BULL STREET - The art of the Con

The Seventeen Article Constitution of Japan 604 AD

This was Japan’s first Constitution and basically shaped morality and the country’s legal system. “One of its clauses said that “peace and harmony should be respected because they are very important for intergroup relations”. This shows emphasis of “Oriental law” which seeks to prevent disputes, whereas “Western law” seeks to resolve disputes.”[18]

While our primary concern is the evolution of Western style law and who it reflects the social systems that are in place at any given time, all civilizations seem to evolve in similar fashions and the only serious wild card is the effect that regional environment has upon its people Those civilizations that evolved on the continents had to create laws that we primarily oriented towards defending cross border territory, however, Japan was an island and attacks by intruders by sea were historically rare. Thus, Japan became an isolationist country in its thinking and future planning.

Prince Shotoku was a member of the Yamato ruling family and was goal oriented. He was highly desirous of making his mark on the country and although Japan was only an amalgam of tribal communities, he had the desire to unite these entities under one rule of law. During that period of time, it was common belief that most of the world’s knowledge emanated from the Chinese who had produced such great philosophers as Confucius. The reason that the Japanese knew anything about Chinese philosophy and law was through their numerous incursions into Korea trying to capture as much of that country as they could. However, China had made its substantial mark there and returning military professionals were almost in awe of the creativity of that system of government and law.

The young prince determined that he wanted to learn from the best and sent his emissaries to China and left them there for years as they absorbed the system and the culture. When they returned, Prince Shotoku asked them to put together a compendium of the Chinese and Buddhist philosophy and laws, which he ultimately culled, making sociological changes that would fit the Japanese customs. While he called the finished document a constitution for Japan, it was more like the Ten Commandments of Chinese Philosophy. In order to get a flavor this series or moral statements we take a look a few of these statements. Many of them are almost direct translations from the “Analects” which was the formulation of Chinese regulation.

1 Harmony should be valued and quarrels should be avoided. Everyone has his biases, and few men are far-sighted. Therefore, some disobey their lords and fathers and keep up feuds with their neighbors. But when the superiors are in harmony with each other and the inferiors are friendly, then affairs are discussed quietly and the right view of matters prevails.

6 Punish the evil and reward the good. This was the excellent rule of antiquity. Therefore, do not hide the good qualities of others or fail to correct what is wrong when you see it. Flatterers and deceivers are a sharp weapon for the overthrow of the state, and a sharp sword for the destruction of the people. Men of this kind are never loyal to their lord, or to the people. All this is a source of serious disturbances.

8 Ministers and officials should attend the court early in the morning and retire late, for the whole day is hardly enough for the accomplishment of state business. If one is late in attending Court, emergencies cannot be met; if officials retire early, the work cannot be completed.

15 To subordinate private interests to the public good—that is the path of a vassal. Now if a man is influenced by private motives, he will be resentful, and if he is influenced by resentment, he will fail to act harmoniously with others. If he fails to act harmoniously with others, the public interest will suffer. Resentment interferes with order and is subversive of law. “[19]

As we can see, these seem to be statements rather than regulations and with them are thrown in a course in human betterment. It seems though, that throughout this work the message is clear, be obedient and work within the system. It was at this time that Japan started to call itself, “Jihben” or “land of the rising sun” as opposed to China, which was to its west and was called the “land of the setting sun.” Moreover, until this time, Japan’s culture was based upon a hierarchy of clans. The Uji clan, which was located in Nara made up the regulations while other clans (Uji’s) were much smaller, not organized and scattered. The Nara clan created the values and these were distributed to the people thru the clans. Various of the leaders claimed descent from the Sun Goddess Amaterasu. However, there were so many deities that it became difficult to keep track of who should be praying for whom. Thus, part of the changes wrought by Prince Shotoku was the recommendation that Buddhism be made the state religion.



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