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A History of the Japanese People by F. Brinkley

The youthful Emperor unbosomed himself to Prince Shotoku


THE

EMPEROR SUSHUN

The deaths of Prince Anahobe and Moriya left the Government completely in the hands of Soga no Umako. There was no o-muraji; the o-omi was supreme. At his instance the crown was placed upon the head of his youngest nephew, Sushun. But Sushun entertained no friendship for Umako nor any feeling of gratitude for the latter's action in contriving his succession to the throne. Active, daring, and astute, he judged the o-omi to be swayed solely by personal ambition, and he placed no faith in the sincerity of the great official's Buddhist propaganda. Meanwhile, the fortunes of the new faith prospered. When the dying Emperor, Yomei, asked to be qualified for Nirvana, priests were summoned from Kudara. They came in 588, the first year of Sushun's reign, carrying relics (sarira), and they were accompanied by ascetics, temple-architects, metal-founders, potters, and a pictorial artist.

The Indian creed now began to present itself to the Japanese people, not merely as a vehicle for securing insensibility to suffering in this life and happiness in the next, but also as a great protagonist of refined progress, gorgeous in paraphernalia, impressive in rites, eminently practical in teachings, and substituting a vivid rainbow of positive hope for the negative pallor of Shinto. Men began to adopt the stole; women to take the veil, and people to visit the hills in search of timbers suited for the frames of massive

temples. Soga no Umako, the ostensible leader of this great movement, grew more and more arrogant and arbitrary. The youthful Emperor unbosomed himself to Prince Shotoku, avowing his aversion to the o-omi and his uncontrollable desire to be freed from the incubus of such a minister. Shotoku counselled patience, but Sushun's impetuosity could not brook delay, nor did he reflect that he was surrounded by partisans of the Soga.

A Court lady betrayed his designs to the o-omi, and the latter decided that the Emperor must be destroyed. An assassin was found in the person of Koma, a naturalized Chinese, suzerain of the Aya uji, and, being introduced into the palace by the o-omi under pretence of offering textile fabrics from the eastern provinces, he killed the Emperor. So omnipotent was the Soga chief that his murderous envoy was not even questioned. He received open thanks from his employer and might have risen to high office had he not debauched a daughter of the o-omi. Then Umako caused him to be hung from a tree and made a target of his body, charging him with having taken the Emperor's life. "I knew only that there was an o-omi," retorted the man. "I did not know there was an Emperor." Many others shared Koma's comparative ignorance when the Soga were in power. At the Emperor Yomei's death, only one person honoured his memory by entering the Buddhist priesthood. When Soga no Umako died, a thousand men received the tonsure. The unfortunate Sushun was interred on the day of his murder, an extreme indignity, yet no one ventured to protest; and even Prince Shotoku, while predicting that the assassin would ultimately suffer retribution, justified the assassination on the ground that previous misdeeds had deserved it.

Shotoku's conduct on this occasion has inspired much censure and surprise when contrasted with his conspicuous respect for virtue in all other cases. But the history of the time requires intelligent expansion. Cursory reading suggests that Umako's resolve to kill Sushun was taken suddenly in consequence of discovering the latter's angry mood. The truth seems to be that Sushun was doomed from the moment of his accession. His elder brother had perished at the hands of Umako's troops, and if he himself did not meet the same fate, absence of plausible pretext alone saved him. To suffer him to reign, harbouring, as he must have harboured, bitter resentment against his brother's slayer, would have been a weakness inconsistent with Umako's character. Sushun was placed on the throne as a concession to appearance, but, at the same time, he was surrounded with creatures of the o-omi, so that the latter had constant cognizance of the sovereign's every word and act.


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