Hardworking Rice Growing Emperor of Japan

Rice Growing Emperor

From time immemorial, the Japanese Emperors have been the keepers of the tradition of growing rice. The current Japanese Emperor, Akihito (83) , the 125th Emperor is still keeping the tradition of growing rice and conducting agricultural ceremonies.

Prince Hisahito who is the third in line for the Chrysanthemum throne is already growing rice at the Imperial Palace in Tokyo at the tender age of 10 and keeping the tradition which dates back more than 2600 years since the first Emperor Jimmu was throned in AD 660.


The famous poem on rice stalks by Emperor Tenchi (AD 626 – 672)

Over 1300 years ago, Emperor Tenchi (AD 626-672) also known as Prince Nakano Oenooji or Amatsumikoto / Sakiwakenomikoto has written a famous Japanese poem which is in “Ogura Hyakunin Isshu,”  a classical Japanese anthology by one hundred poets. This poem was the first and the most important poem in the anthology.

At the humble hut made of the rice stalks in the autumn rice field,  my sleeves are collecting the dews while I weave.

Emperor Tenchi

It reveals that not only the Emperor himself was weaving a mat or some form of a craft using rice stalks but he was also involved in the process of growing rice just as the current Emperor is.

The Japanese people are considered to be very hardworking people. People have been telling each other for at least a few thousand years that we must work hard because even the Emperor himself works in the field. In Kojiki, even the divine figures or the “gods” work in the rice field.

The Japanese Emperor’s lineage has lasted this long because they were originally the rice growing peaceful, hardworking vegetarians who were constantly praying.  Since they were considered spiritual figures in the ancient times who were called Tenshi-sama (Child of the God or Heavenly Child) or Ookimi (the Great one), the Emperor has been always respected.  There was no need to have a “revolution” and kill the Emperor in Japan because they have been respected for their hard work and self-sacrifice as well as their divine lineage.The Japanese Emperor’s family is considered to be the direct descendants of Izanagi and Izanami who are said to have created the islands of Japan in the Japanese classics, Kojiki.

Growing rice since 6000 years ago

According to the current research,  the tradition of growing rice dates back to the beginning of “Jyomon Era” which is approximately 6000 years ago.  According to the report by Kyodo Press in 2005, the professors from Okayama Rika University and Notre Dame Seishin Women’s University have uncovered the evidence of ancient rice called “plant opals” from “Hikozaki Kaizuka” in Okayama prefecture which dates back 6000 years ago.

In the recent years, more evidence have been uncovered to prove that the practice of growing rice started before Yayoi Era (BC 300 – AD300).  It used to be believed that the technology of growing rice was brought to Japan from the Chinese continent. Several archaeological findings disprove this theory now. The plant opals of rice were also found from the ancient porcelain piece found in Mikamo Himesasahara in Okayama which dates back 4500 years.

Uniquely Japanese ancient utensils and values

One of the most important ceremonies conducted by the Japanese Emperor at the Imperial Palace is a “Thanksgiving” ritual called “Niinamesai” which is conducted on November 23rd.  In this ceremony, he eats the newly harvested rice of that year along with other crops for the first time using an oak leaf and a bamboo pincet called “Oribashi.”  Oribashi have widely used in the Japanese Jinja or shrines in the old days. This utensil is unique to Japan and it suggests that the original Japanese people did not use chopsticks as in China or in the Korean peninsula.

This ceremony which has been passed down for thousands of years also suggest how their ancestors were eating rice in the old days. It suggests that people were originally eating without a bowl and chopsticks.  It means that the tradition of growing rice and eating rice came BEFORE they started making porcelain bowls and using chopsticks.

The fact that this ceremony is still preserved in the Imperial ceremony suggests that they considered it important enough to maintain this humble way to eat along with the tradition to give gratitude for the new crops. Understanding how long the Japanese Emperor and the people have been growing rice and eating rice is the key in understanding the Japanese culture.

The reason why the Japanese Emperor’s Palace in Kyoto has no walls


The Japanese Emperor’s Palace in Kyoto, “The Place”

The Japanese Emperor’s Palace in Kyoto, Japan is not surrounded by the fortress or the moat. How could the Emperor’s Palace be so simple and unprotected.?

