The Taika Reforms (大化の改新)

The Taika Reforms are political reforms based on Kaishin no Mikotonori (the Imperial Reform Edict) issued in 646 in the Asuka period. It is said they have been carried out after Isshi-no-hen (the Murder in the Year of Issi (one of the 60 Oriental Zodiacs)) where Emperor Tenchi (latter-day Emperor Tenchi) assassinated SOGA no Iruka and destroyed the head family of Soga clan (this assassination case is sometimes referred to as the Taika Reforms). The palace of Emperor (the capital city) was transferred from Asuka to Naniwanomiya Palace (present Chuo Ward, Osaka City), which is said to have become the turning point from the politics centered around Gozoku (local ruling families) such as the Soga clan to the politics centered around Emperor.

In addition, Taika is the first gengo (an era name) in Japan. Namely, the origin of Japan lies in this period.

Process of the Taika Reforms

The following is the process of the Taika Reforms described in "Nihonshoki" (Chronicles of Japan), etc.


For details, see "Isshi-no-hen."

The Soga clan was holding the reigns of government for four generations including SOGA no Iname, SOGA no Umako, SOGA no Emishi, and Soga no Iruka. FUJIWARA no Kamako (latter-day FUJIWARA no Kamatari), getting indignant at the tyrannical ruling by the Soga clan and intending to recover authority to the great king family (Imperial Family), first approached Emperor Kotoku to learn that he was not a man of such caliber, much to his despair.

Therefore, Kamako approached Emperor Tenchi. The story of their meeting at a Kemari (an ancient football game in Japan) game is famous. They both studied under MINAMIBUCHI no Shoan and planned to defeat the Soga clan. Naka no Oe no Oji married a daughter of SOGANOKURA-YAMADA no Ishikawamaro (Soganoishikawamaro) who was critical of Emishi and Iruka. He got Ishikawamaro on their side and also drew SAEKI no Komaro, KAZURAGI no Wakainukai no Amita, etc., to their side.

Then, on July 13, 645, Naka no Oe no Oji, NAKATOMI no Kamatari, etc. assassinated SOGA no Iruka themselves. The next day, SOGA no Emishi set fire to his house and killed himself. Thus, the end was put on the Soga regime.

This incident (the fall of the head family of the Soga clan) is referred to as Isshi-no-hen after the Oriental Zodiac, because this is the year that it happened.

Inauguration of the New Government

On July 15, 645, immediately after Isshi-no-hen, Emperor Kogyoku stepped down from the throne, tried to pass over the throne to Naka no Oe no Oji but as a result of a meeting between Naka no Oe and Kamatari, the younger brother of the Emperor, Prince Karu, acceded to the throne and became Emperor Kotoku, with Naka no Oe no Oji becoming the Crown Prince. This is presumed to have imitated the situation at the time of Empress Suiko, when Prince Shotoku was the Crown Prince and took the helm of politics. Two ministers, left and right, and Naishin (government post) were established anew. Further, Kunihakase (planner of new policies) was appointed as a knowledgeable person to actually administer the rituryo system of Tang. This political power shift was not aimed at taking over authority from the Soga clan but at centralization of authority and reform of national administration which will enable adaptation to the tide of the East Asian situation.

Emperor: Emperor Kotoku, Crown Prince: Emperor Tenchi
Sadaijin (minister of the left): ABE no Uchimaro, Udaijin (minister of the right): SOGANOKURA-YAMADA no Ishikawamaro, Naishin: FUJIWARA no Kamatari. Kunihakase: TAKAMUKO no Kuromaro, Kunihakase: Min. On July 20, Emperor Kotoku and Naka no Oe no Oji gathered their retainers under a big zelkova tree and swore to gods, 'the way the policy is carried out by Emperor is only one' and 'we slew the tyrant (Soga clan) and from now on, there will be only one policy for Emperor and only one Court for retainers." In addition, an era name was determined for the first time, with the same year as being the first year of Taika.

