Emperor Goshirakawa (後白河天皇)

Emperor Goshirakawa (October 18, 1127 - April 26, 1192), his reign was from August 23, 1155 to September 5, 1158, he was the seventy seventh Emperor in the late Heian Period. His posthumous name was Masahito. After the enthronement to the Imperial succession, he ruled the cloistered government as the Retired Emperor Goshirakawa, however his government was often suspended due to the opposition between Emperor Nijo and Emperor Takakura.


He was the fourth Prince of Emperor Toba. His mother was Kinzane FUJIWARA's daughter, FUJIWARA no Shoshi.

Brief Personal History


He was born as the fourth Prince of Emperor Toba in 1127.
FUJIWARA no Munetaka mentioned, 'It is unusual for the Empress to have four Princes.'
He had a coming-of-age ceremony when he was twelve years old in 1139 and he was given the second highest rank of princes. After Emperor Konoe died in 1155, Emperor Goshirakawa was enthroned without becoming Crown Prince, when he was twenty nine years old, he was enthroned temporarily until Emperor Nijo's enthronement who was an adopted child of Bifukumon in. Since Morihito was still young and his father, Prince Masahito was still alive, the enthronement before his father was questioned, he was considered by his father, Tobain, that he didn't have what it takes to be an emperor. During this period, various artistic performances like Dengaku (ritual music and dancing performed in association with rice planting) and Sarugaku (form of theater becoming the basis for Noh) were spread among the upper class court nobles, Emperor Goshirakawa liked Imayo (Popular songs) and he studied eagerly. According to "Ryojin Hisho Kuden shu" (collection of Japanese poetry that has thirty volumes of poetry and ten volumes of orally transmitted tales), it is said the Emperor gathered some people to sing his songs to an audience when he was around ten years old. MINAMOTO no Sukekata and FUJIWARA no Suekane accompanied the Emperor for Imayo activities.

The Hogen and the Heiji Wars

In 1156 after the Retired Emperor Toba died, the Hogen War occurred. During this War, the guardian, FUJIWARA no Shinzei took the initiative and the Emperor remained in the formal role. In an effort to strengthen the political authority of the Imperial Court, after the War, Shinzei issued the Hogen edict, which imposed the Decree Restricting the Expansion of Private Estates, introduced regulations governing major temples and shrines, and restored the Imperial Palace.

In 1158 Emperor Goshirakawa passed the throne to Prince Morihito (Prince Nijo). This enthronement was arranged beforehand and it is called 'The evaluation between Buddha and Buddha' "Heihan ki" (diary of TAIRA no Nobunori), a conference between Bifukumon in and Shinzei. Most of the Emperor's father's private land was given to Bifukumon in and Hachijoin, while Emperor Goshirakawa took the estate of FUJIWARA no Yorinaga to make it an estate for the retired emperor and to establish an economic base for himself.

After Emperor Nijo's enthronement, opposition between the Goshirakawa in forces and the Nijo directly ruled government forces began, also, there antagonism grew between Shinzei and FUJIWARA no Nobuyori within the Goshirakawa in forces, so, three forces opposed each other inside the Imperial Palace.

This antagonism reached it's peak and the Heiji War occurred in 1159. During the night on December 9, In Palace and Sanjo dono were attacked by Nobuyori and MINAMOTO no Yoshitomo's forces and the Emperor was held in confinement. Then, Shinzei was killed and Nobuyori took complete control over politics, however, TAIRA no Kiyomori, who was allied with Emperor Nijo directly ruled government forces, defeated Nobuyori and others, and as a result, Goshirakawa in forces were destroyed. Emperor Goshirakawa escaped from confinement during the War and moved to Ninna-ji Temple. At that time it was Emperor Nijo who was in danger of being kidnapped, while Emperor Goshirakawa was ignored because he did not have much political power after Shinzei was killed.

After the War, Emperor Goshirakawa ordered Kiyomori to arrest FUJIWARA no Tsunemune and FUJIWARA no Korekata who were the main persons in Emperor Nijo's directly run government force. It was presumed that Tsunemune and Korekata were accused of being the ringleaders who together with Nobuyori, organized the killing of Shinzei. After that, Goshirakawa in's forces and Nijo's directly run government forces, were deadlocked.

Antagonism against Nijo's directly run government, continued with the cooperation with the Taira clan

During this period, Emperor Goshirakawa favored Princess Toshi's wife, Koben (TAIRA no Shigeko) over others.
In September 1161, Shigeko gave birth to the seventh Prince (Norihito), however, there was a lot of criticism from the public about the birth of this child.' ("Hyakuren sho" (History book from the Kamakura period))
Soon after, it became apparent that Prince Norihito organized a plot, TAIRA no Tokitada, TAIRA no Norimori, FUJIWARA no Narichika and FUJIWARA no Nobutaka were removed from their positions, and Goshirakawa's involvement into the politics was stopped. In the following year, Tsunemune, the leading figure of Nijo's directly ruled government force, was allowed to go back to his hometown, and Tokitada and MINAMOTO no Sukekata were banished. After Goshirakawa was removed from politics, he devoted himself to building the Renge o-in Temple. Although Goshirakawa strongly wished for Nijo to join him at the celebration for the construction of the temple, Nijo did not show any interest to visit Goshirakawa at all, Goshirakawa said, 'How can he refuse to visit me' (He must hate me) ("Gukan sho" (Jottings of a Fool)) and he developed a grudge against Nijo.

After Emperor Nijo died in 1165, Goshirakawa made a deal with Kiyomori to allow Prince Norihito become Crown Prince. In 1168 the he forced Emperor Rokujo to abdicate to allow Norihito to succeed to the Imperial throne (Emperor Takakura). He went into the priesthood and became a Cloistered Emperor in 1169. Shigeko was Empress during this period, however, she became Kenshunmon in after receiving an Ingo senge (a high rank given to the Empress orJunbo equivalent to the rank of retired emperor) when Goshirakawa became a priest. In accordance with Kenshunmon in's wishes, there was a Saishokoin built within the in Palace and the hoju-ji Temple. During this time the relationship between Goshirakawa and Kiyomori was favorable, Goshirakawa showed his interest in the trading between Japan and Sung, when he granted a person from Sung an audience at Kiyomori's villa in Fukuhara in 1170, TAIRA no Kiyomori's daughter, TAIRA no Tokuko officially entered the Imperial Palace to become Emperor Takakura's wife in December 1171.

The correspondence with the Temple forces

In 1169 when the Lord of Owari Province, a local magistrate of FUJIWARA no Narichika, started a fight against Shito priest in Hie-jinja Shrine, Enryaku-ji Temple strongly demanded Narichika be banished. Goshirakawa protected Narichika and ordered TAIRA no Kiyomori to protect the priests. Goshirakawa accepted the banishment of Narichika because of political pressure from the Enryaku-ji Temple, since the Taira clan was friendly with Enryaku-ji Temple, Kiyomori became a priest under the supervision of the head priest of the Tendai sect, Myoun, or Shigemori did not act spontaneously on this matter. However as soon as the priests left the mountain, the situation and the attitude changed dramatically, Goshirakawa ordered Tokitada and TAIRA no Nobunori to be banished. Enryaku-ji Temple and the Taira clan provoked a backlash and made a plea to the Emperor, it suddenly became an urgent situation when Kiyomori came to the city, from Kiyohara, to gather Samurai for battle. Goshirakawa sensed the danger and decided to remove Narichika from his position.

In December 1172, the people from Iga Province fought against the priests of Kasuga-sha Shrine and one of their priest was killed, after this the priests from Kofuku-ji Temple demanded the ones responsible from Iga Province, be punished, they gave a sacred tree from Kasuga-sha Shrine to make the plea. The people from Iga Province were Shigemori's retainers. It seemed the Sekkan family, the clan with members eligible to become regents and chancellors, were able to calm the priest's down this time. It is presumed that Shigemori acted quietly and maneuvered behind the scenes to sooth the situation. In June 1173, the Tonomine (Temple) under the umbrella of Enryaku-ji Temple were burned in the attack by the priests from Kofuku-ji Temple because of the fight between Kofuku-ji Temple and the Enryaku-ji Temple. After that, Goshirakawa announced he would remove the manor and branch temples from fifteen temples of Nara, the Kofuku-ji Temple was enraged and made a plea to the Emperor. Goshirakawa sent Gon no Betto (a steward) of Kofuku-ji Temple, 覚珍, to persuade the priests, and the situation settled down.

