Emperor Shōmu

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Emperor Shomu.jpg
Emperor of Japan
Reign March 3, 724 – August 19, 749
Predecessor Genshō
Successor Kōken
Born 700
Died 4 June 756(756-06-04) (aged 55–56)
Nara, Japan
Burial Sahoyama no minami no misasagi (Nara)
House Yamato
Father Emperor Monmu
Mother Fujiwara no Miyako

Emperor Shōmu (聖武天皇, Shōmu-tennō, 701 – June 4, 756) was the 45th emperor of Japan,[1] according to the traditional order of succession.[2]

Shōmu's reign spanned the years 724 through 749.[3]

Traditional narrative[edit]

Before his ascension to the Chrysanthemum Throne, his personal name (imina)[4] is not clearly known, but he was known as Oshi-hiraki Toyosakura-hiko-no-mikoto.[5]

Shōmu was the son of Emperor Monmu and Fujiwara no Miyako, a daughter of Fujiwara no Fuhito.[6]

Shōmu had four Empresses and six Imperial sons and daughters.[7]

Events of Shōmu's reign[edit]

Shōmu was still a child at the time of his father's death; thus, Empresses Gemmei and Gensho occupied the throne before he acceded.[6]

  • 724 (Yōrō 8, 1st month): In the 9th year of Genshō-tennō 's reign (元正天皇九年), the empress abdicated; and her younger brother received the succession (‘‘senso’’). Shortly thereafter, Emperor Shōmu is said to have acceded to the throne (‘‘sokui’’).[8]
  • January 31, 724 (Jinki 1): The era name is changed to mark the accession of Emperor Shōmu.[9]

Shōmu continued to reside in the Hezei Palace.[6]

Shōmu is known as the first emperor whose consort was not born into the imperial household. His consort Kōmyō was a non-royal Fujiwara commoner. A ritsuryō office was created for the queen-consort, the Kogogushiki; and this bureaucratic innovation continued into the Heian period.[10]

Emperor Shōmu's tour to the eastern provinces[edit]

While battle maneuvers of the Fujiwara no Hirotsugu Rebellion were still underway, in Tenpyō 12 10th month (November, 740) Emperor Shōmu left the capital at Heijō-kyō (Nara) and traveled eastward via Horikoshi[nb 1] (堀越頓宮; today Tsuge; 10th month, 29th day: November 22), Nabari (10th month, 30th day: November 23), Ao[nb 1] (安保頓宮; today Aoyama ; 11th month 1st day: November 24) to Kawaguchi in Ichishi District, Ise Province (today part of Tsu, formerly part of Hakusan) where he retreated together with his court to a temporary palace. One of his generals was left in command of the capital.[11] Presumably Shōmu feared Fujiwara supporters in Nara and was hoping to quell potential uprisings in other parts of the country with his presence.[12][13][14][15] After four days travelling through heavy rain and thick mud, the party reached Kawaguchi on Tenpyō 12 11th month, 2nd day (25 November, 740) A couple of days later, they learn of Hirotsugu's execution and that the rebellion had been quelled.[15]

Despite the good news, Shōmu did not return to Heijō-kyō immediately, but stayed in Kawaguchi until Tenpyō 12 11th month, 11th day (4 December, 740). He continued his journey east, then north via Mino Province and back west along the shores of Lake Biwa to Kuni in Yamashiro Province (today in Kizugawa) which he reached on Tenpyō 12 12th month, 15th day (6 January, 741). Places passed along the way included Akasaka[nb 1] (赤坂頓宮; today Suzuka; 11th m. 14th d.: Dec 7), Asake district (朝明郡; today Yokkaichi; 11th m. 20th d.: Dec 13), Ishiura[nb 1] (石占頓宮; today Tado; 11th m. 25th d.: Dec 18), Tagi district (当伎郡; today Yōrō; 11th m. 26th d.: Dec 19), Fuwa[nb 1] (不破頓宮; today Tarui; 12th m. 1st d.: Dec 23), Yokokawa[nb 1] (横川頓宮; today Santō or Maihara; 12th m. 6th d.: Dec 28), Inukami[nb 1] (犬上頓宮; today Hikone; 12th m. 7th d.: Dec 29), Gamō district (蒲生郡; today near Yōkaichi; 12th m. 9th d.: Dec 31), Yasu[nb 1] (野洲頓宮; today Yasu or Moriyama; 12th m. 10th d.: Jan 1), Awazu[nb 1] (禾津頓宮; today Ōtsu; 12th m. 11th d.: Jan 2), Tamanoi[nb 1] (玉井頓宮; today Yamashina-ku, Kyoto; 12th m. 14th d.).[16] Situated among the hills and near a river north of Nara, Kuni was easily defensible. In addition, the area was linked with the Minister of the Right, Tachibana no Moroe, while Nara was a center of the Fujiwara clan.[17] On Tenpyō 12 12th month, 15 day (6 January, 741) Shōmu proclaimed a new capital at Kuni-kyō.[13][18][19]


