Emperor Nintoku and the People’s Cooking Stoves


Emperor Nintoku, the 16th Emperor who is said to have lived around the 4th Century was one of the most respected Emperors in the history of Japan who embodied the concept of the Japanese style “democracy.”  His grave is considered to be the largest in the world which is about 113 acres and approximately 111 feet in height. In the first Japanese formal historical document called “Nihonshoki”  which was completed in AD 720,  the Emperor Nintoku’s word is recorded.  It states the following:

The reason for the Heavenly Person (Emperor) to be standing is for the People.

Book of Emperor Nintoku, Nihonshoki

There is a famous story of Emperor Nintoku called “People’s Cooking Stoves” (Tami no Kamado) which is still passed down in Japan.

Emperor Nintoku made the town of Naniwa to be the new Capital.  However, he saw the town from Takatsu Palace and saw the people’s chimneys were not generating enough smokes from their cooking stoves.

He said, “the reason why there is not much smoke coming out of the town must be because they are too poor to cook anything. If the city is like this, the country side should be worse.”

So he has made an official statement to stop collecting tax for the next 3 years.  The Emperor did not make any new clothes since then. The palace walls and the roof deteriorated but he refrained from repairing.  He even saw the starlights in between the cracks.

Three years have passed.  The Emperor went to a hill top and he saw a lot of smoke coming out of the people’s cooking stoves.  He said to the Empress,  “I am rich already.”  She said, “You say strange things. How can you say you are rich when the palace wall and the roof is broken?”

He said to the Empress,”Listen carefully. The business of governing must be based on people.  If the people are rich, I can say that I am also rich.”  The Emperor smiled.

At that time, lots of people from different places told the Emperor, “the palace is broken but the people got rich. If someone forgot something on the road, no one picks it up these days.  If we do not pay tax and also not volunteer to repair the palace, we will be punished by heaven.”

However, the Emperor still did not accept tax for the next 3 years.  After 6 years, he finally approved and resumed collecting tax and allowed to repair the palace.

In Nihonshoki, it is noted as the following:

Without being directed, people voluntarily started bringing in the building materials and carried things to the Palace.  The people worked day and night and they even competed with each other in their work.  The Palace was finished completely in no time.  That is why he is called “Saint Emperor.” After his passing,  he was buried in Mozuno Misasagi in the country of Izumi.

In “Kojiki” it is also noted that his grave is in Mozuno Mimihara. “Nihonshoki” also wrote that his grave was a “Jyuryo” which means that the construction of the site was already finished while he was alive.  During the Emperor’s reign, it is known that a lot of agricultural construction work such as building waterways in the rice field took place.  A large amount of soil had to be removed and piled up somewhere and many mounds were created as a result.  It is only natural to assume that the largest mound in the area was selected to bury the respected Emperor.

To this day, the story of Emperor Nintoku and “the People’s Cooking Stoves” is shared by many Japanese people. The story is also embedded in the lyrics of the City of Osaka song.

Since the ancient time of the Takatsu Palace
After generations of prosperity
Smokes still coming out of the people’s cooking stoves
Thriving in excellence, the City of Osaka
Thriving in excellence, the City of Osaka

The Osaka City Song