Emperor Tenji

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Emperor Tenji
Emperor Tenji.jpg
Emperor of Japan
BornKazuraki (葛城)
DiedJanuary 7, 672(672-01-07) (aged 45–46)
Ōmi no Miya (Shiga)
Yamashina no misasagi (山科陵) (Kyoto)
SpouseYamato Hime no Ōkimi
among others...
Posthumous name
Chinese-style shigō:
Emperor Tenji (天智天皇)

Japanese-style shigō:
Amenokotohirakasuwake no Sumeramikoto (天命開別天皇)
FatherEmperor Jomei
MotherEmpress Kōgyoku

Emperor Tenji (天智天皇, Tenji-tennō, 626 – January 7, 672), also known as Emperor Tenchi, was the 38th emperor of Japan,[1] according to the traditional order of succession.[2]

Tenji's reign spanned the years from 661 through 672.[3]

Traditional narrative[edit]

Poem by Emperor Tenji

He was the son of Emperor Jomei, but was preceded as ruler by his mother Empress Saimei.

Prior to his accession, he was known as Prince Naka-no-Ōe (中大兄皇子, Naka-no-Ōe no Ōji).

Events of Tenji's life[edit]

As prince, Naka no Ōe played a crucial role in ending the near-total control the Soga clan had over the imperial family. In 644, seeing the Soga continue to gain power, he conspired with Nakatomi no Kamatari and Soga no Kurayamada no Ishikawa no Maro to assassinate Soga no Iruka in what has come to be known as the Isshi Incident. Although the assassination did not go exactly as planned, Iruka was killed, and his father and predecessor, Soga no Emishi, committed suicide soon after. Following the Isshi Incident, Iruka's adherents dispersed largely without a fight, and Naka no Ōe was named heir apparent. He also married the daughter of his ally Soga no Kurayamada, thus ensuring that a significant portion of the Soga clan's power was on his side.

Events of Tenji's reign[edit]

Naka no Ōe reigned as Emperor Tenji from 661 to 672.

  • 661: In the 3rd year of Saimei's reign (斉明天皇三年), the empress designated her son as her heir; and modern scholars construe this as meaning that this son would have received the succession (senso) after her death or abdication. Shortly after, she died, and Emperor Tenji could be said to have acceded to the throne (sokui).[4]
  • 662: Tenji is said to have compiled the first Japanese legal code known to modern historians. The Ōmi Code, consisting of 22 volumes, was promulgated in the last year of Tenji's reign.[2] This legal codification is no longer extant, but it is said to have been refined in what is known as the Asuka Kiyomihara ritsu-ryō of 689; and these are understood to have been a forerunner of the Taihō ritsu-ryō of 701.[5]
  • 663: Tenji invaded Korea in an attempt to support a revival of Japan's ally Paekche (one of Korea's Three Kingdoms, which had been conquered by the Korean kingdom of Silla in 660) but was seriously defeated at the Battle of Baekgang by the combined forces of Silla and Tang China.
  • 668: An account in Nihon Shoki becomes the first mention of petrochemical oil in Japan. In the 7th year of Tenji's reign (天智七年), flammable water (possibly petroleum)[not specific enough to verify] was presented as an offering to Emperor Tenji from Echigo Province (now known as a part of Niigata Prefecture).[6] This presentation coincided with the emperor's ceremonial confirmation as emperor. He had postponed formalities during the period that the mausoleum of his mother was being constructed; and when the work was finished, he could delay no longer. Up until this time, although he had been de facto monarch, he had retained the title of Crown Prince.[3]
  • 671: An account in Nihon Shoki becomes the first mention of public announcement of time by rōkoku (a kind of water clock) in Japan. In 660 also a mention of this kind of clock exists.

Tenji was particularly active in improving the military institutions which had been established during the Taika Reforms.[7]

Death of the emperor[edit]

Memorial Shinto shrine and mausoleum honoring Emperor Tenji

Following his death in 672, there ensued a succession dispute between his fourteen children (many by different mothers). In the end, he was succeeded by his son, Prince Ōtomo, also known as Emperor Kōbun, then by Tenji's brother Prince Ōama, also known as Emperor Tenmu. Almost one hundred years after Tenji's death, the throne passed to his grandson Emperor Kōnin.

Post-Meiji chronology
  • In the 10th year of Tenji, in the 11th month (671): Emperor Tenji, in the 10th year of his reign (天智天皇十年), designated his son as his heir; and modern scholars construe this as meaning that the son would have received the succession (senso) after his father's death. Shortly thereafter, Emperor Kōbun is said to have acceded to the throne (sokui).[8] If this understanding were valid, then it would follow:
  • In the 1st year of Kōbun (672): Emperor Kōbun, in the 1st year of his reign (弘文天皇一年), died; and his uncle Ōaomi-shinnō received the succession (senso) after the death of his nephew. Shortly thereafter, Emperor Tenmu could be said to have acceded to the throne (sokui).[9]
Pre-Meiji chronology
Prior to the 19th century, Ōtomo was understood to have been a mere interloper, a pretender, an anomaly; and therefore, if that commonly accepted understanding were to have been valid, then it would have followed:
  • In the 10th year of Tenji, in the 11th month (671): Emperor Tenji, in the 10th year of his reign (天智天皇十年)), died; and despite any military confrontations which ensued, the brother of the dead sovereign would have received the succession (senso); and after a time, it would have been understood that Emperor Tenmu rightfully acceded to the throne (sokui).

The actual site of Tenji's grave is known.[1] This emperor is traditionally venerated at a memorial Shinto shrine (misasagi) at Yamashina-ku, Kyoto.

The Imperial Household Agency designates this location as Tenji's mausoleum. It is formally named Yamashina no misasagi.[10]


The Man'yōshū includes poems attributed to emperors and empresses; and according to Donald Keene, evolving Man'yōshū studies have affected the interpretation of even simple narratives like "The Three Hills." The poem was long considered to be about two male hills in a quarrel over a female hill, but scholars now consider that Kagu and Miminashi might be female hills in love with the same male hill, Unebi.[11] This still-unresolved enigma in poetic form is said to have been composed by Emperor Tenji while he was still Crown Prince during the reign of Empress Saimei:

Japanese Rōmaji English


Kaguyama wa
Unebi o oshi to
Miminashi to
Kamuyo yori
Kaku ni arurashi
Inishie mo
Shika ni are koso
Utsusemi mo
Tsuma o

Mount Kagu strove with
Mount Miminashi
For the love of
Mount Unebi.
Such is love
since the age of the gods;
As it was thus
in the early days,
So people
strive for spouses
even now.[12]

One of his poems was chosen by Fujiwara no Teika as the first in the popular Hyakunin Isshu anthology:

Japanese Rōmaji English


Aki no ta no
Kariho no io no
Toma o arami
Waga koromode wa
Tsuyu ni nuretsutsu

Because of the coarseness of the rush-mat
Of the temporary-hut
Where the rice of autumn harvest is
As far as my sleeve is concerned
They are becoming wet with dew (or tears).[13]

After his death, his wife, Empress Yamato wrote a song of longing about her husband.[14]


The top court officials (公卿, Kugyō) during Emperor Tenji's reign included:

Prince Ōtomo (Ōtomo-shinnō) was the favorite son of Emperor Tenji; and he was also the first to be accorded the title of Daijō-daijin.[16]

Non-nengō period[edit]

The years of Tenji's reign are 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.

In this context, Brown and Ishida's translation of Gukanshō offers an explanation about the years of Empress Jitō's reign which muddies a sense of easy clarity in the pre-Taiho time-frame:

"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."[17]

Consorts and children[edit]

Empress: Yamato Hime no Ōkimi (倭姫王), Prince Furuhito-no-Ōe's daughter (son of Emperor Jomei).

Hin: Soga no Ochi-no-iratsume (蘇我遠智娘, d. c. 651), Soga no Kura-no-yamada no Ishikawa-no-maro's daughter

  • First Daughter: Princess Ōta (大田皇女), married to Emperor Tenmu
  • Second Daughter: Princess Uno-no-sarara (鸕野讃良皇女) later Empress Jitō
  • Second Son: Prince Takeru (建皇子, 651–658)

Hin: Soga no Mei-no-iratsume (蘇我姪娘), Soga no Kura-no-yamada no Ishikawa-no-maro's daughter

Hin: Soga no Hitachi-no-iratsume (蘇我常陸娘), Soga no Akae's daughter

Hin: Abe no Tachibana-no-iratsume (阿部橘娘, d. 681), Abe no Kurahashi-maro's daughter

10th son: Prince Ōama, later Emperor Tenmu

Court lady: Koshi-no-michi no Iratsume (越道伊羅都売)

Court lady (Uneme): Yakako-no-iratsume, a lower court lady from Iga (伊賀采女宅子娘) (Iga no Uneme)

  • First Son: Prince Ōtomo (大友皇子) later Emperor Kōbun
  • Prince Abe (阿閇皇子, b.648)
  • Princess Aga (阿雅皇女, 648-709)

Court lady: Oshinumi no Shikibuko-no-iratsume (忍海色夫古娘), Oshinumi Zokuryu's daughter

Court lady: Kurikuma no Kurohime-no-iratsume (栗隈黒媛娘), Kurikuma Tokuman's daughter

Popular culture[edit]


See also[edit]


Japanese Imperial kamon — a stylized chrysanthemum blossom
  1. ^ a b Imperial Household Agency (Kunaichō): 天智天皇 (38)
  2. ^ a b Ponsonby-Fane, Richard. (1959). The Imperial House of Japan, p. 52.
  3. ^ a b c Titsingh, Isaac. (1834). Annales des empereurs du Japon, p. 54., p. 53, at Google Books
  4. ^ Titsingh, p. 54; Varley, H. Paul. (1980). Jinnō Shōtōki, 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.
  5. ^ Varley, p. 136 n. 43.
  6. ^ Aston, William George. (1896). Nihongi, p. 289 n2., p. 289, at Google Books
  7. ^ Asakawa, Kan'ichi. (1903). The Early Institutional Life of Japan, p. 313.
  8. ^ Brown, Delmer et al. (1979). Gukanshō, pp. 268–269.
  9. ^ Titsingh, pp. 55–58.
  10. ^ Ponsonby-Fane, p. 420.
  11. ^ Nippon Gakujutsu Shinkokai. (1969). The Manyōshū, p. iv.
  12. ^ Nippon Gakujutsu Shinkokai, p. 5.
  13. ^ MacCauley, Clay. (1900). "Hyakunin-Isshu: Single Songs of a Hundred Poets" in Transactions of the Asia Society of Japan, p. 3.
  14. ^ Sato 2008, p. 21.
  15. ^ a b Brown, p. 268.
  16. ^ Ponsonby-Fane, p. 53.
  17. ^ Brown, p. 270.
  18. ^ "Genealogy". Reichsarchiv (in Japanese). Retrieved January 26, 2018.


Regnal titles
Preceded by Emperor of Japan:

Succeeded by