The Emperor Tenmu (天武天皇)

According to "the Kotofu" (the genealogy of the Imperial Family), the Emperor Tenmu (631 - October 1, 686) is the 40th emperor of Japan. (rein: March 20, 673 - Oct 1, 686)
Tenmu (天武) is his Chinese-style posthumous name, given by OMI no Mifune who also gave Chinese-style posthumous name to other emperors in Japan, meaning 'Heaven (天) sent King Wu (武) of Zhou and defeated the evil king (King Zhou).'


His Japanese-style posthumous name is Amanonunaharaoki no mahito no sumeramikoto. This Japanese-style posthumous name is very much influenced by Taoism. Yakusa no Kabane (the eight honorary titles) in which the title called Mahito was the highest, was established in November 684 to reform the old system of clans and hereditary titles. His childhood name, the Prince Oama (Ohoshiama, Osama), which he used until he ascended the throne, was related to the Oshiama clan (they worked as the chiefs of various departments at the Imperial Court for the Amabe clan) that took care of him when he was a child, and it was the custom of that time to take one's childhood name from someone who brought one up. Also, it is said that the name the Prince Oama (大海人皇子) doesn't include the Chinese character (凡), because they avoided his name to be Imina (personal name). Although some have a different theory, he is the third imperial prince of the Emperor Jomei and Takara no Himemiko (the Empress Kogyoku), and the younger maternal half-brother of the Emperor Tenchi and Hashihito no Himemiko.

According to "Nihonshoki" (Chronicles of Japan), he was a gifted and physically and psychologically healthy person and also was good at astronomy and astrology.

It is said that he liked playing Sugoroku (Japanese backgammon). It is said that he rewarded his subjects when he played Sugoroku with them.

The "Nihonshoki" contains many achievements of the Emperor Tenmu, however, because his son the Imperial Prince Toneri was the pivotal figure of compiling the book, some say that the Imperial Prince Toneri somewhat embellished the contents. The "Nihonshoki" describes that he was the Kotaitei (the younger brother of an Emperor so is heir apparent) of his older brother the Emperor Tenchi to begin with; however, some say that the book tries to deny the fact that the Emperor Kobun actually was the investiture of the Crown Prince, and justifies his succession to the imperial throne.

Some argue that the Emperor Tenmu changed the old name, 'Okimi' (great king) into 'Tenno' (emperor). The theory which argues that the Emperor Tenmu started using the title, 'Tenno' (emperor), is widely accepted.
According to this theory, the Emperor Tenmu was virtually the first emperor in Japan. (however, some say the title 'Tenno' (emperor) was first used much earlier, in the era of the Empress Suiko and some say much later, after 701 AD.)
People started to think of the emperor as a more god-like figure than before, and for this reason the court poet KAKINOMOTO no Hitomaro wrote a poem saying 'Okimi (the emperor) is a god.'

The below is a poem written by the meritorious vassal of the Jinshin War OTOMO no Miyuki after the Jinshin War, included in "Manyoshu" (Collection of Ten Thousand Leaves).
"Okimi wa kami ni shima seba midutori no sudaku minuma wo miyako to nashitsu" (大君は神にしませば赤駒の腹這う田居を都となしつ)
"Okimi has changed the deep-soaking rice field, in which even a red-haired horse could sink up to its belly, into a great city, because he is a god."
The emperor after being Arahitogami (god who appears in this world in human form)


He defeated Prince Otomo (the Emperor Kobun), the son of Emperor Tenchi, in the Jinshin War, and ascended the throne at the Asuka Kiyohara no miya Imperial residence. According to "Nihonshoki," it was agreed that the powerful Prince Oama would be the next emperor, however, contrary to the paper, in fact Prince Oama ascended the throne after defeating Prince Otomo. The fact about whether Prince Otomo was already the emperor at that time or not is still open to debate, because it decided who had rights and who didn't. If Prince Otomo already had ascended the throne then Prince Oama was the one who wrested the Imperial Throne from Prince Otomo.

Anyway, the Emperor Tenmu, after ascending the throne, enacted the Asukakiyomihararyo (a legal code of Japanese ancient state) and tried to put the Japanese nation under the Ritsuryo codes. In June 673, in order to establish bureaucracy, he decided to appoint officials who were from Kinai Province and were in the service of the court, Otoneri (Royal Attendant), and later gave them government posts depending on their ability. Not only the government officials (esp. one of low to medium rank) but also the common people could apply for the position of Otoneri. In 676, he opened the door of becoming government officials to people from outside Kinai Province, and appointed them in the position of Hyoe (palace guard) from the beginning. In 678, he also set up the promotion system related to service evaluation and rank promotion of government officials. In 684, he enacted the Yakusa no Kabane (the eight honorary titles) so as to establish the order of social status within the imperial court, and put the new system indicating court ranks by headgear colors in effect and made Imperial Princes able to gain court rank. In order to weaken Gozoku (local ruling family), he abolished Buqu (a serf) and also reformed the Jikifu system. He also laid consistent Tenno Ship Politics (pro-imperial family politics). For this reason, Daijokan (Grand Council of State) and Daibenkan (Major Controller) conducted the affairs of state and the position of Nagon without any practical power was given to the bureaucrats of high rank. The message of the emperor was conveyed to rural areas mainly by the Daibenkan. The Emperor Tenmu didn't appoint any ministers during his reign so as to strengthen the Tenno Ship Politics.

In order to enforce the domination of rural areas, in which he started establishing administration organizations. According to "Nihonshoki" he ordered Ise no o (伊勢王) to create borders separating countries in November 684.

