Emperor Kammu

(737–806) was the 50th imperial ruler of Japan, according to the traditional order of succession. His reign spanned the years from 781 through 806.


Before his ascension to the Chrysanthemum Throne, his personal name (his imina) was Yamabe-shinnō (Yama-no Bu-no shinno).

Yamabe was the eldest son of Prince Shirakabe later, Emperor Kōnin. According to the , Yamabe's mother Yamato no Niigasa, later Takano no Niigasa, was a descendant of King Muryeong of Baekje, a Korean King and a Korean Empire. Yamabe was born before his father ascended to the throne.

After his father Kōnin became emperor, Kammu's half brother was appointed to the rank of crown prince; but instead of his half brother, it was Kammu who was later named to succeed their father.

Later, when he ascended to the throne, Kammu appointed his young brother, Prince Sawara, whose mother was Takano no Niigasa, as crown prince. Prince Sawara was later expelled and died in exile.

Kammu had 16 Empresses and consorts, and 32 Imperial sons and daughters. Among them, three sons would eventually ascend to the imperial throne: Emperor Heizei, Emperor Saga and Emperor Junna.

Some of his descendants (known as the Kammu Taira or Kammu Heishi) took the Taira hereditary clan title, and in later generations became prominent warriors. Examples include Taira no Masakado, Taira no Kiyomori, and (with a further surname expansion) the Hōjō clan. The waka poet Ariwara no Narihira was one of his grandsons.

Events of Kammu's life

During his reign, from 781 to 806, the Capital of Japan was moved from Nara (Heijō-kyō) -- first to Nagaoka (Nagaoka-kyō in 784, where the palace was named Nagaoka no Miya), and then to Heian-kyō in 794, where the palace was named Heian no Miya. This marks the beginning of the Heian era in Japanese history.

Kammu was an active emperor who attempted to consolidate government hierarchies and functioning.

Kammu appointed Sakanoue no Tamuramaro (758-811) to lead a military expedition against the Emishi.

  • Ten'ō 1, on the 3rd day of the 12th month (天応元年, 781): In 11th year of Emperor Kōnin's reign (光仁天皇11年), he abdicated; and the succession (the senso) was received by his son. Shortly thereafter, Emperor Kammu is said to have acceded to the throne (‘‘sokui’’).
  • Enryaku 1, in the 6th month (782): The sadaijin Fujiwara no Uona was removed from his office and exiled to Kyushi. Some time later, the emperor did permit him to return to the capital where he died. In the same general time frame, Fujiwara no Tamaro was named Udaijin. During these days in which the offices of sadaijin and udaijin were vacant, the major counselors (the dainagon) and the emperor assumed responsibilities and powers which would have been otherwise delegated.
  • Enryaku 3, in the 3rd month (783): The udaijin Tamaro died at the age of 62 years.
  • Enryaku 3, in the 7th month (783): Fujiwara no Korekimi became the new udaijin to replace the late Fujiwara no Tamaro.
  • Enryaku 12 (793): Under the leadership of Dengyō, construction is begun on the Enryaku Temple.
  • Enryaku 13, on the 21st day of the 10th month (794): The Emperor moves by carriage in a grand procession from Nara to Heian-kyō.

Emperor Kammu's reign lasted for 25 years. He died at the age of 70.


Earlier Imperial sponsorship of Buddhism, beginning with Prince Shōtoku (574–622), had led to a general politicization of the clergy, along with an increase in intrigue and corruption. In 784 Kammu shifted his capital from Nara to Nagaoka in a move that was said to be designed to edge the powerful Nara Buddhist establishments out of state politics—while the capital moved, the major Buddhist temples, and their officials, stayed put. Indeed there was a steady stream of edicts issued from 771 right through the period of Kūkai's studies which, for instance, sought to limit the number of Buddhist priests, and the building of clan temples. However the move was to prove disastrous and was followed by a series of natural disasters including the flooding of half the city. In 785 the principal architect of the new capital, and royal favourite, Fujiwara no Tanetsugu, was assassinated.