  • 724 (Jinki 1): Emperor Shōmu rises to throne.[6]
  • 740 (Tenpyō 12, 8th month): In the Imperial court in Nara, Kibi no Makibi and Genbō conspire to discredit Fujiwara no Hirotsugu, who is Dazai shoni in Kyushu.[20]
  • 740 (Tenpyō 12, 9th month): Hirotsugu rebels in reaction to the growing influence of Genbō and others.[20]
  • 740 (Tenpyō 12, 9th month): Under the command of Ōno no Azumabito, an Imperial army of 17,000 is sent to Kyushu to stop the potential disturbance.[20]
  • 740 (Tenpyō 12, 10th month): Hirotsugu is decisively beaten in battle; and he is beheaded in Hizen Province.[20]
  • 740 (Tenpyō 12): The capital is moved to Kuni-kyō
  • 741 (Tenpyō 13): The Emperor calls for nationwide establishment of provincial temples. Provincial temples ("kokubunji") and provincial nunneries ("kokubunniji") were established throughout the country. The more formal name for these "kokubunji" was "konkomyo-shitenno-gokoku no tera" (meaning "temples for the protection of the cournty by the four guardian deities of the golden light"). The more formal name for these "bokubunniji" was "hokke-metuzai no tera" (meaning "nunneries for eliminating sin by means of the Lotus Sutra").[21]
  • 743 (Tenpyō 15): The Emperor issues a rescript to build the Daibutsu (Great Buddha), later to be completed and placed in Tōdai-ji, Nara.[22]
  • 743 (Tenpyō 15): The law of Perpetual Ownership of Cultivated Lands (墾田永代私財法) issued
  • 744 (Tenpyō 16): In the spring, the court was moved to Naniwa-kyō which then became the new capital.[20]
  • 745 (Tenpyō 17): The Emperor declares by himself Shigaraki-kyō the capital
  • 745 (Tenpyō 17): The capital returns to Heijō-kyō, construction of the Great Buddha resumes.
  • 749 (Tenpyō 21, 4th month): Shōmu, accompanied by the empress, their children, and all the great men and women of the court, went in procession to Todai-ji. The emperor stood before the statue of the Buddha and proclaimed himself to be a slave to the three precious precepts of the Buddhist religion,[23] which are the Buddha, the Buddhist law, and the Buddhist church.[24]
  • 749 (Tenpyō 21, 7th month): After a 25-year reign, Emperor Shōmu abdicates in favor of his daughter, Princess Takano, who would become Empress Kōken.[25] After abdication, Shōmu took the tonsure, thus becoming the first retired emperor to become a Buddhist priest.[25] Empress Komyo, following her husband’s example, also took holy vows in becoming a Buddhist nun.[25]
  • 752 (Tenpyō-shōhō 4, 4th month): The Eye-Opening Ceremony, presided over by Rōben and celebrating the completion of the Great Buddha, is held at Tōdai-ji.[26]


Shōmu, a devout Buddhist, is best remembered for commissioning, in 743, the sixteen-meter high statue of the Vairocana Buddha (the Daibutsu) in Tōdai-ji of Nara. At the time, this was such a massive undertaking that later chroniclers accuse him of having completely exhausted the country's reserves of bronze and precious metals.[6] In 752, the Shōmu held the Eye-opening Ceremony of the Great Buddha.

Earlier in 741, he established the system of provincial temples, making this the closest anyone ever came to declaring Japan a Buddhist nation. In addition he commissioned the observance of the ohigan holiday for both spring and autumnal equinox.[27]

Emperor Shōmu died at age 56.[25]

Memorial Shinto shrine and mausoleum honoring Emperor Shōmu

The actual site of Shōmu's grave is known.[1] This emperor is traditionally venerated at a memorial Shinto shrine (misasagi) at Nara.

