Prince Shōtoku

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Prince Shōtoku
Prince Shotoku with Attendants, 13th century.jpg
Painting of Prince Shōtoku with two attendants. Colors on silk. Japan, Kamakura Period, 13th century.
BornFebruary 7, 574
DiedApril 8, 622(622-04-08) (aged 48)
SpouseUji no Shitsukahi
Tojiko no Iratsume
IssuePrince Yamashiro
FatherEmperor Yōmei
MotherPrincess Anahobe no Hashihito

Prince Shōtoku (聖徳太子, Shōtoku Taishi, February 7, 574 – April 8, 622[1]), also known as Prince Umayado (厩戸皇子, Umayado no ōjî) or Prince Kamitsumiya (上宮皇子, Kamitsumiya no ōji), was a semi-legendary regent and a politician of the Asuka period in Japan who served under Empress Suiko. He was the son of Emperor Yōmei and his consort, Princess Anahobe no Hashihito, who was also Yōmei's younger half-sister. His parents were relatives of the ruling Soga clan[2] and also he was involved in the defeat of the rival Mononobe clan.[3] The primary source of the life and accomplishments of Prince Shōtoku comes from the Nihon Shoki. The Prince is renowned for modernizing the government administration and for promoting Buddhism in Japan.[4]

Over successive generations, a devotional cult arose around the figure of Prince Shōtoku for the protection of Japan, the Imperial Family, and for Buddhism. Key religious figures such as Saichō, Shinran and others claimed inspiration or visions attributed to Prince Shōtoku.[3]


Shōtoku as a Buddhist pilgrim at the age of fourteen.
Colors on silk. Muromachi Period, 14th century.

According to tradition, Shōtoku was appointed regent (Sesshō) in 593 by Empress Suiko (554–628), his aunt.[5] Shōtoku, inspired by the Buddha's teachings, succeeded in establishing a centralized government during his reign. In 603, he established the Twelve Level Cap and Rank System at the court. He is credited with promulgating the seventeen-article constitution.

Shōtoku was an ardent Buddhist and is traditionally attributed the authorship of the Sangyō Gisho or "Annotated Commentaries on the Three Sutras" (the Lotus Sutra, the Vimalakirti Sutra, and the Śrīmālādevī Siṃhanāda Sūtra). The first of these commentaries, Hokke Gisho, is traditionally dated to 615 and thus regarded as "the first Japanese text", in turn making Shōtoku the first known Japanese writer.

In the late 6th century, Shōtoku led an enormous national project to promote Buddhism and he commissioned the construction of Shitennō-ji.[6][4] The Buddhist temple was built in Settsu Province (present-day Osaka) after his military victory against the powerful Mononobe clan, for he is said[by whom?] to have summoned them to crush his enemies. Shōtoku's name has been linked with Hōryū-ji, a temple in Yamato Province, and numerous other temples in the Kansai region. Documentation at Hōryū-ji claims that Suiko and Shōtoku founded the temple in the year 607. Archaeological excavations in 1939 have confirmed that Prince Shōtoku's palace, the Ikaruga no miya (斑鳩宮), stood in the eastern part of the current temple complex, where the Tō-in (東院) sits today.[7] Despite being credited as the founder of Japanese Buddhism, it is also said that the Prince respected Shinto and never visited Buddhist temples without visiting Shinto shrines.[8]

In his correspondence with Emperor Yang of Sui, Shōtoku's letter contains the earliest known written instance in which the Japanese archipelago is referred to by a term meaning "land of the rising sun." The Sui Emperor had dispatched a message in 605 that said, "the sovereign of Sui respectfully inquires about the sovereign of Wa," and Shōtoku responded by sponsoring a mission led by Ono no Imoko in 607, who brought along a note reading: "From the sovereign of the land of the rising sun (hi izuru tokoro) to the sovereign of the land of the setting sun."[9][10][11]

He is said to have been buried at Shinaga in Kawachi Province (modern Osaka Prefecture).[12]


Section of the Lotus Sutra, said to be written in Shōtoku's hand.

A legend claims that when Bodhidharma came to Japan, he met with Prince Shōtoku whilst under the guise of a starving beggar. The Prince asked the beggar to identify himself, but the man did not reply. Instead of going ahead, Shōtoku gave him food, drink, and covered him with his purple garment, telling him to "lie in peace". Shōtoku then sang for the starving man.

Alas! For
The wayfarer lying
And hungered for rice
On the hill of Kataoka
(The sunshiny)
Art thou become
Hast thou no lord
Flourishing as a bamboo?
Alas! For
The wayfarer lying
And hungered for rice!

The second day, Shōtoku sent a messenger to the starving man, but he was already dead. Hereupon, he was greatly grieved and ordered his burial. Shōtoku later thought the man was no ordinary man for sure, and sending another messenger, discovered the earth had not been disturbed. On opening the tomb there was no body inside, and the Prince's purple garment lay folded on the coffin. The Prince then sent another messenger to claim the garment, and he continued to wear it just as before. Struck by awe, the people praised the Prince: "How true it is that a sage knoweth a sage." This legend is linked with the temple of Daruma-dera in Ōji, Nara, where a stone stupa was found underground, which is exceedingly rare.

