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Emperor Kōnin
49th Emperor of Japan
Reign The 1st Day of the 10th Month of Hōki 1 (770) - The 3rd Day of the 4th Month of Ten'ō 1 (781)
Coronation The 1st Day of the 10th Month of Hōki 1 (770)
Born The 13th Day of 10th Month of Wadō 2 (709)
Died The 23rd Day of the 12th Month of Ten'ō 1 (782)
Place of death Heijō-kyō (Nara)
Buried Tawara-no-higashi no Misasagi (Nara)
Predecessor Empress Shōtoku
Successor Emperor Kammu
Consort Princess Inoe (Princess Ikami) (717-775)
Father Prince Shiki, son of Emperor Tenji
Mother Ki no Tochihime, daughter of Ki no Morohito

Emperor Kōnin (光仁天皇 Kōnin-tennō ?) (November 18, 709][1] – January 11, 782[2]) was the 49th imperial ruler of Japan, according to the traditional order of succession. His reign spanned the years from 770 through 781.[3]



Before his ascension to the Chrysanthemum Throne, his personal name (his imina)[4] was Shirakabe-shinnō (Shirakabe-no ō).[5]

He was a son of Prince Shiki and a grandson of Emperor Tenji.[6] Initially, he was not in line for succession, as Emperor Temmu and his branch held the throne. He married Imperial Princess Ikami, a daughter of Emperor Shōmu, producing a daughter and a son.

Kōnin had five Empresses and seven Imperial sons and daughters.[7]

Events of Kōnin's life

After his sister in law, Empress Shōtoku (also Empress Kōken), died, he was named her heir. The high courtiers claimed the empress had left her will in a letter in which she had appointed him as her successor. Prior to this, he had been considered a gentle man without political ambition.

  • Jingo-keiun 4, on the 4th day of the 8th month (770): In the 5th year of Shōtoku-tennō's reign (称徳天皇5年), the empress died; and she designated Senior Counselor Prince Shirakabe as her heir.[8]
  • Jingo-keiun 4, on the 4th day of the 8th month (770): The succession (‘‘senso’’) was received by a 62-year-old grandson of Emperor Tenji. [9]
  • Jingo-keiun 4, on the 1st day of the 10th month (770): Emperor Kōnin was is said to have acceded to the throne (‘‘sokui’’) in a formal ceremony.[10]
  • Hōki 1, on the 1st day of the 10th month (宝亀元年; 770): The era name was changed to mark the beginning of Emperor Konin's reign.[7]

Kōnin attempted to reconstruct the state finance and administrative organizations, which had been corrupted under the reign of Empress Kōken.

After some months, Princess Ikami was promoted to empress and her son became the crown prince. Later, she was accused of cursing her husband, Kōnin. Today, it is believed this accusation was revenge for depriving her son of the throne. Princess Ikami was stripped of the rank of the consort, and died soon after from illness, at least according to the official documentation.

After her death, Prince Yamabe, a son of Kōnin's by Takano no Niigasa was named heir. According to the Shoku Nihongi, (続日本紀), Yamabe's mother Yamato no Niigasa, later Takano no Niigasa, was a descendant of King Muryeong of Baekje. Yamabe was born before his father ascended to the throne.

  • Hōki 2, in the 4th month (781): The emperor abdicated in favor of his son (who would later come to be known as Emperor Kammu). Emperor Kōnin's reign had lasted for 11 years.[7]
  • Hōki 2, in the 12th month (781): Kōnin died at the age of 73.[11]


Kugyō (公卿) is a collective term for the very few most powerful men attached to the court of the Emperor of Japan in pre-Meiji eras.

