Empress Genmei

Empress of Japan
Reign 707–715
Predecessor Monmu
Successor Genshō
Born 660 23rd of april
Died December 29, 721(721-12-29) (aged 61)
Nara, Japan
Burial Nahoyama no higashi no misasagi (Nara)
Spouse Prince Kusakabe
Issue Prince Karu (Mommu)
Princess Hidaka (Genshō)
Father Tenji
Mother Soga no Mei-no-iratsume

Empress Genmei (元明天皇 Gemmei-tennō, 660 – December 29, 721), also known as Empress Genmyō, was the 43rd monarch of Japan,[1] according to the traditional order of succession.[2]

Genmei's reign spanned the years 707 through 715.[3]

In the history of Japan, Genmei was the fourth of eight women to take on the role of empress regnant. The three female monarchs before Genmei were Suiko, Kōgyoku/Saimei, and Jitō. The four women sovereigns reigning after Genmei were Genshō, Kōken/Shōtoku, Meishō, and Go-Sakuramachi.

Traditional narrative

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

Empress Genmei was the fourth daughter of Emperor Tenji;[5] and she was a younger sister of Empress Jitō by a different mother. Her mother, Mei-no-Iratsume (also known as Soga-hime), was a daughter of Udaijin Soga-no-Kura-no-Yamada-no-Ishikawa-no-Maro (also known as Soga Yamada-no Ō-omi).[5]

Events of Genmei's life

Genmei became the consort (nyōgo) of Crown Prince Kusakabe no Miko, who was the son of Emperor Tenmu and Empress Jitō.[5] After the death of their son Emperor Monmu in 707, she acceded to the throne.[6] At least one account suggests that she accepted the role of empress because Emperor Mommu felt his young son, her grandson, was still too young to withstand the pressures which attend becoming emperor.[7]

Wadōkaichin monument in Saitama

After Empress Genmei transferred the seat of her government to Nara, this mountain location remained the capital throughout the succeeding seven reigns.[13] In a sense, the years of the Nara period developed into one of the more significant consequences of her comparatively short reign.

Genmei had initially planned to remain on the throne until her grandson might reach maturity. However, in 715, Genmei did abdicate in favor of Mommu's older sister who then became known as Empress Genshō. Genshō was eventually succeeded by her younger brother, who then became known as Emperor Shōmu.

The Empress reigned for eight years.[6] 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.[15] Empress Genmei, who was followed on the throne by her daughter, remains the sole exception to this conventional argument.

After abdicating, she was known as Daijō-tennō; and she was only the second woman after Empress Jitō to claim this title. Genmei lived in retirement for seven years until her death at the age of 61.[13]

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

The Imperial Household Agency designates this location as Genmei's mausoleum. Genmei's Imperial misasagi or mausoleum can be visited today in Narazaka-cho, Nara City.[16] The "mountain shape" misasagi was named Nahoyama-no-higashi no misasagi.[17]


The Man'yōshū includes a poem written said to be composed by Empress Genmei in 708 (Wadō 1) – and this anthology also includes a reply created by one of the ladies of her court::

Listen to the sounds of the warriors' elbow-guards;[18]
Our captain must be ranging the shields to drill the troops.[19]
– Genmei-tennō[20]
Be not concerned, O my Sovereign;
Am I not here,
I, whom the ancestral gods endowed with life,
Next of kin to yourself?
– Minabe-hime[20]


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

Eras of Genmei's reign

The years of Genmei's reign are more specifically identified by more than one era name or nengō.[7]

See also


Japanese Imperial kamon — a stylized chrysanthemum blossom
  1. 1 2 Imperial Household Agency (Kunaichō): 元明天皇 (43); retrieved 2013-8-22.
  2. Ponsonby-Fane, Richard. (1959). The Imperial House of Japan, p. 56.
  3. Titsingh, Isaac. (1834). Annales des empereurs du Japon, pp. 63–65, p. 63, at Google Books; Brown, Delmer M. (1979). Gukanshō, p. 271; Varley, H. Paul. (1980). Jinnō Shōtōki. p. 140.
  4. Brown, pp. 264; prior to Emperor Jomei, the personal names of the emperors (imina) were very long and people did not generally use them. The number of characters in each name diminished after Jomei's reign.
  5. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 Brown, p. 271.
  6. 1 2 3 4 5 Ponsonby-Fane, p. 56.
  7. 1 2 3 4 Titsingh, p. 63.
  8. Brown, p. 271; 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 Go-Murakami.
  9. Ponsonby-Fane, Richard. (1915). The Imperial Family of Japan, p. x.
  10. Japan Mint Museum: image of Wado Kaichin
  11. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 Titsingh, p. 64.
  12. Titsingh, p. 64; Aoki (1989: 149)Aoki, Kazuo et al. (1989). Shin Nihon Koten Bungaku Taikei 12: Shoku Nihongi I, p. 149. (in Japanese).
  13. 1 2 3 Varley, p. 140.
  14. Titsingh, pp. 64–65.
  15. Yoshida, Reiji. "Life in the Cloudy Imperial Fishbowl," Japan Times. March 27, 2007; retrieved 2013-8-22.
  16. Naracity Tourist Association: Gemmei's misasagi – image; Gemmei's misasagi – map
  17. Ponsonby-Fane, Richard. (1959). The Imperial House of Japan, p. 420.
  18. Nippon Gakujutsu Shinkokai. (1969). The Manyōshu, p. 81 n1; elbow guards were made of leather and were worn on the left arm to prevent the bow-string from springing back and hurting the elbow. The string struck the elbow-guard with a loud sound.
  19. Nippon Gakujutsu Shinkokai, p. 81 n2; this poem probably alludes to the expeditionary force that was sent against the Emishi in northern Japan in 709 (Wadō 2).
  20. 1 2 Nippon Gakujutsu Shinkokai, p. 81.


Regnal titles
Preceded by
Emperor Monmu
Empress of Japan:

Succeeded by
Empress Genshō
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