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The most important leader of the early years of

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Unformatted text preview: opposing camps. One consisted of families which, as Shinto ritualists and elite imperial guards, felt most threatened by the changes Buddhism portended; the other camp, including the Soga family, took a progressive position in favor of Buddhism and reform. In the late 580s, the Soga prevailed militarily over their opponents and, further strengthened by marriage ties to the imperial family, inaugurated an epoch of great renovation in Japan. The most important leader of the early years of reform was Prince Shòtoku (574–622), who with Soga blessing became crown prince and regent for an undistinguished empress (fig. 8). Shòtoku has been greatly idealized in history, and it is difficult to judge how much credit he truly deserves for the measures and policies attributed to him. Yet, he seems ardently to have loved learning and probably he was instrumental in ex- Fig. 8 Lacquered wooden statue of Prince Shòtoku, Edo period (Honolulu Academy of Arts, Gift of Nathan V Hammer, 1953 [1804.1] ) . 24 The Introduction of Buddhism panding the relations with Sui China that were critical at this time to the advancement of Japanese civilization. Quite likely it was also Shòtoku who wrote the note to the Sui court in 607 that began: “From the sovereign of the land of the rising sun to the sovereign of the land of the setting sun.” The Sui emperor did not appreciate this lack of respect and refused to reply; but the note made an important point. In earlier centuries, rulers of the land of Wa, such as Himiko of Yamatai, had sent missions to China. Henceforth, however, Japan intended to uphold its independence and would not accept the status of humble subordination expected of countries that sent tribute to mighty China. Formerly, the Japanese had called their country Yamato, but sometime in the seventh century they adopted the designation of Nihon (or Nippon), written with the Chinese characters for “sun” and “source.” Apparently they hoped that this designation, derived from the fact that Japan’s location in th...
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