Shotoku Taishi

A 14th century sculpture of Prince Shôtoku, on display at the Santa Barbara Museum of Art, along with a hyakumantô darani.
Not to be confused with Empress Shôtoku.
  • Born: 574
  • Died: 622
  • Japanese: 聖徳太子 (Shoutoku taishi)

Shôtoku Taishi, or Prince Shôtoku, was an imperial prince and regent for Empress Suiko known for his prominent role in promoting Buddhism in Japan.

The prince became regent in 593, when Empress Suiko acceded to the throne. In 604, he drafted the Seventeen-Article Constitution, a foundational document of basic principles of government for the Yamato state.

Shôtoku is considered the founder of such central Buddhist temples as Hôryû-ji, Jôbonrendai-ji, and the Rokkakudô. His commentaries on the Lotus Sutra completed in 615 and known as the Hokke Gisho, are considered the oldest extant Japanese text.

Prince Shôtoku also played a prominent role in dispatching official missions to Sui Dynasty China, the first such missions to ever be sent by a unified Yamato state to the Chinese court. The first of these missions in 607-608 carried a message to the Sui court which is often cited as the earliest extant/known instance of the use of the phrase "Land of the Rising Sun" to refer to Japan.[1]

He later came to be worshiped as a Buddhist figure. Paintings and sculptures depicting Shôtoku as a child, as well as at other stages of life, became popular and treasured religious objects, and a variety of legends about his life developed. The Shôryô-in at Hôryû-ji, a National Treasure, is dedicated to his worship; Hôryû-ji also houses a Shaka Triad set of sculptures produced by Kuratsukuri no Tori in 623 to commemorate Shôtoku's death.


  • Gallery labels, "Prince Shôtoku Taishi as a Child Praying to the Buddha," Santa Barbara Museum of Art.[1]
  1. Albeit Hi izuru tokoro 日出づる処, and not Nihon or Nippon 日本; The term "Nihon" may have first appeared in 702. Gallery labels. Imperial Envoys to Tang China : Early Japanese Encounters with Continental Culture Exhibition. Nara National Museum. April through June 2010.