Empress Koken (孝謙天皇)

Empress Koken (718 - August 28, 770), the forty-sixth Japanese Emperor, was in power from August 19, 749 to September 7, 758. Her father was Emperor Shomu and her mother was Empress Komyo (Komyoshi) who came from the Fujiwara clan and was the first subject to become an empress in Japanese history. Empress Koken was the 6th empress in Japanese history and the last emperor (empress) of the lineage which stretched from Emperor Tenmu. She was called Imperial princess Abe before enthronement. Her name before death was Empress Hoji Shotoku Koken. She was also called Takanuno Sumeramikoto, Takano-himeno Sumeramikoto, and Yamatoneko no Sumeramikoto.

She returned to power as Emperor Shotoku after the reign of Emperor Junnin, the forty-eighth Japanese Emperor (Empress) and reigned from November 6, 764 to August 28, 770. Japan saw no birth of an empress for more than 850 years after Empress Shotoku until Empress Meisho in Edo period.

Crown Prince

Because Emperor Shomu and Empress Komyo finally ended up with no male children, Imperial Princess Abe, their daughter, was formally installed as the Crown Princess on February 6, 738, the first Crown Princess in Japan. She never married nor did she have any children. Possibly because she was meant to accede to the throne.

Empress Koken

Her father Emperor Shomu abdicated the throne to her in 749. Her mother Komyoshi (Empress Dowager Komyo) acted as her guardian and set up Shibi chudai (office in charge of the principal empress Komyo's affairs) for herself. Empress Dowager's nephew FUJIWARA no Nakamaro (later EMI no Oshikatsu) was appointed as director general of the Shibi chudai and he rapidly extended his influence with the backing of Empress Dowager. TACHIBANA no Naramaro rebelled against his influence, only to be defeated. Several Princes, the grandsons of Emperor Tenmu, raised an army in vain to seize the imperial throne.

Retired Empress Koken

In 758, upon the abdication of Empress Koken, Prince Oi assumed the throne to become Emperor Junnin who had the backing of Nakamaro. Retired Empress Koken repeatedly conflicted with Emperor Junnin, for example, she rejected to change the name of the era and resisted to give an honorary title to Imperial Prince Toneri (father of Emperor Junnin) which was eventually realized by the strong request from Empress Dowager Komyo.

Inspired by the Anshi War in Tang Dynasty, Nakamaro, (now EMI no Oshikatsu) who continued in power, planned to attack neighboring Shiragi (ancient Korean kingdom) and forged ahead with such policies as to change the names of domestic systems from Japanese style to Chinese style.

In 760, Empress Dowager Komyo passed away. The next year, Retired Empress Koken came to favor Buddhist monk Dokyo of the Yuge clan, who took care of her when she was taken with ill, which caused another conflict with Emperor Junnin who criticized her behavior. In 763, Retired Empress Koken returned to Heijo Capital, moved to Hokke-ji Temple on June 23, and, 10 days later, appeared as a nun in front of senior vassals to declare that she would deprive Emperor Junnin of authority.

Empress Shotoku

In September, 764, Nakamaro who had lost the backing of Empress Dowager Komyo, raised an army (FUJIWARA no Nakamaro's War) but was defeated, which triggered the second enthronement of Retired Empress Koken to become Emperor Shotoku who expelled Emperor Junnin in October of the same year
After assuming the throne, she appointed Dokyo to the responsible post of Daijo-daijin Zenji (Grand minister of state and Master of Zen Buddhism). Also, she picked KIBI no Makibi, lower-ranking government official, for Udaijin (minister of the right) to balance with Sadaijin (minister of the left) FUJIWARA no Nagate. In 765, she prohibited any kind of private ownership of land, except for temples and shrines, because the land was overly cultivated due to the Law Permitting Permanent Ownership of Newly Cultivated Land.

In 769, NAKATOMI no Suge no Asomaro, Kantsukasa (ritual official) of Dazaifu (Government Headquarters in Kyushu), reported the oracle of Usa Hachiman God that 'Dokyo shall assume the throne.'
WAKE no Kiyomaro was sent to Usa Hachiman-gu Shrine as an imperial envoy to ascertain the authenticity of this oracle which, he confirmed, was false. Dokyo got angry about his report and relegated Kiyomaro as Inaba no ingainoge and Emperor Shotoku expulsed him to Osumi Province (plot of Usa Hachiman-gu oracle). After this affair, she erected Yugeno-miya Detached Palace in Kawachi Province, the hometown of Dokyo.

The next year, Emperor Shotoku visited Yugeno-miya Detached Palace in Kawachi Province and declared to designate the place as the western capital of Japan but she soon fell sick and died about 100 days later. Kibi no Yuri (sister or daughter of KIBI no Makibi), a court lady (female servant), was the only person allowed to watch at her bedside and Dokyo never saw her until she passed away. Because no historical material suggests that the prayer (now it is just a superstition but was a highly respectable medical treatment at that time) was given to wish her recovery from illness, some people insists that she was left to die without receiving any medical treatment (there is even an assassination theory).

Emperor Shotoku was forced to remain single her entire life and never had children because she was a successor of the imperial throne. Since neither she nor her father Emperor Shomu had brothers, who had all died in power struggles, and there was no Imperial Prince, Prince or other descendants of Emperor Tenmu, who would have been adequate to accede to the throne, Shirakabe no okimi (Prince Shirakabe) (Emperor Konin), from the line of Emperor Tenchi, was enthroned with the recommendation from FUJIWARA no Nagate and FUJIWARA no Momokawa. Dokyo fell from the power and was expelled to Shimotsuke Province, and the private ownership of newly cultivated land, which Empress Shotoku had prohibited, was resumed.

Imperial Mausoleum
Takano no Misasagi Mausoleum in Misasagi Town, Nara City, Nara Prefecture, is identified as her mausoleum while the identification of Saki Takatsuka Tumulus in the Mausoleum as the Mausoleum of Empress Koken remains questionable because it is a keyhole-shaped tomb mound composing the Sakitatenami Burial Mounds.

[Original Japanese]