Soga clan

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Soga clan
Final ruler Soga no Emishi
Ruled until645, Isshi Incident

The Soga clan (Japanese: 蘇我 , Hepburn: Soga uji) was one of the most powerful aristocratic kin groups (uji) of the Asuka period of the early Japanese state—the Yamato polity—and played a major role in the spread of Buddhism. Through the 5th and 7th centuries, the Soga monopolized the kabane or hereditary rank of Great Omi and was the first of many families to dominate the Imperial House of Japan by influencing the order of succession and government policy.


The last Soga predates any historical work in Japan, and very little is known about its earliest members.


The Soga clan was believed to be founded by Soga no Ishikawa, a great-grandson of Emperor Kōgen.


Today, the name Soga, when referring to the Soga clan, is written in kanji as 蘇我. This notation derives from the Nihon Shoki , where 蘇我 is the principal way in which this name is written. [1] Other ways of writing the clan name appeared in other historical documents. [2] The two characters used in this name are ateji; the meanings of the characters (蘇: "resuscitation"; 我: "self") are unrelated to the name meaning.

Soga no Iname

Soga no Iname served as Great Minister from 536 until his death in 570, and was the first of the Soga clan to carry to extreme lengths the domination of the Throne by the nobility. One of the chief ways he exerted influence through was marital connections with the imperial family; Iname married two of his daughters to Emperor Kinmei, one giving offspring to an Emperor, Emperor Yōmei. The next five emperors all had a wife or mother who was a descendant of Iname.[ citation needed ] In this way the Soga unified and strengthened the country by expanding the power of the Emperor as a symbol and spiritual leader as they took control of secular matters.

Connection to Buddhism from Korea and China

The Soga clan had much contact with foreigners, including the Koreans and the Chinese. They favored the adoption of Buddhism and of governmental and cultural models based on Chinese Confucianism. [3]

The Soga clan supported the spread of Buddhism when it was first introduced in Japan during the 6th century by monks from Baekje (Japanese Kudara). [4] Many Japanese at the time, disliking foreign ideas and believing that this new religion might be an affront to the traditional "kami" or spirits and gods, opposed Buddhism. The rival Mononobe and Nakatomi clans succeeded in gathering hostility against this new religion when a disease spread, following the arrival of a Buddhist statue. It was claimed the epidemic was a sign of anger by the local spirits and the Soga temple at the palace was burned down.

The Soga family, however, firmly believed that the most civilized people believed in Buddhism and continued to actively promote it, placing a holy image of the Buddha in a major Shinto shrine. Soga no Iname claimed that Buddhism brought with it a new form of government that would subvert the independence of the clans, unifying the people under the Emperor. After fifty years of ideological war, Buddhism, defended and protected by the Soga, began to take hold in Japan.

Political assertiveness and reactions

By 644, the heads of the Soga were no longer satisfied to act behind the scenes. Soga no Emishi and his son Soga no Iruka began to build increasingly elaborate palaces and tombs for themselves, styling themselves "sovereigns".

In response, the leader of the Nakatomi clan, Nakatomi no Kamatari (later known as the founder of the Fujiwara and traditionally referred to as Fujiwara no Kamatari), conspired with Soga no Kurayamada no Ishikawa no Maro and Prince Naka no Ōe (later Emperor Tenji) and arranged for Iruka's assassination. Prince Ōe himself attacked Iruka during a court ceremony concerning edicts from Korean kingdoms in front of Empress Kōgyoku; he survived, but the Empress left the scene and Ōe's guards finished Iruka off. Subsequently, Soga no Emishi committed suicide by burning down his own residence, destroying many important court documents. Soga followers were dispersed and even killed; the Empress abdicated and her brother took the throne as Emperor Kōtoku. The Soga clan's hold over the imperial family was broken and two years later the Emperor enacted the Taika Reform, returning full power to the emperor. This disruptive and transformative event is known as the Isshi Incident. [5]


In 2005, the remains of a building which may have been Soga no Iruka's residence were discovered in Nara. This discovery appeared to be consistent with the description found in Nihon Shoki. [6] [ better source needed ]


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Asuka period

The Asuka period was a period in the history of Japan lasting from 538 to 710, although its beginning could be said to overlap with the preceding Kofun period. The Yamato polity evolved greatly during the Asuka period, which is named after the Asuka region, about 25 km (16 mi) south of the modern city of Nara.