Goshirakawa treated Onjo-ji Temple extraordinary well and it was cause for people to make pleas on many occasions. At the ceremony held when Goshirakawa entered the priesthood, all eight monks followed by the priest who imparts the Buddhist commandments were from Onjo-ji Temple. This was cause for strong frustration within Enryaku-ji Temple which although still had the same background as the Tendai sect of Buddhism, but fiercely opposed Onjo-ji Temple, there were many fights that broke out between the Shinto priests who were under the umbrella of Enryaku-ji Temple and the Kokushi (Kunitsukasa) (the head of the local government) of Goshirakawa's aides.

The opposition against the Taira clan, the suspension of the cloistered government

In 1177 after the death of Kenrei mon in, the relationship between Goshirakawa and the Taira clan seemed to be getting worse, however, it did not collapsed. During that period the Hakusan Incident occurred. The incident occurred after a substitute officer of the Lord of Kaga Province, FUJIWARA no Morotaka burned down the Palace of the Temple to go against Hakusan. Hakusan was one of the branch temples of the Enryaku-ji Temple, and Morotaka's father was Goshirakawa's close aide, Saiko. People from Enryaku-ji Temple made a plea demanding Morotaka be banished, however Goshirakawa strongly refused this and ordered Shigemori to protect him. After this, there were incidents that occurred, for example, Shigemori threw an arrow and hit a portable shrine, etc, and people reacted badly to this and complained, then Goshirakawa had no choice but to order the banishment of Morotaka.

Saiko, in revenge, insisted the head priest of the Tendai sect, Myoun to be punished. Goshirakawa agreed and Myoun was removed from the head priest position of the Tendai sect and his private land was taken away, then was banished to Izu Province. After the priests from Enryaku-ji Temple regained control of Myoun, Goshirakawa planned to abolish branch temples of Enryaku-ji Temples and manors, and ordered TAIRA no Tsunemori to go ahead with an the armed attack on Enryaku-ji Temple. Tsunemori refused to send an army as he had no intention to fight against Enryaku-ji Temple, the supporter of the Taira clan, Shigemori and Munemori followed Kiyomori's order. Goshirakawa was furious and he called Kiyomori from Fukuhara and ordered him to start the attack. Kiyomori accepted the order to raise an army and it was decided to attack Enryaku-ji Temple.

However Saiko was arrested on June 1 and the Conspiracy to defeat the Taira clan by the In close aides became apparent (the Shishigatani Conspiracy). Saiko and Narichika were killed and other associated people were all rounded up. It is uncertain whether the conspiracy in fact proceeded any further or not, however it showed that the opposition between In government and the Taira clan became serious.

Although Goshirakawa was not in trouble, later on he had to accept Emperor Antoku to become Crown Prince in 1178. Goshirakawa was against it and he started applying political pressure to reduce the Taira clan forces in 1179. After Shirakawa dono (Taira no) Seishi died, Goshirakawa took Private land belonged to the Sekkan Family (family who was a regent to the emperor) and was under Seishi's control, and after Shigemori died, Goshirakawa took Echizen Province which Shigemori was in charge of ruling. Furthermore, he appointed Motofusa MATSUDONO's child, Moroie MATSUDONO to Gon (interim) Chunagon (vice-councilor of state), before appointing Motomichi KONOE who was supporter of the Taira clan. Kiyomori caused a coup d'eacutetat against this on November 14. Goshirakawa was confined inside Toba dono (residence) and his cloistered government was stopped (Coup of the Third Year of Jisho).

The Genpei War; the Taira-Minamoto War

In 1180 Prince Mochihito issued his Highness's message to all the states and in Kyoto, he raised an army against the Taira clan, together with MINAMOTO no Yorimasa. This was not successful however all the Minamoto clan who received the message from Takakura no Miya Prince Mochihito, responded to this, when MINAMOTO no Yoshinaka (Yoshinaka KISO) in Kiso and Yoshitomo's son, MINAMOTO no Yoritomo raised an army, Cloistered Emperor Goshirakawa supported them.

