Soga clan
Home provinceYamato Province
Parent houseImperial House of Japan
FounderSoga no Ishikawa
Final rulerSoga no Emishi
Ruled until645, Isshi incident
Cadet branchesIshikawa clan

The Soga clan (Japanese: 蘇我, Hepburn: Soga uji) was one of the most powerful aristocratic kin groups (uji) of the Asuka period of the early Japanese state—the Yamato polity—and played a major role in the spread of Buddhism. Through the 5th and 7th centuries, the Soga monopolized the kabane or hereditary rank of Great Omi and was the first of many families to dominate the Imperial House of Japan by influencing the order of succession and government policy.

The last Soga predates any historical work in Japan, and very little is known about its earliest members.


Due to its heavy connections with Mainland Asia, especially to that of Korea, the Soga clan is often debated in regards to its origins stretching from it being a Japanese clan or being a clan that arrived in Japan from a different country (known as Toraijin).


The supporters of the theory that the Soga clan was simply a Japanese clan which was very open-minded for its time argue that the clan was founded by Soga no Ishikawa, a great-grandson of Emperor Kōgen found in the Shinsen Shōjiroku.[1]


Other historians however, point to historical and archaeological evidence that indicate Korean roots (specifically of Baekje). According to the family tree of the Soga clan, two individuals known as Soga no Karako and Soga no Koma are mentioned, where both names include metaphors that allude to Korea.[2] According to the Nihon Shoki, "Karako (韓子)" is a direct translation of "child of Korea" as "Kara (から)" means Korea in Japanese and is referenced that he was of mixed heritage, hence why he was given the name "child of Korea". Soga no Karako was sent to Korea but was killed by a rival commander in a falling out within their ranks according to the Nihon Shoki. In addition, Karako's son, "Koma (高麗)" is also a name that allude to "Korea" specifically the kingdom of Goguryeo. The clan was also heavily connected to another foreign clan of Korean descent known as the Yamatonoaya clan or simply "Aya clans" in general, hiring them to be bodyguards of high-ranking members.[3] Some theorize that the Soga clan favored the Aya clans due to their shared Baekje origins. This is supported by recent evidence discovered during an excavation conducted by Yasushi Ban, an archaeologist and assistant chief of cultural property preservation section of Nara prefecture's education board, who discovered earthenware artifacts that showed Jeolla region (Baekje)'s origin in 2018.[4] Ban became an advocate of the Toraijin theory after he visited Korea himself and found many similarities between the Soga clan's artifacts and Korean ones.[4] More evidence alludes to Soga no Umako's great hostility towards Silla, another Korean kingdom that later conquered Baekje, where in 600, he sent a military expedition under his brother Sakaibe no Marise to southeastern Korea and attacked Silla.[5] Some historians argue that the Soga clan was heavily invested in Korean affairs (such as the unification of the Korean kingdoms by Silla) as the members themselves were of Baekje origin and wanted to retain their ancestral kingdom for both political influence and cultural identity.

In January of year 593, during the event of erecting the pillars of Asuka Temple, a hundred people under Soga no Umako were wearing Baekje clothing and the guests were entertained.

It is also said in the Fusō Ryakuki that a hundred members of the Soga clan (under Soga no Umako) wore Baekje clothing and were entertaining guests.


World-renowned linguist and Japanese language expert Alexander Vovin states that the Soga clan might have been of Silla origin as the name draws similarities with Silla language words.[6] According to Vovin, Soga's "So (そ)" is an adopted name from the Korean word "쇠" pronounced, "Sori" in Old Korean, which means "metal" and corresponds with the "Kim (金)" surname of the same meaning in Chinese characters.[6] He also states that "Ga (が)" is derived from "Gan (간)", an ancient suffix that was used to mean "great" or "leader" in Silla which itself is thought to have been derived from the word "Khan" (see etymology of titles within Silla monarchy).[6] Therefore, the name "Soga clan" most likely meant the "Great Kim clan" according to Vovin. This aligns with the powerful Gyeongju Kim clan who trace their descent from the ruling family of Silla.

Despite the numerous theories however, a definitive consensus is yet to be reached with many historians assuming Soga clan of Japanese origin for the time being.


Today, the name Soga, when referring to the Soga clan, is written in kanji as 蘇我. This notation derives from the Nihon Shoki, where 蘇我 is the principal way in which this name is written.[7] Other ways of writing the clan name appeared in other historical documents.[8] The two characters used in this name are ateji; the meanings of the characters (蘇: "resuscitation"; 我: "self") are unrelated to the name meaning.

