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A History of the Japanese People by F. Brinkley

Except on the supposition that Shotoku


Let the employment of the people in forced labour be at seasonable times. This is an ancient and excellent rule. Let them be employed, therefore, in the winter months when they have leisure. But from spring to autumn, when they are engaged in agriculture or with the mulberry trees, the people should not be employed. For if they do not attend to agriculture, what will they have to eat? If they do not attend to the mulberry trees, what will they do for clothing?

XVII. Decisions on important matters should not be rendered by one person alone: they should be discussed by many. But small matters being of less consequence, need not be consulted about by a number of people. It is only in the discussion of weighty affairs, when there is an apprehension of miscarriage, that matters should be arranged in concert with others so as to arrive at the right conclusion.*

*The above is taken almost verbatim from Aston's translation of the Nihongi.

For a document compiled at the beginning of the seventh century these seventeen ethical precepts merit much approbation. With the exception of the doctrine of expediency, enunciated at the close of the tenth article, the code of Shotoku might be taken for guide by any community in any age. But the prince as a moral reformer* cannot be credited with originality; his merit consists in having studied Confucianism and Buddhism intelligently. The political

purport of his code is more remarkable. In the whole seventeen articles there is nothing to inculcate worship of the Kami or observance of Shinto rites. Again, whereas, according to the Japanese creed, the sovereign power is derived from the Imperial ancestor, the latter is nowhere alluded to. The seventh article makes the eternity of the State and the security of the Imperial house depend upon wise administration by well-selected officials, but says nothing of hereditary rights. How is such a vital omission to be interpreted, except on the supposition that Shotoku, who had witnessed the worst abuses incidental to the hereditary system of the uji, intended by this code to enter a solemn protest against that system?

*It is a curious fact that tradition represents this prince as having been born at the door of a stable. Hence his original name, Umayado (Stable-door).

Further, the importance attached to the people* is a very prominent feature of the code. Thus, in Article IV, it is stated that "when the people behave with propriety the government of the State proceeds of itself;" Article V speaks of "complaints preferred by the people;" Article VI refers to "the overthrow of the State" and "the destruction of the people;" Article VII emphasises "the eternity of the State;" that "the sovereign is the master of the people of the whole country;" that "the officials to whom he gives charge are all his vassals," and that these officials, whether miyatsuko or provincial authorities, must not "presume, as well as the Government, to levy taxes on the people." All those expressions amount to a distinct condemnation of the uji system, under which the only people directly subject to the sovereign were those of the minashiro, and those who had been naturalized or otherwise specially assigned, all the rest being practically the property of the uji, and the only lands paying direct taxes to the Throne were the domains of the miyake.

*The word used is hyakusho, which ultimately came to be applied to farmers only.

Forty-two years later (A.D. 646), the abolition of private property in persons and lands was destined to become the policy of the State, but its foundations seem to have been laid in Shotoku's time. It would be an error to suppose that the neglect of Shinto suggested by the above code was by any means a distinct feature of the era, or even a practice of the prince himself. Thus, an Imperial edict, published in the year 607, enjoined that there must be no remissness in the worship of the Kami, and that they should be sincerely reverenced by all officials, In the sequel of this edict Prince Shotoku himself, the o-omi, and a number of functionaries worshipped the Kami of heaven and of earth. In fact, Shotoku, for all his enthusiasm in the cause of Buddhism, seems to have shrunk from anything like bigoted exclusiveness. He is quoted* as saying: "The management of State affairs cannot be achieved unless it is based on knowledge, and the sources of knowledge are Confucianism, Buddhism, and Shinto."** He who inclines to one of these three, must study the other two also; for what one knows seems reasonable, but that of which one is ignorant appears unreasonable. Therefore an administrator of public affairs should make himself acquainted with all three and should not affect one only, for such partiality signifies maladministration.

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