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Empress Jitō
Empress of Japan
Hyakuninisshu 002.jpg
From Ogura Hyakunin Isshu
Reign Regent 686 - 689
690 - 697
Titles Empress Dowager Jitō (697 - 703)
Empress of Japan (686 - 697)
Princess Uno-Sarara
Born Taika 1 (645)
Died The 22nd Day of the 12th Month of Taihō 2 (January 13 703)
Place of death Fujiwara-kyō, Japan
Buried Hinokuma-no-Ōuchi no Misasagi (Nara)
Predecessor Emperor Temmu
Successor Emperor Mommu
Consort Emperor Temmu
Offspring Prince Kusakabe
Father Emperor Tenji
Mother Soga no Ochi-no-iratsume

Empress Jitō (持統天皇 Jitō-tennō ?) (645 – December 22, 702[1]) was the 41st imperial ruler of Japan, according to the traditional order of succession. She was the fourth woman to ascend the Chrysanthemum Throne.[2] Her reign spanned the years from 686 through 697.[3]



Empress Jitō was the daughter of Emperor Tenji. Her mother was Ochi-no-Iratsume, the daughter of Minister Ō-omi Soga no Yamada-no Ishikawa Maro. She was the wife of Emperor Temmu, who was Tenji's brother – in other words, she married her uncle, and she also succeeded him on the throne.[4]

Empress Jitō's given name was Unonosarara (鸕野讚良), or alternately Uno.[5]

Events of Jitō's life

Jitō took responsibility for court administration after the death of her husband, Emperor Temmu, who was also her uncle. She acceded to the throne in 687 in order to ensure the eventual succession of her son, Kusakabe-shinnō. Throughout this period, Empress Jitō ruled from the Fujiwara Palace in Yamato.[4]

Prince Kusabake was named as crown prince to succeed 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.[4]

Tomb of Emperor Temmu and Empress Jitō

Empress Jitō reigned for eleven years. Although there were seven other reigning empresses, their successors were most often selected from amongst the males of the paternal Imperial bloodline, which is why some conservative scholars argue that the women's reigns were temporary and that male-only succession tradition must be maintained in the 21st century.[6] Empress Gemmei, who was followed on the throne by her daughter, Empress Genshō, remains the sole exception to this conventional argument.

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.[4]

Jitō continued to hold power as a cloistered ruler, which became a persistent trend in Japanese politics.


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 Jitō's reign, this apex of the Daijō-kan included:

Man'yōshū poetry

The Man'yōshū includes a poem said to have been composed by Jitō

After the death of the Emperor Temmu[7]
Oh, the autumn foliage
Of the hill of Kamioka![8]
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[9]
Lo, our great Soverign, a goddess,
Tarries on the Thunder
In the clouds of heaven![10]

Hyakunin Isshu poetry

One of the poems attributed to Empress Jitō was selected by Fujiwara no Teika for inclusion in the very popular anthology Hyakunin Isshu.

Poem number 2[11]
The spring has passed
And the summer come again
For the silk-white robes
So they say, are spread to dry
On the Mount of Heaven's perfume
春過ぎて (Haru sugite ?)
夏来にけらし (Natsu ki ni kerashi ?)
白妙の (Shirotae no ?)
衣ほすてふ (Koromo hosu cho ?)
天の香具山 (Ama no Kaguyama ?)

Non-nengō period

Jitō's reign is not linked by scholars to any era or nengō.[3] The Taika era innovation of naming time periods -- nengō -- languished until Mommu reasserted an imperial right by proclaiming the commencement of Taihō in 701.

However, Brown and Ishida's translation of Gukanshō offers an explanation which muddies a sense of easy clarity:

"The eras that fell in this reign were: (1) the remaining seven years of Shuchō [(686+7=692?)]; and (2) Taika, which was four years long [695-698]. (The first year of this era was kinoto-hitsuji [695].) ...In the third year of the Taka era [697], Empress Jitō yielded the throne to the Crown Prince."[5]

See also


  1. ^ Japanese dates correspond to the traditional lunisolar calendar used in Japan until 1873. December 22, 702 of the Japanese calendar corresponds to January 13 703 of the Julian calendar.
  2. ^ The two empresses who reigned before Jitō-tennō were: Suiko and Kōgyoku/Saimei; and those five women sovereigns whose reigns occurred after Jitō were (a) Gemmei, (b) Genshō, (c) Kōken/Shōtoku, (d) Meishō, and (e) Go-Sakuramachi.
  3. ^ a b Titsingh, Isaac. (1834). Annales des empereurs du Japon, p. 59.
  4. ^ a b c d Varley, H. Paul. Jinnō Shōtōki, p. 137.
  5. ^ a b c Brown, D. (1979). Gukanshō, p. 270.
  6. ^ "Life in the Cloudy Imperial Fishbowl," Japan Times. March 27, 2007.
  7. ^ Nippon Gakujutsu Shinkōkai, p.18. [This waka is here numbered 42; in the Kokka Taikan (1901), Book II, numbered 159.
  8. ^ Nippon Gakujutsu Shinkōkai, p. 18 n1; n.b., This would be the so-called Thunder Hill in the village of Asuka near Nara.
  9. ^ Nippon Gakujutsu Shinkōkai, p. 47; n.b., This waka is here numbered 118; in the Kokka Taikan (1901), Book III, numbered 235.
  10. ^ Nippon Gakujutsu Shinkōkai, p. 47 n4; n.b., This poem is based on the idea that the Sovereigns are the offspring of Amaterasu-omikami, and that their proper sphere is heaven. There the Thunder Hill is regarded as the actual embodiment of Thunder.
  11. ^ University of Virginia, Hyakunin Isshu on-line


External links

Regnal titles
Preceded by
Emperor Temmu
Empress of Japan:

Succeeded by
Emperor Mommu


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