The Taika Reforms (大化の改新 Taika no Kaishin ) were a set of doctrines established by Emperor Kōtoku (孝徳天皇 Kōtoku-tennō) in the year 645. They were written shortly after the death of Prince Shōtoku, and the defeat of the Soga clan (蘇我氏 Soga no uji), uniting Japan. Crown Prince Naka no Ōe (who would later reign as Emperor Tenji), Nakatomi no Kamatari, and Emperor Kōtoku jointly embarked on the details of the Reforms. Emperor Kōtoku then took the name "Taika" (大化), or "Great Reform".
The Reform began with land reform, based on Confucian ideas and philosophies from China, but the true aim of the reforms was to bring about greater centralization and to enhance the power of the imperial court, which was also based on the governmental structure of China. Envoys and students were dispatched to China to learn seemingly everything from the Chinese writing system, literature, religion, and architecture, to even dietary habits at this time. Even today, the impact of the reforms can still be seen in Japanese cultural life.
After the regency of Shōtoku Tenchi ended, the Soga clan, from which Shōtoku's ancestry was derived, took hegemony of the Yamato court. The clan was opposed to Shōtoku's son Yamashiro Ōe and killed him in 643. Under the reign of Empress Kōgyoku, the Soga clan head, Soga no Iruka, was virtually an almighty leader of the court. Those who were against Soga's dictatorship included the emperor's brother Karu, the emperor's son, Prince Naka no Ōe, along with his friend Nakatomi no Kamatari, and his son-in-law Soga no Ishikawamaro (Iruka's cousin). They ended Iruka's regime by a coup d'état in 645 (Isshi Incident). As Kōgyoku renounced her throne, Karu ascended to be Emperor Kōtoku. The new emperor, together with the Imperial Prince Naka no Ōe, issued a series of reform measures that culminated in the Taika Reform Edicts in 646. At this time, two scholars, Takamuko no Kuromaro and priest Min (who had both accompanied Ono no Imoko in travels to Sui Dynasty China, where they stayed for more than a decade), were assigned to the position of kuni no hakushi (国博士; National doctorate). They were likely to take a major part in compiling these edicts which in essence founded the Japanese imperial system and government. The ruler, according to these edicts, was no longer a clan leader, but Emperor (in Japanese, Tennō), who ruled by the Mandate of Heaven and exercised absolute authority.
From today's vantage point, the Taika Reform is seen as a coherent system in which a great many inherently dissonant factors have been harmonized, but the changes unfolded in a series of successive steps over the course of many years.
The Reform Edicts severely curtailed the independence of regional officials and constituted the imperial court as a place of appeal and complaint for the people. In addition, the last edicts attempted to end certain social practices, in order to bring Japanese society more in line with Chinese social practices. Nonetheless, it would take centuries for the conceptual ideal of the Chinese-style emperor to take root in Japan.
- Shōen—the form of Japanese fiefdom that developed after the Taika Reforms.
- Asakawa, K. (1963). The Early Institutional Life of Japan: A Study in Reform of 645, p. 267.
- Batten, Bruce. "Foreign Threat and Domestic Reform: The Emergence of the Ritsuryo State," Monumenta Nipponica, Vol. 41, No. 2 (Summer, 1986), pp. 199-219.