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Daijō Tennō or Dajō Tennō (both accepted readings of 太上天皇) was a Japanese Emperor (Tennō) who abdicated in favor of a successor. It is often shortened as Jōkō (上皇).

As defined in the Taihō Code, although retired, a Daijō Tennō could still exert power. The first such example of Daijō Tennō is the Empress Jitō in the 7th century.

A retired emperor sometimes entered the Buddhist monastic community, becoming a cloistered emperor.

This practice was rather common during the Heian period.

The last Emperor to rule as a Jōkō was Emperor Kōkaku (1779-1817). The Emperor later created an incident called the "Songo incident" (the "respectful title incident"). The emperor disputed with the Tokugawa Shogunate about his intention to give a title of Abdicated Emperor (Daijō-tennō) to his father, who was an Imperial Prince Sukehito.[1]

A total of 62 Japanese emperors abdicated. An incomplete list follows:



Prince Kusabake was named as crown prince to succeed Empress Jitō, but he died at a young age. Kusabake's son, Karu-no-o, was then named as Jitō's successor. He eventually would become known as Emperor Mommu.[2]

In 697, Jitō abdicated in Mommu's favor; and as a retired sovereign, she took the post-reign title daijō-tennō. After this, her imperial successors who retired took the same title after abdication.[3]

Jitō continued to hold power as a cloistered ruler, which became a persistent trend in Japanese politics. Jitō died four years later at the age of 58.[4]


Gemmei had initially planned to remain on the throne until her grandson might reach maturity. However, in 715, Gemmei did abdicate in favor of Mommu's older sister who then became known as Empress Genshō. Genshō was eventually succeeded by her younger brother, who then became known as Emperor Shōmu.

  • Wadō 8 (715): Gemmei resigns as empress in favor of her daughter, who will be known as Empress Genshō.[5]

The Empress reigned for eight years. After abdicating, she was known as Daijō-tennō; and she was only the second woman after Empress Jitō to claim this title. Gemmei lived in retirement until her death at the age of 61.[6]


  • Anna 2 969: Reizei abdicated; and he took the honorific title of Reizei-in Jōkō. His reign lasted for just two years; and he lived another 44 years in retirement.[7]
  • Kankō 8, 24th day of the 10th month (1011): Daijō-tennō Reizei-in Jōkō died at age 62.[8]


  • Kankō 8, on the 13th day of the 6th month (1011): In the 25th year of Emperor Ichijō's reign (一条天皇25年), the emperor abdicated; and the succession (‘‘senso’’) was received by his cousin. Shortly thereafter, Emperor Sanjō is said to have acceded to the throne (‘‘sokui’’) at age 36.[9]
  • Kankō 8, 22nd day of the 6th month (1011): Daijō-tennō Emperor Ichijō died at the age of 32.[10]


  • Ōtoku 3, on the 26th day of the 11th month (1084): Emperor Shirakawa formally abdicated,[11] and he took the title Daijō-tennō.[12] Shirakawa had personally occupied the throne for 14 years; and for the next 43 years, he would exercise broad powers in what will come to be known as cloistered rule.[13]

Emperor Go-Sanjō had wished for Shirakawa's younger half-brother to succeed him to the throne. In 1085, this half-brother died of an illness; and Shirakawa's own son, Taruhito-shinnō (善仁親王) became Crown Prince.

On the same day that Taruhito was proclaimed as his heir, Shirakawa abdicated;, and Taruhito became Emperor Horikawa. The now-retired Emperor Shirakawa was the first to attempt what became customary cloistered rule. He exercised power, ruling indirectly from the Shirakawa-in (lit. "White River Mansion/Temple"); nevertheless, nominal sesshō and kampaku offices continued to exist for a long time.


  • Eiji 1, in the 3rd month (1141): The former emperor Toba accepted the tonsure and became a Buddhist monk at the age of 39 years.[15]
  • Eiji 1, on the 7th day of the 12th month (永治元年; 1141): In the 18th year of Sutoku-tennō's reign (崇徳天皇18年), the emeperor abdicated; and the succession (‘‘senso’’) was received by a younger brother, the 8th son of former Emperor Toba. Shortly thereafter, Emperor Konoe is said to have acceded to the throne (‘‘sokui’’).[16]

At that time, the Kampaku Fujiwara-no Tadamichi became Sesshō or regent. The Cloistered Emperor Toba continued to direct all the affairs of government, while the retired Emperor Sutoku had no powers. This conflict resulted in many controversies during Konoe's reign.[17]


Emperor Go-Hanazono abdicated on Kansho 5, on the 19th day of the 7th month (1464), but not long afterwards, the Ōnin War (応仁の乱 Ōnin no Ran ?) broke out, and there were no further abdications until Tensho 14, on the 7th day of the 11th month (1586), when Emperor Ogimachi gave over the reigns of government to his grandson [[Emperor Go-Yōzei. This was due to the disturbed state of the country; and the fact that there was neither a house for an ex-emperor nor money to support him or it.[18]

See also




  1. ^ ...Sakuramachiden Gyokozu: information in caption text
  2. ^ Varley, H. Paul . (1980). Jinnō Shōtōki, p. 137.
  3. ^ Varley, p. 137.
  4. ^ Varley, p. 137; Brown, Delmer et al. (1979). Gukanshō, p. 270.
  5. ^ Titsingh, Isaac. (1834). Annales des empereurs du japon, pp. 64-65.
  6. ^ Varley, p. 140.
  7. ^ Brown, p. 298.
  8. ^ Titsingh, p. 155; Brown, p. 306; Varley, p. 190.
  9. ^ Titsingh, p. 154; Brown, p. 307; Varley, p. 44. [A distinct act of senso is unrecognized prior to Emperor Tenji; and all sovereigns except Jitō, Yōzei, Go-Toba, and Fushimi have senso and sokui in the same year until the reign of Go-Murakami.]
  10. ^ Brown, p. 306.
  11. ^ Brown, p. 316.
  12. ^ Titsingh, p. 171.
  13. ^ Varley, p. 202
  14. ^ Titsingh, p. 172.
  15. ^ Titsingh, p. 185.
  16. ^ Titsingh, p. 186; Brown, p. 324; Varley, p. 44.
  17. ^ a b Titsingh, p. 186.
  18. ^ Ponsonby-Fane, Richard. (1956). Kyoto: the Old Capital, 794-1869, pp. 340-341.


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