Empress Gosakuramachi (後桜町天皇)

Empress Gosakuramachi (September 23, 1740 - December 24, 1813) was the hundred seventeenth Emperor, her reign was from September 15, 1762 - January 9, 1771. She was the last female Emperor in the Edo period, also the last female Emperor until the current era. Her childhood name was Isanomiya, Akenomiya, and her posthumous name was Toshiko.

Recently, she received special attention among the public as 'the last female Emperor' because of the current day problem of Imperial Succession.


She was the second Princess of the hundred and fifteenth Emperor, Emperor Sakuramachi. Her mother was the chancellor (chief advisor to the emperor) and Sadaijin (Minster of the Left), Yoshitada NIJO's daughter, Ieko NIJO (Seikimon in) who was the high-ranking lady in the court; an empress. Her older sister was Imperial Princess Moriko who died young, and her half younger brother was the hundred and sixteenth Emperor, Emperor Momozono.

Brief Personal History
She succeeded to the throne after receiving Emperor Momozono's will in 1762. However when the Takenouchi Shikibu incident (the Horeki Incident) occurred, Emperor Momozono protected his aides who worked for him since his childhood and it caused conflict between members of the family eligible for regents and chancellors who demanded the aides be expelled from their positions, as the Emperor had his Prince Hidehito (later known as Emperor Gomomozono) who was five years old, it was concerned that the same thing might happen to the Prince after his enthronement. Thus a secret meeting was held in the Imperial Palace with the heads of the five families whose members were eligible for the positions of Sessho and Kanpaku, it was decided to have a temporary Empress until Hidehito was old enough to succeed to the throne in the future, thus the Emperor's half older sister, Princess Toshiko, who had close blood relationship to Prince Hidehito and who maintained neutrality in politics, was appointed to succeed to the throne. This decision was made without asking approval from the government and it was reported to them afterwards as it was said to be a state of emergency, although such important issues, like Imperial succession, should have the government's opinion according to Court laws during the Edo period. Also this was the first enthronement of a female Emperor since Empress Meisho, in one hundred nineteen years.

The enthronement ceremony and the Great Thanksgiving Service (after Enthronement) were held in the same was as they were held for male Emperors. Her formal dress for the enthronement ceremony and the traditional formal court dress (ordinary formal dress, equivalent to Koro zen (yellowish brown color for an emperor - for male emperors) made of white silk fabric were worn, following the the example of Emperor Meisho (the fabric was made of figured cloth without a pattern). The style of the formal dress was prepared in the same way as it was done for the male emperor's, (Kokechicho, a type of skirt with tie dye design from the Nara Period, was added) in what is called the traditional formal court dress, which was a layered kimono (worn by a court lady) with Mo Karaginu Itsutsuginu. The costume for the Great Thanksgiving Service (after the Enthronement of an Emperor) and the Harvest Festival, which were not restored during Emperor Meisho's era, was Gosaifuku and Haku Gofuku, the former had the same finish as the male Emperor's, the only difference being, the hair style was traditional coiffure for Shinto priestesses, with the hair gathered so as to hang down from the back of the head, the latter was Mo Karajan Itsutsuginu with plain white silk. Ordinary dress was Ogoshi Hakama (loose-legged pleated trousers for formal wear). She attended Ko-chohai, the ceremony held at the beginning of a new enthronement. During her reign she often participated in Taime Girai such as Shorei (New Year's celebration). However she did not participate in Sechie so often (seasonal parties held in the Court), she only attended once at the Harvest Festival before her enthronement. Also, she did not come down to the garden at the Shinto ceremony held on New Year's Day in which the Emperor pays respect to the deities in all quarters, although a seat was arranged for her, she did not in fact sit on it. Basically, the Empress did not often appear for convenience although she attended various ceremonies the same way as male emperors do. She used to wear colored costumes after her enthronement, a piece of the cloth from her costume is kept at Kokugakuin University.

After nine years in power, she passed the throne to Emperor Gomomozono in 1770. However the era did not last long, Emperor Gomomozono died in 1779 without having a child. The Retired Empress Gosakuramachi consulted with one of the oldest courtiers, as well as the former chancellor (chief advisor to the emperor) and Uchisaki KONOE, she decided to adopt a child from the Fushimi no Miya family, and finally it was decided to adopt Emperor Kokaku (Imperial Prince Kan in no Miya Sukehito), who was nine years old upon the recommendation of the current chancellor (chief advisor to the emperor), Naozane KUJO.

It is said Gosakuramachi in looked after the young Emperor well as an retired empress after the Imperial succession moved to another branch. She often visited the Imperial Palace to see Emperor Kokaku. It is well known that the Retired Empress Gosakuramachi admonished Emperor Kokaku by saying, 'Keeping the era for a long time is dutiful to your parents' when the Songo Incident happened in 1789. Thus, she worked hard to restore the authority of the Imperial Palace, and was often called 'Mother of the country' as she was supportive to Emperor Kokaku, who established the ideological base for the reverence of the Emperor and the Meiji Restoration. She moved to the Shoren in Temple when there was a big fire in Kyoto, after that the Palace was named Awata Palace. The government built a corridor between the Chion in Temple, the temporary Palace of her mother, Seikimon in, and the Awata Palace.

In 1813, she died when she was seventy four years old. She was given the posthumous name of Gosakuramachi in. Since the Emperors who died after her were given the posthumous name of 'emperor' instead of 'in,' she was the last female emperor as well as she was the last emperor who was named 'in' after her death. She was a talented writer and left many books like the Shinki, Shinkan, and Goeiso as well as "The Kinchu Nenju no Koto" (Things not allowed inside the Imperial Palace throughout the year). She loved to study, after her enthronement, she asked Arihito KARAHASHI and Tominaga TAKATSUJI who were Inji (In no tsukasa served closely to the Emperor) to teach "Moshi" (The Book of Mencius), "Jogan Seiyo" (a book written about Taiso, the second Emperor of Tang Dynasty in China) and "Haku Kyoi" (Bai Juyi (Chinese poet between 772 and 846).

Eras during his reign

Horyaku (Horeki) (October 27, 1751) - June 2, 1764

Meiwa June 2, 1764 - (November 16, 1772)

The Imperial mausoleum

The Empress was entombed in Tsuki no Wa no Misasagi at Senzan-cho, Imagumano, Higashiyama Ward, Kyoto City.

[Original Japanese]