people who wore clothing made from furs, so it does not necessarily mean anything in the context of this argument. The archaeology of the Kofun period finds numerous kofun in areas which in historical times were disputed with the Emishi. Nor is there any archaeological evidence for the period of conflict to show the presence of a distinctive people in the area. The mummies of four successive generations of the Mutsu Fujiwara family are preserved at Chusonji in Hiraizumi and they were examined in 1951 and found to resemble Japanese and not Ainu. This family is widely thought to have been of Emishi descent. The overall conclusion has to be that there is no real evidence of a connection between the Ainu and the Jomon population because there is no chain of connection between them. The earliest undoubted Ainu remains in Hokkaido are comparatively recent. However, that does nothing to settle the question as to whether the Emishi were Jomon survivors. There we can observe that archeologists believe that there is very good evidence that as the Yayoi rice farming culture spread into the north east the number of immigrants became smaller and many Jomon people "converted" to the new way of life. The point furthest north reached by Yayoi rice farming was well inside the "Emishi" zone and the same is true of Kofun remains. There are still supporters of the other hypotheses, but I believe that most modern historians think that what made Emishi Emishi was the fact that they were outside the political culture of the Yamato state, not that they were linguistically or culturally all that different from the eastern "Japanese" on the other side of the frontier. I note that there is never any mention of anyone attempting to learn an "Emishi language," whereas there are several mentions in the context of preparations for war against Silla of people being put to the task of studying the "Silla language."
My question, which I have never seen an answer to, is why was Soga no Emishi named that? It is especially interesting that when a party of Emishi arrived at court in 642 he was assigned to look after them. There has to be some connection. It seems unlikely that a person of his status would have ever spent significant time in the east where he could become associated with Emishi, but it does appear that in the 6th century numbers of Emishi were brought to the Yamato area and employed as guards for properties belonging to the ruling clan. The Soga may well have had a role in managing this and he might have come to be particularly associated with Emishi as a result. The name an adult aristocrat used was never the name he used as a child. Like American Indians you received a new name when you became an adult, and it might be a name that seemed especially appropriate for you. There were a lot of rather odd names in the 6th and 7th centuries, of which Emishi is certainly one of the oddest.
The expedition of 658 was under the command of Abe no Hirau and it was repeated in 659 and 660. The descriptions are confused. There is speculation that the authors of Nihon Shoki got confused and there were actually fewer expeditions, most likely two.
The quick summary is that in 658 Abe went north with 180 boats and reached Akita and Nushiro (modern Akita and Noshiro, probably). There he met three different groups of Emishi, got them to swear oaths of loyalty, appointed them to offices of local government and came home. Then in 659 he went north again with 180 boats to the same location. He met with various groups some of whom told him he should pick a certain spot for a capital and did so. Again he distributed titles and offices and came home. In 660 things are different. At the top Nihon Shoki says that he attacked the land of Su-shen 粛慎. The detail says he sailed north to an unnamed river where he found 1000 Emishi who were fleeing from 20 ships of Su-shen. Abe tried to talk with the Su-shen without success, then he went through a process that clearly mystifies the authors of Nihon Shoki but will be instantly recognizable to anyone who has ever taken an anthropology class, and eventually followed the Su-shen to a fortified camp where he fought them and destroyed them.
There has been an enormous amount of academic quarreling about all of this, covering the obvious topics, where were all the place ames located, were there really 3 trips or is the 659 trip a mistaken repeat of the 658 trip, and who were the Su-shen.
The geographical fight is mainly about whether Abe made it all the way to Hokkaido or not. The 658 notice says that Abe proceeded in 180 boats to Akita and Nushiro. Akita is already very far north compared to Notari and Iwafune. Akita became a major base for the army in the Nara period wars in this region. Nushiro is probably modern Noshiro, not very far north of Akita, but on the other side of a significant peninsula. At Akita Abe met with numbers of local Emishi who assembled and who pledged loyalty to the court in the name of the god of place. There is today an ancient shrine on the site of Akita Castle called Koshio Jinja, "the shrine of the god of Koshi." Abe awarded the Emishi leaders official ranks and appointed them as district magistrates. "Then" Nihon Shoki says, he summoned another group of Emishi from Watarinoshima to meet him at a place called Arima beach, where they also promised loyalty, whereupon he sent them home. Then he returned. The question is, where was Watarinoshima ("the island you cross to")? For a long time it has been assumed that it refers to southern Hokkaido, but there is no evidence for that. Many historians think it unlikely that Abe could have gone so far on these expeditions and argue that it had to be further south, perhaps the Tsugaru Peninsula on the northern end of Honshu, an area which in ancient times might as well have been an island because the only way to get there was by boat, as it was separated from the rest of Honshu by a wide belt of essentially uninhabited mountains. Even that may be too far, because archaeologically the Tsugaru area is considered more closely involved with Hokkaido than with the Emishi further south in Honshu. The only real clue is that the Nihon Shoki article says nothing about any further voyage from Akita but simply that he summoned the Emishi of Watarinoshima to meet him.
The expedition of 660 is harder to deal with. First of all Su-shen 粛慎 is a name from ancient Chinese history, dating back to the Chou dynasty. The Chinese sometimes also used the name for a Manchurian people who lived closer to the time we are concerned with who are otherwise called Yilou and who are believed to be ancestral to the Jurchen who created the Liao dynasty after the fall of the T'ang. This means that they were a people not unlike the Puyo hypothetical ancestors of the Japanese and living in the same part of Manchuria. How they would get to paddling boats around Hokkaido is not immediately obvious. One theory is that the Japanese just plucked a name out of a Chinese book. The characters were evidently pronounced Mishihase by the Japanese, but we have no referents for that word at all. Japan at this time had good connections with Koguryo, which certainly must have known a great deal about all Manchurian peoples. Perhaps they knew more than we do about it. Or, it has been suggested that because the ancient Su-shen were located north-east of China and these people were located north-east of Japan Su-shen was thought an appropriate name to use for them. Many archaeologists are inclined to regard this as an encounter with Okhotsk people who are known to have spread into parts of Hokkaido from Siberia, and could very easily have sent parties exploring southward to Honshu. The most interesting thing about this is that the article clearly describes a type of blind trading that has been practiced in many parts of the world where people were wary of slavers and/or could not speak each others' languages. One party spreads out a variety of goods on the ground and leaves. The second party appears and examines the items and lays out what they offer in trade. This goes back and forth until both sides are satisfied. Then each group takes what it bought and its own unsold items and leaves and no one had to get close to anyone on the other side. It is perfectly described except that the authors of Nihon Shoki had no idea that trade was taking place. Then it says that Abe followed them to their camp, attacked them, and killed them all. No reason is given for this. This entire episode is mysterious and it must have been more complicated than the presentation in Nihon Shoki. However, this is the beginning of a long involvement by the Japanese government in the far north-east of Honshu, where there was an "active" frontier for the next 200 years.
The Fall of Paekche[edit | edit source]
Simultaneously with the 660 expedition of Abe no Hirao, Japan became caught up in the destruction of Paekche at the hands of the combined forces of T'ang China and Silla. This began a tumultuous period in the area that ultimately led to the unification of Korea under the rule of Silla. There are detailed accounts of these events in the old and new T'ang dynastic histories, the Korean Samguk Sagi, and Nihon Shoki, which includes extensive quotations from otherwise unknown Korean materials. Japan sent armies to Korea to attempt to save Paekche and for a long time after lived in fear of invasion from China or Silla or both. Japan also maintained at the court a King of Paekche in exile into at least the early Nara period and late in the Heian period there was still active a noble family named 百済王 "King of Paekche" pronounced Kudaranokonikishi by combining the Japanese name for Paekche with the Korean word for king.
