Ancient Japan

Prince Shotoku

   The great cultural hero of early Japanese history was the Imperial Prince Mumayado no Toyotomimi who, with the ruling name Shotoku, became regent under his mother, Empress Suiko. His greatest legacy to Japanese history was the Seventeen Article Constitution which spelled out the philosophic and religious principles on which Japanese Imperial government would be based. In line with his foundational role in Japanese political identity, his birth, like that of Buddha, is a miraculous birth: born without pain, he speaks as an adult from the moment of his birth.

   What follows is a short account of Shotoku's birth and a brief description of his upbringing from the Nihongi. The text stresses his education first in Buddhism (the Inner Doctrine) and then in Confucianism and the Confucian classics (the Outer Classics). The general narrative of the Nihongi outlines two developments: the evolution of Japanese government in Confucian principles and the gradual adoption of Buddhism among the Japanese. The culmination of this development, according to the argument in the Nihongi, is Shotoku and his Seventeen Article Constitution.


   Summer, 4th month, 10th day.
   The Imperial Prince Mumayado no Toyotomimi was appointed Prince Imperial. He had general control of the Government, and was entrusted with all the details of administration. He was the second child of the Emperor Tachibana no Toyo-hi. The Empress-consort his mother's name was the Imperial Princess Anahobe no Hashibito. The Empress-consort, on the day of the dissolution of her pregnancy, went round the forbidden precinct, inspecting the different offices. When she came to the Horse Department, and had just reached the door of the stables, she was suddenly delivered of him without effort.1 He was able to speak as soon as he was born, and was so wise when he grew up 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. Moreover he learnt the Inner Doctrine2 from a Koryo Priest named Hye-cha, and studied the Outer Classics3 with a doctor called Hak-ka. In both of these branches of study he became thoroughly proficient. The Emperor his father loved him, and made him occupy the Upper Hall South of the Palace. Therefore he was styled the Senior Prince Kamu-tsu miya4, Aluma-ya-do Toyotomimi.

Translated by W.G. Aston, Nihongi (London: Kegan, Paul, Trench, Trübner, 1896), 278-279

Introduction and edited by Richard Hooker



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Updated 9-13-97