Shirakawa Emperor (白河天皇)

Personal information of Emperor SHIRAKAWA

Emperor SHIRAKAWA (7th July 1053 - 24th July 1129) was the 72nd Emperor. SHIRAKAWA came to power on the 18th January 1073 and reigned until 5th anuary 1087. His posthumous name was Sadahito.


SHIRAKAWA was the first son of Emperor Go-Sanjo who had little maternal relationship with the Fujiwara Five Regent Houses, and his mother, Nyogo, FUJIWARA no Moshi/Shigeko was from Fujiwara Kaninryu, the daughter of Chunagon FUJIWARA no Kinnari, and the adopted daughter of Togu Daibu FUJIWARA no Yoshinobu.
His half sister was Princess Tokushi/Atsuko (Empress of Horikawa)



When he was young, he and his father were snubbed due to their background, but after his father was enthroned in 1068 (Jiryaku 4), he was proclaimed a Shinno (Imperial prince) and became Imperial Prince Sadahito. In 1069 he became Crown Prince, and became an Emperor three years later, when he was twenty years old. A Kanpaku was assigned, but SHIRAKAWA attempted to rule directly like his father had done, after his father, the retired Emperor, died of illness in 1070 (Jiryaku 5), and also attempted to regulate the Shoen(manor) system thereby trying to weaken the influence of the Regent/Kanpaku Houses.

Go-Sanjo-in and Go-Sanjo-in's mother, Yomeimon-in, wished for SHIRAKAWA's younger half brother, Prince Sanehito (Heian period) and then Sanehito`s younger brother Prince Sukehito to succeed to the throne, and upon abdication to SHIRAKAWA, Prince Sanehito was decided to become Crown Prince. SHIRAKARA repelled against this and later Prince Sanehiro died from illness in 1085 (Otoku 2). As a result, in November, 1086 (Otoku 3), SHIRAKAWA proclaimed his own eight year old son, Prince Taruhito (73rd Emperor Horikawa) to be the Crown Prince instead of Prince Sukehito and SHIRAKAWA abdicated immediately. Retired Emperor SHIRAKAWA, who became Daijo Tenno, acted as the guardian of the young Emperor, and ruled personally as Shirakawa-in, and this style of government became known as Insei system (cloistered style). Through such system, although the Sessho and Kampaku offices continued, they did not have actual power to rule the government.

SHIRAKAWA continued to have exert power even after Emperor Horikawa turned twenty years old and he strengthened his despotic position by appointing aids from the Juryro and Samurai class. The Samurai soldiers were assigned to such posts as the "Hokumen no bushi" which was newly established to protect the retired Emperor.

SHIRAKAWA was a strict Buddhist and he became a Cloistered Emperor with posthumous Buddhist name of Yukan after the death of his daughter in 1096 (Kaho 3). SHIRAKAWA ordered the building of many temples and Buddhist statues including the Hossho-ji Temple, and he took advantage of getting finance from Juryo.

After Emperor Horikawa died, SHIRAKAWA ruled using a cloistered government for forty three years through three generations of young Emperors, until he died on 24th July 1129 (7th July Taiji 4), and he supported both his grandson 74th Emperor Toba and his great grandson 75th Emperor Sutoku. This is called "Chiten no kimi".

The Cloistered Emperor Shirakawa had supreme power, but it was said he mented that, he has no control over the following three things: 1. Waters of the Kamo River (tributary of the Yodo River)(due to its flow and frequent flooding); 2. Dice used in sugoroku (different from current sugoroku, close to western backgammon), which was popular way of gambling at that time, with spots on the dice selecting winners/losers; and 3. Yamaboshi (monk soldiers from Mt. Hie Enryaku-ji Temple), which show that SHIRAKAWA had absolute control apart from these three things. SHIRAKAWA is also known for many relationships with women and the rumor that Emperor Sutoku and TAIRA no Kiyomori may be SHIRAKAWA's illegitimate sons, was widely spread and believed at the time.

