Empress Jito (持統天皇)

Empress Jito (645 – January 17, 703) was the forty-first imperial ruler (empress regnant) of Japan. Her shosei (rule without having officially ascended to the Chrysanthemum Throne) began on October 4, 686, and following her enthronement, she ruled from February 17, 690 to August 25, 697. Her name was Uno no Sarara (also known as Uno no Sasara). She had two Japanese-style posthumous names: One was 'Oyamatoneko Ame no Hironohime no Mikoto,' which was used to refer to her in the description given in the "Shoku-Nihongi" (Chronicle of Japan Continued) of her cremation on January 31, 704; the other is 'Takamanohara Hiro no Hime no Sumeramikoto,' which was referred to in the "Nihonshoki" (Chronicles of Japan) as the name given to her in 720, a time when other emperors also received that kind of name.
(The word 'Takamanohara' appears in "Nihonshoki" only twice; one is this reference of the Empress Jito and the other appears in a part of Volume four at the beginning.)
The Chinese-style posthumous name, Jito, was given after a phrase 'Keitai jito' (maintenance of the imperial rule) by OMI no Mifune who also gave posthumous names to other emperors.

Her father was the Emperor Tenchi, and her mother was Ochi no Iratsume, a daughter of SOGANOKURA-YAMADA no Ishikawamaro. She married her father's younger maternal half-brother, Oama no Miko (Prince Oama, later the Emperor Tenmu), together with her older maternal half-sister, Ota no Himemiko. She gave birth to Kusakabe no Miko (Prince Kusakabe).

In the later years of the Emperor Tenchi, disputes over the succession to the Imperial Throne estranged her husband Oama no Miko from her father the Emperor Tenchi. Oama no Miko abandoned his position of Togu (Crown Prince), and after the death of the Emperor Tenchi, he moved to the Yoshino region in Yamato Province. Jito went down to Yoshino with her husband, and stayed there until the Jinshin War. Even after her enthronement later, Jito often visited Yoshino.

On her husband's enthronement, she became the empress. After her husband's death, she killed Otsu no Miko (Prince Otsu), a son of her sister Ota no Himemiko, suspecting him to be a rebel. She gave the investiture of the Crown Prince to her son, Kusakabe no Miko, but he died young before enthronement. After several years of shosei, she ascended the throne as an empress regent at Asuka kiyomihara no miya Imperial residence in 690.
(There is a description in "Fuso ryakki" [A Brief History of Japan], saying 'the empress conducted shosei at the government in the year of hinotoi [which means 687 here]; that she ascended the throne four years after; and that she put the capital in the Fujiwara Palace, Asuka kiyomihara no miya, Takaichi County, Yamato Province.)
She accomplished the construction of Yakushi-ji Temple in Yamato Province, which the Emperor Tenmu had started construction of with a prayer to God for healing the sickness of the empress during his life. She certified the temple as a chokugan-ji (temple built at the order of the emperor).

In 694, she transferred the capital to the Fujiwara Palace that she had been preparing. In 697, she gave the investiture of the Crown Prince to Emperor Monmu, a posthumous child of Kusakabe no Miko, at the age of 15. In the same year, she abdicated the throne and started to act as a guardian of the emperor. She became the first Daijo Tenno (the Retired Emperor or Empress) after abdication.

In 690, she conducted the first shikinen sengu (transfer of a deity to a new shrine building once in a prescribed number of years) in the Geku (the outer shrine) of Ise-jingu Shrine.

Blood relationship

Father: The Emperor Tenchi
Mother: SOGA no Ochi no Iratsume
Younger maternal half-brother or sister: Ota no Himemiko, Takeru no Miko

Husband: The Emperor Tenmu
Child: Kusakabe no Miko
Grandchildren: Karu no miko (the Emperor Monmu), Hitaka no Himemiko (the Empress Gensho), Imperial Princess Kibi (the empress of Nagaya-o [Prince Nagaya])


The Empress Jito had only one child: Kusakabe no Miko, who died young. Their direct descendants formed the Imperial line from the Emperor Tenmu, and played an important role in the field of culture and politics during the Nara period.

