Fujiwara Kamatari (614-669) was the founder of the Fujiwara clan, which was influential in the Japanese imperial court for many centuries. He was instrumental in instituting the reform of the Taika era and establishing an imperial central government.
Originally surnamed Nakatomi, Fujiwara Kamatari was also known as Kamako. The Nakatomi clan was traditionally charged with Shinto priestly functions. Kamatari, together with the Mononobes, opposed the introduction and propagation of Buddhism in Japan and feuded with the Sogas, who became champions of Buddhism. Allied with Prince Naka-no oe (later Emperor Tenchi), Kamatari carefully planned to eliminate Soga-no Iruka and Soga-no Emishi, who wielded great power in the imperial court.
In 645, taking advantage of the court function of receiving a Korean envoy, Prince Naka-no oe and Kamatari killed Iruka and Emishi. Emperor Kotoku ascended the throne in the same year and appointed Kamatari minister of the interior. Kamatari then initiated and carried out the reform of the Taika (great transformation) era.
The great nobles were summoned to the court, and the doctrine of absolute monarchy was proclaimed. Then followed certain practical measures, such as registration of households, the survey of arable land, rules for the supervision of monks and nuns, and some procedure for settling claims.
In the second year of the Taika era, 646, the celebrated kaishin-no cho, or Reform Edict, was proclaimed. It consisted of four simple articles: Article I abolished private title to land and workers acquired by the formation of "namesake" or "succession" estates or by other means of appropriation. Article II established a metropolitan regime, called the kinai, or Inner Provinces, to include the center of government in a capital city; communications with the outer provinces were to be improved, and governors of provinces and districts within the kinai were to be appointed. Article III ordered the institution of registers of population, with a view to the allotment of rice land to cultivators on an equitable basis, and provided for the appointment of rural headmen. Article IV abolished old taxes and contributions of forced labor and introduced a new system of taxation.
After Emperor Tenchi ascended the throne, Fujiwara Kamatari also codified existing laws. Because of the location of the imperial palace at Otsu (Omi Province), the laws were called Omi laws. In the second year of Emperor Tenchi's reign, Kamatari was taken ill, and when his condition became serious, the Emperor appointed him minister of the left and conferred upon him the rank of taishokukan, the highest court rank, and the family name of Fujiwara.
The relationship between Emperor Tenchi and "Fujiwara-no Daijin," as Fujiwara Kamatari is sometimes called, is discussed in W. G. Aston's translation of Nihongi: Chronicles of Japan from the Earliest Times to A.D. 697 (1956). The Taika era of reform and Kamatari's role in it are discussed in Ryusaku Tsunoda and others, Sources of Japanese Tradition (1958). There is an incisive analysis of the Taika reform and Kamatari's contributions in Sir George B. Sansom, A History of Japan, vol. 1 (1958). □