It has already been mentioned that in 649 Silla changed the official costumes at court to match Chinese styles, and in 650 it began to use the reign titles of the T'ang dynasty as its own. In 654 Kim Muryol became King of Silla. He had earlier personally visited both Japan and China with Silla embassies. The two previous Silla rulers had been queens, so his position had perhaps been not so dissimilar to that of Prince Naka no Oe. From the way things went, it is reasonably clear that both China and Silla hoped from the beginning to use the other to destroy its nearer enemies Paekche and Koguryo and then emerge in control of Korea. Paekche and Koguryo responded by allying with each other, and in 659 they launched an offensive against Silla that captured 20 fortresses. Silla requested help from China and China was happy to respond. In 660 a force was dispatched commanded by a Chinese general with a son of King Muryol who happened to be in China at the time as second in command. The force consisted of 130,000 soldiers and crossed to Korea by sea. This was just about exactly the same time as Abe no Hirao's battle against the "Su-shen." Taken by surprise, the Paekche army collapsed. The Chinese advancing from the coast on the west and a Silla army coming from the east combined at the Paekche capital, which quickly surrendered. In only a few weeks Paekche had been destroyed, or so it seemed. The King and a large number of nobles were shipped off to China as prisoners and Paekche was organized as Chinese territory. The bulk of the Chinese army immediately returned, leaving a force of 10,000 men supported by another 8,000 Silla troops at the former Paekche capital. However, nothing had really been done to secure the countryside, and rebel forces immediately appeared in many locations, even before the Chinese army had completed its withdrawal.
The account of this rebellion in Nihon Shoki is more than a little confusing at points. The most powerful early rebel was a man known as 鬼室福信 who, it is said, attacked a Silla force by leading peasants armed with agricultural tools and defeated them and took their weapons. He had apparently been a Paekche official. He was based northwest of the Paekche capital. At about the same time people from Paekche arrived at the Japanese court and reported what happened. A month later emissaries from 鬼室福信 and another leading rebel commander 佘自進 came to Japan and asked for help. A Paekche prince was living at the Japanese court and they intended to make him king and restore Paekche. Involving themselves in this was obviously risky, but doing nothing was also risky. At the end of the year the court made its intentions clear as Saimei and the court moved to Naniwa and began preparations to move the entire court to northern Kyushu, from where they would direct the coming war. Two weeks after arriving at Naniwa they set sail for Kyushu, in the first month of 661. Three days later they reached Kibi, where it became clear how comprehensive the move was because a wife of Prince Oama gave birth to a baby girl. A number of other royal babies were born during the course of this expedition. They reached the area of modern Matsuyama in western Shikoku in eight days and camped there for a while. Two months later they completed the transfer to Kyushu, arriving at Hakata Bay. They set up a temporary palace at that point but two months later moved it inland to a safer spot. Illness broke out among the troops and spread, and in the 7th month of 661 Saimei Tenno died. Local tradition blamed her death on the fact that the lumber for the temporary palace was obtained by demolishing a nearby shrine.
Prince Naka no Oe continued preparations for a military expedition and made no move to assume the position of emperor. Properly speaking there was now an interregnum, however, it has been routine to start counting the years of the reign of Tenchi Tenno from 662. The first detachment set sail for Korea in the first month of 662 under the command of Azumi no Muraji Hirau. He was accompanied by the Paekche prince, Yamabe no Omi Momoe, Sai no Muraji Ajimasa, Hata no Miyatsuko Takutsu and 5,000 men. They linked up with the Koreans under 鬼室福信 in the fifth month, and delivered to them 100,000 arrows and other military supplies. Meanwhile the Chinese appointed a new commander and Silla also sent additional troops into Paekche. Fighting became widespread. The Korean rebels captured several fortresses including the former capital. By the end of 662 the rebels controlled a large part of Paekche. In early 663 Silla launched a major offensive and the rebels had to retreat, but in the 4th month a second Japanese army arrived with 27,000 men. The commander was Kamitsukenu no kimi Wakako. This name means that he was from the Kanto region of eastern Japan and of the kuninomiyatsuko class. He was accompanied by Hashihito no Omi Ofuta, Kose no Kamisaki no Omi Osa, Miwa no Kimi Nemaro, Abe no Hikita no Omi Hirao, and Oyake no Omi Kamae. With this reinforcement, the rebels once again gained the upper hand. This meant that the Japanese had a total of 32,000 men in Korea and the force was clearly nationwide in composition. Just from the names mentioned in Nihon Shoki it is possible to say there there were troops from almost every province in Kyushu and Shikoku and from many other places extending off to the far eastern frontier zone. It is thought that the Abe no Omi Hirao with the second army is the same man who commanded the northern expeditions. At almost exactly the same time as this event, the original Chinese commander of the conquest of Paekche returned with 7,000 men.
Just at this point the rebellion suffered a nearly fatal blow due to dissension among the Korean leaders. The Paekche Prince 豊璋 accused 鬼室福信 of plotting treason and killed him. In the 7th month of 663 both China and Silla planned to send large reinforcements which were to meet on the Korean coast and campaign together. At the same time the Japanese sent off a third force which was intended to land on the coast at exactly the same point chosen by the Chinese. This move was supposed to be coordinated with an attack by Prince 豊璋. It is not clear whether the Japanese troops involved were a new force or a detachment from the 27,000 under Kamitsukenu no Kimi no Wakako. There were 10,000 men under the command of Iohara no Kimi. The Chinese and Silla expeditions made contact on the 17th day of the 8th month of 663. The Chinese fleet consisted of 170 ships. The Japanese force under Iohara no Kimi arrived 10 days later and engaged the Chinese in a battle that lasted two days. The Japanese call this the battle of Hakusuki no E or Hakusuki Bay. The Samguk Sagi account says that the Japanese had "1000 ships," presumably an exaggeration. The Japanese force was defeated and essentially completely destroyed. On the second day it appears that the Japanese staked everything on an assault against the Chinese center and were enveloped by the Chinese wings and surrounded. The Old T'ang History says that there were four separate fights and in the end 400 Japanese ships were sunk and their crews drowned. Upon the conclusion of this battle Prince 豊璋 who was present with his army on the shore abandoned the struggle and fled to Koguryo. The Japanese were able to evacuate their other armies safely, accompanied by large numbers of Paekche refugees.
This was not actually the end of the story for Paekche. Later the Chinese shifted most of their forces to an attack on Koguryo and Paekche burst into rebellion again behind them. This time Silla decided to take advantage of the rebellion and allied with the rebels and also rebels in Koguryo against China and succeeded in expelling the Chinese from the country. Afterward they made a member of the former Paekche ruling family governor of the region under the unified kingdom of Silla.
Naturally, Naka no Oe had to consider the possibility that the Chinese and or Silla forces would attack Japan either immediately or at some future time. However, he also had to be concerned about whether the disaster would weaken his control over the country. It is not clear, but it appears that he returned to Yamato sometime before the end of 663, having made what arrangements he could for the defense of Kyushu against an attack. The fact that at this time he did nothing about ascending the throne is usually taken as the most powerful argument in favor of the proposition that he had undertaken what amounted to an incestuous marriage with his sister Princess Hashihito. There is an account in Nihon Shoki that after the death of Ingyo Tenno the nobles refused to enthrone his heir for exactly the same reason and chose his younger brother instead. The implication is that Naka no Oe did not dare to try it. This time he simply left the throne empty, having no suitable seat-warmer available. This, however, certainly increased the risk that someone might be able to move against him. His main advantage at this time was that because he had already disposed of Prince Furuhito and Prince Arima the only possible alternative as successor to the throne was his own brother Prince Oama, and in this era the brothers gave every appearance of being close allies. Naka no Oe married two of his daughters to Oama. They were Princess Ota and Princess Uno no Sarara. Uno no Sarara was born in 645 and was married to Oama in 657 at the age of 13 (Japanese count). Prince Oama is thought to have been 27 at that time. Ultimately, Oama married four of Naka no Oe's daughters, the last two after he had become emperor.
