Soga no Umako (蘇我馬子)

SOGA no Umako (male; born c. 551 and died on June 19, 626) was a politician during the Asuka period. Although his name has a suffix 'ko,' Umako was a male ('ko' was used in names of men as well as women in ancient Japan). He was also known as the "Island Minister" because his residence had a pond with an island in the middle. He was appointed as a minister during the reign of Emperor Bidatsu and subsequently served four generations of emperors (Emperors Bidatsu, Yomei and Sushun and Empress Suiko), wielding political power for as long as 54 years and creating the golden age of the Soga clan.

Although his birth year is unknown, his name Umako suggests the possibility that he was born in the year of the horse, and based on the official record left in "Kugyo Bunin" (Ancient Office Records), which records his service as a government officer as being 55 years, some people estimate that he was born around 550, which was the year of Kanoe uma (metal-horse year).

His father was SOGA no Iname. SOGA no Kitashihime (the Queen of Emperor Kinmei) was his elder sister and SOGA no Oanegimi (the Queen of Emperor Kinmei) his younger sister, according to the "Nihon Shoki" (Chronicle of Japan). According to the "Kojiki" (Record of Ancient Matters), Oehime was SOGA no Kitashihime's aunt.

Umako's wife was a sister of MONONOBE no Yumige Omuraji (or MONONOBE no Moriya) according to the "Nihon Shoki," and in "Kishi Kacho" (Lineage of the Kishi Clan) and "Isonokamifuri Jingu Ryakusho" (A Brief History of Isonokamifuri Jingu Shrine: Lineage of the Shinto Priest FURU no Sukune), his wife was MONONOBE no Moriya's sister, 'Futohime,' while in "Sendai Kujihongi" (Ancient Japanese History): Lineage of the Mononobe and Soga Clans, it is written that his wife was MONONOBE no Kamatarihime Otoji (her father was MONONOBE no Moriya's half-brother, ISONOKAMI no Nieko Omuraji, and her mother MONONOBE no Moriya's sister Futohime).

Umako's children included SOGA no Zentoku, SOGA no Kuramaro and SOGA no Emishi. SOGA no Iruka and SOGA no Kurayamada Ishikawamaro were his grandchildren. His daughters included Kawakami no irazume (the Queen of Emperor Sushun), Hotei no irazume (the Queen of Prince Tamura) and Tojiko no irazume (Prince Shotoku's wife), and these relationships enabled him to exercise political power as a maternal relative of the imperial family.

The following life history is based on the description in the "Nihon Shoki" and the "Kojiki."

Umako was appointed as a minister in 572, when Emperor Bidatsu ascended the throne.

In 584, KAFUKA no Omi and SAEKI no Muraji came to Japan from Baekje, an ancient kingdom in Korea, bringing with them a stone statue and a statue of Buddha. The two men from Baekje gave their statues to Umako at his request. They then sent his men, Datto SHIBA and IKEBE no Hita, to search for a Buddhist monk. The men finally found a former Buddhist monk from Koguryo, an ancient Korean country, who had been living in Harima Province. Umako asked this Buddhist monk to teach Buddhism to Datto SHIBA's daughter, Shima, so as to make her a Buddhist nun and to give her a Buddhist name Zenshin-ni, and Umako then asked Zenshin-ni to teach two other women and give them the Buddhist names of Zenzo-ni and Ezen-ni. Umako thus converted to Buddhism and revered the three nuns. He built a Buddhist chapel in his residence in Ishikawa to spread Buddhism in Japan.

Upon falling ill in 585 (February of the 14th year of Emperor Bidatsu's reign), Umako was told by a fortune-teller that it was the curse of a Buddhist statue destroyed while his father Iname was in office. Umako asked Emperor Bidatsu for permission to worship Buddha. Around this time however, an epidemic broke out causing heavy casualties. In March, MONONOBE no Moriya and NAKATOMI no Katsumi suggested to Emperor Bidatsu that the epidemic was caused by the worship of foreign gods, which led the emperor to declare that Buddhism should be abandoned. Moriya attacked Buddhist temples to destroy chapels and ordered his men to throw statues of Buddha into the sea. Moriya denounced Buddhist believers and ordered Umako to deliver him the three Buddhist nuns for punishment. Umako gave Moriya the three nuns, whereupon the latter stripped them naked, bound them and whipped their backs. Nevertheless, the epidemic continued to spread, finally causing both Emperor Bidatsu and Moriya to fall ill. Their illness was rumored to have been a punishment for burning statues of Buddha.

In June of the same year, Umako, still suffering from illness, asked the emperor for permission to worship Buddha. Emperor Bidatsu granted Umako special permission and returned the bodies of the three Buddhist nuns to him. Worshipping the three nuns, Umako built a new Buddhist temple to install a statue of Buddha in their commemoration.

Emperor Bidatsu passed away in August of the same year. Umako and Moriya denounced each other at the funeral parlor where the funeral was held for the deceased emperor.

