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Home » 9. Texts and Sources » Shinto Classics and Literature
Senmyō
This refers to edicts written down in a Japanese phonetic script. Originally this referred to the words spoken by the emperor, but later this term came to specifically refer to the text of these words. Compared with texts written in classical Chinese and promulgated that were called "imperial edicts (ļ, shōchō)" or "written edicts (۽, shōsho)," imperial commands written in phonetic script and announced verbally were known as senmyō. These edicts have been proclaimed since ancient times down till the early modern era, but after the Heian era edicts composed in classical Chinese were revered, and senmyō were only used for edicts for public announcements for shrines and imperial burials. By the fourth month of 1873 the term senmyō was abolished from the legal statutes, so when the emperor conducted a ceremony himself, it was called okōmon. When an imperial messenger (chokushi) is dispatched, this is called gosaimon, and when promotions in rank or post are announced, this is known as sakumei.

Origins
       The first appearance of the word senmyō in the ancient corpus is in Shoku nihongi, eleventh day of the third month of 728, embedded in a regulation, where the word is used as a verb ("announce the word"). In the Heian era, we see an example in the Kiritsubo Chapter of Genji monogatari, "Because he was to be granted the Third Rank, an imperial messenger arrived and then read the senmyō, and it was a sad sight." As this example shows, the term senmyō had become to refer to edicts written in phonetic script. Takahashi ujibumi, which was presented to court in 789, contains the phrase "a senmyō messenger."
       The oldest surviving senmyō is found on a mokkan (wooden document) that was unearthed from the Fujiwara Capital site and reads, "he said to accept the command, and grieved for the inner provinces of the land he rules over....Give ear all to the great [decree?] that [someone] has decreed..." In the present senmyō refers to the sixty-two edicts contained in Shoku nihongi that are considered Shintō classics, and have an important place in the classical cannon from the perspective of literary history and the history of the Japanese language. Other ancient examples of senmyō are found in the Shōsōin Documents where one edict is dated 757, and one other in the Gengōji engi (the only surviving witness of this is the Daigoji manuscript that was copied in 1165). Regarding the number of edicts for each reign as recorded in Shoku nihongi, there are two from Monmu, two from Genmei, nine from Shōmu, ten from Kōken, six from Junnin, eighteen from Shōtoku, twelve from Kōnin, and three from Kanmu. The contents of these edicts are varied, and deal with imperial ascension (sokui), abdication, removing the emperor, changing the regnal year name, establishing an empress, establishing a crown prince, removing a crown prince, giving posthumous titles, appointing a minister, granting rank, giving advice, presenting awards and praise, sentencing for a crime, and mourning the dead. The subject of the edict normally was the emperor, but there were also times when the edict came from a Queen Dowager or the Empress. The edict was addressed to a great number of people, usually listed as "Imperial princes, princes, ministers, the hundred officials, and all the people under the heavens," but there were also times when an edict was addressed to an individual, or the Rushana Buddha or the Great Deity of the Hachiman Shrine, or to the spirit of a deceased person.

Usage
       In ancient times it was rare that the emperor would verbally issue an edict, as it was the usual practice for high ranking officials, counselors and above, or the minister of the Central Affairs Ministry to announce these words in the palace. At shrines located outside of the palace precincts, an imperial messenger (also known as a senmyō messenger or a senmyō daifu) would announce these words. It is clear from the title of a Kamakura period work called senmyōfu (Rhythm Chart of Senmyō) in one volume in Honchō shojaku mokuroku that the reading of these edicts required a standardized meter, but this work does not survive down to the present. In the beginning section on edicts as recorded in the Taihō codes and the Yōrō codes it records that there are five classifications of edicts like: "The Emperor of Yamato who is a manifest deity declareseveryone give ear!" Ryō no gige explains the circumstances surrounding the use of each of these five categories. It appears that actual edicts conformed to these standards in general, but there were times when they did not necessarily conform to the standard. The general outline of the edict was by the secretaries in the Central Affairs Ministry, as was also the case for other edicts. A template for edicts promulgated for palace events from the middle of the Heian period on is found in the records section of book twelve of Chōya gunsai. The paper these edicts was written down on was called senmyōshi (senmyō paper), and in the section on secretaries of the Central Affairs Ministry as contained in Engishiki, all edicts were written down on yellow paper. Regulations specified that edicts addressed to the Grand Shrines of Ise were written on light blue paper, and those addressed to the Kamo Shrine were written on crimson paper. The orthography used is called senmyōgaki, and as a general rule word order followed the Japanese vernacular, with independent words (like substantives, declinable words, adverbs, and conjunctions) written in large script, while affixed words (declinable parts of verbs and suffixes) were written in small script. The majority of words written in large script were ideographs, but when there was no good counterpart for a word in Japanese, phonetic script was used. Chinese characters like "not," "passive," "causative," "want," "with," "by," Ϳ "interrogative," which required the reader to switch the order of the words, were also used, as were Chinese particles like "nominalizer," Ƿ "genitive particle," and "conjunctive particle." Like the previous example of a mokkan excavated from the Fujiwara Palace ruins, the orthography originally had no smaller sized characters (senmyō written in the same size graphs), and it is believed that from the Nara era on the idea developed to write some graphs in a smaller size out of convenience.
       Regarding the thought behind senmyō, the nucleus of this philosophy sees the emperor as a manifest deity (akitsumikami), having accepted the divine will of the heavenly deity (amatsukami) to rule the country, and the successive emperors have ascended the throne because it is believed that this method was determined from the days of Takamanohara (The Plain of High Heaven). Concerning the court it was emphasized that the courtiers should serve the court 'with a clear, pure, upright, sincere heart', and 'with a pure, bright, righteous, and upright mind'. On the other hand, we also see evidence of Confucian and Buddhist influence on this philosophy, as well as the philosophy centered upon good omens.
       The first person to study senmyō was Motoori Norinaga, and in the process of writing Kojiki-den, he discovered the value of the edicts, and in his final years he wrote a commentary on the edicts as contained in Shoku nihongi, titled Shokki rekichō shōshikai in six volumes. Research in recent years have used Norinaga's work as a scholarly groundwork, and includes Kaneko Takeo's Shoku nihongi senmyō kō (1941, Hakuteisha, reprinted in 1989 by Takashina Shoten), Kitagawa Kazuhide's Shoku nihongi senmyō kōhon, sōsakuin (1982, Yoshikawa Kōbunkan), and Kotani Hiroyasu's Mokkan to senmyō no kokugogakuteki kenkyū (1986, Izumi Shoin).

—Motosawa Masafumi
"Establishment of a National Learning Institute for the Dissemination of Research on Shinto and Japanese Culture"
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