There is one additional note on imperial/aristocratic sex lives that might be mentioned here. The first collection of Japanese poetry, Manyoshu, contains 3 long poems and 9 short ones by a Princess Nukata. Some of those poems make it clear that she was married to Naka no Oe/Tenchi Tenno. However, she is not listed in Nihon Shoki. Inspection of the lists of emperors' wives shows that with rare exceptions the only wives listed are ones that gave birth to princes or princesses. A relationship that produced no children was not counted as a real marriage, a state of affairs that continued to one degree or another into the 20th century. Princess Nukata does get listed in Nihon Shoki in the article on Temmu Tenno. It first lists his empress and all wives who were princesses, then all wives who were daughters of nobles, and then it mentions Princess Nukata simply as a woman with whom he had a child. This child, Princess Tochi, later married Tenchi Tenno's son Prince Otomo. By our standards the family relationships of these people were highly incestuous as a matter of routine. The only thing that made the (inferred) liaison between Prince Naka no Oe and Princess Hashihito tabu was that their mother was the same. Marriages among people with the same father but different mothers were common. People have managed to winkle out quite a lot of information about Princess Nukata and her circle, illustrating that with the spread of literacy among the aristocracy and the appearance of books of a literary character, our opportunities to find out things about how people led their lives increase.
In 658 the Sadaijin Kose no Tokuta died and was not replaced. It is believed that Prince Oama functioned in this position without taking the title, since as of this time there was no precedent for a prince taking one of the minister titles. This was presumably the reason for the subsequent creation of a new office, higher than Sadaijin, called Dajodaijin or Omatsurigoto no Maestukimi, often translated "chancellor". Until well into the Nara period this office was, if not vacant, always filled by a prince. It was essentially the importation into the bureaucracy of the "crown prince" position. Then, in 664 the Udaijin Soga no Murajiko died and he was not replaced. This left Prince Naka no Oe and Prince Oama alone at the top of the government. A series of edicts issued under the name of Prince Oama made it clear that in the current crisis it was necessary to back off on some of the reforms and make adjustments to keep the support of the higher aristocracy. First, the 19 rank system established in 649 was replaced by a new system that had 26 grades. Comparing them, it is clear that the top six ranks were left alone, but the next thirteen were expanded to twenty. It appears that it was necessary to increase the number of people receiving official appointments considerably if all of the nobles were to be accommodated. There are some that think that this change was actually made in 671. There is a very short notice in Nihon Shoki of a change in the rank system ordered by Prince Oama for that year. The question arises because of the possibility of confusion as to what "the third year of the reign of Tenchi Tenno" means. If counted from 662 it is 664, but if counted from 668 (when he was enthroned) it would be 671. If the change was in 671 then it would not be linked to the time of crisis. It is possible that there were two adjustments to the system and the relationship between the dates was just a coincidence.
A second edict issued in 664 made changes to the clan system. A formal title of ujinokami or clan chief was created. In the case of a "great clan" the chief was presented with a tachi "great sword" and in the cae of a "small" clan he was presented with a katana "small sword". Tomonomiyatsuko "etc" were presented with a shield or a bow and arrows. These categories, assuming that the "etc" allows room for the kuninomiyatsuko class, covered the upper half of the aristocracy only, distinguishing them from the others. Also, the separate recognition of "great clans" and "small clans" was a first. It is believed that by formally recognizing the clan structure, Naka no Oe was assuring the aristocracy that their special status was not going to be swept away by bureaucratization.
The last item that came out at this time was the recognition of "kakibe" and "yakabe." These were categories of private estates that had been formally abolished by the New Year's Day Edict of 646. Looking ahead a little bit, the nobility were never actually included in the land redistribution system of the Nara period. They were not included in the census registers and they paid no taxes (actually the very lowest ranks had to pay some taxes since only the actual office holder was exempt, not his entire family). The lower ranking officials received salaries in the form of bales of rice and bolts of cloth, which they could trade for other things they needed. The higher officials received similar salaries, but also two varieties of "office lands." In the case of moderately high officials these assignments amounted to the direct payment to them of the taxes collected from a block of farmland, including, one assumes, the labor tax. The very highest officials also received large amounts of land which they managed as private property. Because high rank was hereditary, they kept these lands generation after generation. Some families were in fact given special permission to keep the largest allotment of such lands they had ever earned through an official appointment, so that even if a son did not reach the same rank as his father, he would get to keep the family office land. In the light of these practices, recognizing that certain blocks of land would be permanently assigned to support the higher nobility was not necessarily an abandonment of the system. However, announcing it at this time was surely intended to assure the nobles that the new system was not intended to harm them. It has been noted that the recognition of these lands at this time implies that they had not actually been confiscated after 646. The development of the new system of government took a long time to accomplish.
There was also at this time a considerable amount of military activity. Large numbers of Koreans of all classes had fled to Japan in 663, and there are numerous references to their settlement in various parts of the country, and also efforts to classify the nobles among them to determine how to fit them into the Japanese aristocracy. Many of the Korean nobles were set to work to construct fortifications in the areas they were sent to, especially in northern Kyushu, and on the islands of Iki and Tsushima off the Kyushu coast. Japanese troops from other parts of the country called Sakamori "coast guards" were assigned as part of the labor tax to go to the west for a term of duty to man the frontier fortifications. There are lots of poems about the trials and tribulations of Sakamori and their families left at home. Other conscripts were ordered to man a chain of signal fires extending from Kyushu to the capital so that the government could be rapidly informed if an invasion were to occur. In the Nara period the Sakamori were all recruited in the eastern provinces near the Emishi frontier on the ground that those people all had military experience and skills. It is probable that that was true in 664 as well. The native western troops were probably intended to serve as the field army while the Sakamori guarded important spots. In the Nara period the men assigned to the signal stations were all locals, and that was probably true at this time also.
That was the first line of defense. A second line was established in the form of large scale fortifications in the area of Dazaifu, which served for centuries as the Kyushu defense headquarters. Dazaifu is located well away from the coast about 15 kilometers south of Fukuoka in a mountainous area that is easy to defend. Many of the fortifications are still visible today. One of the constructions was a so-called "water castle." The center of this is a long earthwork that is still 14 meters high and over 1 kilometer long. It was apparently structured so that a reservoir of water kept full by the Mikasa River could be used to flood the area just below the wall at need. This would block the advance of an army coming from the coast toward Dazaifu. The northern end reaches a substantial hill some 410 meters high on top of which a large stone fortress was constructed in 665. Behind these is the ancient and modern town of Dazaifu. Another fortress was constructed about 10 kilometers south to cover a gap in the mountains though which an army could try to flank the main defenses. The garrisons of these two castles were Koreans, who probably also directed the construction. They look exactly like contemporary Korean hilltop fortresses. Korea is very mountainous and all Korean wars seem to revolve around hilltop fortresses. The length of the wall of the Dazaifu fortress is about 5 kilometers, so it would need a large garrison. It is large enough that the entire population of Dazaifu could take refuge inside. Another fortress was constructed in 665 at the western end of Honshu, also under Korean leadership. Its location is not known, but it is assumed to have been somewhere near Shimonoseki, always the military key point in that area.
