Kōgyoku 皇極天皇– 594 – 661 – Kyoto, Japan

Ancient Japan, Japan

Kogyoku

Kōgyoku was not only the second woman to ascend to Japan‘s chrysanthemum throne, but also the third.

Born Princess Takara, she was the great-great granddaughter of Emperor Bidatsu, and great-great grandniece to Empress Suiko – the first woman to rule Japan. She married her uncle, Emperor Jomei, and became his consort, bearing him three children.

When Jomei died in his late forties, it was Takara who succeeded him, rather than their teenaged son, Naka no Ōe. She took the name Kōgyoku and the title Sumeramikoto or Amenoshita Shiroshimesu Ōkimi (治天下大王), meaning “the great queen who rules all under heaven”. The throne was not stable, however, and Kōgyoku’s reign was beset by challenges from the powerful Soga clan.

To prevent them from seizing total power, Naka no Ōe and his friends staged a coup intended to destroy the most powerful branch of the Soga family, which was led by statesman Soga no Iruka . In July of 645, during a ceremony in the throne room, Naka no Ōe assassinated Soga no Iruka, right in front of his mother.

Kōgyoku was deeply shocked by the violence she had witnessed (later known as the Isshi Incident), and more than that, at the time it was believed that being present at a murder polluted the soul. No longer considering herself fit to rule, Kōgyoku wished to abdicate immediately in favour of her son. She was instead convinced to pass her title to her brother, who became Emperor Kōtoku.

Kōtoku ruled from 645 – 654 and died without a living heir. In 655, Kōgyoku re-ascended to the throne under the new name of Empress Saimei. As Saimei she ruled for seven more years, before dying on a military expedition to Korea.


References:

Women’s Studies Encyclopedia, Volume 2 – Helen Tierney

Japan Encyclopedia – Louis-Frédéric, Käthe Roth

On Wikipedia:

Suiko 推古天皇 – 554 – 628 – Kyoto, Japan

Ancient Japan, Japan

Suiko

In the history of Japan, there were eight women to rule as empress in their own right – Suiko was the first.

The third daughter of Emperor Kinmei, Suiko’s personal name was Mikekashiya-hime-no-mikoto.

She first took the role of royal consort (Ōkisaki) to her brother Emperor Bidatsu following the death of his wife. After Bidatsu himself died, he was followed by Suiko’s second brother, Yōmei, who only lived two more years.

Empress_Suiko

Suiko (source)

After this there was a power struggle between two clans – the Soga and the Mononobe. Prince Hatsusebe, supported by the Sogas was the victor and ruled as Emperor Sushun from 587 to 592 – when he was assassinated by the head of the Soga clan.

To prevent another struggle, the imperial throne was then offered to Suiko, who accepted and became the 33rd monarch of Japan from 593 to 628. Her title was Amenoshita Shiroshimesu Ōkimi (治天下大王) – ‘the great queen who rules all under heaven’.

Prince Shōtoku, Yōmei’s son, was appointed regent over Suiko in 594, but he did not stop her from exercising considerable power. She was one of the first Buddhist monarchs of Japan, and under her reign Buddhism was officially recognised.


References:

The Future and the Past: A Translation and Study of the GukanshōThe Future and the Past: A Translation and Study of the Gukanshō –  Jien, Delmer Myers Brown, Ichirō Ishida

Japan Encyclopedia – Nussbaum, Louis-Frédéric and Käthe Roth

On Wikipedia:

Empress Jingū 神功皇后 – c.169 – 269 – Japan

Ancient Japan

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The story of Empress Jingū is entrenched in legend. Until the early 20th century she was considered a historical figure and the 15th imperial ruler of Japan. Since then her historicity has been re-evaluated, and Jingū has been removed from the traditional order of succession.

The sources say that she was married to Emperor Chūai and acted as his consort until his death in 201. After this Jingū acted as Empress Regent to her son, Ōjin, until he took the throne in 270.

Many of the Japanese Emperors from this time period lack solid historical evidence, including Ōjin and Jingū. There are certainly aspects of Jingū’s story which seem fantastical to us today. She supposedly owned two divine jewels which gave her the power to control the tides, and used them to carry out a bloodless conquest of Korea.

EmpressJinguInKorea

Empress Jingū. Woodblock print by Tsukioka Yoshitoshi (1880) – Source

While there is no evidence that Japan had conquered Korea during the timeframe given for Jingū’s rule, some sources do demonstrate Japanese presence in southern Korea by the 4th century. Korean and Chinese records also describe Japan (known then as Wa) as ‘the Queen’s land’.

The legend also states that Jingū conceived her son before her husband died, but did not give birth for three years while she completed her conquest. It could be simply that the calculations for the pregnancy were incorrect, or that Ōjin was only symbolically the son of Chūai, and his biological father was someone else.

Jingū has a specially designated tomb in modern day Nara and in 1881 became the first woman featured on a Japanese banknote.


References:

The Future and the Past: A Translation and Study of the Gukanshō – Jien, Delmer Myers Brown, Ichirō Ishida

Heroic with Grace: Legendary Women of Japan –  Chieko Irie Mulhern

On Wikipedia: