Senmyo (an Imperial Edict) (宣命)

Senmyo is a written document in which emperor's commands are recorded in a Japanese orthography only with Chinese characters, as compared with Shochoku (an imperial edict) written in classical Chinese. This literary style is called Senmyotai (a grand style written in an imperial-edict manner), its notation Senmyogaki, a messenger who reads Senmyo Senmyoshi (宣命使), and the paper on which Senmyo is drawn Senmyo-shi (宣命紙). Senmyotai is a literary style which became the origin of a composition written in kanji and kana (the Japanese syllabary), so it is a very important document for the history of development of kana.


It means imperial commands (orders) emperors issued, so originally they were proclaimed verbally and recorded in Senmyotai. In the Nara period they were used at the ceremonies such as Choga (New Year greetings or well-wishes offered by retainers to the Emperor), enthronement, changing the name of an era, investiture of the Empress, investiture of the Crown Prince, and after the Heian period, only used for imperial instructions such as appointment of ministers, conferral of posthumous ranks, shrines and the Imperial mausoleum, and so on.

Senmyotai and Senmyogaki

The literary style such as Senmyo and Norito (Shinto prayers) is referred to as Senmyotai, and its orthography, Senmyogaki, is a way of writing in which parts of speech and stems of words are written in large characters, and postpositional particles, auxiliary verbs (Japanese grammar), ending of declinable words, and so on, in flush-right smaller characters of word-and-sound Manyogana (a form of syllabary used in the Manyoshu [Collection of Ten Thousand Leaves]). 乎' is regularly used for 'wo' (を), '乃' for 'no' (の), '波' for 'ha' (は), and so on. However, there are two kinds of Senmyotai. Senmyo Daishotai in which all words including postpositional particles, and so on, are written in large characters, and Senmyo Shoshotai in which postpositional particles, and so on, are differently written in smaller characters as described above.

Senmyogaki can be called 'a composition written in kanji and manyogana,' but if the manyogana is changed to hiragana, it becomes almost the same as 'a composition written in kanji and kana,' which is a remarkable thing in the history of development of the Japanese orthography.

A model of Senmyotai

It has been presumed that Rito (an expression of Korean in Chinese characters) of ancient Korea led to Senmyotai. Korean is a similar language to Japanese and it needs grammatical elements such as postpositional particles and auxiliary verbs, and so on, therefore, it sometimes happens to insert these Korean words to ancient Korean official documents written in Chinese classics. This is called Rito, where in principle at the end of each segment of Chinese classics its elements were described in Chinese characters like okurigana (kana added to a Chinese character to show its pronunciation). This method is the same as Japanese Senmyogaki, which caused a speculation that Rito was a model of Senmyotai. However, the development into Senmyo Shoshotai where kana is written in a small size is an achievement in our country.

Senmyoshi Paper (paper for Senmyo)

Paper to describe Senmyo, for which omashi (yellowish paper made of hemp) was usually used, and hanadairo-colored (light blue) paper for Ise-jingu Shrine, and crimson paper for Kamo-jinja Shrine. Omashi refers to the paper mainly made of hemp and dyed with kihada (Amur cork) to prevent insect pests, which leads to the name of the paper. As hemp had been believed to be clean since ancient times, it was often used for copying sutras in the Nara period.


In "Shoku Nihongi" (Chronicle of Japan Continued) 62 pieces of Senmyo including the time of enthronement of Emperor Monmu in 697 are recorded. However, none of the original scripts exist.

Empress Koken's Senmyo

A copy of Empress Koken's Senmyo of April 22, 757, is included in Shoso-in Monjo (documents of Shoso-in Treasure Repository) Shoshu volume 44.

天皇 我 大命 良末等 宣 布 大命 乎 (Sumera ga Omikotoramato Noritamau Omikoto wo)
衆聞食 倍止 宣。(Moromoro Kikoshimesaeto Noru.)

此 乃 天平勝宝九歳三月廿日 (Kono Tenpyo Shoho Kyusai Sangatsu Hatsuka)
天 乃 賜 倍留 大 奈留 (Ame no Tamaeru Oinaru)
瑞 乎 頂 尓 受賜 波理 (Shirushi wo Itadaki ni Uketamawari)
I am going to proclaim my imperial command as your Empress. Everybody, listen to me carefully.

Today is August 23, 749. Heaven gave me a great lucky omen. I am happy to have it on my head.

[Original Japanese]