Empress Kogyoku (皇極天皇)

Empress Kogyoku (594 - August24, 661) was the thirty-fifth Emperor of Japan (reign: February 19, 642 - July 12, 645). She assumed the throne a second time to be the thirty-seventh Empress Saimei. Reign: February 14, 655 - August 24, 661.

She assumed the throne two generations after Empress Suiko. Her imina (personal name) was Takara no Himemiko, also read as Takara no Okimi. Her Japanese-style posthumous name was Ametoyotakaraikashihitarashihime no Sumeramikoto. As for the pronunciation of her imina, Takara no Himemiko is popular – this is thought to be a title of respect that came about from later generations.


She was the first Princess (daughter) of Chinu no Okimi, son of Oshisaka no Hikohito no Oenomikeo, son of Emperor Bidatsu. Her mother was called Kibitsuhime Okimi. She first married Takamukuo and gave birth to Aya no Miko. Later, as the Empress (wife) of Emperor Jomei, she gave birth to Naka no Oe no Oji (Emperor Tenchi), Hashihito no Himemiko (Empress of Emperor Kotoku) and Prince Oama (Emperor Tenmu).

After Emperor Jomei, because they could not decide on which prince should inherit the throne, she was enthroned as Empress Kogyoku. According to "Nihonshoki" (Chronicles of Japan), the Empress administered affairs of state according to the Old Way. During her reign she relied heavily on her minister SOGA no Emishi, and his son SOGA no Iruka himself took the helm of the state. In the fourth year of her reign (645), Naka no Oe no Oji killed SOGA no Emishi and his son Iruka (Isshi no hen [the Murder in the Year of Isshi], Taika no Kaishin [Great Reformation of the Taika Era]) and Empress Kogyoku handed the Imperial throne over to Prince Karu, her younger maternal half-brother (later, Emperor Kotoku) (this was the first abdication of the throne in history). Emperor Kotoku gave her the title Sumemioya no Mikoto, meaning Founder of the Imperial Family.

In 655 after Emperor Kotoku passed away, she assumed the throne a second time (the first such occurrence in history). Crown Prince Naka no Oe no Oji was the power behind the throne. According to "Nihonshoki" she liked to have construction work done, and was criticized by those who saw the burden to laborers.
Upon the uprising of Prince Arima, SOGA no Akae raised the following three instances of misadministration by the Empress:
1. Large storehouses were built and the citizens' property was stockpiled; 2. Long trenches were dug and public grains were wasted; 3. Stones were loaded on a ship and carried over to make a hill.

Externally she exchanged envoys with the kingdoms in the Korean peninsula and sent an envoy to Tang (China). She sent ABE no Hirafu by sea to Ezo (northern Japan) three times.

In her fifth year of reign (660) Baekje was defeated by Tang and Silla. Hearing of the fall of Baekje and the resistance of the people left (those keeping old traditions after the fall of their dynasty), she sent Buyeo Pung, the prince of Baekje who was staying in Japan as a hostage, back to Baekje. To support Baekje, she travelled to Namba and commissioned ships and arms to be prepared, then travelled further west across the Seto Inland Sea, staying in Asakura Palace in Tsukushi Province to prepare for war. She died before the military departed on the expedition.

Chronological List of Major Events for Empress Kogyoku and Saimei


- Married Takamukuo.



- Appointed the Empress of Emperor Jomei.



- Emperor Jomei passed away.



- Assumed the throne.


- Azumi no Hirafu returned to Japan with Baekje's envoy for the dead.


- Gyoki, an expelled member of the royal family from Baekje, came to Japan accompanied by attendants.


- SOGA no Emishi commissioned a reading of the Mahayana Sutra in order to encourage rain, but it had little effect and rained only slightly, causing him to stop the activity on July 29.


- The Empress prayed to the heavens, and it thundered and rained heavily. The rain continued for five days.


- Commissioned the erection of Kudara-daiji Temple and the building of ships.


- Commissioned the palace to be built.


- Moved to Oharida-no-miya (Oharida Palace).



- SOGA no Iruka attacked Prince Yamashiro no oe, and a few days later the prince committed suicide.



- Naka no Oe no Oji and others killed SOGA no Iruka in the imperial court.
(Isshi no hen)


- SOGA no Emishi committed suicide.


- The Imperial throne was transferred to Prince Karu. Received the title Sumemioya no Mikoto from the new emperor.



