Emperor Keitai (継体天皇)

Emperor Keitai (450 - March 10, 531), the twenty-sixth Japanese emperor, was in power from March 3, 507 to March 10, 531.

He was called King Ohodo. After the reign of Emperor Keitai, the force in Yamato Province and the forces of local ruling families in Echizen province, Omi Province, and other northern areas were unified, which strengthened the power of Yamato sovereignty (the ancient Japan sovereignty) in Japan.

His other names include Odo no Mikoto in "Kojiki" (The Records of Ancient Matters), Odo no Okimi and Hikofuto no Mikoto in "Nihonshoki" (Chronicles of Japan), Odo no Sumeramikoto in surviving fragments of "Chikugo no kuni Fudoki" (description of regional climate, culture, etc. of Chikugo Province), and Odo no Okimi in surviving fragments of "Joguki" (Record of the Crown Prince). One theory says that '孚弟王 (Oto no kimi ?)' inscribed on Suda Hachiman Shrine Mirror in Sudahachiman-jinja Shrine (Hashimoto City, Wakayama Prefecture) (there are two theories about its year of creatoin: 443 and 503) indicates Emperor Keitai (details of this theory will be mentioned later in 'Heresy').

Year of birth and death

Estimated year of birth: 485 in "Kojiki" and 450 in "Nihonshoki".

Estimated year of death: May 26, 527 in "Kojiki" and March 10, 531 or 534 in "Nihonshoki".


According to "Kojiki" and "Nihonshoki", Emperor Keitai was the fifth generation descendant of Emperor Ojin and his father was Hikoushio. He was born in Miono, Takashima Village, Omi Province (around present Takashima City, Shiga Prefecture) but was raised up in Takamuku Echizen Province (present Takaboko, Maruoka Town, Sakai City, Fukui Prefecture), the hometown of his mother, because his father died when he was a child.

According to "Nihonshoki", Emperor Buretsu passed away in 506 without designating his inheritor, so OTOMO no Kanamura, Omuraji (the most powerful of Muraji [one of the highest family names]) and others went to Echizen Province to have Odo no Okimi preside as the great king of the Yamato sovereignty. Okimi accepted this recommendation and was enthroned the next year when he was 58, in Kusuba no Miya Palace, Kawachi Province. He took Princess Tashiraka, the older (or younger) sister of Emperor Buretsu, as his empress. He shifted the capital to Tai (later Yamato Province) in 526. Immediately after that, Keitai sent troops to back Baekje, but Iwai (local ruling family in Kyushu) colluded with Silla and began Iwai War in northern Kyushu which caused Keitai great pain to quell.

In this description, it took Keitai nearly 20 years to place the capital in Yamato after he assumed the throne, which suggests there was disarray between the imperial family (in fact Yamato sovereignty) and the neighboring tribal states.

In 531, he abdicated in favor of Magari no Ooe Prince (Emperor Ankan) (the first abdication in recorded Japanese history), and passed away on the day of the Prince's enthronement. "Nihonshoki" quotes the lines from "Original records of Paekche" ('the article in the Original records of Paekche says that King Anjang of Goguryeo encountered rebellion from his subjects and was murdered in 531. Around the same time, Japanese Emperor, Crown Prince and Prince were killed altogether by their subjects.') to introduce a theory that the Emperor, Crown Prince and Prince died at the same time, which hints the possibility that Keitai was actually killed in a political turmoil ('Xinhai Incident' theory). "Kojiki" records that Emperor Keitai died in 527.

Ohodo no Mikoto, the fifth generation descendant of King Homuda, lived in the palace of Tamaho at Iware and ruled the country.
(The next line tells that he was married to several wives and had 19 children, three of which eventually became emperor. They are Kinmei, Ankan and Senka.)

In his reign, Tsukushi no Kimi Iwai often behaved disrespectfully to the word of the emperor. So he sent MONONOBE no Arakai Omuraji and OTOMO no Kanamura Muraji to kill Iwai. The emperor was 43 years old.
[He passed away on April 9, 527.]
He is buried in Mishima no aino no Misasagi (Imperial mausoleum).
(From "Kojiki". The sentence in [ ] is an annotation.)

Controversy over his origin

According to Kiki (Kojiki and Nihonshoki), Emperor Keitai, 'the fifth generation descendant of Emperor Ojin' was received from Echizen Province (or Omi Province) and took the throne in conformity with the request of a crowd of his subjects because the late Emperor Buretsu did not have an inheritor. An accurate genealogy cannot be created because a roll of family tree in "Nihonshoki" has been lost, and we can barely know the circumstances at the time from the surviving fragment of "Joguki". There are various discussions over this unusual enthronement.

The traditional theory respected the descriptions in Kiki and believed that the Emperor Keitai came from 'a powerful royal family in a distant collateral line' of the great king's family. But after the World War II, it was allowed to conduct the study of history, especially study of emperor more freely, which gave rise to a theory claiming that Keitai was the 'founder of a new dynasty (the first king)' ('Changes of Dynasties Theory' by Yu MIZUNO).

