Emperor Kotoku (孝徳天皇)

Emperor Kotoku (596 - November 24, 654) was the thirty-sixth Emperor of Japan (reign: July 12, 645 - November 24, 654). His imina (personal name) was Prince Karu. His Japanese-style posthumous name was Ameyorozutoyohi no Sumeramikoto. During his reign there was a court in Naniwa-no-miya (Naniwa Palace), and thus later the period of his reign including its policies (known later as the Taika Reforms) and such were sometimes referred to as Naniwa-cho (Naniwa Court).


He was the eldest son of Oshisaka no Hikohito no Oenomiko Chinu no Okim, and Emperor Bidatsu's grandson. His mother was called Kibitsuhime Okimi. Emperor Kogyoku (Emperor Saimei) was his elder maternal half-sister, and Emperor Tenchi (Naka no Oe no Oji) was his nephew. He made Emperor Kogyoku's daughter Hashihito no Himemiko his Empress. He married ABE no Kurahashimaro's daughter Otarashihime, and fathered Prince Arima. He married SOGANOKURA-YAMADA no Ishikawamaro's daughter Chinoiratsume.

According to "Nihonshoki" (Chronicles of Japan), the emperor was a stout Buddhist and looked lightly upon the Shinto religion. He was calm and collected, liked Confucian scholars and often granted imperial clemency irrespective of the subject's social standing.

Isshi-no-hen (the Murder in the Year of Isshi) occurred in June 645, and Emperor Kogyoku tried to pass on the throne to Naka no Oe no Oji on June 14. Naka no Oe no Oji refused it and recommended Prince Karu instead. Prince Karu refused the throne three times and recommended Furuhito no Oe no Miko, but Furuhito no Oe no Miko refused it and became a priest.

On June 14 Prince Karu stepped onto the stage and assumed the throne. He gave Emperor Kogyoku the title Sumemioya no mikoto and made Naka no Oe no Oji the Crown Prince. He made ABE no Uchimaro (ABE no Kurahashimaro) Sadaijin (minister of the left) and Soga no ishikawa no Maro Udaijin (minister of the right). He made NAKATOMI no Kamako (FUJIWARA no Kamatari) Uchitsuomi (an important governmental post presiding over important state affairs while assisting the Emperor). He made Somin and TAKAMUKU no Kuromaro Kunihakase (teachers of Japanese classical literature).

He was the first to establish gengo (an era name), designating 645 as the first year of Taika, and in 650 changed the gengo to Hakuchi in 650. According to "Nihonshoki," Emperor Kotoku implemented system reforms in various fields from 645 through the following year. These reforms came to be called the Taika Reforms by later scholars. Among Kaishin no Mikotonori's (the Imperial Reform Edict) four articles which the Chronicles cited regarding these reforms, the first and the fourth are known to have been altered based on the government regulations of later generations. For this reason, some claim that the major reforms which the Chronicles described had not occurred at this time, and this has become an extremely controversial point regarding the history of Japan, referred to as the Taika Reform Dispute.

During the reign of Emperor Kotoku, envoys often visited from Goguryeo, Baekje and Silla (the three kingdoms of Korea). Hostages were sent not only from Baekje as in the past, but also from Silla which was on the defensive in the Korean peninsula. Japan (Wa in those days) abolished the survey of Mimana which had become a mere façade. An envoy with accompanied by many personnel was sent to Tang (China). Josaku (stockades) called Nutari no Ki and Iwafune no Ki were built in Koshi Province to defend against the northern Emishi people, manned by Sakuko (immigrants from the Kanto and Hokuriku regions who were forced to work for the government). This is the first appearance of josaku (an official defense site) and Sakuko in historical documents.

Emperor Kotoku built Naniwa no Nagara no Toyosaki no Miya Palace (Chuo Ward, Osaka City [Osaka City]) and designated the city as the capital of Japan. However in 653, the crown prince asked the emperor to move to the City in Yamato. When the emperor refused, the crown prince moved to the City in Yamato with Empress Kogyoku, his empress and his younger brother (Emperor Tenmu). Most of vassals left following the prince. The emperor was disappointed with this and the next year fell sick and passed away.

Nowadays, some historians claim that Prince Karu was the 'mastermind' who abetted Naka no Oe no Oji to cause 'Isshi no hen.'
However, Prince Karu gave important posts to many local ruling families of the Soga clan after he ascended the throne, which is sure to invite debate in future years.