Meanwhile, Kammu's armies were pushing back the boundaries of his empire. This led to an uprising, and in 789 a substantial defeat for Kammu's troops. Also in 789 there was a severe drought and famine—the streets of the capital were clogged with the sick, and people avoiding being drafted into the military, or into forced labour. Many disguised themselves as Buddhist priests for the same reason. Then in 794 Kammu suddenly shifted the capital again, this time to Heian-kyō, which is modern day Kyoto. The new capital was started early the previous year, but the change was abrupt and led to even more confusion amongst the populace.

Politically Kammu shored up his rule by changing the syllabus of the university. Confucian ideology still provided the raison d'être for the Imperial government. In 784 Kammu authorised the teaching of a new course based on the Annals of Spring and Autumn based on two newly imported commentaries: Kung-yang, and Ku-liang. These commentaries used political rhetoric to promote a state in which the Emperor, as "Son of Heaven," should extend his sphere of influence to barbarous lands, thereby gladdening the people. In 798 the two commentaries became required reading at the government university.

Kammu also sponsored the travels of the monks Saichō and Kūkai to China, from where they returned to found the Japanese branches of, respectively, Tendai and Shingon Buddhism.


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. -- kugyō of Kammu-tennō (French)

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

  • Sadaijin, Fujiwara no Uona (藤原魚名), 781-782.
  • Sadaijin, Fujiwara no Tamaro (藤原田麿), 783.
  • Udaijin, Ōnakatomi no Kiyomaro (大中臣清麿), 771-781
  • Udaijin, Fujiwara no Tamaro (藤原田麿), 782-783.
  • Udaijin, Fujiwara no Korekimi (藤原是公), 783-789.
  • Udaijin, Fujiwara no Tsugutada (藤原継縄), 790-796.
  • Udaijin, Miwa ōkimi or Miwa oh (神王), 798-806
  • Udaijin, Fujiwara no Uchimaro (藤原内麻呂) (756-812), 806-812.
  • Dainagon

Eras of Kammu's reign

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

Consorts and Children

Empress: Fujiwara no Otomuro (藤原乙牟漏) (760-790), daughter of Fujiwara no Yoshitsugu (藤原良継)

  • Imperial Prince Ate (安殿親王) (Emperor Heizei) (774-824)
  • Imperial Prince Kamino (賀美能親王/神野親王) (Emperor Saga) (786-842)
  • Imperial Princess Koshi (高志内親王) (789-809), married to Prince Ōtomo(Emperor Junna later)

Hi: Princess Sakahito (酒人内親王) (754-829), daughter of Emperor Kōnin

Bunin: Fujiwara no Tabiko (藤原旅子) (759-788), daughter of Fujiwara no Momokawa (藤原百川)

Bunin: Fujiwara no Yoshiko (藤原吉子) (?-807), daughter of Fujiwara no Korekimi (藤原是公)

  • Imperial Prince Iyo (伊予親王) (?-807)

Bunin: Tajihi no Mamune (多治比真宗) (769-823), daughter of Tajihi no Nagano (多治比長野)

  • Imperial Prince Kazurahara (葛原親王) (786-853)
  • Imperial Princess Inaba (因幡内親王) (?-824)
  • Imperial Princess Anou (安濃内親王) (?-841)
  • Imperial Prince Sami (佐味親王) (793-825)
  • Imperial Prince Kaya (賀陽親王) (794-871)
  • Imperial Prince Ōno(Daitoko) (大野親王/大徳親王) (798-803)

Bunin: Fujiwara no Oguso (藤原小屎), daughter of Fujiwara no Washitori (藤原鷲取)

  • Imperial Prince Manta (万多親王) (788-830)

Nyōgo: Tachibana no Miiko (橘御井子), daughter of Tachibana no Irii (橘入居)

  • Imperial Princess Sugawara (菅原内親王) (?-825)
  • Imperial Princess Kara (賀楽内親王) (?-874)

Nyōgo: Fujiwara no Nakako (藤原仲子), daughter of Fujiwara no Ieyori (藤原家依)

