Ato no Otari (安都雄足)

ATO no Otari (date of birth and death unknown) was a government official (lower or middle ranked) in the Nara period.
His name is also written as '阿刀男足' or '阿刀小足.'
His kabane (hereditary title) was Sukune. He was promoted to Shohachiinojo (Senior Eighth Rank, Upper Grade) in the end. ATO no Otari didn't appear in so called "official historical materials" such as Shoku Nihongi (Chronicle of Japan Continued) and "Nihonshoki" (Chronicles of Japan). Therefore, his detailed career such as date of birth and death is unknown. However, his name is often found in Ichiji-monjo (primary written materials) such as Shosoin Monjo (document collection of the Nara period kept in Shosoin) and Tonaninmonjo, and he is one of the person who has been noticed in study of ancient history in Japan.


His life can be divided into three periods from his duties in a large way. Details of each period are described briefly as follows.

First period

First period is from June, 747 to March, 753. From the existing historical materials, it can be read that he worked at his desk of the department of Office of Todai-ji Temple Construction, during this period. For example, there is a memo which indicates Otari made Bosatsu zo hakku (eight statues of Bosatsu) in April 747 and in April 749 by the order of Roben, who was a Shosozu at that time, and this memo is the first historical material that we are able to know his footsteps. And, since the wording that Otari asked for "food for workers who lay the foundations" was found, it is speculated that he served as a administrative official in the organization that made images of Buddha not for Todaiji rushanabutsuzo (the statue of Birushana Buddha in Todai-ji Temple) in Todai-ji Temple or buildings concerning Daibutsu-den (the Great Buddha Hall). His Ikai (Court rank) was Shosoige (the lowest court rank) at that time.

The Second Period

The second period is from leap October in 754 to New year in 758. During this period, Otari went to Echizen Province as Shisho (people who peformed miscellaneous duties about documents) and was involved in management of Shoen (private estate) "Kuwabara no sho" (former Kanazu Cho, Sakai Gun, in current Fukui Province and current Arawa City in Fukui Prefecture) as sento Kokushi (a person (provincial governor) who does practical business in the management of Shoen estates) who managed Shoen in Todai-ji Temple. It should be noted here that Shoen owned by Todai-ji Temple was managed by not priests in the temple but Shisho in Echizen Province. This is presumed by the existing monjo (written materials) from Office of Todai-ji Temple Construction that gave orders to Otari from Office of Todai-ji Temple Construction. This is the essential point to analyze over management of Shoen of Todai-ji Temple and others in the eighth Century. There is no historical material that shows Ikai (court rank), therefore his Ikai at that time is uncertain.

The Third Period

The third period is from July, in 758 to New year in 764. Many existing historical documents reveal that Otari who returned to Heijo-kyo (the ancient capital of Japan in current Nara) sometime from New year in 758 to July in 758 held many posts and was very busy. His court rank was Shohachiinojo (Senior Eighth Rank, Upper Grade) at that time, and this was the highest rank in historical materials. He was appointed as Sakan (secretary) of Office of Todai-ji Temple Construction and severed concurrently as "betto (the head secretary of a temple)" for many temples. From studies that had conducted so far, it is confirmed that he served as betto for five places, Office of the Sutra copying office of Todai-ji Temple Construction, Todo sho, 造物所, Office of Ishiyama-dera Temple Construction, and Office of Kon-do Hall (main hall of a Buddhist temple) Construction in Hokke-ji Temple. That is not to say that he always held the post of betto for all places at the same time. However, it is considered that he served concurrently as betto for four places at the busiest time. In addition, it is recorded that he served concurrently as betto in remote places, for example he served as betto in Office of Ishiyama-dera Temple Construction (Omi) and Office of the Sutra copying office of Todai-ji Temple Construction (inside of Heijyokyo), and we can see that Otari's energetic work as official for practical works. During this period, his name appeared most often in Shoso-in monjo. The last historical material that Otari's name can be seen was the one in New year in 764, and after this he never appeared in any historical materials. The time, New year in 764, was just immediately before FUJIWARA no Nakamaro's War, therefore, it is often considered that he was forced out of Sakan of Office of Todai-ji Temple Construction with the fall of FUJIWARA no Nakamaro. After this, he was never heard from again.

The significance of ATO no Otari in the history and public estimation of him

His historical estimation was shown by three points. One is relationship with FUJIWARA no Nakamaro, second is his "private economy" and third is his works.

Relationship with FUJIWARA no Nakamaro

In many cases, it is considered that he was one of the FUJIWARA no Nakamaro's followers. This is because there are correlations between process of an increase of Nakamaro's power and Otari's exceptional promotion, when we think about Nakamaro's power and personnel relocation of government official of Office of Todai-ji Temple Construction together. There is also Otari's letter that demanded to buy necessity goods to give for "大従門 (Nakamaro)." In this letter, the sentence "must not be known to anyone else" was written, and judging from this situation that he sent secret gifts to "大従門," their close ties is obvious. Besides this, there are historical documents indicate that Otari sent goods to Nakamaro. And as written above, judging from the situation that Otari disappeared from the historical materials after relationship between Nakamaro and Emperor Koken was driven into a helpless situation on New Year in 764, we can see that Otari was "FUJIWARA no Nakamaro's followers." On the other hand, some people raise questions that Otari was Nakamaro's followers, for the following reasons; Otari was given orders directly from Dokyo at least twice in 762, Nakamaro's side was still responsible for personnel affairs on New year in 764 and Nakamaro didn't completely go to ruin, and it is not certain that Nakamaro is exactly "大従門." And also, even if Otari was close to Nakamaro, Otari, a lower-ranking government official, didn't have the right to choose faction, and some researchers had a perspective that Nakamaro just actively made use of Otari who was believed to be "a competent person," while Otari was absolutely trifled with in a vortex of struggle of power.