On September 3, Kokushis (provincial governors) were sent to eastern provinces and the new regime decided to carry out political reforms it aimed at. These Kokushis were temporary officials and are not the same as the latter-day Kokushis. Kokushis consisted of eight groups and, even though it is not clear which area each group was sent to, it can be assumed, from the grant of honors to the latter-day reports on their missions, that the third and fifth groups were sent to the Keno area and Tokai area, respectively. The new regime dispatched eight groups of Kokushis to eastern provinces with such breadth as a unit area.

Kane-hitsu no sei (a rule of bell and box) was established. In addition, Law on Men and Women was established to decide belongingness of children of Ryomin (law-abiding people) and Nuhi (slaves).

In October, Furuhito no Oe no Miko was executed for the crime of rebellion. The Prince Furuhito no Oe was of Soga origin and had been determined to become the next Emperor by Iruka but, after Isshi-no-hen, he became a priest and escaped to Yoshino.

In December, the capital was transferred from Asuka to Naniwa no Nagara no Toyosaki no Miya Palace in Settsu Province.

Summary of the Taika Reforms

In January (old lunar calendar) 646, Kaishin no Mikotonori (the Imperial Reform Edict) was issued. This issuance of Kaishin no Mikotonori is regarded as the beginning of the Taika Reforms. In some cases, the above-mentioned assassination of Emishi and Iruka is regarded as the beginning.

The main contents of the Edict includes the following four articles.

For details, see Kaishin no Mikotonori.

(System of Complete State Ownership of Land and People): The land (manor) and people (Bemin) which belonged to Gozoku (local ruling families) until then were expropriated and all were decided to belong to Emperor.

(Kokugun System): Kuni, kori, and agata, the administrative units present until then, were reorganized into ryoseikoku (province) and its accompanying kori (subordinate administrative units). As for the Kokugun System, kuni, agata, etc. which had been the influence area of Gozoku, were reorganized and reshaped in the form of the present ryoseikoku. It was after several years since the issuance of the Edict that this change began.

(Law of Handen Shuju (land ownership)): A family registration system of ancient times and keicho (yearly tax registers) were prepared and the state-owned public land was lent to the public.

(Soyocho (a tax system)): A reform of a system to burden the public with tax and labor service.

In addition, though not included in the four articles of the Edict, significant reforms were made on other systems.

The law of Funeral:
The imperial mausoleum which could be prepared was redefined according to the position, even though the mausoleums could be built freely until then. Various restrictions were imposed such as prohibition of martyrdom and restriction of the time to construct a mausoleum of Emperor to 7 days or less. By this Law of Funeral, the Kofun (tumulus) period effectively ended.

Reform of manners and customs:
Arrangement of Law of Men and Women. Resolution of traffic problems.
Abolition of Tomonomiyatsuko (the chief of various departments at the Imperial Court) and Institution of Hassho hyakkan (Eight ministry Hundred-kan (official post) system):
Tomonomiyatsuko and Shinabe (technicians in offices), which had been traditional hereditary posts, were abolished and so was the system whereby a specific clan inherited a specific post (for example, the Mononobe clan administered the military affair and the Nakatomi clan took charge of the religious service). This and institution of the Hassho hyakkan prompted transition to the bureaucracy (however, it appears that a post was present where the hereditary system remained, such as the religious service of which the Nakatomi clan was in charge).

Abolition of Oomi (the minister) and Omuraji (the most powerful administrative ruler):
Oomi and Omuraji were abolished and replaced with Sadaijin and Udaijin, as Dajokan (Grand Council of State) was set up. Oomi and Omuraji were to be selected from the hereditary title holders of Omi and Muraji, respectively, but with Sadaijin and Udaijin (and Dajo-daijin (the Grand Minister) which was added later), etc., there disappeared restrictions of Omi and Muraji.