In general, this elite group included only three to four men at a time. These were hereditary courtiers whose experience and background would have brought them to the pinnacle of a life's career. During Kōnin's reign, this apex of the Daijō-kan included:

  • Sadaijin, Fujiwara no Nagate (藤原永手)(714-771), 766-771.[7]
  • Sadaijin, Fujiwara no Uona (藤原魚名)(721-783), 781-782.[7]
  • Udaijin, Ōnakatomi Kiyomaro (大中臣清麿)(702-788), 771-781.[7]
  • Naidaijin, Fujiwara no Yoshitsugu (藤原良継)(716-777), 771-777.[7]
  • Naidaijin, Fujiwara no Uona (藤原魚名)(721-783), 778-781
  • Dainagon, Fun'ya no Ōchi (文室大市)(704-780), 771-777
  • Dainagon, Fujiwara no Uona (藤原魚名)(721-783), 771-778
  • Sangi, Fujiwara no Momokawa (藤原百川), 732-779.[7]

Eras of Kōnin's reign

The years of Kōnin's reign are encompassed within one era name or nengō.[12]

Consorts and Children

Empress(deposed in 772): Imperial Princess Inoe(Princess Ikami) (井上内親王) (717-775), daughter of Emperor Shōmu

  • Imperial Prince Osabe (他戸親王) (751-775), the Croun Prince(deposed in 772)
  • Imperial Princess Sakahito (酒人内親王) (754-829), Saiō in Ise Shrine 772-775, and married to Emperor Kammu later

Hi: Princess Owari (尾張女王), daughter of Imperial Prince Yuhara (湯原親王) (son of Prince Shiki)

  • Imperial Prince Hieda (稗田親王) (751-781)

Bunin: Takano no Niigasa (高野新笠) (?-790), daughter of Yamato no Ototsugu (和史乙継)

  • Imperial Princess Noto (能登内親王) (733-781), married to Prince Ichihara (市原王)
  • Imperial Prince Yamabe (山部親王)(Emperor Kammu) (737-806)
  • Imperial Prince Sawara (早良親王) (750-785), the Crown Prince (deposed in 785)

Bunin: Fujiwara no Sōshi (藤原曹子), daughter of Fujiwara no Nagate (藤原永手)

Bunin: Ki no Miyako (紀宮子), daughter of Ki no Ineko (紀稲子)

Bunin: Fujiwara no Nariko (藤原産子), daughter of Fujiwara no Momokawa (藤原百川)

Court lady: Agatanushi no Shimahime (県主嶋姫), daughter of Agatanushi no Emishi (県主毛人)

  • Imperial Princess Minuma (弥努摩内親王) (?-810), married to Prince Miwa (神王)

Court lady (Nyoju): Agatainukai no Isamimi(Omimi) (県犬養勇耳/男耳)

  • Hirone no Morokatsu (広根諸勝), removed from the Imperial Family by receiving the family name from Emperor (Shisei Kōka賜姓降下) in 787


  1. ^ November 18, 709 of the Julian calendar corresponds to the Thirteenth Day of the Tenth Month of the Second Year of Wadō of the Japanese lunisolar calendar.
  2. ^ January 11, 782 of the Julian calendar corresponds to the Twenty-third Day of the Twelfth Month of the Twelfth Year of Hōki of the Japanese lunisolar calendar.
  3. ^ Titsingh, Isaac. (1834). Annales des empereurs du Japon, pp. 81-85; Brown, Delmer et al. (1979). Gukanshō, pp. 276-277; Varley, H. Paul. Jinnō Shōtōki, pp. 147-148.
  4. ^ Brown, pp. 264; n.b., up until the time of Emperor Jomei, the personal names of the emperors (their imina) were very long and people did not generally use them. The number of characters in each name diminished after Jomei's reign.
  5. ^ Brown, p. 276, Varley p. 149.
  6. ^ Varley, p. 147.
  7. ^ a b c d e f g h Brown, p. 277.
  8. ^ Brown, pp. 276-277.
  9. ^ Brown, p. 276; Varley, p. 44, 148; n.b., 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 Emperor Go-Murakami.
  10. ^ Titsingh, p. 81; Brown, p. 277; Varley, p. 44, 148.
  11. ^ Brown, p. 277; Varley, p. 148.
  12. ^ Titsingh, p. 81; Brown, p. 277.


See also

Regnal titles
Preceded by
Empress Shōtoku
Emperor of Japan:

Succeeded by
Emperor Kammu


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