Prince Shotoku and Article seventeen of the Constitution /聖徳太子と十七条の憲法 No.3

This article can be read in about 16 minutes.

Do you know why Japan is called “the Land of the Rising Sun”?
The most famous theory is because of Prince Shotoku’s political achievements.

First, let’s see the geographical situation surrounding Japan around when Prince Shotoku became a regent.

In 589 A.D., the Sui dynasty dominated the whole of China.
There were Goguryeo, Paekche and Silla kingdoms in the Korean Peninsula.
The Paekche and Silla kingdoms chose a tributary relationship and received the title of “King”, while the Goguryeo kingdom fought against the Sui dynasty.
Japan had observed silently which path our country had to choose.
Surprisingly, the Goguryeo kingdom won the war four times from 598 to 614 A.D.

Next, we are going to talk about what Japan did.
Prince Shotoku’s aunt ascended the throne as the first female Tennoo, Empress Suiko, in 593A.D..
On the other hand, Prince Shotoku became a regent and he supported the foreign diplomacy.

Prince Shotoku dispatched Japanese official diplomatic delegations to the Sui dynasty (China) in 600 A.D..
He realized that Japan’s political system was not systematic enough to build an equal relationship with the Sui dynasty.
So, he rushed to develop the political system.

First, he implemented the system to rank officials into 12 levels so that skilled people could be promoted regardless of their birth in 603 A.D..
Second, he enacted Article 17 of the Constitution which was the oldest Japanese law in existence since 604A.D..

And then, he dispatched Japanese official diplomatic delegations again bringing a sovereign letter from Empress Suiko in 607A.D..
The letter started with the following statement, “the Emperor(Tenshi) of the Land of the Rising Sun is writing this to the Emperor (Tenshi) of the Land of the Setting Sun. I hope everything is going well with you.”
The rising sun means east, while setting sun means west.

There are two purposes of this letter. 
First is to build an equal relationship with the Sui dynasty. 
Second is to learn Buddhism from them.

According to Sinocentrism, there is only one Emperor (Tenshi) in the world.
China is in the center of the world and all the other races are recognized as barbarians.

Prince Shotoku intentionlly used the same name “Tenshi” for Japan’s Emperor to built an equal relationship with the Sui dynasty.
He predicted that the Sui dynasty could not reject this letter.
If the Sui dynasty rejected the letter, Japan would change its affiliation.
Japan would seek affiliation with the Goguryeo kingdom. 
This would devastate the Sui dynasty.

His tactical diplomatic skill was remarkable and amazing.
As he expected, Wen of the Sui Dynasty sent a state ambassador to Japan.

Since Emperor Wen of the Sui Dynasty was known to the person who recovered Buddhism in China, Japan requested him to learn Buddhism by dispatching Buddhist monks. 

According to the Buddhist belief, there is the world after death to the west called “the Land of Happiness”.
Calling the Sui Dynasty as the Land of the Setting Sun, meaning west, it might be proclaimed that the Sui Dynasty was equal to the Buddhism’s paradise.
Unfortunately, Emperor Wen had been killed by his son, Emperor Yang when the letter arrived.
Luckily, Buddhist monks had started being dispatched to the Sui Dynasty since after the year 608 A.D.
Thanks to this sovereign letter, two purposes were perfectly completed.

The starting statement in another sovereign letter sent in 608 A.D. changed like this. “Tenno(Japanese Emperor) in the east is politely writing this to Kotei (Chinese Emperor) in the west.”

Prince Shotoku chose the original term “Tenno” for the Japanese Emperor to avoid using “Tenshi” and “King”. Because “King” was used as the symbolic term for a tributary nation. (There is a theory that Tenno indicates the Polaris, northern star.)

Since the relationship between Japan and the Sui dynasty were going well after that, the Sui dynasty seemed to have accepted this name.

Japan became one of a few independent countries among the Eastern Asia. Thanks to Prince Shotoku’s resolute attitude.

Finally, here are the Articles 6 to 8 from Article 17 of the Constitution.

Article 6

To punish the bad and encourage the good is a good lesson from the ancient period.
So, good deeds should not be hidden and bad deeds must be rectified.
If there are people who use flattery and deceive others, they would be like sharp weapons to destroy the nation (country) and sharp swords to cut the ties of race.
Also, people who butter up explain well about their subordinates’ mistakes to their supervisors. And they disgrace their supervisors about its failures to their subordinates.
All the people like those mentioned above have neither loyalty for the emperor nor love for the nations (people).
It would cause a huge chaos.

The original one from Nihon-Shoki, Chronicles of Japan; 
六曰 懲惡勸善 古之良典 是以无匿人善 見悪必匡 其諂詐者 

Article 7

Each person has a role.
Fulfilling a role should not be confusing.
When the enlightened person is assigned to an official position, the nation chant a hymn to celebrate its prosperous politics.
When the insincere person is assigned to the same position, calamities and rebellions occur a lot.
Although there are a few people who have moral principle by nature, continuing to have it in mind makes person a sage. 
Matters are neither big nor small.
When the right person runs the government, matters are solved smoothly. 
Time is neither fast nor slow. 
If an enlightened person is able to manage the time, time seems to be enough.  
With the right person, the nation is stable forever and the deities of the land and food are also secured.
That’s why an ancient king needs a suitable person for an official position and he dose not want to create an official position for somebody he knows.

The original one from Nihon-Shoki, Chronicles of Japan; 
七曰 人各有任 掌宜不濫 其賢哲任官 頌音則起 姧者有官 
禍亂則繁 世少生知 剋念作聖 事無大少 得人必治 時無急緩 
遇賢自寛 因此國家永久 社禝勿危 故古聖王 爲官以求人 爲人不求官

Article 8

The officials who work for the emperor should come to work early in the morning and get home late.
Since all the government practices and imperial ceremonies should be conducted impeccably, it’s difficult to finish everything even for one whole day.
So, when you come to work late, you don’t have enough time to catch up. 
When you get home early, you surely don’t finish the tasks. 

The original one from Nihon-Shoki, Chronicles of Japan; 
八曰 群卿百寮 早朝晏退 公事靡盬 終日難盡 是以遲朝 不逮于急 早退必事不盡

What do you think?
Japan mentioned ourselves “the Land of Rising Sun” for the first time in 607A.D.
Is it interesting?

It would be great if the today’s prime minister would learn something from Prince Shotoku’s tactical diplomatic skills.
Comments below!

To be continued…
Go to Article seventeen of the Constitution

Go back to no.2

【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






日出づる処の天子 書を日没する処の天子に致す つつがなきや」





それでは最後に、憲法十七条から第 6 条から第 8 条までを見ておきましょう。











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