Revision of Kan-I (cap rank) System
The system of twelve grades of cap rank determined by Prince Shotoku was revised to thirteen grades in 647, nineteen grades in 649, and twenty-six grades in 664. This is thought to be a reform to incorporate the powerful clans, which produced Oomi and Omuraji which were not included in the twelve grades of cap rank system, into the rank system and to establish a rank system with Emperor at the top. The reason why the number of the cap ranks increased every year is thought to be because the transition to bureaucracy brought deficiency of the cap ranks, which were to be given to the low-level bureaucrats.
(Changes in Cap Rank and Official Rank Systems)

Formulation of Manners
Crowns, clothes, and decorum appropriate for job titles were established. Clothes which could be worn and manners were determined according to the cap rank. Ryomin (law-abiding people) without cap ranks were determined to wear white clothes and they were referred to as hakucho (ordinary people).

In the Taika Reforms, there are seen portions where the bureaucratic system of Tang and Confucianism were actively accepted based on information the Japanese envoys to Tang Dynasty China brought back. However, because it was impossible to change the traditional shizoku (clan) system at once, there are seen portions which were significantly modified in a Japanese way.

While reforms of the political system were carried out, on the diplomatic front, TAKAMUKO no Kuromaro was sent to Silla and, in exchange for a hostage, the tax payment in kind by Minama, which had lost its substance, was abolished to straighten up diplomatic problems with three Korean countries (Goguryeo, Baekje, and Silla) and ease the tension. Envoys were dispatched to Tang Dynasty and while keeping a friendly relationship, they tried to import the advanced legal systems and culture. In addition, stockades called Nutari no Ki and Iwafune no Ki were built to protect against Ezo (northerners) of the Tohoku region.

However, the reforms were anything but smooth. This can be seen from an article in "Nihonshoki" that in 648, at the time of effectuation of the thirteen grades of cap rank, Ministers of the Left and the Right refused to wear the crowns of the new system. In the next year, 649, the Minister of the Left, ABE no Uchimaro, died and immediately thereafter, the Minister of the Right, SOGANOKURA-YAMADA no Ishikawamaro was charged with a rebellion. He committed suicide at Yamada-dera Temple. Later, it became clear that he was innocent but the political situation became uncertain and from about this time, movement for major political reforms became less. In 650, the name of the era was changed to Hakuchi (white pheasants) and generally, this changing of the era name is considered as the end of the Taika Reforms.

After the Reforms

The relationship between Emperor Kotoku and Naka no Oe no Oji became inharmonious. An incident happened where Naka no Oe no Oji left Naniwanomiya Palace and returned to Asuka, with a large number of the retainers following him and Emperor Kotoku being left in complete isolation. He died indignant the next year. Crown Prince, Naka no Oe no Oji, did not accede to the Imperial throne but Empress Kogyoku acceded again to become Empress Saimei.

In the era of Empress Saimei, ABE no Hirafu was dispatched to the Tohoku region to defeat Ezo (northerners) and gained more control. On the other hand, the political uncertainty continued and in 658, Prince Arima was executed for attempting a rebellion.

In 660, Baekje, the traditionally friendly country, was attacked by allied forces of Tang and Silla and was destroyed. In 661, in response to the request of the surviving retainers of Baekje, Naka no Oe no Oji decided to dispatch soldiers for rescue and together with Empress Saimei, he himself went to Chikushi, but Empress passed away at this place. In 662, the expeditionary force for revival of Baekje was severely defeated and wiped out by the allied forces of Tang and Silla in Battle of Hakusukinoe.

Japan lost its foothold on Korean Peninsula and Japan came to face the threat of a great power, Tang (in 668, Goguryeo also went to ruin). Naka no Oe no Oji contributed his energy to improvement of domestic systems centered around protection of the country by building Mizuki (water fortresses) at various places such as Chikuzen, Tsushima Island, etc., placing Sakimori (soldiers deployed in Kyushu) and beacons, transferring the capital to Otsunomiya Palace and, on the other hand, getting reconciled with Gozoku by restoring Kakibe (privately owned people). Naka no Oe no Oji acceded to the Imperial Throne after continuing Shosei (ruling without official accession to the Throne) for several years. In 670, he had new koseki (family registers; Kogo no Nenjaku) made and in 671, he enforced Omi-ryo (Omi Administrative Code), which was the first Ritsuryo code of law.

When Emperor Tenchi passed away in 671, his son Emperor Kobun and his younger brother Prince Oama fought, and the Jinshin War broke out in 672. Prince Oama won and acceded to the Imperial throne (Emperor Tenmu). Emperor Tenmu advanced reforms to build a stronger centralized administrative system.

Questions about the Taika Reforms

It was unexpectedly late that this series of Reforms became the object of estimation by historians and it is said to be DATE Chihiro (natural father of MUTSU Munemitsu), a senior vassal of the Kishu Domain at the end of the Edo Period, who first discovered the historical value of the Reforms by writing "Taisei-Santen-ko" (Three Stages in the Historical of Japan).

The fact that the day of issuance of the Edict is the first day of a New Year. There is rarely an Edict issued on a day the year changes and it has been pointed out that there is little possibility that the Edict was issued on the first day of the New Year.

The Chinese character to express 'kori' is one used after the establishment of Taiho Ritsuryo (Taiho Code, in 701) and, before that, a different character had been used as can be seen in written materials (mokkan; a long and narrow wood plate for writing with a brush) which was discovered.

In the first article of the Edict, a system of complete state ownership of land and people (abolition of privately owned land and people) was stipulated but the right of possession of Kakibe and manor by Tomonomiyatsuko and Kuninomiyatsuko (the heads of local governments) was approved.

Koseki, keicho (the yearly tax registers), and Handen Shuju are terms first seen in Taiho Ritsuryo and do not appear in written materials before that.

Era names were used sporadically, namely there were periods without the corresponding era names. It is from the first year of Taiho era when the era name system took root and it is somewhat doubtful if the era name system existed until then.

The first to be 'cremated' according to the Law of Funeral enforced in 646 was Empress Jito (in 697), who was 'buried together' in the mausoleum of her husband, Emperor Tenmu,. Emperor Kotoku who is thought to have enacted the Edict did not follow the Law of Funeral (Emperor Kotoku and Empress Jito passed away in 654 and 703, respectively).

SOGA no Emishi and SOGA no Iruka, parent and child, died but through the Taika Reforms, SOGANOKURA-YAMADA no Ishikawamaro, a cousin of Iruka, became Udaijin, indicating that the Soga clan still maintained influence not negligible for the Taika regime. In 648, Ishikawamaro was driven to suicide because of a false charge, this also indicating a possibility that the political footing of the Taika regime was weak. Furthermore, despite moving out of Asuka once, the influence area of the Soga clan, to Naniwanimiya Palace, they moved back to Asuka, the influence zone of the Soga clan. It is the era of Emperor Tenchi when transfer of the capital from Asuka to Omi Province finally became possible. However, when Emperor Tenmu won in the Jinshin War, the Imperial Court returned to Asuka again. It is from the transfer of the capital to Fujiwara-kyo in 694 that the Imperial Family left the land of Asuka and it is 701 that Taiho Ritsuryo was promulgated.

From the above points, though it is relatively well agreed that there were carried out reforms such as the Taika Reforms in the mid to latter half of the 7th century, there is a point of view that the date should be much later than 645. It is highly possible that Naka no Oe no Oji cut the power of the clans by utilizing inner confrontation among them and extended power of the Imperial Family. In addition, there is a point of view that the presence of the Jinshin War should be considered as one of the reasons for strengthening of Emperor's power. The Ritsuryo system was completed after the Taiho Ritsuryo and it is highly possible that Taika Reforms were described in an easy-to-understand manner in "Nihonshoki" in a way to overlap with Taiho Ritsuryo. This may be because FUJIWARA no Fuhito let people esteem the achievements of his father, FUJIWARA no Kamatari.