Soga no Iname

Soga no Iname served as Great Minister from 536 until his death in 570, and was the first of the Soga clan to carry to extreme lengths the domination of the Throne by the nobility. One of the chief ways he exerted influence was through marital connections with the imperial family; Iname married two of his daughters to Emperor Kinmei, one giving offspring to an Emperor, Emperor Yōmei. The next five emperors all had a wife or mother who was a descendant of Iname.[citation needed] In this way the Soga unified and strengthened the country by expanding the power of the Emperor as a symbol and spiritual leader as they took control of secular matters.

Connection to Buddhism from mainland Asia

The Soga clan had much contact with foreigners, including the Koreans and the Chinese. They favored the adoption of Buddhism and of governmental and cultural models based on Chinese Confucianism.[9]

The Soga clan supported the spread of Buddhism when it was first introduced in Japan during the 6th century by monks from Baekje (Japanese Kudara).[10] Many Japanese at the time, disliking foreign ideas and believing that this new religion might be an affront to the traditional "kami" or spirits and gods, opposed Buddhism. The rival Mononobe and Nakatomi clans succeeded in gathering hostility against this new religion when a disease spread, following the arrival of a Buddhist statue. It was claimed the epidemic was a sign of anger by the local spirits and the Soga temple at the palace was burned down.

The Soga family, however, firmly believed that the most civilized people believed in Buddhism and continued to actively promote it, placing a holy image of the Buddha in a major Shinto shrine. Soga no Iname claimed that Buddhism brought with it a new form of government that would subvert the independence of the clans, unifying the people under the Emperor. After fifty years of ideological war, Buddhism, defended and protected by the Soga, began to take hold in Japan.

Political assertiveness and reactions

By 644, the heads of the Soga were no longer satisfied to act behind the scenes. Soga no Emishi and his son Soga no Iruka began to build increasingly elaborate palaces and tombs for themselves, styling themselves "sovereigns".

In response, the leader of the Nakatomi clan, Nakatomi no Kamatari (later known as the founder of the Fujiwara and traditionally referred to as Fujiwara no Kamatari), conspired with Soga no Kurayamada no Ishikawa no Maro and Prince Naka no Ōe (later Emperor Tenji) and arranged for Iruka's assassination. Prince Ōe himself attacked Iruka during a court ceremony concerning edicts from Korean kingdoms in front of Empress Kōgyoku; he survived, but the Empress left the scene and Ōe's guards finished Iruka off. Subsequently, Soga no Emishi committed suicide by burning down his own residence, destroying many important court documents. Soga followers were dispersed and even killed; the Empress abdicated and her brother took the throne as Emperor Kōtoku. The Soga clan's hold over the imperial family was broken and two years later the Emperor enacted the Taika Reform, returning full power to the emperor. This disruptive and transformative event is known as the Isshi Incident.[11]


In 2005, the remains of a building which may have been Soga no Iruka's residence were discovered in Nara. This discovery appeared to be consistent with the description found in Nihon Shoki.[12][better source needed]



  1. ^ "Shinsen Shōjiroku • . A History . . of Japan . 日本歴史". . A History . . of Japan . 日本歴史. Retrieved 7 December 2021.
  2. ^ Nussbaum, Louis-Frédéric (2005). Japan Encyclopedia. Harvard University Press.((cite book)): CS1 maint: date and year (link)
  3. ^ 上田 1965, pp. 76–77.
  4. ^ a b Tsukamoto, Kazuto (2018). "Powerful Soga clan in ancient Japan likely of Korean origin". The Archaeology News Network.
  5. ^ 倉本一宏『蘇我氏 古代豪族の興亡』(中央公論新社、2015年)
  6. ^ a b c Vovin, Alexander (2016). The Linguistic Evidence for the Korean Influence on the Formation of the Ancient Japanese State. PIAC. p. 5.((cite book)): CS1 maint: date and year (link)
  7. ^ "Soga". The Nihon Shoki Wiki. Archived from the original on 8 December 2019. Retrieved 1 July 2023.
  8. ^ Soga clan, Japanese Wikipedia.
  10. ^ History of Nara
  11. ^ Ponsonby-Fane, Richard (1959). The Imperial House of Japan. Kyoto: Ponsonby Memorial Society. pp. 49–50.
  12. ^ "Soga no Iruka house believed found," Japan Times Weekly, 14 November 2005; retrieved 2013-2-29.