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20181207  Shōtoku Taishi 

20181007 Shōtoku Taishi (jap. 聖徳太子, dt. Kronprinz Shōtoku; * 574; † 8. April 622)

Shōtoku Taishi 聖 徳 太子 (574-622),

one of the most famous figures of Japanese early history,

was the Prince Regent of Yamato

from 593 to 622.

He is also known under the names Kamitsumiya Umayado Toyotomimi

Taishi N 宮 廐 豊 太子 太子 太子 (Nihon shoki),

as Prince Umayado or as Toyosatomimi.

The name Shōtoku (Holy Virtue) is first mentioned in Kaifuso (751), thus comes – as the posthumous names of most early or prehistoric members of the Imperial House – from the period after the writing of the earliest extant historical sources, Kojiki 古 事 記 (712) and Nihon shoki 日本 書 紀 (720).

Shōtoku is the second son of the Yōmei Tennō and the Princess Anahobe no Hashibito, a woman from the Soga clan.

Banknote with Shōtoku motif
Reliable statements about the career of Shōtoku can not be made with absolute certainty, since all the records about him, starting with the next-time source Nihon shoki (720), carry legendary features.

The main source of the legendary description of the life of the prince (s.u.) is the biography Shōtoku Taishi denreki, which was probably written in 917 by the court official Fujiwara no Kanesuke.

The structure of this work is based on the content of the Nihon shoki.

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Buddhism was not yet firmly established in Shōtoku’s time in Japan, but found powerful supporters in the Soga Klan.

The victory of Soga no Umako over the warring mononobe finally made Buddhism universally accepted.

Shōtoku Taishi is said to have intervened as a child in this fight in favor of Soga and have caused the victory with the help of the Four Heavenly Kings.

He is therefore considered a symbol of this pro-Buddhist development. As the regent of his aunt, Suiko Tenno, he continued to establish Buddhism as a new faith in the population by establishing important temples.
Legend has it that Shōtoku Taishi pressed his palms together at the age of two and said kneeling, „Namu butsu“ („Honor the Buddha“). Other legends identify him with various Buddhist figures, in particular he is considered the incarnation of Bodhisattva Kannon.

Even Shōtoku’s early, sudden death was u.a. thus explaining that during his lifetime he was an incarnation of the „Guze Kanzeon Bosatsu“, a manifestation of Kannon.
At Shōtoku’s time, the late sixth and early seventh centuries, political authority was in the hands of the Soga family, whose strongest tribal chief, Soga no Umako (? -626), succeeded under four rulers – the brothers Bidatsu, Yōmei and Shushun , as well as Bidatsu’s widow and half-sister Suiko – to decisively determine the government of the Yamato empire through a mixture of violence and marriage policy:

After the death of the Yōmei Tennō, Shōtoku’s father, in 587, there was a fierce power struggle for the rule between the Soga and Mononobe families, which ended only when Soga defeated their rivals – Prince Anahobe and Mononobe no Moriya – in a battle and killed.


Prince Hasebe, a nephew of Soga no Umako, was crowned ruler (posthumously Shushun Tennō), but soon fell victim to an assassination attempt also planned by Umako.

After the death of Shushun Tennō 593 was made the first historically assignable woman with Tiko Suiko; Shōtoku, who was married to Suiko’s daughter, was declared crown prince (kōtaishi 皇太子) and regent.


Prince Shōtoku was only 20 years old when he took over this leadership position 793. Nevertheless, important political renewals are attributed to him.


Shōtoku Taishi sent an embassy to China in the year 600 to explore power structures, among other things.
In 603 he created 12 ranks (kan’i jūni kai 冠 位 十二 階) for the court officials. The respective status was recognizable by caps of different colors (cap ranks).
A year later, at the age of 31, he is said to have introduced the Chinese calendar and adopted the „Constitution of the 17 Articles“. This was largely based on Confucian principles.

(Shōtoku Taishi was also very knowledgeable in Confucianism.)

However, item 2 of the Constitution declares Buddhism a guiding moral principle.
Buddhist temples built by Shōtoku Taishi included the Hōryū-ji in Ikaruga and the Shitennō-ji in Naniwa.

As a legendary figure Shōtoku combines influences of all important spiritual traditions for Japan:
His childhood is similar to that of the historical Buddha – his conception takes place through a supernatural event; As a child he is precocious and an avid student.

In addition, he has the memory of an earlier life – he is the reincarnation of a Chinese Zen master.
Shōtoku’s behavior is based on elemental Confucian virtues, i.a. filial piety, loyalty and ceremonial courtesy.
The supernatural abilities attributed to Shōtoku include i.a. the Taoist element of the journey through the sky.
Fiction or historical personality?
Wooden statue of Shōtoku
Research by Japanese historians in recent years suggests that Shōtoku Taishi is a purely fictional person fabricated in the early chronicles Kojiki and Nihon shoki of the Nara period (710-785), a period of far-reaching social change.
The Kojiki ends with the accession of Suiko Tennō.

Shōtoku Taishi occurs here under the name Umayado ō 厩 戸 皇, without any indication of its origin or identity.

The Nihon Shoki ends with the resignation of Jitō Tennō 持 統 天皇 and the seizure of power by Monmu Tennō 文 武天皇.

Doo Yong Lee believes that the Nihon shoki should primarily provide Monmu Tennō with evidence of the legitimacy of his claim and that the fictitious person of the Shōtoku Taishi is associated with it. (Doo Yong Lee 2007: 46)
The existence of Shōtoku Taishi has already been questioned by renowned historian Tsuda Sokichi 津 田 左右 吉, who explored Kojiki and Nihon shoki in his work Nihon koten no kenkyū (Research of Classical Japanese Literature).

Above all, the stories of his birth in a stable, his ability to speak shortly after birth and his alleged ability to predict the future, do not fit the other presentation of historical persons from Shōtoku time.
Similarly, Shōtoku’s authorship of the 17 orders (Kenpō-jūshichi-jō 憲法 十七 条) in Nihon shoki is questionable.

Research has yielded many anachronisms suggesting that the 17 injunctions could not have been written in 604. Above all, the term kokushi kokuzō 国 司 国 造 [or kokushi kuni no miyatsuko] was not used in 604.

The term kokushi means „government official,“ but was first used in the ritsuryō 律令 system [historical legal system, based on the philosophy of Confucianism and Chinese legalism] established 100 years later, in the year 701. Another argument is the ideology of power centralization, which is very reminiscent of the Taika reforms of 645. (Doo Yong Lee 2007: 36-37)
The researcher and historian Ōyama Seiichi 大 山 誠 一 also believes that Shōtoku Taishi is a fictional personality, but was constructed very cleverly. Shōtoku Taishi was perceived above all among the Buddhist scholars as the incarnation of Kannon.

This can be explained by the spread of Mahāyāna Buddhism in East Asia.

At that time, Japan needed a Buddhist-trained symbolic personality with strong morals to embody the new thought.

(Doo Yong Lee 2007: 37-38)
Attributed to the victory of the pro-Buddhist Soga 蘇 我 clan over the mononobe Sh 部 (Shinto proponents) Shōtoku Taishi, the authors of the Nihon shoki helped to create the image of Shōtoku as a savior and patriarch of Buddhism in Japan , At the same time, the emerging religion established itself at the imperial court and helped transform the court on the Chinese model.
Illustrated legend

Illustrated biography of Prince Shôtoku – first scroll painting

Illustrated biography of Prince Shôtoku – second scroll painting

Two hanging scroll paintings, now owned by the Metropolitan Museum of Art, illustrate the biography of the legendary prince.

The scrolls are about 1.7m long and 0.9m wide and correspond to the style of the Kamakura period (1185-1333).

The 62 scenes depicted – executed in opaque colors on silk – are separated by buildings, landscapes and cloud layers.

The unsigned scroll paintings were attributed to Tosa Tsunetaka, who was a minor court artist of the late twelfth or early thirteenth century.

However, according to Soper, this assumption is wrong, since the scroll paintings, due to their composition, colors and small details, require the knowledge of the Yamato-e style around 1300 and the Zen style.

Because the usual hallmarks of a later period, such as cloudy colors or the intrusion of Chinese characters, are missing, Soper assumes that the scrolls were made in the middle of the fourteenth century.

This assumption is also supported by the fact that the scrolls closest to those of the Metropolitan Museum are the Daizoji Temple in the Yoshino Mountains, where the Tennō of the South Court sought refuge in 1337.


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