As early as the 5th month of 664 the Chinese commander in Paekche sent an embassy to Japan. They stayed for 7 months. Nihon Shoki says nothing about what was discussed. In the 9th month of 665 a second embassy arrived directly from China, bringing with it the ambassador from the first one. Clearly the Chinese were serious. Based on what happened one must assume that the Chinese had a lot on their plates (they still needed to complete the destruction of Koguryo, which had given them enormous trouble over the years), and the last thing that they wanted was a long war with Japan. There is a note in Nihon Shoki for the month after the arrival of the embassy that there was a "great military review" at Uji, presumably to impress the Chinese. This embassy stayed 3 months. In the same year Japan sent its own embassy to China. Interestingly, the ambassador was one of the officials who was banished as part of the Prince Arima incident. In the end neither China nor Silla attacked Japan (though Silla planned one attack that never materialized), though the Japanese never really relaxed the effort to maintain strong defenses in the west for at least another hundred years. Fortresses were built on Tsushima, in Sanuki in western Shikoku, and at Naniwa at the eastern end of the Inland Sea and on the border between Kawachi and Yamato. The fort on Tsushima still survives, and the one in Sanuki became a key point in the Genpei War more than 500 years later.
In 665 in the middle of this effort empress Hashihito died. This presumably cleared the way for Naka no Oe to assume the throne, but he continued to delay for another three years. Saimei Tenno and empress Hashihito were buried in 667 in the same tomb. It is not understood why this took so long as it is thought that Saimei's tomb had been completed long before. It may have been substantially reconstructed so as to provide accomodation for Hashihito's remains also. One month after the funeral, Naka no Oe transferred his palace to Otsu on Lake Biwa, far to the east of any previous location. Nihon Shoki says that this was unpopular with the common people and there were demonstrations against it and satirical songs. It doesn't say why. A much later poem makes reference to the issue and implies that the real opposition was from the officials who were going to have to move to what they thought of as the uttermost boondocks. I think it is fair to say that all future moves down to the final move to Heiankyo (Kyoto) caused similar resentment, with the exception of moves that abandoned one of the experimental locations to return to a previous one where buildings were already in place. By now it was not simply the ruler's household that moved, but large numbers of officials of high and low rank, all of whom had to build new housing. No reason was given, but it is speculated that just as Dazaifu was located inland, Naka no Oe was thinking about military security. Otsu is on the east side of a significant mountain barrier in respect to the coast at Naniwa. However, Yamato province is also well protected by mountains. Otsu does have the virtue that its location at the south end of Lake Biwa gives it excellent communication to the Hokuriku region, but that had always been much less important than communications to the west, which now became more difficult. There is another theory, which, because of numerous well-attested cases from later times, cannot be ignored. That is that Naka no Oe was worried about the ghost of Hashihito. Vengeful ghosts were a major concern among the aristocracy and they occasioned other moves of the capital, as well as a lot of activity at shrines and temples. If we assume that he was the aggressor in setting up their incestuous relationship, he may have had good reason to want to move somewhere far from where she had died. At any rate the court stayed at Otsu for 5 years.
In 668 at the palace in Otsu Naka no Oe finally assumed the throne. His empress was Yamato no Himemiko, a daughter of Prince Furuhito, whom he had killed. She had no children, but he had children by 8 other women, four of whom ranked as kisaki and four of whom were ladies in waiting. There were ten girls and four boys. His chosen heir, Prince Otomo, had a low status mother. The identity of his grandfather is not known for certain, but it is thought that he was of the kuninomiyatsuko class. Tenchi's only high status son was Prince Takeru, whose mother was a daughter of Soga no Ishikawamaro. However, Prince Takeru had died in 658 at the age of 8. Given that Tenchi Tenno had a powerful and respected brother in Prince Oama, the normal dynamic of the Yamato state made it almost certain that Oama would be his successor (if he lived long enough) in any contest with a prince with a low status mother. Such a prince had never made it to the throne so far. Of course, Tenchi Tenno was attempting to replace the Yamato state with a new one that worked on Chinese lines, where possible. The Chinese view of things was clear, the eldest legitimate son was the only valid heir. Tenchi Tenno and several later emperors fought fiercely to establish this principle for the ruling clan, but it never happened.
In 669 Tenchi Tenno's longtime collaborator Nakatomi no Kamatari died at the age of 56. Immediately before his death the emperor created the new office of Naidaijin specifically so that Kamatari could be promoted. He also announced the creation of the new clan name Fujiwara for Kamatari's descendants.
In 670 an edict ordered for the first time the completion of a census covering the entire country. For this to be done, a lot of progress must have been made in putting together some kind of bureaucratic administration in the provinces involving the participation of the rural aristocracy. No actual records from this census survive. However, we know that later, in the Nara period, the registers from this census still existed and were used as the starting point in working out the system specified in the Taiho code. We also know that the records for Kyushu took up 770 volumes and the records for Kozuke province in the Kanto region took up 90 volumes. These numbers are proportional to the known populations of these places in the 8th and 9th centuries. The Shosoin treasury in Nara preserves actual 8th century registers. They contain detailed information about every member of a household, down to the slaves, which was necessary for the planning of the subsequent distribution of the land. However, it is thought that the 670 registers did not extend so far. The reason is that later when Jito Tenno conducted a census it led directly to a redistribution of the land, but there is no indication that that occurred here. Also, if you have registers detailing every individual you would naturally use those in assessing tax burdens, but it is believed that the new taxation system called for in 646 had not yet been implemented. These registers would have been used to gather information to be used in planning the next phase, which would have been a more detailed census followed by a redistribution and the implementation of the taxation system implied by the redistribution.
The other achievement often credited to the last years of Tenchi Tenno was the creation of the "Omi Ryo", or Omi Code. Omi is the province in which Otsu is located. This has become a very controversial topic. It is not mentioned in Nihon Shoki nor in any book or document older than the 9th century. It is first mentioned in the preface to Konin Kyakushiki, one of a series of books that appeared over the years containing copies of edicts, judicial rulings, and the like that affected the application and interpretation of the administrative law codes. There is a book called Daishokukanden which was written by Fujiwara no Nakamaro in the 8th century and which is believed to be based on a compilation made by Nakatomi no Kamatari of edicts from the reign of Tenchi Tenno that does not mention it. One theory points out that after the Jinshin War the descendents of Temmu Tenno held the throne for 100 years until it was shifted over to the line of Tenchi Tenno's descendents with Konin Tenno. There may have been those who wanted to shift the credit for accomplishments of Temmu Tenno to his brother. At any rate, we don't have any idea what was in it, so it doesn't really matter. However, the Chinese were in the habit of compiling volumes detailing the administrative law and it was inevitable that at some point the Japanese would think of doing the same. However, perhaps not quite yet.
The Jinshin War[edit | edit source]
Late in Tenchi's reign signs of trouble began to appear in respect to the succession. Tenchi had three sons living, the oldest being Prince Otomo, who had already been appointed Dajodaijin. There are disagreements in the sources as to when this happened, but it obviously indicated that Tenchi intended to make Prince Otomo his successor, despite the fact that his mother had been a palace servant of low status (by imperial standards). It had long been the custom that provincial nobles of the kuninomiyatsuko and agatanushi classes sent girls to the palace to serve as high level servants to the wives and princesses. This custom continued for centuries after. Tenchi Tenno had left the highest ranks in the bureaucracy unfilled for a long time, but at the same time that he appointed Otomo, he made Soga no Omi Akae Sadaijin, Nakatomi no Muraji Kogane Udaijin, and appointed three men to the office of Okimononosutsukasa, Soga no Omi Hatayasu, Kuse no Omi Hito, and Ki no Omi Ushi. This last office did not survive into the later system but roughly corresponded to Dainagon, usually translated councellor and ranking just below the great ministers. Presumably, he was trying to ensure support for Prince Otomo among the leading nobles, who had up to now been kept at arm's length.
In order to make it possible for Otomo to succeed it was necessary to get Prince Oama out of the way, because the nobility was unlikely to support Otomo after Tenchi's death. To his credit, Tenchi did not want to kill his brother. He came up with a version of the method originally used to dispose of Prince Furuhito. The emperor openly offered the succession to Prince Oama, who responded saying that he had no desire to succeed to the throne, urged that Empress Yamatohime become Tenno and management of affairs be handed to Prince Otomo. He himself wished to become a Buddhist monk and retire to some quiet temple in the country. This took place on the 17th day of the 10th month of 671, when the emperor was already seriously ill. The same day, Prince Oama took the tonsure, and ordered that all weapons kept in his palace be turned over to the government. Two days later he requested permission to leave for Yoshino, the same temple that housed Prince Furuhito and many later imperial quasi-exiles. This was granted. Immediately after, the five leading officials were assembled and made to swear an oath of loyalty to Prince Otomo. A few days later the oath was repeated in the presence of Tenchi Tenno. Tenchi Tenno died at the start of the 12th month of 671.
Prince Otomo is listed in the official record of the successive emperors as Kobun Tenno. However, this was done only in modern times. Nihon Shoki immediately shifts to the article on Temmu Tenno, during the course of which Prince Otomo is never referred to as emperor. It retells the story given above, from a distinctly different perspective. It says that when the emperor became ill Soga no Omi Yasumaro was sent to summon Prince Oama to his presence. On the way in, Soga told the prince to be very careful what he said, leading the prince to suspect a plot. So, when he was offered the throne he turned it down as already reported. The clear implication is that if he had accepted the throne he would likely have been killed. Naturally, there are questions about whether this story is true. Essentially we only have Prince Oama's version of what happened. It makes a good story, perhaps too good. It is really just as likely that Tenchi directly ordered Prince Oama to publicly renounce the throne and retire to a monastery. In any event, Tenchi was desperately trying to find a way to secure the succession to his son in the face of the fact that the nobles would almost certainly support Oama if there was a fight over it.
When he got to Yoshino the prince assembled his "toneri" or personal attendants/body guards, and told them that he was going to devote his life to religion and that anyone who wanted a career was at liberty to go and find a new job. Eventually, half left and half stayed. Then the emperor died. There was at this time a stupendously large Chinese embassy just arrived in Kyushu, so big that they had sent a couple of ships ahead to assure the Japanese that it was not an invasion fleet. The ambassadors were notified of the death of the emperor. This is all discussed without any mention of Prince Otomo. Indeed, the entire story is told strictly from Prince Oama's point of view and there is no information about internal politics at the Omi court. It is not known when, or even whether, Prince Otomo was formally enthroned. Nihon Shoki allows the assumption that he was not since he is not listed as a ruler. No other book of the Nara period is known to treat him as an enthroned ruler. It was not until the Edo period in Dai Nihon Shi by Tokugawa Mitsukuni that it was first claimed that he had been enthroned but that this was suppressed in Nihon Shoki to support the legitimacy of Temmu Tenno. The posthumous reign title Kobun Tenno was conferred upon Prince Otomo by the Meiji Emperor. There is no evidence on this matter. However, there is no doubt that he functioned as ruler at the Otsu court for 6 months.
In the 5th month of 672 one of Prince Oama's retainers told him that he had observed large numbers of men gathering who claimed to be coming to work on Tenchi's tomb, but who were all armed. Another man then said that he had observed roadblocks and checkpoints at various places. Oama sent out men to investigate and found that this was true. He then told his men that he had retired in order to prevent trouble, but if they were going to kill him anyway, he was going to make a fight of it. His main problem was that he had been obliged to surrender his arms before leaving the capital, so was essentially defenseless.
On the 22nd day of the 6th month he therefore ordered three men to go to Mino province (just to the east) and alert the governor to what was happening. He was to mobilize whatever forces he had available and instruct the other governors of the east to do the same. A meeting point was designated at Fuwa, which is a pass on the border of Omi and Mino provinces used by the main east-west road, and a good location from which to launch an attack on Otsu. Then there was the matter of escaping safely from Yoshino. He sent a man to Asuka hoping to get passes that would allow them to use post horses, but the official in charge refused to help. So, they set out for the east on foot on the 24th. We have no way of knowing whether the court was contemplating an attack on Yoshino or not. However, it does appear that the court was taken by surprise when Oama left. They did not respond for several days. This departure was a full month after the notice in the previous paragraph, and there is no mention of increased danger, so it must be assumed that the previous month had been spent making plans and communicating with possible supporters.
The party soon ran into a supporter who had a horse, so the prince could ride. His wife (the future Jito Tenno) and his two sons, Princes Kusakabe and Osakabe, were carried in a palanquin. At this time the prince was accompanied by "approximately" 20 men, 13 of whom are named, plus 10 women. Soon they were joined by a few more, and the official in charge of an imperial estate they passed fed everybody. A little further on they encountered a hunting party of about 20 nobles, who were ordered to join the little army. Also a "Prince Mino," who presumably lived near the route, was invited to join them. Next they came across a train of 50 pack-horses carrying rice. They dumped the rice, and now they had cavalry. By this time it was getting dark, so they pulled down a fence to make torches. They finally reached a place they could stop at midnight. They burned the posting station and tried to rouse the commoners to follow them, but all refused. On the second day they picked up 700 men. Then more men appeared, so many that they could detach a force of 500 men to go back and protect their rear.
On the 26th the prince was informed that 3,000 men had come from Mino and were blocking the Fuwa road as ordered, and a large number of other supporters, many named, had come in. By this time we have the names of some 50 supporters. They were at Kuwana in Ise province and Oama felt that he could stop running. He now began sending messengers out in all directions seeking to raise troops. Nihon Shoki says that it was at this point that the government of Prince Otomo found out what was happening. The news threw the capital at Otsu into confusion. Some nobles fled, hoping to join Prince Oama, others fled just hoping to stay out of trouble.
Otomo asked his officials for advice. One minister advised an immediate attack with whatever cavalry force they had available, but Otomo decided to gather a proper army instead, and sent his own stream of messengers out. Whereas Oama's messengers were mostly circulating in the east, Otomo sent his to the west. The commander in Tsukushi refused to send men on the grounds that his job was to defend Kyushu from the Koreans and the Chinese. Otomo expected treachery from the commanders in Kibi and Tsukushi because they were princes connected to Oama and he had ordered his messengers to kill them if they showed signs of treason. They succeeded in killing the commander in Kibi, but the man in Tsukushi was too well guarded and they left. They could hardly have thought of bringing men all the way from Tsukushi quickly enough to do any good, so this was probably a defensive move trying to prevent these areas from declaring for Prince Oama. At about the same time an official, Otomo no Fukei, who had left the court at Omi earlier and returned to his home in the Asuka area, gathered his own personal forces and those of the nearby Aya clan and on the 29th seized control of the former Asuka palace on behalf of Prince Oama. On the other hand, the Miwa and Kamo clans of the area sent troops to Omi to support Prince Otomo.
Prince Oama now moved his headquarters from Kuwana, which was remote from the likely battlefields, to Fuwa. On the 27th he was joined by 20,000 more men from the east. Prince Oama appointed Prince Takechi, his oldest son, 19 years of age, overall military commander. His army was divided into two main columns. The first led by an experienced warrior, Ki no Omi Aemaro, was to go through Iga and Ise and proceed to Asuka to link up with Otomo no Fukei. The second was to directly attack Otsu under the command of Murakuni no Muraji Oyori, one of the toneri who had been with Prince Oama at Yoshino. This force was ordered to attach red badges to their clothing so that they could recognize each other on the battlefield.
On the 2nd day of the 7th month the court at Omi ordered an attack aimed at Fuwa pass. This attack fell apart in great confusion, according to Nihon Shoki, and one of the ministers of state, Soga no Hatayasu, was killed, along with Prince Yamabe. Prince Oama's army advanced, and won three successive battles ending at Yasukawa on the 13th, whereupon they were able to advance to Seta, which constituted the outer defence of the Otsu palace. There was a stream there with a bridge, where the court army prepared to make its stand.
On the other front, forces loyal to the court defeated Otomo no Fukei and were about to regain control of the Asuka palace, but the approach of Prince Oama's column distracted them and Fukei was able to hold on. It is believed that the decisive battle was fought on the 6th day of the 7th month. The battlefield site is marked by a tomb containing many of the fallen soldiers. The court army retreated northward after a long and bloody fight.
The fight at the Seta bridge occurred on the 22nd day. The army defending the bridge had taken out the flooring of the middle part and stretched a single plank across, tied to a rope so that it could be pulled away. One soldier of the Oama force put on two sets of armor and rushed across the plank, cutting the rope as he went. He then charged into the enemy array and threw it into confusion. His army followed him, naturally, and Prince Otomo's army broke and ran. The man who led this charge survived the battle. His death in 679 is mentioned in Nihon Shoki. Temmu Tenno appears to have been careful to take official notice whenever a man who had distinguished himself in the war died.
Oama's forces continued to attack successfully the next day, and Prince Otomo got separated from his army and committed suicide. No one knew this at first, and fighting continued all day and got very heavy as large reinforcements supporting Prince Otomo arrived. Oama's forces prevailed in the end and the Sadaijin and Udaijin were arrested. On the 25th Prince Otomo's body was found and his head was presented to Oama.
Exactly one month later sentences were handed down on the leading supporters of Prince Otomo. Eight men including the Naidaijin Nakatomi no Muraji no Kogane were executed, two men, the Sadaijin and the Udaijin, were banished with all of their families, the family of Nakatomi was also banished as was that of Soga no Hatayasu no Omi who had died in the fighting. Everyone else was pardoned. One official who would have been pardoned had fled into the hills and committed suicide.
All previous conflicts over the succession had been small affairs by comparison, but this was a full scale war that lasted one month from Prince Oama's flight from Yoshino and three weeks of actual field operations, involving several tens of thousands of men. The question arises whether there were other considerations involved that led so many men to fight so hard. The most popular theory in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries was that Prince Oama was able to take advantage of opposition to the rapid pace of change under Tenchi Tenno, which is to say that the war was a conservative reaction. However, in actual fact Temmu Tenno pushed the changes inaugurated by his brother through to completion, so if his supporters were expecting a return to the old ways they were to be sadly disappointed. From about the 1920's it therefore became the fashion to argue exactly the opposite, that Prince Oama represented the "progressive" side, so Prince Otomo, or the officials behind him, must have been the "conservative" party. By his victory, Temmo Tenno gained the power needed to complete the restructuring of the government along the lines originally planned by Prince Naka no Oe and Nakatomi no Kamatari. This point of view was summed up by Ienaga Saburo in works written just before the Second World War. He thought that Prince Oama was mainly supported by lower level officials whereas the senior nobility were behind Prince Otomo. There was a class struggle, of sorts, not unrelated to what is seen by modern archaeologists in their studies of the changing patterns of late Kofun period tombs, with power devolving from the few kuninomiyatsuko class nobles to spread more uniformly among the nobility as a whole.
However, this argument suffers from the defect that there is in fact no evidence that in the later years of Tenchi's reign there was any turning away from the policies of the Taika reform. Once the military crisis of the early 660's was past, the stream of reform edicts picked up again and continued until the emperor's final illness. The end of the Second World War led to an entirely new phase of historiographical thinking in Japan because it liberated historians to become openly Marxist. It is fair to say, I think, that Marxism (of a mild sort) became the mainstream point of view among historians during the 1950's and 1960's, largely as a reaction to what had gone before, which naturally led historians to wonder (for the first time) whether the common people perhaps had a point of view in respect to what had been happening since 645. A historian named Kitayama Shigeo proposed that the changes since 645 had mainly worked to concentrate power at the center and meant that the forced labor portion of the taxation came under closer control of the central government. When it was under local control it was probably episodic, in that there was not necessarily anything special to work on every year, but the national government could always find something. The court itself, as it expanded, relied heavily on the labor tax. The guards, maintenance men, palace attendants, messengers and errand boys, and personal servants of all of the officials were recruited through the labor tax. This generated popular resentment against the system, he thought. However, the problem remains that there is no reason to think that either side in the Jinshin War represented the popular interest. The warriors on both sides were aristocrats. However, there are many who came to the conclusion that any popular resentment at the intensification of the system would have been felt locally, and would have threatened the ability of the rural nobility to keep control over the farming population. It is strongly implied from the account in Nihon Shoki that most of the nobility in Yamato province supported the Omi court and that Prince Oama drew his support from the provincial nobility of the east (and the west, though the war was over before any western troops could have intervened). It is conspicuous that the commander of one of Prince Oama's two columns was a toneri, which is to say a low-rank provincial noble. Prince Oama had been active in the government for years and these men may have had confidence in him and believed that he understood their problems. Many historians think that it is quite impossible that the complicated system that emerged by the Nara period could have been established unless it had been supported by the provincial nobility, which they would not have done had they not seen advantages in it for themselves. If you think about it, the overall absence of noticeable local opposition to the strengthening of the central government is the most surprising thing about the entire transformation after 645. The conclusion is that the old kuninomiyatsuko class was squeezed out and power was divided between the central government and the lower level local nobles who staffed the district governments under the new system. The local officials had the detailed knowledge to make things work, and the central government had the power to keep them safe from popular unrest. This was the basic deal that kept the Chinese Empire running for centuries, and the intention was to do the same thing in Japan.
Temmu Tenno[edit | edit source]
In the 9th month of 672 Prince Oama returned to the Asuka area, abandoning the Omi palace. He chose a site known as the Kiyomihara Palace. He formally ascended the throne in the 2nd month of 673. 673 was always recognized as the first year of his reign in his official documents. Later, when Kobun Tenno was added to the list, the official chronology made 672 equal to "Kobun first year," but Nihon Shoki consistently treated 672 as "Temmu first Year," and this became the norm in historical writing before the Meiji period. The government remained at the Kiyomihara Palace throughout the reign of Temmu and through the 7th year of Jito, or 21 years from 673 through 693. This was more permanent than any previous palace, and foreshadowed the eventual settling on a permanent capital city. There is a considerable group of poems in the Manyoshu collection expressing the theme that, thanks to his victory in the war, Temmu Tenno had unprecedented power to make things happen. One says that "like a god" he could transform a mountain into a sea. Temmu himself used a similar expression on an edict of his 12th year in referring to himself as "Yamato Neko no Mikoto, who rules Oyashimaguni as a god." Oyashimaguni is an ancient name for Japan. There were no nobles from the great Yamato families prominent at court at the beginning of his reign, and even Fujiwara no Fuhito, the son of Nakatomi no Kamatari, was too young to be influential as yet. Even in government, he tended to rely a lot on lower ranking men, including toneri. The most prominent was Murakuni no Muraji Oyori, already mentioned. It is thought that he was not of the kuninomiyatsuko class and that the title of Muraji was awarded because of his military achievements. These men were usually promoted to a high official rank as a reward around the time of their retirement or death, but held relatively low rank during their active careers. Murakuni was given the income from 120 households, which was not much by the standards of the great aristocrats. Such men had power because the emperor was behind them, not because of their high office or personal prestige.
At the start of his reign he left the highest offices, Dajodaijin, Sadaijin and Udaijin empty. The first appointment of a major noble to high office was in 675 when he appointed Otomo no Muraji no Miyuki to the position of Deputy Minister of War, under Prince Kurikuma. Altogether, Nihon Shoki names 7 Yamato nobles who received appointments from Temmu Tenno and 5 princes, and all 5 princes got higher ranking jobs than any of the nobles. Moreover, Nihon Shoki says that Temmu's Empress Uno (later Jito Tenno) was active in the government during his reign and participated in discussions of affairs. Moreover, two of Temmu's sons also became active when they became old enough, Prince Kusakabe from 681 and Prince Otsu from 683. Kusakabe was eventually appointed Dajodaijin. Temmu's government was clearly a matter of direct rule by the emperor assisted by members of the imperial family.
In 675 Temmu definitively abolished all private holdings of the highest nobility. These had been permitted by Tenchi in 664 to serve in place of salary, but now it is clear that the complete taxation system was to be applied throughout the country and the nobles would have to rely on salaries only. He also ordered that "near princes, other princes, officials, and temples" must return all lands of any sort, farmland or wilderness, which they had been granted over the years. In 685 Temmu reformed the rank system once more. Ranks were given to princes for the first time, new ranks that were outside the system that had existed so far. This was continued on into the Nara period where there were two parallel rank systems, one for princes and one for everyone else. The only people outside the official ranking system were now the emperor and his immediate family, his wives and children.
There are some signs of political disturbance. There was an incident in 675 when two middle rank officials were "forbidden to attend court" and a few days later one of them was "stripped of all office and rank." In the same year Prince Omi and two of his sons were banished to rural provinces, and in the next year the same thing happened to the chief officer at Dazaifu, Prince Yakaki. Also, though the year is not known, several persons were expelled from the ruling clan by being forbidden to use the kabane title "mikata." And, in 675 an edict ordered all officers of all ranks to equip themselves with weapons. In the next year agents were sent out to investigate the extent to which the population of the inner provinces maintained arms. In 679 the princes and officials were given warning that in the following year there would be a review in which they would be required to appear mounted and armed, and this was in fact conducted. In 684 Temmu Tenno observed in an edict that "military matters are the most essential part of government." Before 645 the ruler had only modest military forces directly available. There were always a certain number of toneri, mostly drawn from the eastern provinces, and there were also a number of yukeibe, which were peasant soldiers conscripted in Kyushu and sent to the capital where they mostly worked as building guards. No one has any idea of just how many men were involved in either category. Otherwise, everything depended on the military oriented uji of the Yamato countryside. It is thought, by the way, that the toneri were converted into the guards of the "left" and "right" Hyoefu 兵衛府 of the new state and the yukeibe became the guards of the Emonfu 衛門府. The two remaining guards units, the guards of the "left" and "right" Ejifu 衛士府 were manned by people conscripted through the labor tax. It is thought that men assigned to this duty were not ordinary farmers but members of the families of the minor local nobility. Overall, this means that the official military forces in the capital continued to be on the proper scale to provide police and guards, not a real military force. Presumably Temmu was concerned that all officials were armed and that the leading persons in the countryside throughout the inner provinces were armed so that he could raise an army quickly if he needed one. There does not appear to have been much military organization in the provinces. In 685 Temmu ordered that all types of military gear that were not personal but only relevant to organized military units, from things like horns, drums, and flags to crewed weapons like "stone throwers" and oversize crossbows should not be kept in private homes but in central armories under the control of district officials. This was not to disarm people, for they were to keep their personal weapons and armor, but to make sure that things could be quickly found when needed and kept in repair.
One small mystery of ancient Japan is why the "great shrine" at Ise should be the primary site for the worship of Amaterasu Omikami, the goddess from whom the ruling clan is presumed to have descended. The shrine was undoubtedly an ancient center of worship, but it is located in such a place where one would assume that the object of worship would be the Pacific Ocean, especially by persons about to set out to reach eastern Japan by sea. It is definitely not a place with any special association with the ruling clan. It has been hypothesized that the shrine only acquired the connection with Amaterasu at a relatively late time, and the best candidate for that is the reign of Temmu Tennu.
It is mentioned in Nihon Shoki for all reigns from Keitai through Suiko that princesses were sent to Ise to serve as Saigu or Itsuki no Miya, which is to say the head priestess of the shrine. However, this custom then lapsed until it was revived by Temmu Tenno fifty years later, in 674. According to Nihon Shoki, when Prince Oama fled Yoshino, on the 26th day of the 6th month, in Ise Province, he prayed to Amaterasu Omikami, and immediately after that messengers arrived with the news that he had an army of several thousand men waiting for his arrival and would be able to fight for his life and for the throne. There is no clear statement of this, but it is plausible that he revived the custom of providing a princess to the shrine at Ise in gratitude for this occasion. It is also plausible that it is only from his reign that Amaterasu was celebrated at the shrine.
Ise is not the only shrine that Temmu paid attention to. In 673 he sent his son Prince Kusakabe to present gifts to the Isonokami Shrine, and every year from 674 onward he personally participated in worship of the wind god at Tatsuta and Oimi no Kami at Hirose in Yamato province. Also, in 681 he issued an edict requiring the governors of all provinces to undertake repairs to Shinto Shrines. This is in clear contrast to Tenchi Tenno who mostly ignored religion, both Buddhist and Shinto. Temmu also paid attention to Buddhism. He constructed a new temple at Asuka which was apparently the first ever built using government funds, and Nihon Shoki records official participation in Buddhist feasts and ceremonies for every year of his reign. In 685 an edict ordered that in every province "each house" shall be provided with a domestic Buddhist shrine (such as are common in houses today). It was entirely impossible in the 7th century for every private residence in Japan to be provided with a shrine, so it is understood that by "each house" was meant the residences of the governor and provincial officials. It has been suggested that by requiring officials to set up such shrines, the population at large would be encouraged to do the same, thus spreading Buddhist consciousness.
Temmu is also credited with setting in motion the process that would ultimately result in the creation of Kojiki and Nihon Shoki. He ordered work to be done to collect materials in the possession of the various aristocratic clans that would permit the creation of a history of Japan. This is described in the preface to Kojiki. In 681 he ordered a committee of six members of the ruling clan led by Prince Kawashima and another of six government officials led by Nakatomi no Muraji no Oshima to begin work on editing a national history. This project was never completed, but it is believed that the work that was accomplished was later incorporated into Nihon Shoki. Independently of this large scale project, he ordered one of his toneri, Hieda no Are, to individually put together a simpler work, one within the scope of a single writer. Hieda died before completing his work, but it was taken up again early in the Nara period by O no Ason Yasumaro and published in 712 as Kojiki. Both works contain information about the origins of aristocratic clans, presumably drawn from traditions maintained by those clans. About 200 clan origin stories are found in Kojiki and there are around 110 in Nihon Shoki.
In pulling this information together, it would have become clear that with the many upheavals since the Taika Reform and the Jinshin War, that many ancient clans had faded from the scene and many new ones had risen to positions of influence. The result of this was that the ancient "kabane" titles no longer matched up well with the actual relative status and prestige of the politically active clans. It was quite natural, then, that in 684 Temmu undertook to restructure the kabane system. He decreed a system consisting of eight titles, several of them entirely new inventions. In order of rank they were Mahito (sometimes written Mabito) 真人, Asomi (almost always written Ason) 朝臣, Sukune 宿禰, Imiki 忌寸, Michinoshi 道師, Omi 臣, Muraji 連, and Inagi 稲置. The intention was to specify precisely the degree of separation of each clan from the emperor. Most of the clans that had formerly used Omi were now given the title of Asomi, indicating clans recognized as descending from branches of the ruling clan. Most of the clans that formerly used Muraji were given the title of Sukune. Mahito was reserved for clans that were particularly closely related to the main line of the ruling clan, specifically, clans that descended from Keitai Tenno or later rulers. The clans descended from the Ojin dynasty were all put in Asomi. The lesser titles were awarded mostly to provincial clans.
Temmu's reign also saw a lot of progress in putting together the bureaucratic structure that was to become established in the administrative law codes to follow. The backbone of the government in the Nara period was the set of eight ministries collectively referred to as the Dajokan, the "great offices". Seven of these were established already in the time of Temmu. The only one missing was the Nakatsukasa which managed the operation of the ruler's residential palace, as distinguished from the bureaucratic palace. In Temmu's day one ministry managed both. The names were all different, but that is not important. Many lower bureaucratic entity names and official titles were different as well. The main difference is that in the codes as finally established they were much more likely to use names and titles taken directly from contemporary Chinese practice.
In the second month of 681 the emperor and empress progressed to the main audience hall of the palace and summoned all of the princes and officials. The emperor announced that the time had come to prepare a formal administrative code to comprehensively describe the structure of the government and the rules under which it should operate. He acknowledged that this was a large task that would take time to complete, and it should not be permitted to disrupt the normal work of government, so it would be necessary to set up a special task force for the project. This was the beginning of what has come to be known as the "Asuka Kiyomihara Ritsuryo." It does not appear that this work was completed during the lifetime of Temmu Tenno. However, there is evidence that the structure of the government was adjusted as decisions were made in connection with this effort.
Temmu Tenno had 17 children whose names are known born of 9 different mothers, 10 male and 7 female. Empress Uno had one child, Prince Kusakabe. There were three other women recognized as kisaki who were the mothers of Prince Otsu, Prince Naga, Prince Yuge, and Prince Toneri plus one daughter. All four of these women were daughters of Tenchi Tenno. There were three additional women who ranked as concubines. Two were daughters of Fujiwara no Kamatari, who gave birth to Prince Nitabe and one daughter. The third was a daughter of Soga no Omi no Akae, and she gave birth to Prince Hatsumi and two daughters. Finally there were three women who had no official rank in the palace. Princess Nukata has already been mentioned. She gave birth to a daughter, Princess Tochi, who died as a child, causing considerable grief at court. Two palace attendants gave birth to Prince Takechi, Prince Osakabe and Prince Shiki plus two daughters. Prince Takechi has been mentioned as he served as a commander during the Jinshin War. Prince Osakabe was also an important figure and was given significant responsibilities.
The two highest ranking princes were unquestionably Prince Kusakabe and Prince Otsu. They attained ages where they could be incorporated into the government in 681 and 683 respectively. Prince Kusakabe's mother was the Empress, whereas Prince Otsu's mother had already died sometime before the Jinshin War. However, it seems that most people thought that Prince Otsu was the more impressive of the pair. Nihon Shoki mentions that as a child he was a favorite of his uncle and grandfather, Tenchi Tenno, and other ancient sources say that he was highly intelligent and an eager student. There is no surviving information as to what people thought about Prince Kusakabe. He died at the age of 28 and it is suspected that he was always sickly, which may explain why he was not made ruler when Temmu died. Temmu's reign was characterized by the extent to which he ruled directly, so in order to keep it going it was necessary that the next ruler be a forceful and intelligent person. It appears that the best qualified was in fact the Empress. If it were accepted that Prince Kusakabe was not suitable, then she would also serve as placeholder for his infant son Prince Karu (who eventually reigned as Mommu Tenno).
As it happens Kusakabe was made "crown prince" in 681. As previously noted, this had little to do with the succession, but established him as a prominent figure in the government. This occurred on the same day as the announcement of the plan to write the Asuka Kiyomihara Ritsuryo. It has been suggested that formalizing the rules of government would serve to bolster the position of the emperor so that he would be able to retain control even when he happened to be a person of only ordinary ability. In 683 Prince Otsu was also given office in the government. If it is granted that he was both healthier and more talented than his half-brother, then there is every reason to think that he would have a chance to become emperor when Temmu died. Temmu suffered a bout of illness in 685 but recovered for a time. However, he became seriously ill in the 5th month of 686 and in the 7th month announced that he was no longer to be bothered with matters of government, which would all be handled by the Empress and Prince Kusakabe. He died on the 9th day of the 9th month, at the age of 56 (it is thought). Nihon Shoki says that on the 11th he was temporarily interred in his mogari no miya, and on the 24th "Prince Otsu conspired against the Crown Prince." The continuation is in the article on Jito Tenno. It says that Prince Otsu's treason became known on the 2nd day of the 10th month and he was arrested along with about 30 others. He was executed the next day. His wife also died, but it is not clear whether she also was executed or she committed suicide. The next day all but two of the "co-conspirators" were pardoned. The two exceptions were exiled. Shortly afterwards Prince Otsu's sister, Princess Oku, who had been priestess at Ise for several years, returned to the capital, presumably having been fired. A poem in Manyoshu reveals that Prince Otsu had secretly gone to Ise to meet with her about the time of Temmu's death. This is perhaps the event that led Nihon Shoki to assign his act of treason to a specific date. For a prince to leave the capital and travel to the east while the succession was unsettled could easily have been seen as indicating rebellious intent. On the other hand, historians have noted with interest that several of the "co-conspirators" subsequently had careers at Jito's court. One of them worked on the committee that created the first completed Ritsuryo code. This raises the possibility that Prince Otsu was maneuvered into giving the impression of criminal behavior.
Nihon Shoki makes it clear that the Empress was in charge, but nothing was formally done about the succession for some time. The most prominent position in all of the official activities surrounding mourning the deceased emperor and preparations for his burial was taken by "the Crown Prince." This situation continued through the burial of Temmu in the 11th month of 688. Of course, it was the custom that the Emperor's widow resided in the Mogari no Miya and lived in deep mourning until this time. Then in the 4th month of 689 Prince Kusakabe died. It is therefore possible that the intention had been to enthrone the prince upon completion of the mourning period. His son Prince Karu was only 7 years of age and it was therefore necessary that the Empress formally take the throne. She is known as Jito Tenno. This was done at the start of 690. It was during this period, in the 6th month of 689 that the Asuka Kiyomihara Ryo was published in 22 volumes and copies were distributed about the government offices. It is this event which will be taken as representing the end of the Asuka period. Another significant event which occurred in 689 was the appointment of Fujiwara no Fuhito, eldest son of Kamatari, to government office for the first time.