Otari's "private economy"

In historical documents concerning Otari, there are many descriptions about economic activities other than his job. It seems that Otari made a big profit by taking advantage of difference of seasonal rice prices which were cultivated in the Sutra copying office and his paddy field. It also turned out that he managed his own paddy field which was adjacent to Shoen in Todai-ji Temple, when he was shisho in Echizen Province. He put influential peasants in charge of management and obtained shomai (rice made by pounding it in a mortar) as profit that was used as current money in Kinai region. He also conducted economic activities such as renting the paddy field of Todai-ji Temple and making other peasants rent them. From the style of monjo, all of them were considered to be his private activities. There is a possibility that he had continuously conducted this business after leaving the post of Shisho in Echizen Province. For this reason, it is common to call his economic activity "private economy" today. There is a variety of opinions toward the estimation of the term "private economy," and it is not necessarily the case that his economic activity is "private." It is not that he always obtained all the profit particularly from the management of rice production of the Sutra copying office. However, it's noteworthy that Otari managed them in an irregular way that was different from ordinary government official's economic activities under the Ritsuryo system (a system of centralized government based on the ritsuryo code). Future research is required in order to find out whether these acts resulted from whether he was especially "a competent person" or many other Lower-ranking government officials for practical work did the same thing.

Otari's "work"

In terms of Otari's work, research has been advanced centering on particularly in the third period. This reflects the circumstance that many historical documents are left around this period. Particularly, research has been advanced centering on his post "betto" and his activity and its personality has become clear. Some of the parts that have already revealed are described as follows. There was a time that he served concurrently as a government official, betto, including the Office for the Construction of Ishiyama-dera Temple, Office of the Sutra copying office of Todai-ji Temple Construction and Kon-do Hall in Hokke-ji Temple which were away from each other. In historical materials, it is recorded that government officials were given specific instruction by letters, in case that oral instructions were not given. For example, Otari mostly stayed in Hokke-ji Temple in 758. During this time, with the illness of Empress Komyo, Buddhist rites were held so often, therefore, it is considered that instructions were often given to Office of the Sutra copying office of Todai-ji Temple Construction which had many Buddhist scriptures and tools for Buddhist rites by Kon-do Hall (main hall of a Buddhist temple) in Hokke-ji Temple, and many letters were found. After the death of Empress Komyo, it seems that he worked mainly for Hokke-ji Temple, therefore, he stayed in Hokke-ji Temple for a long time. At that time, he sent the letter for asking "let me know the crop condition," and this shows that he asked for the report about crops, because he was not able to leave the job in Hokke-ji Temple. In the study of ancient history of Japan, the example that shows exchange of instructions between government officials in detail was rarely the case.

When it comes to personnel changes, some of the studies concerning Otari's "purpose" or "authority" has been advanced. For example, most of his letters were sent to Anju (administrative official of the Sutra copying office), Kaminoumakai and Shimonomichinushi. These two gained the deep confidence of Otari, and when Otari became betto of Office of Ishiyama-dera Temple Construction, he called them to his presence as administrative officials. When he called Shimonomichinushi to Office of Ishiyama-dera Temple Construction from Office of Todai-ji Temple Construction, although his request was once turned down by Mandokoro of Office of Todai-ji Temple Construction, as a result Shimonomichinushi worked for Office of Ishiyama-dera Temple Construction at his request. From these events, we can find that Otari had both the state of authority betto supposed to have and the strengthen of authority Otari had.

Otari, a "capable" government official

Otari carried out a sizable amount of work and was actively involved in the management of his own rice paddy. From such his behavior, the image of government official with a most gifted mind comes into our heads. For this reason, some people estimated that he was "an extraordinary competent person." Actually, he was in the rank of Shohachiinojo (Senior Eighth Rank, Upper Grade) and appointed as Sakan of Office of Todai-ji Temple Construction. His exceptional promotion was peculiar and that deserved special consideration. It is the case that many studies about ATO no Otari, a lower-ranking government official, were conducted, although it was rare. However, on the other hand, there is a room to study whether this Otari's activity is really peculiar or not. If Otari was special in term of career, economic activity and work, finding out about how more "ordinary" government official worked became subject of future investigation, and if many other government officials could work the same way as Otari, studying about Otari surely leads us to approach the actual condition of lower-ranking government officials. Emphasizing Otari's "peculiarity" will relate to how we understand the actual condition of government officials.

The period of political changes in the late Nara period was also the period of mature of bureaucratic organization. Otari was the person who expressed the part of it.