In 1181 when the Retired Emperor Takakura died, who had taken over the Cloistered Emperor Goshirakawa, since there was no one who was able to rule the government, Goshirakawa again started ruling the cloistered government. Also when Kiyomori died from an illness, the Taira clan lost their political power and the Cloistered Emperor had more authority to speak out. In July 1183, when Yoshinaka KISO carried the attack into Kyoto together with Eizan, the Taira clan passed Emperor Antoku and Kenrei mon in to the opposition, then they escaped west caring the three sacred emblems of the Imperial Family. The Cloistered Emperor, who escaped to Eizan, returned to Kyoto and welcomed Yoshinaka KISO and MINAMOTO no Yukiie after they came to Kyoto from the countryside, then gave a command from a retired emperor to overthrow the Taira clan.

When the new Emperor was to be appointed from Retired Emperor Takakura's Prince, Yoshinaka recommended Hokuriku no Miya; Prince Yukiie who was the son of Prince Mochihito, Goshirakawa refused this recommendation due to his favorite lady, Eishi TAKASHINA's influence, and appointed Prince Takahira (the Emperor Gotoba), and he was enthroned by a command issued from a retired emperor since he did not have three sacred emblems of the Imperial Family. In September Yoritomo who had his political base at Kamakura, secretly asked to obtain the right to rule the eastern countries, Yoshinaka was isolated in Kyoto. Goshirakawa ordered Yoritomo to hunt down and kill Yoshinaka, and also ordered Yoritomo's younger brother, MINAMOTO no Yoshitsune to in fact kill Yoshinaka. Furthermore, he ordered them to hunt down and kill the Taira clan, the clan died out in the Battle of Dannoura in 1185.

Antagonism against Kamakura

Then there was a conflict between Yoritomo and the Cloister government, the Cloistered Emperor ordered Yoshitsune to kill Yoritomo. However, Yoshitsune lost the fight, this time Yoritomo protested against Goshirakawa and cut off the supply of food to him, he then gave a command from the retired emperor to hunt down and kill Yoshitusne. In 1189 after Yoshitsune was killed, Yoritomo asked Goshirakawa to issue a command from the retired emperor to kill the FUJIWARA clan in Oshu (Mutsu Province), however he refused to do so.

But when Yoritomo attacked the Fujiwara clan in Oshu (Mutsu Province), Goshirakawa issued the command to follow and kill the Fujiwara clan in Oshu, later on Yoritomo went to Kyoto and was reconciled with the Cloistered Emperor. However the Emperor firmly refused Yoritomo's application to become a seii taishogun (literally, "great general who subdues the barbarians") and for Kanezane KUJO to become the Chief Adviser to the Emperor.

Thus Yoritomo and Kanezane agreed to wait for the Emperor's death, when the Cloistered Emperor died in March 1192 at the age of 66, Yoritomo became a seii taishogun and started the Kamakura bakufu (Japanese feudal government headed by a Shogun) in July.

Personal Profile

According to "Heiji Monogatari" (The Tale of Heiji), Goshirakawa was crazy about singing 'Imayo songs' and his half older brother, the Retired Emperor Suko made a critical comment about Goshirakawa by saying, 'He has no talent in literature, sword fighting, no special skills and no artistic skills'
Later on he edited "Ryojin Hisho" (Songs to make the Dust Dance). It is said he damaged his throat three times by singing too many Imayo songs.
Also he was called by MINAMOTO no Yoritomo, the 'No.1 Tengu (Mountain spirit) in Japan' which means the most boisterous person in Japan, since he used the Samurai forces, such as the Taira clan or Yoshinaka KISO, to keep his political authority and killed them when they were no longer needed, in another words he used and discarded people. (however recently there is another theory that this expression about Tengu is considered to be describing his close aide, TAKASHINA no Yasutsune.)

There is a review about Goshirakawa written by FUJIWARA no Shinzei in "Gyokuyo" (the Diary of Kanezane KUJO), it is said 'He was the most stupid Emperor among Chinese and Japanese Emperors.'
It is said Goshirakawa had little morality, 'he will proceed to carry out his will once he decides, whether he is following regulations or not.'
However this was a story that Kanezane KUJO heard from KIYOHARA no Yorinari and wrote down in March 16, 1184 section of "Gyokuyo" there is no proof whether Shinzei in fact mentioned this or not, the story can not be trusted, since Kanezane disliked Goshirakawa.

