The rule of the Tenno

  As Chinese culture filtered into the Japanese islands, the Japanese began to adapt, sometimes wholeheartedly and sometimes otherwise, aspects of Chinese culture, such as Chinese writing, Confucianism, Taoism, Buddhism, etc. In particular, the Japanese tried to integrate the Chinese ideal of centralized government yet still retain much of the uji structure and autonomy. Even with Prince Shotoku's Seventeen Article Constitution, which vested final authority in the Emperor, the centralized government never really effectively gained control over the autonomous clans. The imperial clan began to develop a political theory that legitimated their authority over the clans by turning to Shinto and adapting the Shinto mythology and the practice of subordinating one uji's gods to another, superior uji's gods. This legitimation of authority reached its fullest form in the Taika reforms (645-694 AD) in a doctrine called Tennoism. The Emperor, or Tenno, is a member of the clan descended from the Sun-Goddess Amaterasu; all divinities owe their origin to Amaterasu for she gave birth to them. Since the Tenno clan is derived from the first of the gods, it is only natural that they should have dominion over other clans, just as Amaterasu has precedence over other kami . The Tenno himself is directly descended from Amaterasu, and so is a "manifest kami ," or kami on earth; it is this kami -nature that legitimates his personal rule.

How does the Tenno rule? He rules the state as the medium between the clans and Amaterasu. Part of the Tenno's functions is to attend to the shrines of the Sun-Goddess and receive her judgements on government through oracles, dreams, etc. The clans remain semi-autonomous, but the word of the Tenno represents the will of Amaterasu and is to be obeyed by all. Therefore, the Japanese national government was a "theocracy," or rule by the divine. For the Japanese, this theocracy distinguished them from every other human nation, for only the Japanese were ruled by an emperor with a divine nature and only the Japanese were ruled directly by the creating god. Despite long-term declines in imperial power (essentially from 1185-1868), Tennoism remained the dominant political theory in Japan to the end of World War II and still animates some of the more conservative and marginal political movements in Japan. Richard Hooker
World Cultures

1996, Richard Hooker

For information contact: Richard Hines

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