Titles and name

Shōtoku is known by several titles, although his real name is Prince Umayado (厩戸皇子, Umayado no ōji, literally ‘the prince of the stable door’) since he was born in front of a stable.[13] He is also known as Toyosatomimi (豊聡耳) or Kamitsumiyaō (上宮王). In the Kojiki, his name appears as Kamitsumiya no Umayado no Toyosatomimi no Mikoto (上宮之厩戸豊聡耳命). In the Nihon Shoki, in addition to Umayado no ōji, he is referred to as Toyosamimi Shōtoku (豊聡耳聖徳), Toyosatomimi no Nori no Ōkami (豊聡耳法大王), and simply Nori no Ushi no Ōkami (法主王).

The name by which he is best known today, Prince Shōtoku, first appeared in Kaifūsō, written more than 100 years after his death in 622 AD.


Shōtoku featured on a ¥10,000 banknote, issued in 1958.
Shōtoku on a 1948 stamp.

A number of institutes are named after Shōtoku, such as Shotoku Gakuen University and its associated junior college (both in Gifu). The first syllable of his name (聖), can be read shō in Go-on and can also be read sei in Kan-on. The later reading is found in Seitoku University and its associated junior college (both in Matsudo, Chiba) as well as Tokyo's defunct Seitoku Junior College of Nutrition (and indirectly its replacement Seiei College).


The portrait of Prince Shōtoku has appeared on 100, 1,000, 5,000 and 10,000 yen bills.[14] Two bills made with different types of materials and special inks with a face value of 100,000,000 (one hundred million yen) were also issued. The characteristic of these bills is that they have a border around it to prevent its alteration. As characteristics, it has a seal and figures in different positions starting from the middle outwards. The measurements of these 2 issues of bills are 35.3 cm x 16 cm and the other with a small variation of 34.3 by 16.5 cm. These cloth tickets were used for the exchange of important values.[citation needed]




See also


  1. A History of Japan, R.H.P. Mason & J.G. Caiger, Charles E. Tuttle Co., Tokyo 1977, 0221-000349-4615
  2. "Patron kings". Khyentse foundation. Archived from the original on 2010-09-16. Retrieved 2010-03-01.  Unknown parameter |url-status= ignored (help)
  3. 3.0 3.1 Como, Michael I. (2006). Shōtoku: ethnicity, ritual, and violence in the Japanese Buddhist tradition. New York: Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-518861-6. 
  4. 4.0 4.1 "Turtle-shaped stonework at Osaka temple dates to 7th century: study". Mainichi. April 27, 2019. Archived from the original on November 24, 2020. 
  5. Buswell, Robert Jr; Lopez, Donald S. Jr., eds. (2013). Princeton Dictionary of Buddhism. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press. pp. 811–12. ISBN 978-0-69115786-3. 
  6. Nakazawa, Yasuhiko (December 31, 2020). "Japan's oldest company defies time with merit-based succession". Nikkei. Archived from the original on January 4, 2021. 
  7. Hall, John Whitney (1988). "The Asuka Enlightenment". The Cambridge History of Japan. Cambridge University. p. 175. ISBN 978-0-52122352-2. Retrieved 2007-04-03. 
  8. Shōichi Watanabe (Professor Emeritus at Sophia University) (2014), 教育提言:私が伝えたい天皇・皇室のこと[My opinion concerning education: What I must hand down regarding the Emperor and the Imperial Family of Japan]. In Seiron, 508, 204–11.
  9. Varley, Paul. (1980). Jinnō Shōtōki, p. 128.
  10. Varley, Paul. (1973). Japanese Culture: A Short History. p. 15
  11. "遣隋使". Chinese Encyclopedia Online.  Original text: 日出處天子致書日沒處天子無恙 (Book of Sui, Volume 81)
  12. Guth, Christine. "The Divine Boy in Japanese Art." Monumenta Nipponica 42:1 (1987). p. 12.
  13. "Shotoku taishi". Answers. 
  14. "Security Features of Bank of Japan Notes". Bank of Japan. 
  15. Binyon, Laurence (2006). Painting in the Far East: An Introduction to the History of Pictorial Art in Asia, Especially China and Japan. Elibron. p. 85. ISBN 0-543-94830-7. The author of this portrait is unknown; it is generally held to be the work of a Korean artist, but is quite probably the work of a native hand. 


  • Como, Michael A. (2008). Shotoku: Ethnicity, Ritual and Violence in the Japanese Buddhist Tradition. New York: Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0-19-518861-5
  • Varley, H. Paul (1973). Japanese Culture: A Short History. New York: Praeger Publishers.
  • Varley, Paul (1980). Jinnō Shōtōki: A Chronicle of Gods and Sovereigns. New York: Columbia University Press. ISBN 978-0-231-04940-5; OCLC 59145842


  • Pradel, Chari (2008). Shoko Mandara and the Cult of Prince Shotoku in the Kamakura Period, Artibus Asiae 68 (2), 215–46
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