Ono no Imoko (小野妹子)

ONO no Imoko (male, dates of birth and death unknown) was a politician who lived during the Asuka period. His 'kabane'(the title of a chieftain of a clan) was Omi. One of his sons was ONO no Emishi. According to "Nihonshoki (Chronicles of Japan)," Imoko was deployed to Great Tang of China, where he was called 'Soinko' of Tairei (one of "the twelve grades of cap rank"). A common perception in Japan is that the envoy who carried an official letter to the Sui Dynasty was ONO no Imoko; the letter is known to include the wording of "the Imperial Prince of the land of the rising sun according to Suishu (the Book of the Sui Dynasty). Although his name was 'Imoko (妹子),' he was a man (during that period of time, 'ko (子) was used for both male and female names).


Imoko was born into the ONO clan, a local ruling family, in Ono Village, Shiga County, Omi Province (the present-day Otsu City).

According to Volume 22 of "Nihonshoki," Imoko was sent to Great Tang of China with KURATSUKURI no Fukuri in 607. In 608, Imoko returned with HAI Seisei (an envoy of the Sui Dynasty) without a reply letter from Emperor Yodai of Sui, as Imoko had lost it in Kudara (Paekche in early Korea) on his way back (there are many theories regarding the loss of the letter, one of which asserts that the letter had such a horrible content that Imoko couldn't show it to the Emperor of Japan). Although Imoko was sent into exile for the loss, he was granted amnesty soon after and promoted to Daitoku (the first grade of "the twelve grades of cap rank").

The following year, Imoko was again sent to the Sui Dynasty along with TAKAMUKO no Kuromaro, MINABUCHI no Shoan and Min in order to bring another official letter and accompany HAI Seisei back to the dynasty.

In Suishu (Volume 81, Retsuden [a series of biographies] Chapter 46, Eastern Barbarians, Wakoku [Japan]), there was a sentence famous for enraging Emperor Yodai of the Sui in 607, stating, 'this letter is from the Imperial Prince of the land of the rising sun to the emperor of the land of the setting sun.'
"Suishu" does not refer to the name of Imoko, but instead the man who brought the official letter to the Sui Dynasty is merely mentioned as an envoy.

ONO no Imoko is sometimes regarded as the 'founder of Kado flower arrangement.'

The tomb of ONO no Imoko lies on the hill of the southern area of Shinaga-jinja Shrine in Taishi-cho, Minamikawachi County, Osaka Prefecture.

There is another theory that Imoko is buried in the Karausuyama-kofun burial mound, which is located close to ONO-no-Imoko Park in Ono, Otsu City, Shiga Prefecture. It has been pointed out that another mound to the south of the Karausuyama-kofun burial mound belongs to Imoko's father, and a preliminary survey was conducted by the Otsu City Board of Education, but the mound was found to have been destroyed beyond repair.


Although naming a child, regardless of sex, a name ending with 'ko (子) or (古)' was not unusual in ancient Japan, today it is only common for female names. Therefore, surprisingly many Japanese believe ONO no Imoko was a woman. Additionally, the kanji '妹' (which means 'a younger sister') can also encourage the misunderstanding.

For example, Satoshi INOUE, half of the comedy duo Jicho-Kacho, answered 'ONO no Imoko' when asked 'who is a Japanese woman chosen as being among the world's three most beautiful women?' (the correct answer was 'ONO no Komachi). In fact, Komachi is believed to have been a descendant of Imoko. However, it is doubtful that Inoue truly believed Imoko was a woman, because he as a comedian could intentionally fool people. Also, one commercial for the Tokyo Gas Company, Limited, used this misunderstanding, and as a joke the actress Wakana SAKAI appeared as a 'female Imoko' as a joke. In order not to mislead viewers, a co-actor, Satoshi TSUMABUKI, says 'ONO no Imoko was a man; don't distort the historical fact' in the commercial. The company also employed a caption that read, 'Actually, he was a man' at the beginning of the commercial (although the first version of the commercial did not have such a caption).

However, no one could have answered the question as to whether or not it was common in ancient Japan for a male to use "妹" in his name. Originally, "妹" was pronounced 'Imo' and referred to women of close relationships at large, including sisters, lovers and wives.

[Original Japanese]