Jitō – 645 – 703 – Yamato, Japan

Japan

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Jitō was the third woman to rule Japan as empress regnant.

Her father was Emperor Tenji, who was succeeded by his half-brother Emperor Tenmu. Jitō was married to Tenmu (her uncle) and succeeded him on the throne in 687 at the age of forty two. This was to ensure that their son, Kusakabe-shinnō, could eventually ascend to emperor himself.

Prince Kusabake did indeed follow his mother, but died while still young, leaving his son Karu-no-o who was too young to rule. This meant that Jitō stepped in once more, this time to preserve the throne for her grandson.

Jitō’s total rule was eleven years, in 697 she abdicated in favour of Karu-no-o, who became Emperor Monmu. Jitō retired to a monastery but retained much of her political power and continued to excervcise it behind the scenes as a cloistered ruler.

There are two poems attributed to Empress Jitō, the first of which is:

After the death of the Emperor Temmu

Oh, the autumn foliage

Of the hill of Kamioka!

My good Lord and Sovereign

Would see it in the evening

And ask of it in the morning.

On that very hill from afar

I gaze, wondering

If he sees it to-day,

Or asks of it to-morrow.

Sadness I feel at eve,

And heart-rending grief at morn –

The sleeves of my coarse-cloth robe

Are never for a moment dry.

Composed when the Empress climbed the Thunder Hill

Lo, our great Sovereign, a goddess,

Tarries on the Thunder

In the clouds of heaven!


References:

On Wikipedia:

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: