I've recently written regarding the unique role of the Meiji Constitution in establishing the Emperor's governance over the national politics of that era. However, it would be innacurate (for me) to suggest that the Japanese did not already possess a long-standing notion of the Emperor's island-wide pre-eminence. The two primary instances of this are Prince Shotoku's "Constitution" of 604 AD and the Taika Reform Edicts of 645-650 AD.
We'll cover here the Taika Reform Edicts (and elsewhere Shotoku's Constitution) which, apparently for the first time, subordinated local governance to the national Emperor.
You'll notice that 645 AD is very early into the Japanese literary timeline. (For example, Japan's unique writing style of hiragana is the much later creation of Kobo Daishi (774 - 835 / aka Kukai).) Thus, in essence, everything written during this era is wholly in the (ancient) Chinese language, using Chinese terminology and vocabulary definitions. And as students of language fully realize, words require concepts. Perhaps primarily for this reason, the Taika Reform Edicts were written under the supervision of Confucian scholars. (During this era, up to the Maoist Revolution, China viewed the Confucian texts as the primary insight for proper (Moral) government).
It could be argued that at this this moment in time, Japan cultivated much of its understanding of the divine status of its Emperor directly from Chinese intuitions. It is here, for example, that the Japanese ruler was no longer described as a regional leader, but rather a "Tenno" or "heavenly Soveriegn", a title used in Japan to this day.
There's a bit of ambiguity which arises regarding the specific Taika Reform Edicts. There were in fact only four edicts declared during the period of 645 to 650 AD. The confusion arises from that fact that during this same period, several other statements and "decrees" were made by Emperor Kotoku which undoubtedly relate to the decrees but are not themselves such.
Although I provide the text of the Edicts below, the following summaries are undoubtedly helpful:
- Corruption of Regional Officials
- abolished private ownership of land & workers, deriving from "namesake", succession, or other means of appropriation.
Regulation of the Capital; Taxes; Women
- established a central capital metropolitan region, called the Kinai (�E��), or Inner Provinces. A capital city was to be built there, and governors would be appointed.
The Role of the Emperor
- established population registers, as well as the redistribution of rice-cultivating land equitably. It also provided for the appointment of rural village heads.
The Monarchy and the People
- abolished the old forms of taxes, and established a new system.
Corruption of Regional Officials
645 AD 8th Month 19th day
Commissioners were sent to all the provinces to take a record of the total numbers of the people. The Emperor on this occasion made an edict, as follows:
"In the times of all the Emperors, from antiquity downwards, subjects have been set apart for the purpose of making notable their reigns and handing down their names to posterity. Now the Omi 11 and Muraji 12, the Tomo no Miyakko 5 and the Kuni no Miyakko 2, have each one set apart their own vassals, whom they compel to labor at their arbitrary pleasure. Moreover, they cut off the hills and seas, the woods and plains, the ponds and rice-fields belonging to the provinces and districts, and appropriate them to themselves. Their contests are never-ceasing. Some engross to themselves many tens of thousands of shiro 13 of rice-land, while others possess in all patches of ground too small to stick a needle into. When the time comes for the payment of taxes, the Omi, the Muraji, and the Tomo no Miyakko, first collect them for themselves and then hand over a share. In the case of repairs to palaces or the construction of misasagi 14, they each bring their own vassals, and do the work according to circumstances. The Book of Changes 15 says, " Diminish that which is above: increase that which is below: if measures are framed according to the regulations, the resources of the State suffer no injury, and the people receive no hurt."
"At the present time, the people are still few. And yet the powerful cut off portions of land and water, and converting them into private ground, sell it to the people, demanding the price yearly. From this time forward the sale of land is not allowed. Let no man without due authority make himself a landlord, engrossing to himself that which belongs to the helpless."
Regulation of the Capital; Taxes; Women
646 AD 1st month, 1st day
As soon as the ceremonies of the new year's congratulations were over, the Emperor promulgated an edict of reforms, as follows:
"I. Let the people established by the ancient Emperors, etc., as representatives of children be abolished, also the Miyake 16 of various places and the people owned as serfs by the Wake, 17 the Omi, the Muraji, the Tomo no Miyakko, the Kuni no Miyakko and the Mura no Obito. 18 Let the farmsteads in various places be abolished."
"Further We say. It is the business of the Daibu to govern the people. If they discharge this duty thoroughly, the people have trust in them, and an increase of their revenue is therefore for the good of the people.
II. The capital is for the first time to be regulated, and Governors appointed for the Home provinces and districts. 20 Let barriers, outposts,guards, and post-horses, both special and ordinary, be provided, bell-tokens made, 21 and mountains and rivers regulated. 22
For each ward in the capital let there be appointed one alderman, and for four wards one chief alderman, who shall be charged with the superintendence of the population, and the examination of criminal matters. For appointment as chief aldermen of wards let men be taken belonging to the wards, of unblemished character, firm and upright, so that they may fitly sustain the duties of the time. For appointments as aldermen, whether of rural townships or of city wards, let ordinary subjects be taken belonging to the township or ward, of good character and solid capacity. If such men are not to be found in the township or ward in question, it is permitted to select and employ men of the adjoining township or ward.
The Home provinces shall include the region from the River Yokogaha at Nabari on the east, from Mount Senoyama in Kii on the south, from Kushibuchi in Akashi on the west, and from Mount Afusaka-yama in Sasanami in Afumi on the north. Districts of forty townships 23 are constituted Greater Districts, of from thirty to four townships are constituted Middle Districts, and of three or fewer townships are constituted Lesser Districts. For the district authorities, of whatever class, let there be taken Kuni no Miyakko 2 of unblemished character, such as may fitly sustain the duties of the time, and made Tairei and Shorei. 24 Let men of solid capacity and intelligence who are skilled in writing and arithmetic be appointed assistants and clerks.
The number of special or ordinary post-horses given shall in all cases follow the number of marks on the posting bell-tokens. When bell-tokens are given to (officials of) the provinces and barriers, let them be held in both cases by the chief official, or in his absence by the assistant official.
III. Let there now be provided for the first time registers of population, books of account and a system of the receipt and re-granting of distribution-land.
Let every fifty houses be reckoned a township, and in every township let there be one alderman who shall be charged with the superintendence of the registers of population, the direction of the sowing of crops and the cultivation of mulberry trees, the prevention and examination of offences, and the enforcement of the payment of taxes and of forced labor.
For rice-land, thirty paces in length by twelve paces in breadth shall be reckoned a tan. Ten tan make one cho. For each tan the tax is two sheaves and two bundles (such as can be grasped in the hand) of rice; for each cho the tax is twenty-two sheaves of rice. On mountains or in valleys where the land is precipitous, or in remote places where the population is scanty, such arrangements are to be made as may be convenient.
IV. The old taxes and forced labor are abolished, and a system of commuted taxes instituted. These shall consist of fine silks, coarse silks, raw silk, and floss silk, all in accordance with what is produced in the locality. For each cho of rice land the rate is ten feet of fine silk, or for four cho one piece forty feet in length by two and a half feet in width. For coarse silk the rate is twenty feet (per cho), or one piece for every two cho of the same length and width as the fine silk. For cloth the rate is forty feet of the same dimensions as the fine and coarse silk, i.e. one tan for each cho. Let there be levied separately a commuted house tax. All houses shall pay each twelve feet of cloth. The extra articles of this tax, as well as salt and offerings, will depend on what is produced in the locality.
For horses for the public service, let every hundred houses contribute one horse of medium quality. Or if the horse is of superior quality, let one be contributed by every two hundred houses. If the horses have to be purchased, the price shall be made up by a payment from each house of twelve feet of cloth.
As to weapons, each person shall contribute a sword, armour, bow and arrows, a flag, and a drum.
For servants, the old system, by which one servant was provided by every thirty houses, is altered, and one servant is to be furnished from every fifty houses [one is for employment as a menial servant] for allotment to the various functionaries. Fifty houses shall be allotted to provide rations for one servant, and one house shall contribute twenty two feet of cloth and five masu 25 of rice in lieu of service.
For waiting-women in the Palace, let there be furnished the sisters or daughters of district officials of the rank of Shorei or upwards?good-looking women [with one male and two female servants to attend on them], and let 100 houses be allotted to provide rations for one waiting-woman. The cloth and rice supplied in lieu of service shall, in every case, follow the same rule as for servants."
The Role of the Emperor
646 AD 8th month, 14th day
An edict was issued, saying,
"Going back to the origin of things, we find that it is Heaven and Earth with the male and female principles of nature, 29 which guard the four seasons from mutual confusion. We find, more over, that it is this Heaven and Earth which produces the ten thousand things. Amongst these ten thousand things Man is the most miraculously gifted. Among the most miraculously gifted beings, the sage takes the position of ruler. Therefore the Sage Rulers, that is, the Emperors, take Heaven as their model in ruling the World, and never for a moment dismiss from their breasts the thought of how men shall gain their fit place. . . ."
The Monarchy and the People
647 AD 4th month, 29th day
An edict was issued as follows,
"The Empire was entrusted (by the Sun-Goddess to her descendants, with the words) 'My children, in their capacity as Deities, shall rule it.' For this reason, this country, since Heaven and Earth began, has been a monarchy. From the time that Our Imperial ancestor first ruled the land, there has been great concord in the Empire, and there has never been any factiousness. In recent times, however, the names, first of the Gods, and then of the Emperors, have in some cases been separated (from their proper application) and converted into the Uji of Omi or Muraji, or they have been separated and made the qualifications of Miyakko, etc. In consequence of this, the minds of the people of the whole country take a strong partisan bias, and conceiving a deep sense of the "me" and "you," hold firmly each to their names. Moreover the feeble and incompetent Omi, 11 Muraji, 12 Tomo no Miyakko 5 and Kuni no Miyakko 2 make of such names their family names; and so the names of Gods and the names of sovereigns are applied to persons and places in an unauthorized manner, in accordance with the bent of their own feelings. Now, by using the names of Gods and the names of sovereigns as bribes, they draw to themselves the slaves of others, and so bring dishonor upon unspotted names.
The consequence is that the minds of the people have become unsettled and the government of the country cannot be carried on. The duty has therefore now devolved on Us in Our capacity as Celestial Divinity, to regulate and settle these things. In order to make them understood, and thereby to order the State and to order the people, We shall issue, one after another, a succession of edicts, one earlier, another later, one to-day and another to-morrow. But the people, who have always trusted in the civilizing influence exercised by the Emperors, and who are used to old customs, will certainly find it hard to wait until these edicts are made. We shall therefore remit to all, from Princes and Ministers down to the common people of all classes, the tax in lieu of service."