History & Culture

An Empress in Japanese History

It is interesting to learn that in 3000 years of Chinese history there was only one empress. Instead, Japan had 10 empresses in its history. Women in China today look more liberated than in Japan. On the other hand, it is noted that Japanese women are tenacious and quiet. It may not be true these days, but the world impression about Japanese women is obedient. It seems that the Samurai regime is being blamed for placing Japanese women in obedient positions. In particular, the Tokugawa Edo Shogun government decreed that women should be behind the political and social scenes.

In days older than the Samurai government, established in 1492, Japanese women were more liberal and appeared in politics quite often. The very first ruler of Japan was a woman, Himiko. Among the more than 10 empresses were 8 empresses between the 6th and 8th centuries. This empress name is “Komyo Empress”. It played a vital role in Buddhism and became the national religion in Japan.

Buddhism is an interesting religion. Siddhartha Gautama started Buddhism in India between the 6th and 4th centuries BC. After rigorous training, Siddhartha became Buddha, Awaken One, began to teach and lead people. For some reason, Buddhism didn’t grow big in India, its native place. In India, according to their national survey, 2001, the largest religion is Hinduism, 80.5%. The second largest religion is Islam, 13.4%. Christianity occupies the third position of 2.3% of the population of India. The Buddhist population is only 0.8% in the above survey.

Buddhism became extremely popular in China between the 5th and 7th centuries. The Japanese Imperial government in the 8th century decided to make Buddhism its national religion. Empress Komyo was a devout Buddhist. She became empress in 724. She was the wife of Emperor Shomu. Emperor Shomu introduced Buddhism to oppose the local religion of the existing aristocrats. The local religion, Shitoism, became too dominant for the government to intervene in many ways. Later, Buddhism became a major religious authority in Japan, centered on the concept of “Love, Equality and Unlimited Mercy”.

In the 8th and 9th centuries, Japan built historical monuments with World Heritage status. The Todaiji Temple is one of them. Yakushiji Temple is another. Daibutsu “Big Statue of Buddha” in Nara represents all Buddhist monuments built during this period.

Empress Komyo remained as the wife of Japanese Emperor Shomu. However, she was known as the central promoter of Buddhism. She was the one who planned and executed the construction of all the Buddhist monuments of the Nara period, including Todaiji, Yakushiji and Daibutsu. She built Japan’s first national hospital, Seyakuin. According to Japanese mythology, Empress Komyo was involved in the treatment of patients. She did not limit the function of this national hospital to the imperial family or aristocrats only. Anyone who is ill, despite their social class, can use this hospital.

One day, Empress Komyo was treating a patient at the National Hospital. An old man with Hansen’s disease approached her. Empress Komyo tried to clean his body, but she could not remove all the pus from his wounds. Empress Komyo started sucking his pus with her mouth to clean. Suddenly the old leper changed his appearance. He was one of Buddha’s messengers, Nyo-Rai. Nyo-Rai told her that Buddhism would protect her land and people so that her people would enjoy prosperity. Buddhism became the national religion with the success of Empress Komyo.

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