- Ate a vegetarian meal with ten preceptors.


- Moved to Yamato no Asuka no Kawara no Karimiya Palace with Naka no Oe no Oji, abandoning Emperor Kotoku.



- Went to Naniwanagara no Toyosaki no miya Palace with Naka no Oe no Oji to visit Emperor Kotoku who had fallen ill.


- Emperor Kotoku passed away.



- Assumed the throne a second time at Itabuki no miya Imperial residence.


- She wined and dined 99 Ezo people of the north, 95 Ezo people of the east and 150 belonging to Baekje's envoy.


- KAWABE no Maro returned to Japan from the Great Tang.


- Attempted to build a palace in Oharida, but aborted.


- Moved to Kawahara no Miya Palace after Asuka Itabuki no Miya Palace caught fire.

Other Events this Year

Goguryeo, Baekje and Silla (Three Kingdoms of Korea) sent envoys to proceed with their survey. There were over 100 people in the envoy for Baekje, led by Commander-in-Chief Yogiju and Vice Commander Choshinjin.

Ezo and Hayato (an ancient tribe in Kyushu) led their people to pledge their loyalty to the empire, and brought tributes.

Silla took Yabu hostage and made another 12 saigijin, but Yabu died of sickness.



- Goguryeo sent an envoy of 81 people, led by Commander-in-Chief Tatsusa and Vice Commander Irino in order to advanced their survey.


- Sent an envoy to Goguryeo led by Commander-in-Chief Zenhatsumi and Vice Commander SAKAIBE no Ihasuki, accompanied by their followers.

Other Events this Year

Began to build a palace in Okamoto, Asuka. During the construction Goguryeo, Baekje and Silla sent envoys to proceed with their surveys, so she entertained them behind navy blue curtains. Eventually the palace was completed, and she moved in and named it Okamoto Palace.

Okamoto Palace caught fire.

A trench was dug from the west of Mount Kagu-yama to Mount Ishi-no-kamiyama, and stones were carried on ships to build barriers.

Yoshino no Miya Palace was built.

Ambassadors for the western seacoast Takunawa SAEKI and Kunikatsu YOSHIDO returned from Baekje and presented a parrot.



- Two men and four women from Tokara Province (current Kagoshima) drifted ashore at Chikushi and were put into her service.


- Had a statue of Mt Sumeru built to the west of Asuka-dera Temple, and held a Urabon-e festival (Festival of the Dead). - Entertained the Tokara people at the end of the year.


- Prince Arima disguised with madness, went to Muro hot spring and admired the scenic area. Happy to hear of this, the empress thought she would like to go see it for herself.

Other Events this Year

- Sent an envoy to Silla to convey her desire for priests including Chitatsu, Taiza Miumaya, YOSAMI no Wakugo to be sent to Great Tang with Silla's envoy. Silla disagreed, so Chitatsu and the others returned to Japan.



- Sadaijin (Minister of the left) KOSE no Tokuta died.


- ABE no Hirafu made an expedition to Ezo. Appointed OGA of Ezo, who had surrendered, to the position of Gunryo (district magistrate) of two counties – Yamamoto and Tsugaru – and entertained the Ezo people of Oshima Province at Arima beach.


- The imperial descendant Takeru no miko passed away at the age of eight. The empress was overcome with grief.


- About 200 Ezo people brought tributes. Entertained them more than usual and gave them Ikai (Court rank) and goods.


Receiving an Imperial decree, the priests Chitsu and Chitatsu travelled to Great Tang on Silla's ship and received the teachings of Xuanzang Hoshi (Buddhist priest) regarding asexual life (Hosso sect).


- Went to Kinoyu (Kino hot-spring).


- SOGA no Akae reported the rebellion of Prince Arima.


- Prince Arima was executed by hanging and SHIOYA Seiko and NIITABE no Yonemaro were beheaded.

Other Events this Year

- Shamon (priest) Chiyu made a shinansha (ancient Chinese vehicle with a compass whose needle always pointed south).



- Returned from Kinoyu.


- Went to Yoshino.


- Went to Hiraura in Omi Province.


- A man from Tokara came with his wife Lady Shae.


- Built Mt. Sumeru at the riverside to the east of Amakashi no oka Hill and entertained the Ezo people in Mutsu and Koshi Provinces.


