The Northern Court (北朝 hokuchō?), also known as the "Ashikaga Pretenders" or "Northern Pretenders", were a set of six pretenders to the throne of Japan during the Nanboku-chō period from 1336 through 1392. The present Japanese Imperial Family is descended of the Northern Court Emperors.
The origins of the Northern Court go back to Emperor Go-Saga, who reigned from 1242 through 1246. Go-Saga was succeeded in turn by two of his sons, Emperor Go-Fukakusa and Emperor Kameyama. On his death bed in 1272, Go-Saga insisted that his sons adopt a plan in which future emperors from the two fraternal lines would ascend the throne in alternating succession. This plan proved to be unworkable, resulting in rival factions and rival claimants to the throne.
In 1333, when Emperor Go-Daigo (from the Daikakuji-tō) staged the Kemmu Restoration and revolted against the Kamakura shogunate, the Shōgun responded by declaring Emperor Kōgon, Go-Daigo's second cousin once removed and the son of an earlier emperor, Emperor Go-Fushimi of the Jimyōin-tō, as the new emperor. After the destruction of the Kamakura shogunate in 1333, Kōgon lost his claim, but his brother, Emperor Kōmyō, and two of his sons were supported by the new Ashikaga shoguns as the rightful claimants to the throne. Kōgon's family thus formed an alternate Imperial Court in Kyoto, which came to be called the Northern Court because its seat was in a location north of its rival.
The Imperial Court supported by the Ashikaga shoguns was rivaled by the Southern Court (南朝 nanchō?) of Go-Daigo and his descendants. This came to be called the Southern Court because its seat was in a location south of its rival. Although the precise location of the emperors' seat did change, it was often identified as simply Yoshino. In 1392, Emperor Go-Kameyama of the Southern Court was defeated and abdicated in favor of Kōgon's great-grandson, Emperor Go-Komatsu, thus ending the divide. The Southern Court of the Japanese Imperial Line is nonetheless seen as legitimate. In fact, Northern Court members are officially called pretenders.
One Southern Court descendant, Kumazawa Hiromichi, declared himself to be Japan's rightful Emperor in the days after the end of the Pacific War. He claimed that Emperor Hirohito was a fraud, arguing that Hirohito's entire line is descended from the Northern Court. Despite this, he was not arrested for lèse majesté, even when donning the Imperial Crest. He could and did produce a koseki detailing his bloodline back to Emperor Go-Daigo in Yoshino, but his claims and rhetoric failed to inspire anything other than sympathy.
Re-unification of Imperial Courts
Go-Kameyama reached an agreement with Go-Komatsu to return to the old alternations on a ten-year plan. However, Go-Komatsu broke this promise, not only ruling for 20 years, but being succeeded by his own son, rather than by one from the former Southern Court.
During the Meiji period, an Imperial decree dated March 3, 1911 established that the legitimate reigning monarchs of this period were the direct descendants of Emperor Go-Daigo through Emperor Go-Murakami, whose Southern Court (南朝 nanchō?) had been established in exile in Yoshino, near Nara.
These are the Hokuchō or Northern Court emperors:
- Emperor Kōgon 1332–1333.
- Emperor Kōmyō 1336–1348.
- Emperor Sukō 1348–1351.
- Emperor Go-Kōgon 1352–1371.
- Emperor Go-En'yū 1371–1382.
- Emperor Go-Komatsu 1382–1392 (then went on to reign as legitimate emperor 1392–1412)
Southern Court Emperors
These are the Nanchō or Southern Court emperors:
- Emperor Go-Daigo 1336–1339.
- Emperor Go-Murakami 1339–1368.
- Emperor Chōkei 1368–1383.
- Emperor Go-Kameyama 1383–1392.
- Nussbaum, Louis Frédéric and Käthe Roth. (2005). Japan Encyclopedia, p. 251; n.b., Louis-Frédéric is the pseudonym of Louis-Frédéric Nussbaum, see Deutsche Nationalbibliothek Authority File.
- Titsingh, Isaac. (1834). Annales des empereurs du japon, pp. 245-247.
- Titsingh, pp. 248-255.
- Titsingh, pp. 255-261.
- Titsingh, p. 261.
- Dower, John W. (1999). Embracing Defeat: Japan in the Wake of World War II, pp. 306-307.
- Thomas, Julia Adeney. (2001). Reconfiguring modernity: concepts of nature in Japanese political ideology, p. 199 n57, citing Mehl, Margaret. (1997). History and the State in Nineteenth-Century Japan. p. 140-147.
- Titsingh, pp. 286-289.
- Titsingh, pp. 294-298.
- Titsingh, pp. 298-301.
- Titsingh, pp. 302-309.
- Titsingh, pp. 310-316, 320.
- Titsingh, pp. 317-327.
- Titsingh, pp. 281-295; Varley, H. Paul. (1980). Jinnō Shōtōki, pp. 241-269.
- Titsingh, pp. 295-308; Varley, pp. 269-270.
- Titsingh, p. 308; Ponsonby-Fane, Richard. (1959). The Imperial House of Japan, p. 158.
- Titsingh, p. 320.
- Dower, John W. (1999). Embracing Defeat: Japan in the Wake of World War II. New York: W. W. Norton. 10-ISBN 0-393-04686-9; 13-ISBN 978-0-393-04686-1; OCLC 39143090
- Mehl, Margaret. (1997). History and the State in Nineteenth-Century Japan. New York: St Martin's Press. 10-ISBN 0-312-21160-0; 13-ISBN 978-0-312-21160-8; OCLC 419870136
- Nussbaum, Louis Frédéric and Käthe Roth. (2005). Japan Encyclopedia. Cambridge: Harvard University Press. 10-ISBN 0-674-01753-6; 13-ISBN 978-0-674-01753-5; OCLC 48943301
- Ponsonby-Fane, Richard Arthur Brabazon. (1959). The Imperial House of Japan. Kyoto: Ponsonby Memorial Society. OCLC 194887
- Thomas, Julia Adeney. (2001). Reconfiguring Modernity: Concepts of Nature in Japanese Political Ideology. Berkeley: University of California Press. 10-ISBN 0-520-22854-5; 13-ISBN 978-0-520-22854-2; OCLC 47916285
- (French) Titsingh, Isaac, ed. (1834). Nipon o daï itsi ran; ou, Annales des empereurs du Japon. (écrit par Hayashi Gahō en 1652). Paris: Oriental Translation Fund of Great Britain and Ireland. OCLC 251800045
- Varley, H. Paul, ed. (1980). A Chronicle of Gods and Sovereigns: Jinnō Shōtōki (écrit par Kitabatake Chikafusa en 1359). New York: Columbia University Press. 10-ISBN 0-231-04940-4; 13-ISBN 978-0-231-04940-5; OCLC 311157159