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A History of the Japanese People by F. Brinkley

655 661 On the demise of Kotoku



The importance attached to intercourse with China during the reign of Kotoku was illustrated by the dimensions of the embassies sent to the Tang Court and by the quality of the envoys. Two embassies were sent in 653, one consisting of 121 persons and the other of 120.* The former included seventeen student-priests, and among them was the eldest son of Kamatari himself. Another embassy was despatched in 654, and the records show incidently that the sea route was taken, for after a voyage lasting some months and therefore presumably of a coasting character, the envoys landed at Laichou in Shantung. They finally reached Changan, the Tang capital, and were most hospitably received by the Emperor Kao-sung. The hardships of the journey are attested by the fact that three of the student-priests died at sea. One remained in China for thirty-six years, and Joye, Kamatari's son, did not return to Japan for twelve years.

*The ship carrying the embassy was wrecked off the south coast of Japan, and out of 120 persons only five escaped.

In short, when these students left their country in search of literary, religious, and political lore, they had no assurance of ever thereafter finding an opportunity to see their homes again. The overland journey was almost impossible without guides and guards, and communication by sea seems to have been fitful and uncertain. The last of the above

three embassies was led by no less a person than the renowned scholar, Kuromaro, who had been associated with the priest, Bin, in modelling the new administrative system of Japan. Kuromaro never returned from China; he died there. A few months before the despatch of Kuromaro as envoy, his illustrious coadjutor, Bin, expired in the temple of Azumi. The Emperor repaired in person to the sick priest's chamber, and said, "If you die to-day, I will follow you to-morrow." So great was the reverence showed towards learning and piety in that era. Thus, hazardous and wearisome as was the voyage to China over stormy waters in a rude sailing boat, its successful accomplishment established a title to official preferment and high honour. It will be seen by and by that similar treatment was extended in the nineteenth century to men who visited Europe and America in the pursuit of knowledge.


On the demise of Kotoku, in 654, his natural successor would have been Prince Naka, who, ten years previously, had chosen to reform the empire rather than to rule it. But the prince deemed that the course of progress still claimed his undivided attention, and therefore the Empress Kogyoku was again raised to the throne under the name of* Saimei--the first instance of a second accession in Japanese history. She reigned nearly seven years, and the era is remarkable chiefly for expeditions against the Yemishi and for complications with Korea. To the former chapter of history sufficient reference had already been made, but the latter claims a moment's attention.

*It is scarcely necessary to remind the reader that all the names given in these pages to Japanese sovereigns are posthumous. Thus Saimei, during her lifetime, was called Ame-toyo-takara-ikashi-hi-tarashi-hime.

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