Nintoku is the name given to the mythical 16th Emperor of Japan. Nothing of historical worth can be said about his life.
According to the Nihon Shoki, Nintoku lived a ridiculous 142 years (AD 257-399), of which he reigned for 86 (313-399). The Nihon Shoki also records that he was the fourth son of Emperor Ôjin, who immediately preceded him, and the father of later emperors Richû, Hanzei, and Ingyô.
There is a famous story in the Nihon Shoki, in which Nintoku, seeing that a time of poverty had come to his realm, decreed that there would be no corvée labor for a period of three years. Without the forced labor of the peasants, the once-magnificent imperial palace fell into ruins, but Nintoku was pleased, because prosperity returned to the common people. His wife, however, complained bitterly: "The Palace enclosure is crumbling down and there are no means of repairing it; the buildings are dilapidated so that all the furniture is exposed. Can this be called prosperity?" Nintoku just smiled and said,
When Heaven establishes a Prince, it is for the sake of the people. The Prince must therefore make the people the foundation. For this reason the wise sovereigns of antiquity, if a single one of their subjects was cold and starving, cast the responsibility on themselves. Now the people's poverty is nothing other than Our poverty; the people's prosperity is nothing other than Our prosperity. There is no such thing as the people's being prosperous and yet the Prince in poverty.
For actions such as this, Nintoku is thought of by the Japanese as one of the most benevolent of all the emperors. Not surprisingly, both of the characters in his postumous reign name of "Nintoku" mean "benevolence."
Daisen Kofun, located in the town of Sakai just south of Osaka and the largest tomb of any kind in the entire world, is said to be the tomb of Nintoku. We may never know for sure, however, as the Imperial Household Agency refuses to allow excavations.
Quotations taken from W.G. Aston, trans., Nihongi, London: 1896.
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