This theory denies so-called unbroken imperial line and says that a new great king's family was founded by the twenty-sixth Japanese Emperor Keitai whose origin is unknown. A further advanced theory says that he came from the Okinaga clan, a family in Omi Province which branched out from the Imperial family (as a result of demotion from nobility to subject) and he wrested the throne by repressing the Yamato sovereignty by military power.

Recently, another prevailing opinion says that the position of great king had not been occupied by a specific blood relationship before Keitai. That means that there existed several local ruling families with different ancestors, including the one which Keitai came from, instead of one identifiable imperial ancestor. Makoto TAKEMITSU claims that great kings before Keitai were chosen from several powerful local ruling families (Refer to the following literature). He says that Emperor Buretsu never even existed and that there are also various theories about the existence of Emperor Ojin.

But in the 1980s, the possibility that the creation of "Joguki" which records the origin of Keitai would go back to the reign of Empress Suiko (Hiromichi MAYUZUMI 'A Denealogical Study of Emperor Keitai' "Ritsuryo kokka seiritsushi no kenkyu"[Study of the establishment of the Japanese nation under the ritsuryo codes] Yoshikawa Kobunkan Inc. 1982), was brought to light and the collateral line royal family theory regained momentum. The surviving fragment of "Joguki" can be seen in "Shaku Nihongi" (annotated text of the Nihon Shoki) which quotes it with the phrase 'According to Joguki', but the author of "Joguki" actually had quoted yet another historical material. The material contained the genealogy of the sovereignty based on yet another older material, which may or may not be true.

Widely-accepted theory in the present Japanese historical community is that Keitai was enthroned with the approval of central ruling families, while the question of his origin as the fifth generation descendant of Emperor Ojin remains unsolved. Meanwhile, Kiki's imperial genealogy after Keitai is credible to some extent.

However that may be, the empress of Emperor Keitai was Princess Tashiraka, the Princess of Emperor Ninken and the mother of Emperor Kinmei. Emperor Kinmei is the direct ancestor of the present Imperial family and, at least, he definitely inherited the imperial bloodline from the maternal side.

Emperor Buretsu is related to Emperor Keitai.


His Empress was Princess Tashiraka, the granddaughter of Emperor Yuryaku, Princess of Emperor Ninken and the older (or younger) sister of Emperor Buretsu. Despite Emperor Keitai already had several wives and a lot of children before he moved to Yamato, he took the older (younger) sister of late Emperor as his Empress. Emperor Keitai, who was from the collateral line, seems to have tried to prove his legitimacy as Emperor by marrying to Princess Tashiraka, who was the younger sister of late Emperor with legitimate and direct bloodline, taking the form of Irimuko (man who takes his wife's premarital family name).

Although Emperor Keitai had many other children, Prince Amenokunioshiharakihironiwa no Mikoto (Emperor Kinmei), the child between he and Princess Tashiraka, was chosen as his legitimate child. Emperor Kinmei too received Prince Ishihime no Himemiko, the Princess between Emperor Senka and one of the sisters of Princess Tashiraka, as his wife and Emperor Bidatsu was born between them.

These marriages were presumably intended to strengthen the blood of collateral line by the blood of empresses in a direct line from the Imperial family. This is how the bloodline of Emperor Kinmei, the Prince of Emperor Keitai and Princess Tashiraka, continues to this day.

According to "Nihonshoki", Emperor Keitai was the fifth generation descendant of Emperor Ojin (grandchild of his great-grandchild) and his father was Hikoushio and his mother was Furihime the seventh generation descendant of Emperor Sunin. The four generations from Ojin to Keitai is omitted in the genealogy of "Kiki", and the only historical material on them is the barely surviving fragment of "Joguki", quoted in "Shaku Nihongi" which was established in Kamakura period. This material identifies the direct male descendants of Emperor as follows; 'Homutawake no Okimi (Emperor Ojin) - Wakanukefutamata no Miko - Oiratsuko (a man whose name is Ohodo no Okimi) - Oi no Okimi - Okimi (Hikoushio) - Odo no Okimi (Emperor Keitai)'. Recently, Hiromichi MAYUZUMI's study pointed out the possibility that the surviving fragment of "Joguki" is a remaining document from the Reign of Empress Suiko, and, even though its credibility and the truth of genealogy remain an open question as mentioned above, the tradition of genealogy appears to have been established around the same time as when Gentekiki (the ur-text of Teiki [records of Emperor's family tree]) was compiled (possibly in the reign of Emperor Kinmei).

Imperial Palace

* This section is based on the descriptions of "Nihonshoki".

The enthronement took place in Kusuba no miya Palace (the traditional place is the area near Katano-tenjinsha Shrine in Kuzuhaoka district, Hirakata City, Osaka Prefecture) in February, 507.

The capital was transferred to Tsutsuki no miya Palace (present Tatara Miyakodani, Kyotanabe City, Kyoto Prefecture) in October, 511.

The capital was transferred to Otokuni no miya Palace (present Imazato, Nagaokakyo City, Kyoto Prefecture) in March, 518.

