The Nakatomi was an influential clan in Classical Japan. Along with the Inbe clan, the Nakatomi were one of two priestly clans which oversaw certain important national rites, and one of many to claim descent from divine clan ancestors "only a degree less sublime than the imperial ancestors". It is said that soon after the beginning of Jimmu's reign, a Master of Ceremonies (saishu) was appointed; and this office was commonly held by a member of the Nakatomi clan after the 8th century. Though their material holdings were not the most extensive, their spiritual and ritual importance placed the Nakatomi and Imibe second only to the Imperial House during their heyday.
One particularly important ritual which the head of the Nakatomi clan oversaw was the Ōharai purification rite, performed twice every year, in which the High Priest (of the Nakatomi clan) asked the kami to cleanse the spirits of all of the people of their impurities.
As a result of the Nakatomis' ritual position and role in the Asuka period, they were among the chief advocates of conservatism in the controversy over the introduction of Buddhism to Japan in the 6th century. However, by the time of Nakatomi no Kamatari, in the early 7th century, the clan had switched sides, possibly as a result of their loyalty and close connection to the Imperial family; following Prince Shōtoku, likely the most famous advocate of Buddhism in all of Japanese history, and later Prince Naka no Ōe, the Nakatomi helped eliminate the Soga clan, powerful and very active supporters of Buddhism, and of the current administration of the time (see Isshi Incident).
The clan soon came to be opposed by a number of other clans which vied for power and prestige at Court, and for influence over the Imperial succession. It is said however, that despite being overshadowed by others in terms of pure material wealth, the head of the Nakatomi clan was, in the mid-7th century, the most powerful man in Japan. Even into the 8th century, members of the Nakatomi clan maintained their important ritual position, becoming hereditary heads of the Jingi-kan (Department of Rites) established by the Code of Taihō in 701.
Precursor of the Fujiwara
Arguably the most well-known clan leader, Nakatomi no Kamatari was granted the name Fujiwara by Emperor Tenji as a reward for loyal service to the sovereign. Kamatari is honored as the founder of the Fujiwara clan, which accumulated extraordinary powers and prestige in the Heian period (794-1185).
- Kogo Shūi—a record of the conflict between the Nakatomi and Inbe clans.