After Emperor Bidatsu's death, Prince Tachibana no Toyohi (Emperor Kinmei's son, whose mother was Umako's elder sister Katashihime) succeeded to the throne as Emperor Yomei. However, Emperor Yomei's half-brother, Prince Anahobe, who aspired to ascend the throne, was dissatisfied with his brother's succession. Prince Anahobe conspired with Moriya to kill MIWA no Sakau, a favorite retainer of the deceased Emperor Bidatsu.

In April 587, Emperor Yomei was taken ill and wished to worship the three divine treasures of Buddhism (the Buddhist law among others), thus he consulted his retainers. While Moriya and NAKATOMI no Katsumi objected, Umako told Prince Anahobe to bring a Buddhist preacher named Toyokuni to the imperial court in accordance with Emperor Yomei's orders. Moriya was infuriated; however, knowing that many of the emperor's retainers were on Umako's side; he retreated to Kawachi Province.

Shortly after, Emperor Yomei passed away. Although Moriya plotted to make Prince Anahobe succeed to the throne, Umako thwarted Moriya's plan by supporting Kashiyakihime (the Queen of Emperor Bidatsu) as the successor; she also killed Prince Anahobe. In July of the same year, Umako decided to drive Moriya out of power in consultation with other retainers and organized a large army comprising many princes and powerful local clans. Umako's army attacked Moriya's territory in Shibukawa district, Kawachi Province, but the mighty warriors of the the Mononobe military clan, mounted stubborn resistance, fighting off Umako's army three times. To pray for victory, Prince Shotoku carved statues of four Buddhist warrior deities and Umako built a Buddhist pagoda, making a vow to spread Buddhism in Japan. Their prayers spurred Umako's army to mount an all-out offensive and TOMI no Ichii finally shot Moriya to death, bringing victory to Umako.

In August of the same year, Umako allowed Prince Hatsusebe to succeed to the throne as Emperor Sushun. Kashiyakihime became the queen dowager.

In 588, Umako sent a group of students, including Zenshin-ni, to Baekje for study.

In 591, Emperor Sushun dispatched an army of 20,000 men to Tsukushi in consultation with Umako in order to regain territory in Imna. He also sent an envoy to Silla.

Meanwhile, Emperor Sushun was displeased with the fact that the real political power was held by Umako. In October 592, a wild boar was presented to the emperor as a gift. Pointing to the boar, Emperor Sushun declared that he wished to chop off the head of the person he hated in the same way he would chop off the head of that boar; and, he gathered a large number of soldiers. Informed of the intention of Emperor Sushun, Umako made a decision to kill him. In November of the same year, Umako sent YAMATO no Aya no Koma, who was disguised as a messenger sent to deliver tributes from an eastern country, in order to assassinate Emperor Sushun. YAMATO no Aya no Koma subsequently abducted a daughter of Umako, Kawakami no irazume, to make her his wife. Infuriated, Umako sent his men to kill YAMATO no Aya no Koma.

Umako made Queen Dowager Kashiyakihime succeed to the throne as the first empress in Japan, Empress Suiko. Prince Umayado (or Prince Shotoku) was appointed as the Imperial Prince and assumed the position of Sessho (regent). Governing in consultation with Prince Shotoku, Umako promoted the spread of Buddhism in Japan, drew up the Seventeen-Article Constitution to establish a centralized political system and sent Kenzui-shi (imperial envoys to China) to introduce advanced social systems and academic disciplines from China.

In 596, Umako built Asuka-dera Temple, a clan temple for the Soga clan.

In 612, he held a ceremony to bury Kitashihime in the grave of Emperor Kinmei. Kitashihime was given the honorific title of the 'Kotaifujin' (title for previous retired emperors' wife). The ceremony was a testimony to show the great political power of the Soga clan.

In 620, Umako published Tenno Ki (Imperial History), Kokki (National History) and Omi Muraji Tomono Miyatsuko Kunino Miyatsuko Monoamariyaso tomo o Awasete Omitakara no Hongi (Records of Various Public Offices) with Prince Shotoku.

Prince Shotoku died in 622. While Umako cooperated with Prince Shotoku in establishing their ancient political system, he was on guard against the rising power of the emperor.

In 623, Umako sent an army of several tens of thousands of men led by the Grand Commander, SAKAIBE no Omaro, to Silla in order to levy a tribute to the emperor. Silla paid the tribute without protest.

In 624, Umako demanded Empress Suiko to give him Katsuragi no Agata, which was the military base of the Soga clan and a territory of the imperial family; however, Empress Suiko refused his demand, telling him that although she had yielded to all demands of Umako because she was a descendant of the Soga clan and Umako was her uncle, she would not be able to meet this particular demand.

Umako died in 626.

It is generally accepted that the Momohara grave, where Umako was buried, is the Ishibutai Tomb, an ancient stone tomb found in Shimasho, Asuka-mura, Nara Prefecture. Some people also believe that the Shimasho Site, located several hundred meters to the west of the stone tomb, was part of Umako's residence.