Nyōgo: Fujiwara no Shōshi (藤原正子), daughter of Fujiwara no Kiyonari (藤原清成)

Nyōgo: Ki no Otoio (紀乙魚)(?-840)

Nyōgo: Kudara no Kyōhō (百済教法) (?-840), daughter of Kudara no Shuntetsu (百済俊哲)

Court lady: Fujiwara no Kamiko (藤原上子), daughter of Fujiwara no Oguromaro (藤原小黒麻呂)

  • Imperial Princess Shigeno (滋野内親王) (?-857)

Court lady: Tachibana no Tsuneko (橘常子) (788-817), daughter of Tachibana no Shimadamaro (橘島田麻呂)

  • Imperial Princess Ōyake (大宅内親王) (?-849), married to Emperor Heizei

Court lady: Sakanoue no Matako (坂上全子) (?-790), daughter of Sakanoue no Karitamaro (坂上刈田麻呂)

  • Imperial Princess Takatsu (高津内親王) (?-841), married to Emperor Saga

Court lady: Ki no Wakako (紀若子), daughter of Ki no Funamori (紀船守)

  • Imperial Prince Asuka (明日香親王) (?-834)

Court lady: Fujiwara no Kawako (藤原河子) (?-838), daughter of Fujiwara no Ōtsugu (藤原大継)

  • Imperial Prince Nakano (仲野親王) (792-867)
  • Imperial Princess Ate (安勅内親王) (?-855)
  • Imperial Princess Ōi (大井内親王) (?-865)
  • Imperial Princess Ki (紀内親王) (799-886)
  • Imperial Princess Yoshihara (善原内親王) (?-863)

Court lady: Kudara no Kyōnin (百済教仁), daughter of Kudara no Bukyō (百済武鏡)

  • Imperial Prince Ōta (大田親王) (793-808)

Court lady: Fujiwara no Azumako (藤原東子) (?-816), daughter of Fujiwara no Tanetsugu (藤原種継)

  • Imperial Princess Kannabi (甘南備内親王) (800-817)

Court lady: Sakanoue no Haruko (坂上春子) (?-834), daughter of Sakanoue no Tamuramaro (坂上田村麻呂)

  • Imperial Prince Fujii (葛井親王) (800-850)
  • vPrincess Kasuga (春日内親王) (?-833)

Court lady: Fujiwara no Heishi/Nanshi (藤原平子/南子) (?-833), daughter of Fujiwara no Takatoshi (藤原乙叡)

  • Imperial Princess Ito (伊都内親王) (ca.801-861), married to Prince Abo(son of Emperor Heizei)

Court lady: Tachubana no Tamurako (橘田村子), daughter of Tachibana no Irii (橘入居)

  • Imperial Princess Ikenoe (池上内親王) (?-868)

Court lady: Kudara no Jōkyō (百済貞香), daughter of Kudara no Kyōtoku (百済教徳)

  • Imperial Princess Suruga (駿河内親王) (801-820)

Court lady: Nakatomi no Toyoko (中臣豊子), daughter of Nakatomi no Ōio (中臣大魚)

  • Imperial Princess Fuse (布勢内親王) (?-812), 13th Saiō in Ise Shrine 797-806

Court lady: Kawakami no Manu (河上真奴), daughter of Nishikibe no Haruhito (錦部春人)

  • Imperial Prince Sakamoto (坂本親王) (793-818)

Court lady(Nyoju): Tajihi no Toyotsugu (多治比豊継), daughter of Tajihi no Hironari (多治比広成)

  • Nagaoka no Okanari (長岡岡成) (?-848), removed from the Imperial Family by receiving the family name from Emperor (Shisei Kōka, 賜姓降下) in 787

Court lady: Kudara no Yōkei (百済永継), daughter of Asukabe no Natomaro (飛鳥部奈止麻呂)

  • Yoshimine no Yasuyo (良岑安世) (785-830), removed from the Imperial Family by receiving the family name from Emperor (Shisei Kōka, 賜姓降下) in 802

See also


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