Empress Gensho (元正天皇)

Empress Gensho (680 – May 22, 748) was the forty-fourth emperor of Japan (empress regnant who reigned from October 3, 715, to March 3, 724), who lived in the Nara period. Her father was Kusakabe no miko (the term miko refers to imperial prince), a son of Emperor Tenmu and Empress Jito, and her mother was Empress Genmei. She was an older sister of Emperor Monmu. Her name before enthronement was Hitaka no himemiko (the term himemiko refers to imperial princess). Her Japanese-style posthumous name is Yamato neko tamamizu kiyotarashi hime no sumeramikoto (the term sumeramikoto refers to emperor). She is the fifth empress regnant in Japan, who, in contrast to the previous empresses having been empresses consort or crown princesses, had never gotten married and was single at enthronement, thus being the first virgin empress of Japan. In addition, she was the only emperor of Japan, who experienced succession to the throne through the maternal line, from mother to daughter (N.B. her father Kusakabe no miko was a male imperial family member descended through a line of males, and therefore the male imperial blood line was maintained).

Since her younger brother Emperor Monmu's son Obito no miko (the future Emperor Shomu) was still young, she ascended the throne as her mother Empress Genmei abdicated. In an imperial edict issued at the time of her mother Empress Genmei's abdication as recorded in "Shoku Nihongi" (Chronicles of Japan Continued), she was described as being gracious, calm, glamorous and beautiful.

In 710, the capital was transferred to Heijo-kyo. A period from this year to the transfer of the capital to Heian-kyo in 794, is classified as the Nara period.

In 717, the compilation of Yoro ritsuryo code (code promulgated in the Yoro period) started, which was led by FUJIWARA no Fuhito as the main editor.

In 720, "Nihon Shoki" (Chronicles of Japan) completed. In the same year, FUJIWARA no Fuhito died of a disease. The next year Nagaya no okimi was appointed Udaijin (Minister of the Right) and he became the de facto administrator of the government affairs. Nagaya no okimi was a cousin of the Empress Gensho and was the husband of Imperial Princess Kibi no naishinno, a younger sister of the Empress Gensho. The first son of Fuhito, FUJIWARA no Muchimaro, was a Chunagon (middle councilor) and the second son, FUJIWARA no Fusasaki, was still a Sangi (councilor; but he later became an Uchitsuomi or Naishin [government post equivalent of minister]).

In 723, Sanze isshin no ho (the law to assure the possession of the reclaimed land for three generations) was established in order to deal with the lack of rice fields. Accordingly, the ritsuryo system (a system of centralized government based on the ritsuryo code) started to lose its ruling power that had lasted only for a short period.

On March 3, 724, the Empress abdicated the throne in favor of the crown prince (Emperor Shomu). In the Imperial Abdication Edict, the Empress referred to the new emperor as 'my son' to proclaim guardianship, thereafter supporting Emperor Shomu after abdication.

In 743, the Emperor Shomu fell ill and was unable to continue his work. The Retired Empress issued an imperial edict to proclaim continued guardianship, referring to him as 'my son' again. In the following year, she issued an imperial decree to transfer the capital to Naniwa-kyo on behalf of the sick emperor. In the last years of her life, the Retired Empress supposedly carried out the affairs of state together with TACHIBANA no Moroe and FUJIWARA no Nakamaro, in place of the Emperor Shomu who was too ill to attend to affairs of state and, instead, tended to devote himself to Buddhism.

[Original Japanese]