FOLLY OF REMOVING PRINCE SHOTOKU FROM JAPANESE HISTORY
Prince Shotoku (574-622) is one of the greatest figures in Japanese history, someone whose name few Japanese fail to recognize. But based on a baffling proposal for new school curriculum guidelines announced abruptly on February 14 by the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology (hereafter the Education Ministry), it appears his name could soon be erased from school textbooks.
Prince Shotoku would be referred to as “Umayado no Oh” from now on, if the ministry’s proposal is implemented. However, renowned Shinto scholar Akinori Takamori writes that he could not find a single entry on Amazon under the proposed new name.
What on earth are the education authorities trying to achieve by replacing a name so familiar to virtually all Japanese with one that doesn’t have even a single entry on Amazon? It is said that names reflect the nature of the person. Whoever thought up this folly of effectively erasing from our folk memory one of Japan’s most important heroes?
As many Japanese know well, Prince Shotoku was barely 20 years old when he was named regent for Empress Suiko (592-628), his aunt. In modern parlance, Shotoku became prime minister, entrusted with the governance of Japan before arriving at manhood. Despite his young age, however, the wise and great prince competently fulfilled his responsibilities one after the other.
Shotoku managed to settle a half-century-old dispute over whether or not to allow Buddhism into the land of the Shinto gods, deciding to accommodate the new religion—a generous decision unthinkable in nations that believed in monotheistic religions like Christianity or Islam.
In 603, Shotoku set up the Twelve-Level Cap and Rank System at the court, allowing for promotion based on merit and individual achievement within a system that had hitherto been based on heredity of political authority. This reform exerted a strong influence on posterity, leading to a new philosophy of administration that transcended the traditional class system.
Then in 604, Shotoku promulgated the Seventeen-Article Constitution, laying down the foundation of governance that placed a particular emphasis on the importance of gentle and compassionate rule. Shotoku’s style of governance was the exact opposite of the merciless rule by Emperor Yang (569-618) of the Sui Dynasty in China, who enslaved several hundred thousand of his subjects, leading many to death.
Origin of Japanese Values
Three years later, in 607, Shotoku sponsored a mission led by Ono no Imoko that put Japan on an equal footing with Sui China, sending this now famous message to his Sui counterpart: “From the sovereign land of the rising sun to the sovereign of the setting sun, may good health be with you.”
Ever since that time, Japan has steadily nurtured its own Yamato civilization independent of the Chinese sphere of cultural influence. Emperor Tenmu (673-686) continued the strengthening of Yamato culture, and Emperor Shomu (724-749) further solidified the foundation of imperial rule over Japan.
Today, Japanese and Chinese values are contrary to each other in virtually every respect. We must be grateful that we have been able to retain our own values since ancient times, and, furthermore, that we live our lives in a society absolutely alien to Chinese values. Those traditional values trace back to Prince Shotoku.
Flexing its military and economic muscles, China continues to present a serious challenge to existing international law and order. Beijing is going straight on a hegemonic path, interpreting international law the Chinese way. At home, China never tolerates criticism of its Communist government, restricts freedom, and suppresses its people, while leaving basically unresolved corruption in the government and inequality among its people.
It is with the contrasting values of this perverted power that we are now in conflict. Teaching our children the traditional values that form the core of our civilization constitutes the basis of them living their future lives as Japanese with a great sense of pride. It is mandatory for every Japanese to come to grips with our civilization, take its merits to heart, nurture compassion for others, and deepen our confidence as citizens of a nation with a unique and profound tradition. For that purpose, Prince Shotoku is a person we should never be allowed to forget.
But our education authorities are changing Shotoku’s name despite his invaluable contributions to the formation of our national character. Their reason: Prince Shotoku is the posthumous name of Umayado no Ohji and, because he is generally referred to as Umayado no Oh by history scholars, the proposed change is necessary in order to teach the “historical fact” correctly. If so, the names of all of the past emperors must also be changed. To change Shotoku’s name alone simply does not make sense.
Also, as the conservative daily Sankei Shimbun noted in its editorial on February 27, if posthumous names are unacceptable, “Kobo Taishi” (known as Kukai during his lifetime) must be changed as well. But such a name change would certainly create major confusion not only among our children but with adults as well. Passing on our history would become extremely difficult.
Hiroshi Yamada, a Liberal Democratic lawmaker, points out:
“Prince Shotoku determined the way for Japan to proceed without becoming a vassal state of China and took the first step towards nurturing a national character based on decency and discretion. He is credited with having established this fundamental virtue of Japan. That is why we Japanese show tremendous affection and respect for him, going so far as to issue banknotes bearing his portrait. I cannot but suspect a conspiracy must exist to remove from our history the name of Prince Shotoku—the source of our pride—as a means of undermining our pride as a people.”
Is the Ministry of Education an Abode of Demons?
In the framework of education formulated by the Ministry of Education, Japanese history has for years been put on the back burner. Starting in 2020, curriculum guidelines for elementary, junior and senior high schools will finally be revised. Today, however, Japanese history at the high school level remains an optional subject, unlike world history, which is required.
Japanese children start learning Japanese history in grade six, and are entitled to only 68 units of 45-minute classes. This leads to shallow historical learning. On top of it, grossly fabricated or twisted content has been rampant in textbooks, as has been the case with “comfort women” and the so-called “Nanjing Massacre.”
British historian Arnold Toynbee has remarked that those who forget their own myths and history are doomed. But in Japan, we have long not even been taught enough to reach the point of forgetting.
When Shinzo Abe became prime minister and Hakubun Shimomura education minister after several generations of “anti-Japanese” education forced on us by the left wing camp, I was hopeful that finally the situation would be rectified. But not so. Suddenly, new curriculum guidelines have been proposed that make no secret of their contempt for Japan. Is the Ministry of Education simply an abode of demons, an out-and-out anti-Japanese organization that can never be reformed?
“The problem lies with the ministry bureaucrats. The ministry has a framework under which the opinions of certain individuals are reflected in what is taught for specific subjects. Attached to the ministry is the National Institute for Educational Research, under which comes the National Institute for Educational Policy Research. This center has inspectors, who are assigned to scrutinize specific elementary and junior high school textbooks and make recommendations. The textbooks obviously reflect their opinions significantly. What type of inspectors are assigned to the center must strictly be checked.”
In the past, former ambassador to India, Eijiro Noda, served as a member of the ministry’s Textbook Authorization Research Council. Scheming to gain majority support for his campaign to reject specific textbooks, Noda has criticized the Japanese government for such actions as protesting North Korea’s launch of Taepodong missiles or for overly emphasizing its abduction of Japanese citizens. The Education Ministry apparently has a base for accommodating individuals with twisted thoughts.
Given this background, it is critical that we express our stern opposition to the Education Ministry over the projected change of Prince Shotoku to “Umayado no Oh.”
(Translated from “Renaissance Japan” column #744 in the March 9, 2017 edition of The Weekly Shincho)