The Emperor’s Palace in Kyoto is called  “Gosho” which means the “Place.” This location has been the Emperor’s residence from AD 1331-1869.  As in the Emperor’s New Year’s prayer, it has been believed by the people of Japan for over 2000 years that the Emperor has been protecting the people through his self-sacrifice.

As in the story of “People’s Cooking Pot,” the people of Japan have been voluntarily offering help the Emperor in return.  The reason why the Emperors were always been kept safe without a fortress or complex security systems is that people were protecting them.

The following is a Japanese Waka poem from the Anthology called “Hyakuninisshu.”

みかき守 衛士のたく火の 夜は燃え 昼は消えつつ ものをこそ思へ

The torches of the guards for the Emperor’s Place
They burn the night and disappear during the day
I ponder the meaning of it

Oonakatomino Yoshinobu Ason AD 921-991

The guards who protected the Palace gate were known to be volunteers who considered it honor to be able to protect the Emperor.


Eco Castle, the current Emperor’s Palace which was peacefully inherited from the Shogunate

The current Japanese Emperor Akihito is residing in the place of Edo Castle which is surrounded by a moat.  This was never meant for the Emperor since it was built for the Shogun who was the political and military leader. The only reason why the current Emperor is residing in Shogun’s Edo Castle in Tokyo is that the Emperor Meiji relocated to Tokyo in 1869 to take back the political power from the Shogun to show solidarity against the foreign threats.

Although the Emperor’s Palace in Tokyo is now protected by the professional Imperial Police, the volunteerism of the Japanese people at the Imperial Palace still remains today.

“Losers” have been equally respected as “Winners” in Japan


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The drawing of the first recorded Sumo wrestling match by Nomi no Sukune and Taima no Kehaya.

There are lots of uniquely Japanese customs and practices that surprise people from other cultures. One of them may be the fact that the Japanese people have loved and paid respect to those who publicly recognized as “losers” along with the “winners.”  From the ancient time, people were not just judged by the result.

An excellent example of this is the fact that the man who lost Japan’s first official recorded Sumo wrestling match is still loved and respected in Japan after 2000 years. His name was Taima no Kehaya (Taemak Ehaya) who excelled in kicking technique.

The first Sumo wrestling match in Japan was inspired by Emperor Nintoku who reigned BC97 to BC30.  Nomi no Sukune who was originally from Izumo region and Taima no Kehaya fought in front of the Emperor.  According to the ancient Japanese history publication “Kojiki,” Nomi no Sukune is the 14th descendant of Amenohohi who was the second son of Amaterasu (Amaterasu Omikami) .  Kehaya is said to have broken his back because of this match and lost.  Nomi no Sukune was given the land Kehaya owned as a result.  The land is still called Taima town in Nara.

Nomi no Sukune is still revered and respected at numerous shrines in Japan as the originator of Sumo wrestling.   However,  this part is uniquely Japanese phenomena.   Kehaya who lost the match has been even more loved and respected by the people of Japan.  Kehaya is revered and respected at the Sumo shrine along with Nomi no Sukune.  The winner and the loser have been respected at the same location.

The Sumo stadium in the town of Taima in Nara is has been called “Kehaya-za” after Taima no Kehaya.  “Kehaya-zuka,” the mound (tomb) of Kehaya is still preserved in Nara.  Even if he lost quite publicly, he was never disgraced and people continued to loved and respect him.

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Kehayazuka, the tomb of Taima no Kehaya in Nara, Japan

At the site of the ancient “Kehaya-zuka (Kehaya mound),”  it says the following;

The winners are not necessarily always superior.
One may become a loser by chance or the lack of fortune.

It’s good to give applause to the winners.
However, the losers also deserve a drop of our tears.

Words engraved in Kehaya-zuka, the tomb of Taima no Kehaya

敗者とな ることもある。


It has been said in the Western world, “History is written by the winners” as Winston Churchill has said “History is written by the victors” and Dan Brown also said “History is always written by the winners.”

True. But not in Japan.

It has been the tradition to honor both parties after conflicts or battles. People did not believe in just deleting the existence of the parties who have lost.  The fact that the Japanese people preserved the names, graves and shrines in honor of people who were “losers” show the Japanese mentality of “wa” or unity.  It is based on the Japanese philosophy that both the losers and the winners are 2 sides of coins.  Without remembering the other side of the story, you will never retain the whole story.