The Story of Shōtoku
The Illustrated Biography of Prince Shōtoku is a national treasure that once adorned the Hall of Paintings of Hōryū-ji Temple in Nara. It was painted in 1069, almost one thousand years ago, based on the legends surrounding the life of Prince Shōtoku.
The expansive painting features many miracles attributed to Prince Shōtoku, such as his birth in a stable to his ascending to the peak of Mt Fuji on flying horseback. Visit our display for a high-resolution video annotation of the scroll, courtesy of the Tokyo National Museum and NHK (Japan Broadcasting Company).
History or Myth?
As can be seen from the Illustrated Biography of Prince Shōtoku, an historical figure can have fantastic tales woven into the story of their life. Much of what we know about Prince Shōtoku derives from the Nihon Shoki, one of the earliest texts produced in Japan which covers the mythology of Japan’s deities and how the imperial family descended from them. Some scholars argue that there never was one Prince Shōtoku at all and that he is a figure covering the deeds of many politicians from the 7th century. Most scholars agree that there was a living man whom the figure of Prince Shōtoku was built upon but how do we determine history from myth? Professor Bryan Lowe explains how we can understand the past better from ancient texts: