Empress Genshō

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Empress of Japan
Empress Genshō.jpg
Empress of Japan
Reign 2nd Day of the 9th Month of Reiki 1 (October 3, 715) – 4th Day of the 2nd Month of Yōrō 8 (March 3, 724)
Predecessor Gemmei
Successor Shōmu
Born Princess Hidaka
683 (9th year of Temmu's reign)
Asuka, Japan
Died May 22, 748 (aged 65)
Nara, Japan
Burial Nahoyama no nishi no misasagi (Nara)
Father Prince Kusakabe
Mother Gemmei

Empress Genshō (元正天皇 Genshō-tennō?, 683 – May 22, 748) was the 44th monarch of Japan,[1] according to the traditional order of succession.[2] She was the one empress regnant in Japan's history to have inherited her title from another empress regnant rather than from a male predecessor.

Genshō's reign spanned the years 715 through 724.[3]

In the history of Japan, Genshō was the fifth of eight women to take on the role of empress regnant. The four female monarchs before Genshō were: (a) Suiko, (b) Kōgyoku, (c) Jitō and (d) Genmei. The three women sovereigns reigning after Genshō were (e) Kōken, (f) Meishō, and (g) Go-Sakuramachi.

Traditional narrative[edit]

Before her ascension to the Chrysanthemum Throne, her personal name (imina)[4] was Hidaka-hime.[5]

Genshō was an elder sister of Emperor Monmu and daughter of Prince Kusakabe and his wife who later became Empress Genmei. Therefore, she was a granddaughter of Emperor Tenmu and Empress Jitō by her father and a granddaughter of Emperor Tenji through her mother.[6]

Events of Genshō's life[edit]

Empress Gensho's succession to the throne was intended as a regency until Prince Obito, the son of her deceased younger brother Mommu, was mature enough to ascend the throne. Obito would later become the Emperor Shōmu.

Obito was appointed Crown Prince in 714 by Empress Genmei. In the next year, 715, Empress Gemmei, then in her fifties, abdicated in favor of her daughter Gensho. Obito was then 14 years old.

  • 715 (Reiki 1, 9th month): In the 7th year of Gemmei-tennō 's reign (元明天皇七年), the empress abdicated; and the succession (senso) was received by her daughter, who held the throne in trust for her younger brother. Shortly thereafter, Empress Genshō acceded to the throne (sokui) as Empress Regnant.[7]

Obito remained the crown prince, heir to the new empress. Fujiwara no Fuhito, the most powerful courtier in Gemmei's court, remained at his post until his death in 720. After his death, Prince Nagaya, a grandson of Temmu and the Empress Gensho's cousin, seized power. This power shift was a background for later conflicts between Nagaya and Fuhito's four sons during the reign of Emperor Shōmu (formerly Prince Obito).

Under Gensho's reign, the Nihonshoki was finished in 720. This was the first Japanese history book. Organization of the law system known as the ritsuryo was continued under the initiatives of Fuhito until his death. These laws and codes were edited and enacted by Fujiwara no Nakamaro, a grandson of Fuhito, and published as Yoro ritsuryo under the name of Fuhito. The taxation system which had been introduced by Empress Jitō in the late 7th century began to malfunction. To compensate for the decreased tax revenue, the "Act of possession in three generations", an initiative of Prince Nagaya, was enacted in 723. Under this act, people were allowed to possess a newly cultivated field once every three generations. In the fourth generation, the right of possession would revert to the national government. This act was intended to motivate new cultivation, but it only remained in effect for about 20 years.

Empress Genshō reigned for nine 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.[8] Empress Gemmei, who was succeeded by her daughter, remains the sole exception to this conventional argument.

In 724, Gensho abdicated in favor of her nephew, who would be known as Emperor Shōmu. Genshō lived for 25 years after she stepped down from the throne. She never married and had no children. She died at age 65.[9]

Empress Genshō's grave is located in Nara.[1] This empress is traditionally venerated at a memorial Shinto shrine (misasagi), also in Nara. The Imperial Household Agency has designated this location as Mommu's mausoleum, and has been formally named Nahoyama no nishi no misasagi.[10] The Imperial tomb can be visited today in Narazaka-cho, Nara City.[11][12]


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

Eras of Genshō's reign[edit]

The years of Genshō's reign are more specifically identified by more than one era name or nengō.[14]

See also[edit]


Japanese Imperial kamon — a stylized chrysanthemum blossom
  1. ^ a b Imperial Household Agency (Kunaichō): 元正天皇 (44)
  2. ^ Ponsonby-Fane, Richard. (1959). The Imperial House of Japan, p. 56.
  3. ^ Brown, Delmer et al. (1979). Gukanshō, pp. 271–272; Varley, H. Paul. (1980). Jinnō Shōtōki. pp. 140–141; Titsingh, Isaac. (1834). Annales des empereurs du Japon, pp. 65–67., p. 65, at Google Books
  4. ^ Brown, pp. 264; prior to Emperor Jomei, the personal names of the emperors 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. 271.
  6. ^ Brown, pp. 271–272.
  7. ^ Brown, pp. 271–272; Varley, pp. 44, 141; 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.
  8. ^ "Life in the Cloudy Imperial Fishbowl," Japan Times. March 27, 2007.
  9. ^ Varley, H. Paul. Jinnō Shōtōki, p. 141.
  10. ^ Ponsonby-Fane, p. 420.
  11. ^ Genshō's misasagi – image
  12. ^ Genshō's misasagi – map
  13. ^ a b c Brown, p. 272.
  14. ^ Titsingh, p. 65.


Regnal titles
Preceded by
Empress Gemmei
Empress of Japan:

Succeeded by
Emperor Shōmu