- Ordered ABE no Hirafu to attack Ezo Province. ABE gathered 241 Ezo people from Akita County and the two Nushiro counties and their 31 slaves, 112 Ezo people from Tsugaru County and their four slaves as well as 20 Ezo people from Iburi Province all in once place and entertained them and gave them salaries. A Gunryo was placed behind them in Shiribeshi. ABE fought with Mishihase Japan and returned with 49 slaves to be presented.


- Sent SAKAIBE no Iwashiki and TSUMORI no Saki to Tang.


- Gave the imperial edict to a crowd of her subjects, had the Urabon-kyo Sutra preached to them by a temple within the capital and made them give offerings to seven generations of ancestors.



- An envoy from Goguryeo of approximately 100 people led by Gaesomun arrived at Chikushi.


- Ordered ABE no Hirafu to attack the Mishihase people. Hirafu was asked for help by some Ezo people from Watari Island (current Hokkaido) who had been attacked by the Mishihase at the side of Okawa River. Hirafu chased the Mishihase to Okushiri Island and fought and defeated his adversaries.


- Gaesomun and others arrived at Naniwa-no-murotsumi (Naniwa Lodge).


Gave the imperial edict to build one hundred Koza (the stage on which a rakugo storyteller sits) and prepare one hundred nokesa (Buddhist stole), and held ninno-e (Buddhist ceremony of lecturing Ninnogyo [the Sutra of Benevolent Kings] to keep the nation tranquil).

The crown prince (Naka no Oe no Oji) made the first rokoku (water clock).

ABE no Hirafu presented about 50 Ezo people.

Erected Mt. Sumeru near Ishigami Pond and entertained 47 Mishihase people.

Peasants across the country came and went on the roads carrying weapons for no reason.


- Gaesomun and his entourage returned to Japan. Genzuhashidachia, a Tokara man, asked for an envoy in order to return home and, leaving his wife behind, went on his journey of the western seacoast with several dozen attendants.


- Attached by Silla and Tang, Baekje went to ruin.


- Kenritsu of Baekje and the priest Kakuju came and reported that Fukushin KISHITSU was fighting for the revival of Baekje.


- Fukushin KISHITSU sent Kichi with about 100 Tang slaves as tribute, asking for reinforcements and the return of Prince Buyeo Pung. The empress dispatched troops to help Baekje and respectfully commissioned Pung to return home.


- Went to Naniwa no Miya Palace for armament.



- Travelled west by ship.


- Reached Ookuno Umi Sea. Ota no himemiko gave birth to a girl and named her Oku no himemiko.


- Stayed at Iwayu no Karimiya Palace in Nikitatsu, Iyo Province.


- Arrived in Na no Otsu and stayed in Iwase no Karimiya Palace.


- Fukushin of Kudara sent an envoy to ask for the return of Prince Kuge.


- Moved to Asakura no Tachibana no Hironiwa no Miya Palace.


- Tanra sent Prince Awagi to make their first tribute.


- Passed away in Asakura Palace.


- The crown prince arrived at Iwase Palace for to mourn for the empress.


- The empress's mourners began their sea journey home.


- The empress's mourners arrived at Naniwa Port.


- She was put in the coffin at the side of Asuka River. Mourners wailed for her until November 9.

Asuka Period (27th to 37th generations)

Ryobo (mausoleum)
It is said that she was buried in Ochi no oka no eno misasagi, and the Imperial Household Agency has designated Kurumagi Kennou kofun (tumulus) (round barrow, approximate diameter 45 meters) in Oaza Kurumagi, Takatori Town, Takaichi County, Nara Prefecture an imperial mausoleum of Empress Kogyoku/Saimei. However, some researchers have suggested Iwayayama-kofun Tumulus in Asuka Village, Kengoshizuka Tomb also in Asuka Village and Kotani Tomb in Kashihara City as possible candidates for the empress's Ryobo.

Basic Data

Generation: 35th and 37th

Gyomei (Emperor's Name): Takara, Ame no toyotakara ikashihitarashihime no mikoto.

Father: Chinu no Okimi.

Mother: Kibihime no Okimi.

Husbands: Takamukuo, Emperor Jomei.

Imperial Palaces: Asuka Itabuki no Miya Palace, Asuka no Kawahara no Miya Palace, Nochi no Asuka Okamoto no Miya Imperial Residence.

Reign: Four years (as Empress Kogyoku), seven years as Empress Saimei

She died in 661 (at the age of 68).

She is buried at Ochi no oka no ue no misasagi.

[Original Japanese]