Chronological List of Major Events


June 12

- Naka no Oe no Oji killed Soga no Iruka.

June 13

- Soga no Emishi set his house on fire and committed suicide.

June 14

- Emperor Kotoku assumed the throne.

This year was designated the first year of Taika.

July 2

- He married his empress and two other wives.

July 10

- Envoys from Goguryeo, Baekje and Silla brought tributes. He reprimanded the envoy from Baekje who had brought Minama's tributes because of the insufficient amount.


- He imposed nusa (symbols of divinity made of cloth or paper and hung on a pole) for gods on Owari Province and Mino Province.


- He appointed Kokushi (provincial governors) in Togoku (the eastern part of Japan, particularly Kanto region) and so on, and ordered them to create koseki (household registers) and survey fields. He prepared a bell in the imperial court for those protesting the delay of lawsuits to ring. He designated the difference of Ryomin (law-abiding people) and Nuhi (slaves).


- He promised the support for Buddhism and selected ten Buddhist priests including Somin as the ten preceptors.


- He sent envoys to control weapons in various provinces.


- Furuhito no Oe no Miko tried to rise in revolt.


- Naka no Oe no Oji defeated Furuhito no Oe no Miko (both November 30 and November).


- He forbade the rental of land.


- He transferred the capital to Naniwa Nagara Toyosaki.



- He declared Kaishin no Mikotonori (the Imperial Reform Edict).


- He went to Koshiro no karimiya (a temporary palace). He commissioned the construction and operation of arms storage in his territories.


- He set up a box to receive letters from his subjects.


- He returned from Koshiro no karimiya. Envoys from Goguryeo,Baekje, Mimana and Silla brought tributes.


- He issued an admonition to the Kokushi in Togoku.


- He issued a decree to the Choshushi (clerks conveying public documents under the "Ritsuryo" system) to condemn and admonish the misadministration of the Kokushi.


- Naka no Oe no Oji dedicated his own iribe and miyake (empire-controlled territory) to the Emperor.


- He stipulated the institution of tombing for vassals and common people and forbade martyrdom. He forbade various foolish practices related to purification. He ordered the registration of contracted horse breeding en route to the capital and prohibited fraud. He gave rice fields to ichi-no-tsukasa (governmental organization) and boatmen on main channels and stopped the collection of transport fees.


- He abolished Shinabe (technicians in offices) and old positions and re-established all official positions, and issued the policy to ordain official court ranks.


- He sent TAKAMUKO no Kuromaro to Silla and made them stop the survey of Mimana. He went to Kawazu no karimiya.



- Envoys from Goguryeo and Silla brought tributes.


- He issued the order to give choyo (taxes in tribute and labor under the ritsuryo system) to imperial princes, a large number of his subjects and peasants.

Other Events This Year

He destroyed Ogoori and built a palace.

He stipulated the manners of entering government service for those who had a rank.

ARATAI no Hirabu mistakenly dug a ditch to Namba and some remonstrated against restarting the construction work, so it was cancelled immediately.


- He went to Arima-Onsen Hot Spring.


- He went to Muko no Karimiya (a temporary palace).

Other Events This Year

He established the seven-colored thirteen-grade cap rank system.

Silla sent Kinshunju (later King Buretsuo) to see TAKAMUKO no Kuromaro and others off. Kinshunju stayed as a hostage.

He built Nutari no Ki and manned them with Sakuko.



- He sent trainee monks to the Three Kingdoms of Korea.


- He abolished the use of old court caps. The ministers of the left and right continued to wear the old court caps.

Other Events This Year

- Silla sent an envoy to offer tributes.

He established Iwafune no Ki to prepare against Ezo and selected citizens from Koshi and Shinano Provinces to place the first Sakuko there.



He established the nineteen-rank cap system.

He ordered TAKAMUKO no Kuromaro and Shaku Somin to establish all the officials in the eight provinces.


- Upon ABE no Kurahashimaro's passing the emperor went to Shuzaku-mon Gate and wailed and cried in anguish.


- SOGA no Himuka slandered SOGA no Ishikawa maro to the crown prince. The emperor rose in arms, causing Ishikawamaro to flee.