The Imperial Household Agency designates this location as Shōmu's mausoleum. It is formally named Sahoyama no minami no misasagi.[28] The tomb site can be visited today in Horenji-cho, Tenri City near Nara City.[29] The Imperial tomb of Shōmu's consort, Empress Kōmyō, is located nearby.[30]


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

Eras of Shōmu's life[edit]

The years of Shōmu's reign are more specifically identified by more than one era name or nengō.[32]

Consorts and children[edit]

  • Empress: Kōmyō (701–760)
  • Bunin: Agatainukai no Hirotoji (県犬養広刀自) (?–762), daughter of Agatainukai no Morokoshi
    • Imperial Princess Inoe (井上内親王) (717–775), married to Prince Shirakabe (later Emperor Kōnin)
    • Imperial Princess Fuwa (不破内親王) (?–after 795), married to Prince Shioyaki (son of Prince Niitabe)
    • Imperial Prince Asaka (安積親王) (728–744)
  • Bunin: A daughter of Fujiwara no Muchimaro (?–748)
  • Bunin: A daughter of Fujiwara no Fusasaki (?–760)
  • Bunin: Tachibana-no-Hirooka no Konakachi (橘広岡古那可智) (?–759), daughter of Tachibana no Sai



See also[edit]


Japanese Imperial kamon — a stylized chrysanthemum blossom
  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j temporary lodging built to accommodate an Imperial visit
  1. ^ a b Imperial Household Agency (Kunaichō): 聖武天皇 (45)
  2. ^ Ponsonby-Fane, Richard. (1959). The Imperial House of Japan, p. 57.
  3. ^ Brown, Delmer et al. (1979). Gukanshō, pp. 272–273; Varley, H. Paul. Jinnō Shōtōki, pp. 141–143; Titsingh, Isaac. (1834). Annales des empereurs du Japon, pp. 67–73., p. 67, at Google Books
  4. ^ Brown, pp. 264; prior to 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. 272; Varley, p. 141.
  6. ^ a b c d e Varley, p. 141.
  7. ^ a b c Brown, p. 272.
  8. ^ Titsingh, p. 67, p. 67, at Google Books; 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 Emperor Go-Murakami.
  9. ^ Titsingh, p. 67, p. 67, at Google Books.
  10. ^ Piggott, Joan R. (1997). The Emergence of Japanese Kingship, p. 308.
  11. ^ Sakamoto, Tarō (1991). The six national histories of Japan. UBC Press. p. 109. ISBN 9780774803793. Retrieved 2011-07-07.
  12. ^ Bohner, Hermann (1940). "Wake-no-Kiyomaro-den". Monumenta Nipponica (in German). Sophia University. 3 (1): 255–257. JSTOR 2382412.
  13. ^ a b Shirane, Haruo (2008). Traditional Japanese Literature: An Anthology, Beginnings to 1600. Columbia University Press. p. 104. ISBN 9780231136976. Retrieved 2011-07-07.
  14. ^ Brown & Hall 1993, p. 252
  15. ^ a b Doe & Ōtomo 1982, p. 102
  16. ^ A Waka Anthology: Volume One: The Gem-Glistening Cup. Edwin Cranston (transl.). Stanford University Press. 1998-03-01. p. 446. ISBN 978-0-8047-3157-7. Retrieved 2012-10-04.
  17. ^ Doe & Ōtomo 1982, p. 103
  18. ^ Brown & Hall 1993, p. 399
  19. ^ Brown & Hall 1993, p. 43
  20. ^ a b c d e Titsingh, p. 71, p. 71, at Google Books.
  21. ^ Varley, pp. 141–142.
  22. ^ Varley, p. 141; Brown, p. 273.
  23. ^ Titsingh, p. 73, p. 73, at Google Books.
  24. ^ Titsingh, p. 41 n2, p. 41, at Google Books.
  25. ^ a b c d Varley, p. 143.
  26. ^ Titsingh, p. 74, p. 74, at Google Books; Varley, p. 143.
  27. ^ "Middle Way & Higan Service, Nichiren Shu Beikoku Betsuin". Retrieved April 10, 2009.
  28. ^ Ponsonby-Fane, p. 420.
  29. ^ Shōmu's misasagi – map
  30. ^ Komyo's misasagi – map
  31. ^ a b c d e Brown, p. 273.
  32. ^ Titsingh, p. 67; Brown, p. 273.
  33. ^ "Genealogy". Reichsarchiv. Retrieved 27 January 2018. (in Japanese)


External links[edit]

Media related to Emperor Shōmu at Wikimedia Commons

Regnal titles
Preceded by
Empress Genshō
Emperor of Japan:

Succeeded by
Empress Kōken