Encyclopedia of Shinto

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カテゴリー1 9. Texts and Sources
カテゴリー2 Shinto Classics and Literature
Text This refers to edicts written down in a Japanese phonetic script. Originally this referred to the verbal proclamations of the emperor, but later this term came to specifically refer to the written records of these proclamations. Compared with promulgations written in classical Chinese, which were called "imperial edicts (shōchoku)" or "written edicts (shōsho)," the imperial commands written in phonetic script and announced verbally were known as senmyō. These types of proclamations have were conducted at various points in Japanese history from the ancient period until the up until early modern times, but beginning in the Heian period emphasis was increasing placed on those edicts written in classical Chinese and senmyō were consigned to a position of relative inferiority and were often employed only in case of public announcements for shrines or imperial burials. Moreover, in April of 1873 the term senmyō disappeared from the legal code and in instances where the emperor presided over a ceremony himself, those proclamations were called okōmon and, in the event that an imperial emissary (chokushi) made a statement, it was called gosaimon. Additionally, when promotions in rank or post were announced, these were known as sakumei.


The first appearance of the word senmyō occurs in the Shoku nihongi in the entry for eleventh day of the third month of 728, embedded in a regulation, where the word is used as a verb meaning "to decree." Moving into the the Heian era, as is evident by its use in the Kiritsubo Chapter of Genji monogatari, "Because he was to be granted the Third Rank, an imperial messenger arrived and then read the senmyō, and it was a sad sight," the term senmyō had come to refer to those edicts that were written in phonetic script. As further evidence, there appears in Takahashi ujibumi, which was presented to court in 789, the phrase "a senmyō messenger."
     The oldest surviving senmyō was found in the form of a mokkan (an inscribed wooden placard) which was unearthed at the site of the remains of the Fujiwara palace and reads, "…he said to accept the command, and grieved for the inner provinces of the land he rules over....Give ear all to the great [decree?] that [someone] has decreed..." However, at present, the senmyo that are considered to have importance classically and as ‘Shinto Classics' are frequently cited in issues regarding the literary and linguistic history of Japan are the sixty-two senmyo contained in Shoku nihongi. Other early examples of senmyō are found in the Shōsōin Documents where one edict is dated 757, and yet another is in Gengōji engi (one only surviving manuscript being that of Daigo-ji which was copied in 1165). As for the number of verbal edicts for each reign as recorded in Shoku nihongi are concerned, there are two from Monmu, two from Genmei, nine from Shōmu, ten from Kōken, six from Junnin, eighteen from Shōtoku, twelve from Kōnin, and three from Kanmu. The contents of these edicts are varied and deal with imperial ascension (sokui), abdication, removal of an emperor, alterations to the year of the imperial reign, officially establishing an empress, officially declaring a crown prince, removal of a crown prince, granting of posthumous titles, appointment of ministers, bestowing rank, stating official positions, presenting awards and honors, criminal sentences, and funerals. Typically, these edicts were given by the emperor, but there were also times when the edict came from the queen dowager or the empress. The edicts were directed to a great variety of people simultaneously—frequently appearing as a list such as this: "Imperial princes, princes, ministers, the hundred officials, and all the people under the heavens." However, at other times, edicts were addressed to individuals, or the Rushana Buddha (Vairocana) or the Great Deity of the Hachiman Shrine, or to the spirit of a deceased person.


In ancient times it was rare that the emperor himself would verbally issue an edict, as it was the usual practice for high ranking officials, counselors and above, or the minister of the Central Affairs Ministry to make these declarations at the court. At shrines located outside of the palace precincts, an imperial messenger (also known as a senmyō messenger or a senmyō daifu) would give the announcement. It is clear from the title of a Kamakura period work called senmyōfu (Rhythm Chart of Senmyō) in Honchō shojaku mokuroku that the reading of these edicts required a standardized meter, but this work does not survive down to the present. In the beginning section on edicts as recorded in Taihō and Yōrō codes record that there are five classifications of edicts like: "The Emperor of Yamato who is a manifest deity declares…everyone give ear!" Ryō no gige explains the circumstances surrounding the use of each of these five categories. It appears that actual edicts conformed to these standards in general but this does not mean that there was complete consistency. As mentioned above with the declaration of edicts, edicts would usually be drafted by the secretaries in the Central Affairs Ministry. Beginning in the mid-Heian period, a template for producing edicts was announced concerning all palace events and is contained in the records section of book twelve of Chōya gunsai. The paper used for recording these edicts was called senmyōshi (senmyō paper), and in the section on secretaries of the Central Affairs Ministry as contained in Engishiki, all edicts were to be written down on yellow paper with the exception that edicts addressed to the Grand Shrines of Ise were to be written on light blue paper, and those addressed to the Kamo Shrine were to be written on crimson paper. The orthography used is called senmyōgaki, and as a general rule word order followed the Japanese vernacular, with independent words (like substantives, declinable words, adverbs, and conjunctions) written in large script, while affixed words (declinable portions of verbs and suffixes) were written in small script. The majority of words written in large script were ideographs, but when there was no suitable counterpart for a word in Japanese, phonetic script was used. Chinese characters like不 (negation), 被 (passive) 令 (causative), 欲 (desire), 以 (instrumental), 依 (instrumental), 与 (interrogative) that required the reader to switch the order of the words, were also used, as were Chinese particles like 者 (nominalizer), 之 (genitive particle), and 而 (conjunctive particle). Like the previous example of the mokkan excavated from the Fujiwara Palace ruins, the characters were originally uniform in size and, from the Nara period on, it is believed that—for increased comprehension and convenience—the idea developed to write some characters in a smaller size.
     Regarding the system of thought that appears in these senmyō, the idea that the emperor is a manifest divinity (akitsumikami) who, having been entrusted by the heavenly divinities (amatsukami), rules the country, and that his succession to the throne through inheritance was already decided in the days of Takamanohara (The Plain of High Heaven) is central. Furthermore, it was emphasized that the courtiers should serve 'with a clear, pure, upright, sincere heart', and 'with a pure, bright, righteous, and upright mind'. On the other hand, we also see evidence of Confucianism and Buddhism as well as a thought structure influenced by concepts of good omens.
     The first person to take up the senmyō as an object of study was Motoori Norinaga and, in the process of writing Kojiki-den, he discovered the value of the edicts. Leading him to, in his final years, write a commentary on the edicts as they are in Shoku nihongi, titled Shokki rekichō shōshikai in six volumes. Research in recent years has used Norinaga's work as a base from which to work and includes Kaneko Takeo's Shoku nihongi senmyō (1941, Hakuteisha, reprinted in 1989 by Takashina Shoten), Kitagawa Kazuhide's Shoku nihongi senmyō kōhon, sōsakuin (1982, Yoshikawa Kōbunkan), and Kotani Hiroyasu's Mokkan to senmyō no kokugogakuteki kenkyū (1986, Izumi Shoin).
— Motosawa Masafumi