Taira no Shigeko (平滋子)

TAIRA no Shigeko (1142 - August 14, 1176) was Emperor Goshirakawa's Empress after the Emperor succeeded to the throne. She was the birth mother of Emperor Takakura.
She was a high-ranking lady in the court, the Empress dowager and Nyoin (an honorific title for the mother of an emperor, etc)
She was born in the Tosho family of TAIRA no Takamune forces, Kanmu-Heishi (TAIRA clan). Her father was Hyobu no Gon no Taifu (the high position equivalent to Dajokan, who dealt with samurai and weapons in the government, based upon the ritsuryo legal system), TAIRA no Tokinobu (Minister of the left, posthumously conferred), and her mother was Chunagon (vice-councilor of state), FUJIWARA no Akiyori's daughter, Sukeko. Her brothers were TAIRA no Tokitada, TAIRA no Chikamune, sisters were TAIRA no Tokiko (TAIRA no Kiyomori's second wife), Reizei no Tsubone (a lady-in- waiting fro Kenshumonin), Kiyoko (TAIRA no Munemori's wife), Bomon dono (TAIRA no Shigemori's wife, she might possibly have been TAIRA no Koremori's mother), FUJIWARA no Chikataka's wife (Gon no Shosozu (rank of priests), Zenshin's mother), Sochi no Tsubone (a lady in waiting for Kenreimonin). Her in go title (title of respect given to close female relatives of the Emperor or a woman of comparable standing) was Kenshumonin.

She was born in 1142, and was brought up by TAIRA no Kiyomori's daughter, Masako (Wakasa no Tsubone). Her father was a close aide to the Cloistered Emperor Toba, Shigeko also served the Cloistered Emperor's daughter, Imperial Princess Toshi (the Retired Emperor Goshirakawa's half older sister) as a lady in waiting. Since her brother, Tokitada's position was Ushoben (the rank equivalent to Shogoinoge (Senior Fifth Rank, Lower Grade)), he changed Saburai na (given name in the court) to Koben. With her beauty and brightness, she was loved by Emperor Goshirakawa. In May and June 1161, when the In Palace and the palace of Hoju-ji Temple completed, Shigeko entered into the palace together with Emperor Goshirakawa, and the Empress Kinshi, and was called 'Higashi no onkata' (respected way to call a female aristocrat). Although she was not able to become Nyogo (lady in waiting) because of her low social standing, Emperor Goshirakawa had a much greater affection for her than he did for the other Empresses.

On September 3, Shigeko gave birth to Emperor Goshirakawa's seventh Prince (Norihito). ("Sankaiki" (a diary written by Tadachika NAKAYAMA in the Heian period), "Teio Hennenki" (annals presumably established between 1364 to 1380))
Emperor Goshirakawa was thirty six years old, Shigeko was twenty one years old at the time. During this period, Emperor Goshirakawa and Emperor Nijo were severely opposed to each other taking control of political power, it was said there was a lot of criticism and complaining against the birth of Prince ("Hyakurensho" (History book from the Kamakura period)). In the same month, a plot to have Prince Norihito become Crown Prince was discovered, Emperor Nijo immediately took positions away from Tokitada, TAIRA no Norimori, FUJIWARA no Narichika, and FUJIWARA no Nobutaka to stop Emperor Goshirakawa's political involvement. In the following year, Tokitada, MINAMOTO no Sukekata were banished as they committed the crime of placing a curse against Emperor Nijo. Due to this incident, Prince Norihito's position as Crown Prince, and also receiving the title to become Imperial Prince were both cancelled. It was fortunate that Emperor Nijo's wet nurse was Shigeko's sister, Tokiko, there was no political pressure applied to Shigeko herself.

In July 1165 (old calendar), after Emperor Nijo died, Emperor Goshirakawa restarted his political activity, he issued the order to bestow the title of Imperial Prince upon Prince Norihito in December (old calendar), which he had wished to do for a long time. In 1166, after Regent, Motozane KONOE died, who was the supervisor of Emperor Rokujo, Emperor Goshirakawa allowed TAIRA no Kiyomori join his force, and he allowed Imperial Prince Norihito to officially become Crown Prince on 11 November. The ceremony was held in Higashi Sanjoin and Shigeko was given Jusanmi (Junior Third Rank) as the birth mother of the Crown Prince. On the following new year, she became a high-ranking lady in the court, and Norimori, Munemori, TAIRA no Tomomori, TAIRA no Nobunori of the Taira clan were appointed to be the Keishi (house officials) and Shikiji (a type of official position of different ranks in the government based upon the ritsuryo legal codes).

Emperor Goshirakawa visited Kumano with Shigeko in October and November. Emperor Goshirakawa followed the custom and had his mother, FUJIWARA no Shoshi visited Kumano with the Cloistered Emperor Shirakawa and the Retired Emperor Toba. It was confirmed and recorded that Shigeko visited Kumano four times including this visit. According to "Heike Monogatari" (The Tale of the Taira family), there was a legend that while Shigeko was performing a traditional Japanese dancewith the court music of (ancient) Japan called 'Konju,' it started raining suddenly, however she did not recoil and instead kept on dancing. This showed Shigeko had faith what she believed in and also had a strong personality. Shigeko strongly believed in the gods and Buddha, she often visited especially Hiyoshi-jinja Shrine and Hirano-jinja Shrine. Since Hirano-jinja Shrine was connected to the originator of the Taira clan, Emperor Kanmu, Shigeko prayed for the prosperity of the Taira clan.

In March and April 1168, Emperor Goshirakawa let Emperor Rokujo abdicate as it was initially planned, and then he let Imperial Prince Norihito succeeded to the throne (Emperor Takakura). After Emperor Goshirakawa gave the in go title (a title of respect given to close female relatives of the Emperor or a woman of comparable standing) of Kujoin to the Empress, FUJIWARA no Teishi on April 30, and since there was room for Shigeko to come in to the Palace, Shigeko was welcomed as the Empress on May 6. Dainagon (chief councilor of state), MINAMOTO no Masamichi was appointed to Kotaigo Gu Daibu (the Lord Steward to the Empress Dowager), and Ukone no chujo (a rank equivalent to Shinoge (Junior Fourth Rank, Lower Grade)), Munemori was appointed to Gonnodaibu (interim steward), FUJIWARA no Sadataka was appointed to suke (an assistant secretary of an office). In July and August Emperor Takakura gave the rank of Shoichii (Senior First Rank) Sadaijin (minister of the left) to his maternal grand father, TAIRA no Tokinobu and the Shoichii (Senior First Rank) to her maternal grand mother, FUJIWARA no Sukeko. In September and October Emperor Takakura visited the Palace of Hoju-ji Temple and paid respects to Shigeko.
When Shigeko was asked by the lady in waiting who previously used to serve with her at Josaimonin, 'How do you feel about this happy event?', she answered ' I don't take special notice since this is due to a good deed I did in my past life.' ("Kokon Chomon ju" (A Collection of Tales heard, Past and Present) Volume 8)

On May 17, 1169, Shigeko was appointed as Nyoin (an honorific title for the mother of an emperor, etc) and received the in go title of Kenshumonin. Many people from the Taira clan and their relatives, such as; FUJIWARA no Tadamasa, Tokitada, Munemori, Chikamune, and TAIRA no Tokiie, were appointed as Inshi (the staff for a retired emperor). The appointment of Tadamasa, the Grand Minister, the position of Nyoin betto (steward to the mother of the emperor) in particular was a rare exception. In the meantime, the Nyobo (lady-in-waiting) of Josaimonin (posthumous title given to Imperial Princess Muneko) was reassigned to Shigeko, and the position of Keishi (steward in charge of running the Imperial household) was filled by a close aide of Emperor Goshirakawa; there was considerable overlap between the three positions of Nyobo, Keishi, and Nyoin betto. Shigeko had to work temporarily as the head of the Imperial Family while Emperor Goshirakawa was away from the Palace, she had to receive and hear people concerning Jimoku (a ceremony for the nomination of officials) or other political matters.
It was said in "Tamakiharu" that 'there was nothing that Nyoin couldn't handle nor control concerning any small detailed issues about politics,' so whatever Shigeko said had a big influence on politics and she encouraged promotion for people close to her, like Nobunori (uncle), Munemori (adopted child), Tokitada, and Chikamune, (brothers). (However, because Tokitada and Nobunori, both lost their positions and were banished because of the Kao dispute, it was believed that Shigeko did not have enough political influence to stop Emperor Goshirakawa's political power.)

