Emperor Sutoku (崇徳天皇)

Emperor Sutoku (July 7, 1119 - September 14, 1164) was the seventy-fifth Japanese Emperor (his reign lasted from 1123 to 1142). After he abdicated the throne, he came to be called Shin in (the new ex-emperor) or Sanuki in. His posthumous name was Akihito.


His father was Emperor Toba. His mother was the second consort of the Emperor, FUJIWARA no Shoshi (Tai ken mon in), who was the daughter of FUJIWARA no Kinzane. He was the first prince of Emperor Toba; however, he was treated coldly. According to an old book, "Koji Dan," Emperor Sutoku was not Emperor Toba's real child but the child of Emperor Toba's grandfather, Emperor Shirakawa, and Tai ken mon in, since Tai ken mon in had been passed from Emperor Shirakawa to Emperor Toba. Once the father, Emperor Toba, learned of this, he called Emperor Sutoku "Ojiko," which means "not my child but the grandfather's child." This, however, is only referred to in "Koji Dan"; there is no proof that the story is true.

The Young Emperor

In 1123, the Emperor succeeded to the throne at age five, the Emperor Toba having passed the throne to him, but the Cloistered Emperor Shirakawa in his pious life had an influence on politics. After Shirakawa died, his father, Toba, who had become an ex-emperor with political power, treated Emperor Sutoku coldly; consequently, Emperor Sutoku abdicated and his younger half-brother, Emperor Konoe, succeeded to the throne on April 28, 1142. The Emperor Sutoku wished to rule his cloister government since the new Emperor was his second consort, FUJIWARA no Seishi's adopted son; however, according to the statement of succession to the throne issued by Toba, he was stated as the 'younger brother of the prince' and therefore lost his position as the new Emperor's father; thus his intention to rule his cloister government was stopped through clever means.

The retired Emperor Without Political Power

Thus Emperor Toba, the ex-emperor with political power, in fact ruled the government once Emperor Sutoku became an ex-emperor, and as a result Sutoku was dissatisfied with the situation. Konoe's mother, Bifuku mon in, adopted Sutoku's eldest child, Imperial Prince Shigehito, to placate Sutoku. Given the above, in the event Konoe had no chance of succeeding to the Imperial Throne, there was a possibility for Shigehito to become a successor to the throne; however, Imperial Prince Morihito, the son of Sutoku's younger half-brother Imperial Prince Masahito, was also adopted, so that it ultimately became a factor of the Hogen War as a fight for imperial succession in later years.

In 1155, after Emperor Konoe died, it was discussed by Emperor Toba, Bifuku mon in, FUJIWARA no Tadamichi and Shinzei, in the Emperor's agreement to decide upon the imperial successor, the two candidates being Imperial Prince Shigehito and Imperial Prince Morihito. However, because Sutoku was disfavored by Toba and Bifuku mon in was concerned about her position after Sutoku started his cloister government, and Shinzei wanted Imperial Prince Masahito to succeed to the throne since he was the educator and had the intention of entering the political arena, they all agreed that Prince Morihito should succeed to the throne, while Morihito's father, Prince Masahito, was put in the position until Morihito's official enthronement could take place. It was Emperor Goshirakawa.

The Hogen War

Around July 2, 1156, before Emperor Toba died, Goshirakawa prevented Sutoku and Toba from meeting by having Kebiishi, a political and judicial chief, patrol the palace; Emperor Toba's memorial day, seven days after his death, was organized by the Goshirakawa force before Sutoku had a chance to visit the palace, given that he was obviously wary of Sutoku.

On July 10, a desperate Sutoku entered into Shirakawa dono (the Cloistered Emperor Shirakawa's Palace in Sakyo Ward, Kyoto City) with FUJIWARA no Yorinaga, and gathered samurai like TAIRA no Tadamasa, Taira no Iehiro and MINAMOTO no Tameyoshi to fight against Goshirakawa's force (the Hogen War). However, Emperor Toba had already instructed important samurai to protect Goshirakawa if anything should happen, and on July 11 TAIRA no Kiyomori, MINAMOTO no Yoshitomo and MINAMOTO no Yoshiyasu made a breakaway nighttime attack into Shirakawa dono, and consequently Sutoku's force was defeated by the Goshirakawa force. Yorinaga was hit by an arrow and died six days later; Tadamasa, Iehiro and Tameyoshi were caught and executed; Sutoku left for Ninna-ji Temple and left his hair down. Once Sutoku came before Goshirakawa but was not accepted as a priest; instead, he was sentenced to deportation to Sanuki Province. Thus Emperor Sutoku was called 'Sanuki in' after this incident.