However, her great-great grandchild, the Empress Koken, was the last empress regent in the Imperial line from Emperor Tenmu, and the next emperor was Emperor Konin in the Imperial line from Emperor Tenchi. On this occasion came the end of the Nara period. A younger sister of the Empress Shotoku, Imperial Princess Inoe, was chosen as the empress to the Emperor Konin. Their child, Imperial Prince Osabe (the Empress Jito's great-great-great grandchild) received the investiture of the Crown Prince as a symbol of fusion of the two Imperial lines of Tenchi and Tenmu. However, he was suspected to be a rebel, forced to demote from nobility to subject, and finally died an unnatural death together with his mother. An older sister of Imperial Prince Osabe, Imperial Princess Sakahito got married to the Emperor Kanmu, and gave birth to Imperial Princess Asahara, who got married to the Emperor Heizei. But Asahara had no children.

Among the Empress Jito's descendents who demoted from nobility to subject, her great-great-great-great grandchild Mineo no Miko (Prince Mineo) received the surname of TAKASHINA no Mahito in 844, and became an ancestor of the Takashina clan. However, his child, Shigenori TAKASHINA (the Empress Jito's great-great-great-great-great grandchild) had the position of family head succeeded to his adopted child, so the Imperial line of the Empress Jito ended at his generation.

The Empress Jito had great grandchildren, including Hironari no Miko (Prince Hironari) and Hiroyo no Miko (Prince Hiroyo), who had to demote to subject, so their descendents are unknown. The Empress Jito's direct descendants from those two great grandchildren might exist at present.

Manyoshu (Collection of Ten Thousand Leaves) Poet
Her tanka (31 syllables' poem) appears in Manyoshu volume one as the 28th zoka (poems other than love poems and elegies), and her name is referred to as the Empress at Fujiwara Palace (Takamanohara Hirono Hime no Sumeramikoto; who started ruling in 686 for 11 years, abdicated the throne to Karu no Hitsugi no miko [Emperor Monmu] and became a Daijo Tenno [the retired empress]).

春過而 夏來良之 白妙能 衣乾有 天之香來山'
The above poem written in Chinese style is generally translated into Japanese like this: Harusugite natsu kitarurashi shirotae no koromo hoshitari Amanokagu-yama (It seems that spring is over and summer has come, as white robes are spread to dry on Mt. Amanokagu).
In Korai futeisho (Poetic Styles from the Past), it is translated like this: Harusugite natsu zo kinurashi shirotae no koromo kawakasu Amanokagu-yama (meaning is the same)

This poem also appears in Ogura Hyakunin Isshu (The Ogura Anthology of 100 Tanka poems by 100 Poets).

In Ogura Hyakunin Isshu, it is translated like this: Harusugite natsu kinikerashi shirotae no koromo hosucho Amanokagu-yama (It seems that spring is over and summer has come, for the white robes, so it is said, are spread to dry on Mt. Amanokagu).

Her mausoleum is Noguchio no Haka Tumulus in Hinokuma Ouchi no Misasagi Mausoleum (Oaza Noguchi, Asuka-mura, Takaichi County, Nara Prefecture). This is a joint mausoleum of the Empress Jito and her husband, the Emperor Tenmu. She was the first imperial ruler to be cremated according to Kofun hakuso rei (Simple Burial Act), which came into effect in 646. This mausoleum is identified as that of the Empress Jito with quite a high certainty, which is not the usual case with other ancient imperial mausoleums. She was buried with her husband the Emperor Tenmu, and her ashes were kept in a silver urn. However, the mausoleum was robbed in 1235. The urn was gone and the ashes were thrown away somewhere around the mausoleum.

"Meigetsuki diary" by FUJIWARA no Teika describes the whole story of the robbery. And the investigation report of the robbery, "Afuki no sanryoki," describes its rock chamber.

[Original Japanese]