The capital was transferred to Iware no tamaho no miya Palace (present Ikenouchi, Sakurai City, Nara Prefecture) in September, 526.

Some theories claim that the above-mentioned transfer of the national capital was caused by critical transformation in politics, all of which is no more than a speculation. But if this record is true, Keitai lived in Yamato only the last 5 years before his death.


The inscription on 'Suda Hachiman Shrine Mirror', a national treasure, once possessed by Sudahachiman-jinja Shrine says "癸未年八月日十大王年男弟王在意柴沙加宮時斯麻念長寿遣開中費直穢人今州利二人等取白上同二百旱作此竟" 'On August 10, year of Yin Water Sheep, when Otonokimi lived in Oshisaka no Miya Palace, Shima sent KAWACHI no Atai and AYAHITO Imasuri to make a mirror with 200 kan of high-quality copper to pray for his health.' (There are various theories as to the decipher and interpretation).

Sumidahachiman-jinja Shrine was established in 859 but the findspot and the date of excavation of the mirror remain unclear, and there is a controversy over the interpretation of 'year of Yin Water Sheep' between 443 and 503.

Interpreting 'Yin Water Sheep' as 503 and 'Otonokimi' as Odonookimi leads to the hypothesis that Emperor Keitai lived in Oshisaka no Miya Palace = (Oshisaka no Miya Palace) on August 10, Yin Water Sheep Buretsu era 5 (the old calendar) (September 18, 503). If this hypothesis is correct, it will undermine the theory which believes that the resistance from the forces in Kinai region (the five capital provinces surrounding the ancient capitals of Nara and Kyoto) retarded Emperor Keitai' entry into Nara Basin for years.

In the theory which interprets 'Yin Water Sheep' as 503, 'Shima' who ordered a mirror to pray for the longevity was Muryeong-wang (another name King Shima) of Baekje which was then allied with Wakoku (Japan).

Also, there is a theory which claims that the 'Wooto' on the mirror cannot be identified as Emperor Keitai because the pronunciation of 'Wohodo', the King's name in 'Kojiki', differed from 'Wooto' in the inscription on the mirror in the early sixth century.


Echizen Province, the region associated with him, used to be a vast stretch of wetland, unfit for farming and human habitation. After he conquered this region, Oto no Miko (later Emperor Keitai) built a (main building of) Shinto Shrine in Mt. Asuwa to worship Omiyadokoro no mitama (spirit of Omiyadokoro) as the guardian god of the region. This is the present Asuwa-jinja Shrine.

Then, he conducted a large scale flood control construction based on a topographic investigation to create the three major rivers in Fukui Prefecture; Kuzuryu River, Asuwa River, and Hino River, and he successfully developed the wetland. Thanks to his achievement, Echizen plain turned into a land rich in harvest and suitable to live. Following this, he opened a port and developed water transport which, as a result, developed rice cropping, sericulture, quarrying and papermaking and various other industries.

Concerned about the region before leaving Echizen Province in order to accede to the throne, he appeased his vengeful spirit in Asuwa-jinja Shrine and left it to the care of one of his children, Princess Umakuda no Himemiko who served as the priestess of the shrine. Because of these traditions, he is regarded as the pioneering god of Echizen Province.

Imperial mausoleum

He was buried in Mishima no aino no Misasagi.

Although the Imperial Household Agency identifies the Ota Chausuyama Tumulus (large keyhole-shaped tomb mound, 226-meter-long) in 3 Ota, Ibaraki City, Osaka Prefecture as Emperor Keitai's mausoleum, its construction is presumed to date back to about the mid-fifth century, so the accepted notion of today is that his true mausoleum is Imashirozuka Tumulus (large keyhole-shaped tomb mound, 190-meter-long) in Gunge Shinmachi, Takatsuki City, Osaka Prefecture which is estimated to have been built in early sixth century because of the cluster of Haniwa (a clay figure artifact) like the lifelike images of soldiers and horses in the Mausoleum of the First Qin Emperor, were discovered there.

Stone monument

In 1847, a monument of Emperor Keitai genealogy was erected in the precinct of Asuwa-jinja Shrine, which was proposed by Ohide TANAKA, a scholar of Japanese classical literature and materialized by his disciples, TACHIBANA no Akemi, 武万侶 IKEDA, 春村 YAMAGUCHI and 馬来田善包, the Asuwa-jinja Shrine priest. Inscribed on this monument is the genealogy from Emperor Ojin to Emperor Keitai, based on Ohide's study.

Under the title 'Genealogy of Emperor Tamaho no miya', the inscription says 'Homudawake no Mikoto (posthumous name Emperor Ojin) - Wakanukefutamata no Miko - Ooiratsuko (a man whose name is 意本杼王) - Oi no Okimi - Ushi no Okimi (according to Nihonshoki, Hikoushio) - Oodo no Okimi (according to Nihonshoki, other name Hikofu no Mikoto, posthumous name Emperor Keitai)'.

In the Asuwayama park near Asuwa-jinja Shrine, there stands the giant stone statue of Emperor Keitai, overlooking the Sakai City and attracting tourists.

[Original Japanese]