Prince Shotoku and Article seventeen of the Constitution /聖徳太子と十七条の憲法

This article can be read in about 9 minutes.

Image of Prince Shotoku

Many Japanese think highly of Prince Shotoku.
It’s because he established the foundation of Japanese society by fulfilling four achievements.

  1.  To make the first system to rank officials into 12 levels so that talented people could be promoted regardless of their birth.
  2.  To enact Article seventeen of the Constitution which was the oldest Japanese law in existence.
  3.  To make Japan an independent country by establishing a fifty-fifty relationship with the Emperor of Sui dynasty in China.
  4.  To complete the religious battle by worshipping both Shintoism and Buddhism.

Actually, 2021 is the 1,400th anniversary of his death.

  1. the first ranking system

He set 6 different ranks called “Toku, Jin, Rei, Shin, Gi and Chi” based on Confucianism. 
Each rank was separated into two, “small” and “large”. 
Each rank of “Toku, Jin, Rei, Shin, Gi and Chi” had significant colors such as purple, blue, red, yellow, white, black, respectively. 
Dark and light purple were used at the same rank representing large and small in the same order as mentioned.
The colors and their intensity of the crown could distinguish their ranks.
“Toku, Jin, Rei, Shin, Gi and Chi” means virtue, women’s love or devotion, rules of courtesy, faith, men’s love or devotion, prajna, respectively.

2. Article seventeen of the Constitution

The seventeen-Article Constitution is the oldest Japanese law in existence.
It was authored by Prince Shotoku and was enacted by Empress Suiko in 604A.D.
Unlike the current constitution, it consists of morals.

Article one advocated respect for harmony.
Then, respect for Buddhism came next in article two.
Finally, the country’s political system that the emperor was the head of the state was declared in article three.

When we see the current constitutions in the world, it’s common that article one or preamble declares the country’s political system such as democracy and socialism.
But this first Japanese constitution advocated respect for harmony and Buddhism before the declaration of the country’s political system.
We could imagine how important Prince Shotoku considered cultivating people’s mind.
It’s noteworthy that article 10 and 17 can still be applied to our daily life because it mentions what we should do as human beings.
If we mastered these, we would live happier.
Other articles just mentioned the manners of the officials, though

Let’s see what these are.

Article 1 (translated from Nihon-Shoki, Chronicles of Japan)

Harmony should be respected and order should be valued. 

Human beings with the same opinions and thought tend to gather and start making a group. 
Also it’s rare to be a master of the art of living.
Therefore, human beings are disobedient to their masters and fathers. 
Instantly, human beings are in discord with neighbors.
However, when people keep harmony with their seniors, keep in peace with juniors, and have concert in discussion, things will be going well naturally.
There is no way things can’t be done.

The original one from Nihon-Shoki, Chronicles of Japan; 
一曰 以和爲貴 無忤爲宗 人皆有黨 亦少達者 以是或不順君父 
乍違于隣里 然上和下睦 諧於論事 則事理自通 何事不成

Article 2 

Respect three treasures. 
Three treasures are Buddha, Dharma and Buddhist monks.

In other words, these are universal precepts that are considered as an anchorage for all living things that had come into existence in four different ways (viviparity, oviparity, hydrarch, and metaplasia).
No period or no person does not respect these universal precepts.
There are a few people who are extremely bad. 
People follow teachings when people are taught well.
There is nothing that can fix the crooked mind if it’s not founded in these three treasures.

The original one from Nihon-Shoki, Chronicles of Japan; 
二曰 篤敬三寶 三寶者佛法僧也 則四生之終歸 萬國之極宗 
何世何人非貴是法 人鮮尤惡 能敎従之 其不歸三寶 何以直枉

What do you think? Comment below!

To be continued…
Go to Article seventeen of the Constitution

【Translation for language learners of either English or Japanese】/英語・日本語学習者向け翻訳 えいご ・  にほんごがくしゅうしゃむ  ほんやく


  1. 冠位十二階を制定し、出自ではなく能力のある人を登用できるようにした。
  2. 現存最古の十七条の憲法を制定した。
  3. 隋と対等の関係を築くことにより、日本を独立国とした。
  4. 神道と仏教を両方崇拝することにより、宗教戦争を終わりにした。











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