Empress, Princess

Empress, FUJIWARA no Kenshi/Kataiko (1057-1084) - the daughter of MINAMOTO no Akifusa and adopted daughter of FUJIWARA no Morozane

Prince Atsufumi (1074-1077)

Princess Teishi/Yasuko (Ikuhoumon-in), (1076-1096), Saigu

Princess Reishi/Yoshiko (1078-1144), Saiin

Prince Taruhito (Emperor Horikawa) (1079-1107)

Princess Shinshi/Yoshiko(Tsuchimikadosaiin) (1081-1156)

Nyogo:FUJIWARA no Doshi/Michiko (1042-1132) was the daughter of FUJIWARA no Yoshinaga

Princess Yoshiko (Rokkaku Saigu).(1076-1131)

Naishinosuke: FUJIWARA no Keishi/Tsuneko, was the fourth daughter of FUJIWARA no Tsunehira, and later became wife of FUJIWARA no Kinsada

Prince Kakugyoho (1075-1105) Ninna-ji Monzeki

MINAMOTO no Moroko (1070-1148) was the daughter of MINAMOTO no Akifusa and later became wife of FUJIWARA no Tadazane.

Prince Kakuhoho (1092-1153) - Ninna-ji Monzeki

MINAMOTO no Raishi/Tomoko was the daughter of MIINAMOTO no Yoritsuna

Princess Miyako (1090-?), Kamo Saiin

Daughter of FUJIWARA no Suezane

Princess Junshi (Higuchi Saigu) (1093-1132)

Kasuga-dono - was the daughter of FUJIWARA no Morokane and later became wife of FUJIWARA no Munemichi

Prince Shoeho (1094-1137)

Bizen was the daughter of MINAMOTO no Arimune

Engyo (1128-?)

Daughter of MINAMOTO no Masanaga

Gyokei (1101-1165) - Daisojo

Gion no nyogo

Sister of Gion no nyogo - Later on she became wife of TAIRA no Tadamori

Ro no onkata - was the daughter of FUJIWARA no Michisue and later on became wife of FUJIWARA no Saneyoshi

Ureshiki (Kamo nyogo) - the daughter of Sigesuke KAMOAGATANUSHI

Iwaiwo (Kamonyogo) - daughter of igesuke KAMOAGATANUSHI

Posthumous name, Tsuigo, different name

The Tsuigo of Shirakawa-in comes from the name of the residence from which he conducted his cloistered rule after abdicating the throne (sometimes Tsuigo is considered to be a type of pothumous name, however strictly speaking these are two different names). SHIRAKAWA was also named Rokujotei. He was named Emperor SHIRAKAWA in and after Taisho period.

Eras during his reign.




Imperial mausoleum

The Emperor was entombed in Jobodaijin no misasagi located in Takedajobodaiincho, Fushimi district, Kyoto City. Near this Jobodaiin, there is another poossible place that SHIRAKAWA was entombed in, which is regulated by the Imperial Household Agency as Ryobo sankouchi. All the past Emperors are enshrined in Koreiden, one of the Three Palace Sanctuaries.

Emperor Shirakawa initially wished to be buried after his death, and often mentioned this to his people, but he suddenly ordered to be cremated, when he learnt that the body of FUJIWARA no Moromichi, who was buried, was in the danger of being humiliated by monk soldiers of Kofuku-ji Temple, who were known to be opposed to Moromichi when Moromichi was alive, and planned to attack and open Moromichi's grave. It is said the Emperor's body was cremated in the Kita district, Kyoto City at a crematorium, monument of which still exists near the Kinkaku Elementary School.


Kei MIKAWA "Cloistered Emperor ShirakawaThe Emperor who started Cloistered Rule" published by Japan Broadcast Publishing Association in 2003. ISBN 4140019735

Related movies, television programs

"The New Tale of the Heike" 1955 (movie directed by Kenji MIZOGUCHI, SHIRAKAWA played by Eijiro YANAGI)
"The New Tale of the Heike (NHK Taiga Drama)" 1972 NHK Taiga Drama SHIRAKAWA played by Osamu TAKIZWA.

[Original Japanese]