In February 1171, the coming-of-age ceremony of Emperor Takakura was held before Shigeko, which had been postponed the previous year due to the Denka Noriai Incident (the Incident occurred when TAIRA no Sukemori was insulted by the aides of Motofusa Matsudono). FUJIWARA no Kunitsuna, Munemori, and Chikamune helped arrange the costumes of those who were in close relationships with Shigeko. In November when Shigeko visited Fukuhara together with Emperor Goshirakawa, they were welcomed by Kiyomori. It is presumed that the marriage between Emperor Takakura and Kiyomori's daughter, TAIRA no Tokuko, was agreed upon at this time. On December 14 (old calendar), Tokuko went to the Palace of the Hoju-ji Temple to hold a Chakumo ceremony (a ceremony for the girls equivalent to the boys coming-of -age ceremony), and Shigeko tied Tokuko's Koshiboso of the Mo clothing (part of the ceremonial attire of a Japanese court lady's tie). That night, Tokuko made the Imperial Consort's bridal entry into the court to become Nyogo, in March on the following year she became Chugu (the second consort of an emperor). On June 1, 1173, there was a fire at the Kaya Palace of the Hoju-ji Temple where Shigeko used to live, Shigeko was guided by her lady in waiting, Kenju jo (the author of "Tamakiharu") and Chikamune to safely escaped from there. Emperor Goshirakawa who had confined himself in Imakumano Shrine was concerned about Shigeko's situation, he immediately returned to the Palace.

In November and December, the sacred palace of the Saishokoin within the Hoju-ji Temple was completed, which Shigeko had wished to be built, and Tokitada had been in charge of supervising the construction work. It was the Buddhist temple on a huge scale described as follows; 'the wooden building was magnificent, it had a solemn and beautiful atmosphere, it was the best Buddhist temple in the world.' "Meigetsuki" (FUJIWARA no Teika's diary in Chinese writing style) (an article on June 5, Karoku 2), also mentioned; 'This Buddhist temple was too beautiful and solemn, there was no other temple like this throughout history.' "Gyokuyo" (Diary of Kanezane KUJO) an article on November 21, Shoan 3. Saishokoin maintained its prestige after receiving a huge scale donation of a manor, on the other hand, there were many complaints continuously received in many Provinces that the imposition was too much of a burden for the people to bear for the construction of this temple. On April 26, 1174, Shigeko visited Itsukushima together with Emperor Goshirakawa. Munemori, Tomomori, and Shigehira accompanied the Emperor and Shigeko from the Taira clan, MINAMOTO no Sukekata, FUJIWARA no Mitsuyoshi, TAIRA no Yasuyori, and Saiko accompanied from the In Kinshin (trusted vassal).
Shigeko's Hogandai (court staff for a retired emperor), Tsunefusa YOSHIDA was surprised and said, 'This is an unprecedented occasion.' ("Kikki" (a diary of FUJIWARA no Tsunehisa) an article on the same day (April 26, 1174)