Omi, sometimes written as Ohomi (使主), was an ancient Japanese hereditary title denoting rank and political standing that, along with muraji, was reserved for the head of the most powerful clans during the Kofun period. The omi clans generally took their names from the geographic location from which they originated, such as the Soga (蘇我), the Katsuragi (葛城), the Heguri (平群), the Kose (巨勢), the Kasuga (春日), and the Izumo (出雲), thus making them regional chieftains in their own right. All Ohomi above except Izumo and Soga (Korea) were local to Yamato. By tradition, those who held the kabane of omi were considered branches of the imperial line, and they claimed that they were descendants of Emperor Kōgen, although there is no historical evidence to support this.

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Fujiwara no Kamatari was a Japanese statesman, courtier and politician during the Asuka period (538–710). Kamatari was born to the Nakatomi clan and became the founder of the Fujiwara clan. He, along with the Mononobe clan, was a supporter of Shinto and fought the introduction of Buddhism to Japan. The Soga clan, defenders of Buddhism in the Asuka period, defeated Kamatari and the Mononobe clan and Buddhism became the dominant religion of the imperial court. Kamatari, along with Prince Naka no Ōe, later Emperor Tenji (626–672), launched the Taika Reform of 645, which centralized and strengthened the central government. Just before his death he received the honorific of Taishōkan and the surname Fujiwara from the Emperor Tenji, thus establishing the Fujiwara clan.

The Taika Reforms were a set of doctrines established by Emperor Kōtoku in the year 645. They were written shortly after the death of Prince Shōtoku and the defeat of the Soga clan, uniting Japan. The reforms also artistically marked the end of the Asuka period and the beginning of the Hakuhō period. Crown Prince Naka no Ōe, Nakatomi no Kamatari, and Emperor Kōtoku jointly embarked on the details of the Reforms. Emperor Kōtoku then announced the era of "Taika" (大化), or "Great Reform".

Soga no Iname was a leader of the Soga clan and a statesman during the reign of Emperor Kinmei in the Asuka period. He was the first person to hold the position of Ōomi that can be verified with reasonable accuracy, in 536 A.D. Essentially what this means: Japan's first head of government with the Ōkimi as head of state.

Soga no Umako

Soga no Umako was the son of Soga no Iname and a member of the powerful Soga clan of Japan.

Soga no Iruka

Soga no Iruka was the son of Soga no Emishi, a statesman in the Asuka Period of Japan.

The Mononobe clan was a Japanese aristocratic kin group (uji) of the Kofun period, known for its military opposition to the Soga clan. The Mononobe were opposed to the spread of Buddhism, partly on religious grounds, claiming that the local deities would be offended by the worshiping of foreign deities, but also as the result of feelings of conservatism and a degree of xenophobia. The Nakatomi clan, ancestors of the Fujiwara, were also Shinto ritualists allied with the Mononobe in opposition to Buddhism.

Isshi Incident

The Isshi Incident takes its name from the zodiological name of the year 645 during which the Taika Reform, a transformative event in Japanese Imperial history, occurred.

Fujiwara no Umakai Japanese noble

Fujiwara no Umakai was a Japanese statesman, courtier, general and politician during the Nara period. The third son of Fujiwara no Fuhito, he founded the Shikike ("Ceremonials") branch of the Fujiwara clan.

Nakatomi clan was a Japanese aristocratic kin group (uji).The clan claims descent from Amenokoyane.

Soga no Kurayamada no Ishikawa no Maro

Soga no Kurayamada no Ishikawa no Maro (蘇我倉山田石川麻呂) was a member of the Soga clan and first holder of the office of udaijin. He was the son of Soga no Kuramaro and grandson of Soga no Umako; his daughter was married to Prince Naka-no-Ōe. After the fall of Soga no Iruka, he was the most senior member of the family. As chronicled in the Nihon Shoki, he was accused of treason and strangled himself at Yamada-dera in 649; his wife and seven of his children also committed suicide; other relatives were captured and executed. The discovery of exonerating documents led to a posthumous pardon and the posting of his slanderer to Tsukushi Province. His death brought the political ascendancy of the Soga clan to an end.


  1. The Nihon Shoki Wiki . Retrieved 5 June 2017.Missing or empty |title= (help)
  2. Soga clan, Japanese Wikipedia.
  4. History of Nara
  5. Ponsonby-Fane, Richard (1959). The Imperial House of Japan. Kyoto: Ponsonby Memorial Society. pp. 49–50.
  6. "Soga no Iruka house believed found," Japan Times Weekly, 14 November 2005; retrieved 2013-2-29.