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Emperor Tenji

Emperor Tenji (天智天皇 Tenji-tennō), also known as Emperor Tenchi (Tenchi-tennō) (626 - January 7, 672 (the 3rd Day of the 12th Month of the 10th Year of Tenji's reign)) was the 38th emperor of Japan, according to the traditional order of succession. The years of Emperor Tenji's reign spanned 661 through 672.


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 or Naka-no-Ōe-no Ōji (中大兄皇子).

Events of Tenji's life

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.

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

  • In the 7th year of Saimei, in the 7th month (661): Empress Saimei, in the 3rd year of her reign (斉明天皇3年), 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 did die, Emperor Tenji could be said to have acceded to the throne (‘‘sokui’’).

In 662, Tenji is said to have compiled the first Japanese legal code known to modern historians. This legal codification is no longer extant, but it is known as the Kiomihara ritsu-ryō; and it is understood to have been a forerunner of the Taihō ritsu-ryō of 701.

The Nihon Shoki (日本書紀) also recorded the first mention of oil in this period. It is stated that in 668 (天智7年) flammable water (oil) was presented as an offering to Emperor Tenji from Echigo no Kuni (越後国) (now known as a part of Niigata prefecture).

Tenji was particularly active in improving the military institutions which had been established during the Taika reforms.

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 Temmu. 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10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’’). If this understanding were valid, then it would it would follow:
* In the 1st year of Kōbun (672): Emperor Kōbun, in the 1st year of his reign (弘文天皇1年), died; and his uncle Ōaomi-shinnō received the succession (‘‘senso’’) after the death of his nephew. Shortly thereafter, Emperor Temmu could be said to have acceded to the throne (‘‘sokui’’).

Pre-Meiji chronology
Prior to the 19th century, Otomo 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10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 Temmu rightfully acceded to the throne (‘‘sokui’’).

Tenji's Imperial Tomb (misasagi) is in Yamashina-ku, Kyoto.


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 Mimihashi might be female hills in love with the same male hill, Unebi. 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:

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.
-- Emperor Tenji

One of his 31-syllable poems was chosen by Fujiwara no Teika as the first in the very popular anthology Hyakunin Isshu.

Aki no to no
Kariho no io no
Toma o arami
Waga koromode wa
Tsuyu ni nure tsutsu
-- Emperor Tenji
Literal Translation:
___ Arami ______ wo _________ toma ____
Because of the coarseness of the rush-mat

_ no _ io_no _ Kariho ____
Of the hut of temporary-hut
_ no _ ta _ no__ aki __
Of the rice of autumn

_ wa __________ waga koromode __
As far as concerns my sleeves

____ nure-tsutsu ____ ni ____ tsuyu ____
They are becoming wet with dew (or rain).
-- Emperor Tenji


The top during Emperor Tenji's reign included:

Non-nengō period

The years of Tenji's reign are not linked by scholars to any era or nengō. 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.

Consorts and Children

Empress: Princess Yamato (倭姫王) (?-?), daughter of Prince Furuhito-no-Ōe (son of Emperor Jomei)

Hin: Soga no Ochi-no-iratsume (蘇我遠智娘) (?-651?), daughter of Soga no Kura-no-yamada no Ishikawa-no-maro

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

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

Hin: Abe no Tachibana-no-iratsume (阿部橘娘) (?-681), daughter of Abe no Kurahashi-maro

Court lady: Oshinumi no Shikibuko-no-iratsume (忍海色夫古娘)

  • Prince Kawashima (川島皇子) (657-691)

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

Court lady: Kurikuma no Kurohime-no-iratsume (栗隈黒媛娘)

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


External links

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