Saionji Neishi (西園寺寧子)

Neishi SAIONJI (her name can also be pronounced "Yasuko") (1292 - September 6, 1357) was nyogo (a high-ranking lady in the court; a consort of the emperor) of Emperor Gofushimi; she was the mother of Emperor Kogon and Emperor Komyo. Her ingo (a title of respect given to close female relatives of the Emperor or a woman of comparable standing) was Kogimonin. She was awarded jusanmi (Junior Third Rank). In 1352, she ruled the Imperial Household as the head which was de facto Chiten no kimi; the retired emperor who controls the cloistered government (King), in order to maintain the Northern Court. Kogimonin Neishi SAIONJI was the only female, and only the person who was not a descendant of the Imperial Household, that became Chiten no kimi in Japanese history.

The first half of her life

Neishi was born in 1292 between Kinhira SAIONJI, in Juichii (Junior First Rank) and the Minister of the Left and FUJIWARA no Kenshi, in juichii (Junior First Rank). Her mother, Kenshi was from the lower class of the FUJIWARA clan; her father, Kinhira was from the Saionji family which had been succeeding the important position in charge of coordination between the Imperil court and the Kamakura bakufu (Japanese feudal government headed by a shogun) in Kanto Moshitsugi; Kinhira dealt with critical affairs of the Imperial court as Kanto moshitsugi. At that time, the Imperial Court was alternatively ruled by the Jimyo-in Imperial line (the imperial line of Emperor Gofukakusa) and the Daikaku-ji Imperial line (the imperial line of Emperor Kameyama); Saionji family was connected to both of them by marriage.

In 1302, Neishi performed Chakko no gi (the ceremony in which a child of the Imperial Household wears Hakama for the first time when she/he turned 5 years old) at Tominokoji dono, the palace of the Jimyo-in Imperial line; her entrance into the Jimyo-in Imperial line in future became almost certain. In April 1306, Neishi entered the inner palace of Emperor Gofushimi on the Jimyo-in Imperial line as nyogo (a high-ranking lady in the court; a consort of the emperor).

In 1308, the Retired Emperor Gofushimi adopted his brother, Imperial Prince Tomihito and enthroned him as Emperor Hanazono. On New Year's day in the following year, 1309, Neishi was deemed to be Junbo (a woman comparable to the birth mother of an emperor) of the Emperor Hanazono, and was awarded jusanmi (Junior Third Rank) and also was announced as jusango and ingo (a title of respect given to close female relatives of the Emperor or a woman of comparable standing); Kogimonin. After that, Neishi was treated as empress dowager, and acquired the empress position of the Retired Emperor Gofushimi (hereinafter, Neishi was referred to as Kogimonin in this section). Thereafter, Kogimonin had Imperial Prince Kazuhito (future Emperor Kogon born in 1313) and Imperial Prince Yutahito (future Emperor Komyo born in 1321) by the Retired Emperor Gofushimi.

After the reign of Emperor Hanazono, Emperor Godaigo on the Daikaku-ji Imperial line ascended the throne, however, he was overthrown (the Genko War) when his plan to overthrow the Bakufu was identified in 1331, and then Imperial Prince Kazuhito ascended the throne as Emperor Kogon. This allowed the Retired Emperor Gofushimi to be Chiten no kimi; Kogimonin became empress dowager in name and reality. That glory didn't last long, the Kamakura bakufu collapsed after the force of Emperor Godaigo made a comeback in 1333, soon after this, the throne of the Retired Emperor Gofushimi and Emperor Kogon was abolished by Emperor Godaigo.

In 1335, Kinmune SAIONJI, the nephew of Kogimonin abolished the throne of Emperor Godaigo, and made a plan to resume the cloistered government by Gofushimi to revive the Jimyo-in Imperial line, but it failed. In 1336, Kogimonin became a priest as the Retired Emperor Gofushimi passed away. After several months, affairs once again changed; Takauji ASHIKAGA who had beaten the force of Godaigo invited the Retired Emperor Kogon as Chiten no kimi, commencing the cloistered government with the Retired Emperor Kogon. Kogimonin regained the glory as the birth mother of the Retired Emperor Kogon. Kogimonin built Daikomyo-ji Temple in Fushimi Imperial Villa, Rakunan (the southern part of Kyoto) in 1339 in order to mourn the Retired Emperor Gofushimi.

