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A History of the Japanese People by F. Brinkley

Which belonged to the Shotoku family


It will be recognized by considering the uji system that while many titles existed in Japan, there was practically no promotion. A man might be raised to uji rank. Several instances of that kind have been noted, especially in the case of foreign artists or artisans migrating to the island from Korea or China. But nothing higher was within reach, and for the hereditary Kami of an uji no reward offered except a gift of land, whatever services he might render to the State. Such a system could not but tend to perfunctoriness in the discharge of duty. Perception of this defect induced the regent, Shotoku, to import from China (A.D. 603) the method of official promotion in vogue under the Sui dynasty and to employ caps as insignia of rank.* Twelve of such grades were instituted, and the terminology applied to them was based on the names of six moral qualities--virtue, benevolence, propriety, faith, justice, and knowledge--each comprising two degrees, "greater" and "lesser." The caps were made of sarcenet, a distinctive colour for each grade, the cap being gathered upon the crown in the shape of a bag with a border attached. The three highest ranks of all were not included in this category.

*In China to-day the distinguishing mark is a button of varying material fastened on the top of the cap.


In the year 626, the omnipotent Soga chief, the o-omi Umako, died. His brief eulogy in the Chronicles is that he had "a talent for military tactics," was "gifted with eloquence," and deeply reverenced "the Three Precious Things" (Buddha, Dharma, and Samgha). In the court-yard of his residence a pond was dug with a miniature island in the centre, and so much attention did this innovation attract that the great minister was popularly called Shima (island) no o-omi. His office of o-omi was conferred on his son, Emishi, who behaved with even greater arrogance and arbitrariness than his father had shown. The Empress Suiko died in 628, and the question of the accession at once became acute. Two princes were eligible; Tamura, grandson of the Emperor Bidatsu, and Yamashiro, son of Shotoku Taishi. Prince Yamashiro was a calm, virtuous, and faithful man. He stated explicitly that the Empress, on the eve of her demise, had nominated him to be her successor. But Prince Tamura had the support of the o-omi, Emishi, whose daughter he admired. No one ventured to oppose the will of the Soga chieftain except Sakaibe no Marise, and he with his son were ruthlessly slain by the orders of the o-omi.

Prince Tamura then (629) ascended the throne--he is known in history as Jomei--but Soga no Emishi virtually ruled the empire. Jomei died in 641, after a reign of twelve years, and by the contrivance of Emishi the sceptre was placed in the hands of an Empress, Kogyoku, a great-granddaughter of the Emperor Bidatsu, the claims of the son of Shotoku Taishi being again ignored. One of the first acts of the new sovereign was to raise Emishi to the rank held by his father, the rank of o-omi, and there then came into prominence Emishi's son, Iruka, who soon wielded power greater than even that possessed by his father. Iruka's administration, however, does not appear to have been altogether unwholesome. The Chronicles say that "thieves and robbers were in dread of him, and that things dropped on the highway were not picked up." But Emishi rendered himself conspicuous chiefly by aping Imperial state. He erected an ancestral temple; organized performances of a Chinese dance (yatsura) which was essentially an Imperial pageant; levied imposts on the people at large for the construction of tombs--one for himself, another for his son, Iruka--which were openly designated misasagi (Imperial sepulchres); called his private residence mikado (sacred gate); conferred on his children the title of miko (august child), and exacted forced labour from all the people of the Kamutsumiya estate, which belonged to the Shotoku family.

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