Kanezane mentioned, 'the Cloistered Emperor Toba was an ordinary person and regretted administering punishment, he gave all the authority to Bifukumon in. The current Cloistered Emperor Goshirakawa was way ahead of the Cloistered Emperor Toba in terms of ordering punishment. It is hard to decide what is wise and foolish about different people' and he also mentioned when the Emperor died, 'the Cloistered Emperor Goshirakawa was a generous and merciful person. It is regrettable to lose the good, old political feel of the Engi and Tenryaku periods, and how the Emperor became a believer in Buddhism implies that he was way above the Samurai who destroyed the country. The whole nation is in sorrow after hearing about the Emperor's death, especially people who were with the Emperor and were looked after in many ways from morning to night, and who endeavored to achieve a higher position with the Emperor's support,' although the formal words or morning were being used, he criticized the Emperor for becoming a believer in Buddhism and made fun of the sorrow his close aides expressed.

Because of this, Goshirakawa only had a continuing bad reputation until now, because he used Samurai one after another as if they were disposable, just like throwing a Japanese chess piece away when it is not needed while playing the game, while he tried to coexist with other Samurai forces by ruling his cloister government. In this way TAIRA no Kiyomori, MINAMOTO no Yoshinaka and MINAMOTO no Yoshitsune were all victims being used by Goshirakawa. In fact, although he issued the command of a retired emperor to kill MINAMOTO no Yoritomo due to Yoshitsune's request, he also issued another command for Yoritomo to kill Yoshitsune. Furthermore Goshirakawa refused to issue the command of retired emperor to kill the FUJIWARA clan in Oshu (Mutsu Province), which he was asked by Yoritomo, after knowing Yoritomo killed the FUJIWARA clan, he then issued the command as a post facto approval. Thus, Goshirakawa's attitude totally changed on many occasions, once he considered someone as his enemy then he changed to glorify him, or to the contrary, he eliminate someone whom he considered as a supporter, he only took things in a way that suited his needs. Although it is our everyday experience, we have to say it was his fatal weakness as a head of state.
We must say it was natural for his father, the Cloistered Emperor Toba to mention that Goshirakawa didn't have what it takes to be an emperor. (We must consider that the Cloistered Emperor Toba ruled his cloistered government for twenty eight years, during three generations, from Emperor Sutoku, Konoe, through to Goshirakawa.)
As a result of this, the cloistered government, ruled by Goshirakawa, created a base for the unshakable Samurai government, while it drastically weakened the political base of the Imperial Palace.

Eras during his reign

Kyuji (July 24, 1155) - April 27, 1156

Hogen April 27, 1156 - (August 11, 1158)

Posthumous name, Tsuigo

Goshirakawa in - The Tsuigo came from the Palace where he lived while ruling the cloistered government. (The name means after Emperor Shirakawa.)
After Meiji era, he received the official posthumous name of Emperor Goshirakawa.

The Cloistered Emperor Gyoshin - the name used after his abdication to become a priest.

The Imperial mausoleum

The Emperor was entombed in Hojuji no Misasagi in Mawari-cho, Sanjusangen-do, Higashiyama Ward, Kyoto City.

Related books, movies, and Television programs
"Goshirakawa in" written by Yasushi INOUE
"Emperor in Jodo (the Pure land)" written by Ryutaro ABE
"Zoku (second series) MINAMOTO no Yoshitsune" (1956 director: Ryu HAGIWARA, cast: Ikuo IZUMIDA)
TV drama series
New series of The Tale of the Taira Clan. (NHK period drama) (1972 NHK Period drama) cast: Osamu TAKIZAWA
Kusa Moeru (Burning Grass) (1979 NHK period drama) cast: Shoroku ONOEⅡ
MINAMOTO no Yoshitsune (TBS drama series) (1990 Tokyo Broadcasting System) cast: Masahiko TSUGAWA
MINAMOTO no Yoshitsune (TV drama series 1991) (1991 Nippon Television Network Corporation) cast: Mikijiro HIRA
TAIRA no Kiyomori (TBS drama series) (1992 TBS) cast: Hideki TAKAHASHI (actor)
Homura Tatsu (Rising Blaze) (NHK period drama) (1993 -1994 NHK period drama) cast Akira NAKAO
Yoshitsune (NHK period drama) (2005 NHK period drama) cast: Mikijiro HIRA

[Original Japanese]