Between April 21 and April 23, 1176, there was a huge ceremony held at the Palace in Hoju-ji Temple for the cerebration of Emperor Goshirakawa's 50th event. It showed the Taira family at the peak of their prosperity in this event, having important people like Emperor Goshirakawa, Shigeko, Emperor Takakura, Tokuko, Josaimonin, the Taira clan and the court nobles all present at the ceremony.
When the ceremony ended on April 26, Emperor Goshirakawa and Shigeko visited Arima hot springs in Settsu Province. ("Hyakurensho")
Just after they came back from Settsu Province on July 22, Shigeko became ill. The name of the illness was Nikimi (a swelling). Emperor Goshirakawa did the best to look after Shigeko and tried to perform faith healing for her while she was in bed, however she did not get better. On August 6, Emperor Takakura asked eagerly to see his mother, however he could not see her after Sakino Daishokoku (the former Grand Minister) strongly opposed the Emperor seeing Shigeko as he was concerned the Emperor's Nikimi would get worse. On August 21, although she was looked after very well, she died with the age of thirty five years old.

Shigeko's death had a big impact on the political situation. Although Emperor Goshirakawa and Kiyomori had the same interest in having Emperor Takakura succeed to the throne, there were severe opposing views between the Taira clan and In Kinshin in terms of official government promotions or acquisition of an estate, a province, or a manor. It was Shigeko and the Tosho House of the Taira clan who helped to prevent the conflict between the two and negotiated their relationships. The conflict between Emperor Goshirakawa and the In Kinshin became apparent, all the sudden, after Shigeko died, since the Cloistered Emperor Goshirakawa's government was established after Emperor Takakura's succession to the throne, whose government consisted of an allied government made up of the Taira Samurai family, the Tosho House of the Taira clan, and the In Kinshin, and they all had the different political interests. Just one year after Shigeko's death, the Shishigatani Incident happened, the political alliance of Emperor Goshirakawa and Kiyomori collapsed. Shigeko's death was an overture to the end of the Taira clan, and it was the end of an era.


Shigeko's real personality was mentioned impressively in "Tamakiharu" (the diary of Kenshumonin Chunagon), written by FUJIWARA no Teika's sister, Kenju jo. Kenju jo was around twelve years old when she started serving Shigeko as her lady in waiting, Shigeko just became Empress at the time.
According to "Tamakiharu," she said about Shigeko, 'how beautiful she is, being surprised to see there was such a beautiful person in this world.'
It must have been true that Shigeko was exceptionally beautiful as she was praised highly and it was said in the "Kenreimonin ukyo no Daibu shu" (The poetic Memories of Lady Daibu), 'It is hard to describe how beautiful and young she is.'

Shigeko was not only just beautiful, as it was mentioned in "Tamakiharu," 'she had an extraordinary meticulous nature,' she exercised good self discipline for any occasion,' she always paid attention that the ladies in waiting did not get board, or she was constantly behaving in a dignified manner to welcome Emperor Goshirakawa and Emperor Takakura, she always stayed with Emperor Goshirakawa in the Palace while he visited her and had meals together.
It was said that it appeared as if 'all the furniture and the ladies in waiting were so beautiful and it was almost like they were shinning.' ("Kenreimonin Ukyo no Daibu shu")

Shigeko said the following about self discipline to herself, 'A woman's state of mind will show in her appearance." There is no point in blaming it on your own parents or the surroundings. If you control your mind very well and look after yourself, you will received unexpected happiness one day', Shigeko often used to say like that. There is no point to blame own parents or the surrounding.
If you control your mind very well and look after yourself, you will received unexpected happiness one day', Shigeko often used to say things like that. ("Tamakiharu")
According to "The Tale of the Taira Clan," it showed the different aspects of Shigeko and it was said that Emperor Goshirakawa's Prince, Prince Mochihito could not receive even the title to become Imperial Prince because Shigeko showed her jealousy, however it was understandable that Shigeko had such jealous feelings after thinking so much about her only son.

Although Shigeko did not live long, it was fortunate that she did not have to experience the fall of the Taira clan.
After the Taira Samurai clan fell into ruin, Imperial succession was passed by Shigeko's son, Emperor Takakura to his line, the Tosho family of the Taira clan also remained and kept their forces in the Imperial Palace as 'the family of the diary.'

[Original Japanese]