Prince Shōtoku

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10,000 Yen banknote with Prince Shōtoku, front.

Prince Shōtoku (聖徳太子, Shōtoku Taishi, February 7, 574 – April 8, 622), 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 and also he was involved in the defeat of the rival Mononobe clan. The primary source of the life and accomplishments of Prince Shōtoku comes from the Nihon Shoki.


  • When, in 586 A.D., the Emperor Yomei died, the succession was contested in arms by two rival families, both of them politically devoted to the new creed. Prince Shotoku Taishi, who had been born, we are told, with a holy relic clasped in his infant hand, led the Buddhist faction to victory, established the Empress Suiko on the throne, and for twenty-nine years (592-621) ruled the Sacred Islands as Prince Imperial and Regent. He lavished funds upon Buddhist temples, encouraged and supported the Buddhist clergy, promulgated the Buddhist ethic in national decrees, and became in general the Ashoka of Japanese Buddhism. He patronized the arts and sciences, imported artists and artisans from Korea and China, wrote history, painted pictures, and supervised the building of the Horiuji Temple, the oldest extant masterpiece in the art history of Japan.
    Despite the work of this versatile civilizer, and all the virtues inculcated or preached by Buddhism, another violent crisis came to Japan within a generation after Shotoku’s death.
  • A key point of the texts attributed to Shotoku is that if rulers and bureaucrats believe they are the owners rather than the servants of the law, corruption will follow.
    Corruption was already a problem in the 7th century, and the Shotoku writings define it as privileging the officials’ private interests over the public ones.
    Manipulating the public in the interest of the private is the very definition of corruption.

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