Imperial Inscription (勅額)

The tem "imperial inscription" ('chokugaku' in Japanese) refers to inscriptions at temples which were written by rulers such as the emperor and typically given to temples throughout the country.

The imperial inscription system in China

The Tang Dynasty had a system of giving imperial inscriptions to specific temples as a protective policy for large national temples. It is believed this was to curb the upsurge in unauthorized small temples, which were known as shodai and rannya. The origin of the system is not clear, but it is known that it was already in place by the Sui Dynasty.

During the reign of Emperor Taizong of the Northern Song Dynasty, imperial inscriptions began to be widely granted. In 978, Emperor Taizong announced the bestowal of inscriptions such as 'Taiping Xingguo' and 'Qian Ming' to temples throughout the country that did not already have inscriptions. After that, successive emperors such as the Northern Song Dynasty emperors Zhenzong and Renzong often gave inscriptions to temples that did not already have one, earning warnings from figures such as Guang SIMA. This excessive granting of inscriptions was explained in an Imperial edict as being a prayer for the safety of the Imperial family as part of 'cultivating merit and virtue' ('hsiu kung te' in Chinese). At the same time, the 'Chokusa juji' system, in which the chief priest of temples with an imperial inscription was assigned by the Imperial Court, was implemented.

The Five Mountains and Ten Monasteries System ('Wushan Shicha' in Chinese; 'Gozan Jissetsu Seido' in Japanese)

The Five Mountain system was introduced during the reign of Ningzong, the fourth emperor of the Southern Song Dynasty. This was a system where state-sponsored temples were ranked by the Imperial Court, which assigned chief priests and had them pray for the well-being of the Emperor and Imperial family, and granted the temples exemption from taxation.

Temples with imperial inscriptions in Japan

The following are important cultural properties.

The Chokugaku Gate of the Genyuin (Ietsuna TOKUGAWA) Mausoleum in Ueno Kanei-ji Temple
The Chokugaku Gate of the Jokenin (Tsunayoshi TOKUGAWA) Mausoleum in Ueno Kanei-ji Temple
The wooden 'Tonshoji' inscription at Shiromine-ji Temple (Sakaide City, Kagawa Prefecture)