- Soga no Ishikawa maro committed suicide.


- The pursuing army decapitated SOGA no Ishikawamaro.


- He appointed Kose no Tokuta sadaijin (Minister of the left) and Otomo no Nagatoko udaijin (minister of the right).


- He sent MIWA no Shikofu and KAMORI no Tsunumaro to Silla.

Other Events This Year

- Silla sent Kintasui as a hostage.



- He went to Ajifu no Miya Palace to perform the New Year's Greetings and returned home within the day.


- KUSAKABE no shikofu, Kokushi of Nagato Province, dedicated a white Japanese pheasant.



- He held a ceremony to see the white Japanese pheasant, granted amnesty and changed the name of the era to Hakuchi (white pheasant), forbade the release of hawks in Anato Province and exempted Anato Province from giving tributes for three years.


- Silla sent an envoy to offer tributes.


- He gave things to people who had had their family tombs destroyed or had been made to relocate to make room for the new palace, and had ARATAI no Hirabu put up a sign marking the boundary of the palace.

Other Events This Year

Yamaguchi no Oguchiatai was commissioned to carve one thousand Buddha statues.

He commissioned Aki Province to build two Baekje-style ships.



- Baekje and Silla sent envoys to bring tributes and gifts.


- He moved from Ogori to a new palace and named it Naniwa Nagara Toyosaki no Miya Palace (there is an article dated December 9, 645 with the same subject).

Other Events This Year

- Chima, the envoy bringing tributes from Silla, arrived at Tsukushi Province in Tang costume – the change was condemned and he was driven back.



- After he finished New Year's Greetings, he went to Ogori no Miya Palace.

Unknown Month

- He finished allotting farmland.


- He returned to Naniwa no Miya.


- He called the priest Eon to the Imperial Palace, ordered him to give a lecture on the Sutra of Immeasurable Life, appointed shamon (priest) Eshi to debate with him and 1000 shamon to be the audience.


- He finished a lecture.


- He established the family registration system of ancient times. Baekje and Silla sent envoys to bring tributes.


- The palace was completed.


- He called the monks and nuns of his empire to the imperial palace, entertained them, generously gave alms and burned a fire.



- He sent an envoy to Tang (China). The commander-in-chief of the first ship was KISHI no Nagani and the vice commander was KISHI no Koma. The commander-in-chief of the other ship was TAKADA no Nemaro and the vice commander was KANIMORI no Omaro.


- He visited the room where Minhoshi was lying ill and directly offered kind words (also in July, 654).


Baekje and Silla sent envoys to bring tributes.

Hearing of Minhoshi's death, he sent an envoy to offer condolences and give presents. Also, he had many statues of Buddha and Bosatsu made for Minhoshi and had them stored in Yamada-dera Temple.


- Among the five who survived the shipwreck of the envoy to Tang (TAKADA no Nemaro), he commended MONBU Kin who built a raft and sought help, raising his rank and offering a stipend.

Other Events This Year

- The crown prince (Naka no Oe no Oji) asked him to move to the City in Yamato, but the emperor refused. The crown prince went to Yamato no Asuka no Kawara no Karimiya with the Founder of the Imperial Family (Empress Kogyoku), the empress (Hashihito) and his younger brother. Many nobles, masters and officials followed suit. Unhappy, the emperor wished to retire from the throne and had a palace built in Yamazaki and sent a song to the empress.



- He gave murasaki no kouburi (purple cap) to NAKATOMI no Kamatari and raised his stipend.


- He sent an envoy to Tang (China). The oshi (supreme commander) was TAKAMUKO no Kuromaro, the commander-in-chief was KAWABE no maro and the vice commander was KUSUSHI no Enichi (as in May).


- KISHI no Nagani and others from the envoy to the western seacoast provinces arrived at Tsukushi with the envoys from Baekje and Silla.


- Hearing of the Emperor's illness, the crown prince led the Founder of the Imperial Family, the empress, his younger brother and court nobles to Naniwa no Miya Palace.


- He passed away.


- He was buried in Shinagaryo in Osaka.

Asuka Period (27th to 37th emperors)

Ryobo (mausoleum)
Osaka no Shinaga no Misasagi in Taishi Town, Minamikawachi County, Osaka Prefecture (Osaka Prefecture) is considered to be his burial place.

[Original Japanese]