Became Chiten no kimi

Kogimonin once again experience the downside of her life through the Kano Disturbance which mainly occurred around 1350 - 1352. In October 1351, Bakufu forces, mainly dominated by Takauji, concluded peace with the Southern Court, in need for competition against Tadayoshi ASHIKAGA, resulting in the abolishment of the cloistered government by Kogon and the throne of Emperor Suko, the child of Kogon (Shohei Itto). The force of the Southern Court regarded this as an opportunity, and in February 1352, they ingressed into Kyoto in a blitz, beating Bakufu army led by Yoshiakira ASHIKAGA. The force of the Southern Court aimed at the discontinuance of the Northern Court, and abducted Retired Emperor Kogon, Retired Emperor Komyo, Retired Emperor Suko, Imperial Prince Naohito, all other Retired Emperors and imperial heir to Ano in Yamato Province.

Thus, the side led by the Northern Court and the bakufu was left without a Chiten no kimi or Emperor to take the lead in government activities, resulting in the suspension of all government activities, staffing matters, ceremonies, and shrine rituals. The suspense caused by this affected them so much that both court nobles and warrior families lost their political functions. While the negotiations by the Southern Court for the return of the Retired Emperors and Imperial princes was becoming difficult, it had been identified that Prince Iyahito, the prince of the Retired Emperor Kogon, were remaining in Kyoto without being abducted by the Southern Court. At the time the negotiations with the Southern Court were broken, it was determined that Prince Iyahito would become the emperor. According to precedent at the time, 伝国詔宣 by Chiten no kimi was at least required even if sacred treasures were not available in order to succeed the throne. The greatest problem was the absence of the Retired Emperor who should make announcements.

To get out of difficulty, the plan to perform 伝国詔宣 by Kogimonin; the direct ancestor of Kogon, Komyo, and Suko, who stayed in Kyoto, in substitution for the Retired Emperor, was made.
On June 3, 1351, Yoshiakira ASHIKAGA, the bakufu representative, offered Kogimonin a position as the representative of the Retired Emperor, but Kogimonin expressed deep distrust for the bakufu and Court nobles, who had been unable to do anything when the three retired emperors and the Imperial prince were abducted, and she completely rejected Yoshiakira's offer,
The Bakufu had no choice but to obtain the acceptance of Kogimonin; they asked Kogimonin over and over, finally obtaining her approval on June 19.

Kogimonin's act for the Retired Emperor meant that she virtually would commence the cloistered government as Chiten no kimi. In fact, after June 19, ryoji (Her Highness' - as her majesty was called) regarding government practices and human affairs by Kogimonin was issued, and on June 27, the ryoji of `Official ranks or other issues would be restored as it was done before the incident of Shohei itto' by Kogimonin was issued; with this ryoji, all the government practices, human affairs, ceremonies started working again. In August 1351, Prince Iyahito became Emperor Gokogon after the ceremony of senso (accession to the throne). The Southern Court, which was supposed to have an overwhelming superiority driving the force of the Northern Court and Bakufu into a corner by abducting of the Retired Emperors or others; they lost their superiority almost as soon as Kogimonin accepted to take government practices.

Afterward, Kogimonin energetically worked on various government practices such as imperial succession, human affairs, estate disposal, rituals, and played a role as Chiten no kimi to the fullest. After she handed over the reigns of the government to Emperor Gokongo in 1353, she maintained her reign in the government as the head of the Northern Court, and died in 1357.


Historian, Akira IMATANI presents a view that offering the government practices to Kogimonin was proposed by the Bakufu, not by the Court nobles. In the middle ages, the custom that a widow takes over the Household after the head passed away was widely seen. Since this custom was not found among court nobles, the custom of warrior (samurai) society had an effect on the emergence of Kogimonin.

Besides, the system of shiki (the right of property, title, etc.) underlying Shoen koryo sei; the land governance system in the middle ages, started becoming unstable with the `transfer of shiki;' shiki was transferred using money or was not always succeeded by heredity while the succession of shiki (the right of property, title, etc.) had been based on hereditary transfer in most cases until then. As for the emergence of Chiten Kogimonin, there is a view that official ranks; Emperor, Chiten, became transferable, which led to the following incident; an attempted deprivation of the imperial throne by Yoshimitsu ASHIKAGA.

[Original Japanese]