Emperor Shōmu

Emperor Shōmu (聖武天皇 Shōmu Tennō) (701 – June 4, 756) was the 45th Emperor of Japan, according to the traditional order of succession. His reign spanned the years 724 through 749.


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

Shōmu was the son of Emperor Mommu and Fujiwara no Miyako, a daughter of Fujiwara no Fuhito.

Shōmu had four Empresses and six Imperial sons and daughters.

Events of Shōmu's reign

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

  • Yōrō 8, in the 1st month (724): In the 9th year of Genshō-tennō's reign (元正天皇9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’’).
  • Jinki 1 (神亀元年; 724): The era name is changed to mark the accession of Emperor Shōmu.

Shōmu continued to reside in the Hezei Palace.

Shōmu is well 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. In 752, the Shōmu holds 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.

Shōmu is also known as the first emperor whose consort was not born into the imperial household. His consort Kōmyō was a Fujiwara woman. The two had a son who died in childhood.

  • Jinki 1 (724): Emperor Shōmu rises to throne.
  • Tenpyō 12 740: The capital is moved to Kuni-kyō
  • Tenpyō 13 (741): 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").
  • Tenpyō 15 (743): The Emperor issues a rescript to build the Daibutsu (Great Buddha), later to be completed and placed in Tōdai-ji, Nara.
  • Tenpyō 15 (743): The law of Perpetual Ownership of Cultivated Lands (墾田永代私財法) issued
  • Tenpyō 16 (744): In the Spring, the court was moved to Naniwa-kyō which then became the new capital.
  • Tenpyō 17 (745): The Emperor declares by himself Shigaraki-kyō the capital
  • Tenpyō 17 (745): The capital returns to Heijō-kyō, construction of the Great Buddha resumes.
  • Tenpyō 21, in the 4th month (749): Shōme, 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, which are the Buddha, the Buddhist law, and the Buddhist church.
  • Tenpyō 21, in the 7th month (749): After a 25-year reign, Emperor Shōmu abdicates in favor of his daughter, Princess Takano-hime, who will become Empress Kōken. After his abdication, Shomu took the tonsure, thus becoming the first retired emperor to become a Buddhist priest. Empress Komyo, following her husband’s example, also took holy vows in becoming a Buddhist nun.
  • Tenpyō-shōhō 4, in the 4th month 752: The Eye-opening Ceremony celebrating the completion of the Great Buddha is held at Tōdai-ji.

Emperor Shōmu died at age 56. Shōmu's officially designated Imperial misasagi or tomb can be visited today in Horenji-cho, Tenri City near Nara City. The Imperial tomb of Shōmu's consort, Empress Komyo, is located nearby.


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

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

Consorts and Children

Empress: Fujiwara no Asukabe-hime (藤原安宿媛)(Empress Kōmyō, 光明皇后) (701-760), daughter of Fujiwara no Fuhito

  • Imperial Princess Abe (阿倍内親王) (Empress Kōken) (718-770)
  • Prince Motoi (基王) (727-728)

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


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