Emperor Sutoku became very attached to the religion while living under house arrest in Sanuki, and his dream was to enter (the Buddhist) paradise. He focused on editing a manuscript book of the Five Mahayana Sutras (Hoke-kyo (the Saddharma Pundariks Sutra), Kegon-kyo (the Avatamska Sutra), Nehan-kyo, Daijik-kyo, Daibon hannya-kyo) and accordingly he sent copies of the five book to the Imperial Palace so that they would be kept in the palace temple, praying for people who had died in the war and with regret for what happened; however, the ex-emperor Goshirakawa, who held political power, refused this offer and said the book might have bad spirits, whereupon the palace, under his influence, sent the books back to Sutoku.
Sutoku got furious with Imperial Palace's response, he bit his tongue and wrote on his manuscript book with his blood, ' I will become evil spirit in Japan and change Emperors into ordinary people, ordinary people into Emperor.' 'I will pray for this manuscript book to be used in evil direction.'
It was even said he grow his hair and nails looking like Yasha (a yaksa; a demon), then became a mountain spirit. He died on September 14, 1164 in Sanuki. It is said he was associated by Chikayasu MIKI (三木近安). It is also said when his body was cremated, the smoke went to the direction where capital city was.

The Legend of the Curse

A legend of a curse has been rumored in connection with Emperor Sutoku since the old days, because he died in an unfortunate way.

After Emperor Sutoku died, the samurai Taira clan took control of politics; however, a disastrous fire occurred and there were many wars at the end of their reign (just as there were in the following period, which was rumored as being due to Emperor Sutoku's curse), as well as the Yowa dearth. Then the Taira family escaped from the city and there was a tyranny by Yoshinaka KISO, and as a result many catastrophes occurred in Kyoto.
Soon after that Taira-Minamoto War occurred, the Kamakura bakufu (Japanese feudal government headed by a shogun) was established, Emperor Gotoba was sentenced to deportation after The Jokyu War, the Imperial Palace feared the wrath of Sutoku's. (Goryo Shinko)

On July 29, 1177, the posthumous name of 'Sutoku' was decided, and on the same day, after his death, FUJIWARA no Yorinaga was given the Juichii (junior first rank), as a grand minister. In Juei 2, Sutoku's mausoleum was established and Awata no yashiro was built in Kasugakawara (春日河原) where The Hogen War occurred. However it was run down after the Onin War and merged with Hirano no yashiro 平野社 during Tenbun (Tenmom) period. It is also said that the Tonsho-ji Temple (present day Shiromine-ji Temple), which was built near the Emperor's mausoleum by local people soon after his death, was protected by the government.

On the other hand there is another theory that Emperor Sutoku's spirit protect the whole area of Shikoku area after ages. The retired Emperor Tsuchimikado (a grand-grandchild of Goshirakawa) was sentenced to deportation to Tosa Province after the Jokyu War, and when he passed near the mausoleum he played the biwa (Japanese lute) to calm Sutoku's spirit; later, the retired Emperor Tshuchimikado had a dream of Sutoku and promised that he would protect himself and his family members left in the city. After that it is said that retired Emperor Tsuchimikado's child, Emperor Gosaga, succeeded to the Imperial Throne with the recommendation of the Kamakura bakufu. Also, when Yoriyuki HOSOKAWA, Kanrei, a shogunal deputy of the Muromachi bakufu (Japanese feudal government headed by a shogun), became a guard of the Shikoku area, he prayed for Emperor Sutoku's spirit and succeeded in governing the Shikoku area; subsequently, Emperor Sutoku was worshiped as a guiding spirit of the HOSOKAWA clan.

In later years Emperor Meiji built Shiromine-jingu Shrine after sending his emissary to Sanuki and allowed Sutoku's spirit to return to Kyoto.


The Emperor ordered the editing of Shika Waka Shu (the collection of Waka poems edited by emperor's order during late Heian perild) (the sixth in a collection of 21 volumes). In 1151 the collection was completed and shown to the Imperial Palace. The editor was FUJIWARA no Akisuke.

The Emperor had 23 poems in Senzai Waka Shu. (the collection of Waka poems edited by FUJIWARA no Shunzei by emperor's order dueing late Heian period) (the seven in a collection 8 volumes)

Kyuan Hyaku shu (the collection of one hundred poems in Kyuan (the late Heian period) period)

It came from "One hundred Poems by One Hundred Poets."

The stream of the river separates into two streams after hitting the rock, but it will become one stream again if the stream is like our life, although if I love someone but we can not be together in this life, I can be together with him in my next life. (Sutoku-in)

The same as above

This poem is included as an element in the traditional Rakugo (traditional comic storytelling) performance called 'Sutoku in.'
There is no causal relationship between this poem and the Hogen War.

Eras During His Reign

Tenji (April 3, 1124) - January 22, 1126
Taiji January 22, 1126 - January 29, 1131
Tensho (Tenjo) January 29, 1131 - August 11, 1132
Chosho (Chojo) August 11, 1132 - April 27, 1135
Hoen April 27, 1135 - July 10, 1141
Eiji July 10, 1141 - (April 28, 1142)

The Imperial Mausoleum

The Emperor was entombed at Shiramine no misasagi in Omi-cho Town, Sakaide City, Kagawa Prefecture.

Related TV programs and movies

"Yumihari zuki (A Crescent Moon)" (1955, directed by Santaro MARUNE and played by Masao KATO)
"Shin Heike Monogatari (The New Tale of the Taira family)" (1972 HNK Taiga Historical Drama, played by Masakazu TAMURA)

[Original Japanese]