The religious power of the emperor was also increased. They attached importance to the rituals of Ise-jingu Shrine, and the Hirose Tatsuta Festival was held as a state undertaking. It is said that Saigu (the ancient imperial princesses serving at the Ise shrine) was institutionalized in the era of the Tenmu dynasty. The Daijo-sai festival (a festival to celebrate the succession of an emperor) was separated from the Niiname-sai festival (ceremonial offering by the Emperor of newly-harvested rice to the deities) around this time and still is today. As for Buddhism, as the construction of the Daikandai-ji Temple was proceeded, the control of monks and nuns was strengthened.
According to one estimate the Emperor Tenmu (Tenmu Tenno) started using the Title of Emperor (Tenno). (some say the Emperor Suiko started using the title.)

Senseidai (astrology station) and Onmyoryo (a government office that had jurisdiction over calendar preparation, astronomy, divination, etc.) were established probably because the Emperor was good at Astrology, or they were influenced by the nations under the Ritsuryo codes like Tang and Shiragi (ancient Korean kingdom), in which Onmyodo (way of Yin and Yang; occult divination system based on the Taoist theory of the five elements) was popular.

The Emperor Tenmu built Yakushi-ji Temple, wishing for the Empress (later Empress Jito) to get back on her feet.
Yakushi-ji Temple was built in Asuka and later moved to the present location. (The original site of Yakushi-ji Temple is located in Kashihara City, Nara Prefecture, and now is called Moto-yakushi-ji Temple (former Yakushi-ji Temple).)

He built not only the Asuka Kiyohara no miya Imperial residence but also a palace in Nanba (Naniwa). The palace in Nanba (Naniwa) was Baito (陪都) (secondary capital city) that was the emulation of the multi-capital system of the nations like Tang. According to one estimate, building of Fujiwara-kyo was also started in the era of the Emperor Tenmu.

On the diplomatic front, they started accepting Shiragi-shi (envoy of Silla) and sending Kenshiragi-shi (Japanese envoy to Silla) because Shiragi unified the Korean Peninsula as one country in 676, and to secure the diplomatic relations with Shiragi they broke off diplomatic relations with Tang.

In the cultural aspect, they conducted a historiography project in which they wrote and amended "Teiki" (records of Emperor's family tree) and "Kyuji" (mythical tradition). It is said that HIEDA no Are who performed Kataribe (a reciter) when "Kojiki" (The Records of Ancient Matters) was compiled, was ordered to recite the "Teiki" by the Emperor Tenmu. The formulation of court etiquette including the Gosechi no mai Dance was also brought forward.

On May 19, 675 the Emperor Tenmu enacted a new law prohibiting a meat diet; conserving alevin was required and eating, beef, horse meat, dog meat, meat of Japanese monkey, and chicken was banned from May 3 to October 27.

On May 19, 675 the Emperor Tenmu enacted a new law prohibiting a meat diet; conserving alevin was required and eating, beef, horse meat, dog meat, meat of Japanese monkey, and chicken was banned from May 3 to October 27.

It is said that the earliest Japanese coin, Fuhonsen coin was also issued in the era of the Emperor Tenmu.

The Emperor Tenmu issued a Mikotonori (imperial edict) saying 'Wars are the heart of politics,' and ordered the government officials that lived in Kinai Province to train with weapons and practice horseback riding.

Probably as a part of the policy to put the Japanese nation under the Ritsuryo codes, he ordered the nation to change the hairstyle to Mizura, which was unique to Japan, in 681. The shape of mage (chignons) became suitable for wearing court caps from then.

In 682, they started using the color of Chofuku (cloths which the people who come to work at the court on a regular basis wear) to indicate one's Ikai (Court rank) instead of the color of the court caps.

The 9 accomplishments of the Emperor Tenmu'

Creation of the Title of Tenno (emperor)

Establishment of Onmyoryo and Senseidai

Imperial order to compile "Kojiki" and "Nihonshoki"

Establishment of the rite of Senso daijosai (the imperial enthronement ritual)

Scouting location and designing of the capital

Establishment of Yakusa no Kabane

Establishment of Asukakiyomihararyo

Establishment of Sanshu no Jingi (Three Imperial Regalia)

Establishment and beginning of Sengu (transfer of a deity to a new shrine building) at Ise-jingu Shrine

Reference: Manabu TOYA, "Onmyodo towa nani ka" (What is Onmyodo), published by PHP Shinsho

Year of birth and death

According to the genealogical chart, the Emperor Jomei was the father and the Emperor Tenchi was the elder brother of the Emperor Tenmu. A strongly-rooted theory still argues that the Emperor Tenchi wasn't the brother of the Emperor Tenmu, and another strongly-rooted theory says the Emperor Tenmu was either the Emperor Tenchi's older paternal half-brother or the older maternal half-brother. It is because while "Nihonshoki" says that the Emperor Tenchi was born in 626, "Ichidai Yoki" (summary chronicle of each reign) and "Honcho koin jounroku" (the Emperor's family tree, made in the Muromachi period) says that the Emperor Tenmu was born in 622 and "Konendai ryakki" (Short Imperial Chronicle) says he was born in 623 which is a few years earlier than that of the Emperor Tenchi.
Although according to a well known theory, the Emperor Tenmu and Aya no kimi, who was the son of the Empress Kogyoku and her former husband Takamukuo, was actually the same person (therefore the Emperor Tenmu was the older maternal half-brother of the Emperor Tenchi); there are no contradictions within the historical materials (The details are as follows.)
Also there is criticism against the theory, which says that it is not right to compare papers like "Ichidai Yoki" with "Nihonshoki" in equal measure because they were compiled in different times and under different situations. Although some researchers don't agree, the academy claims that the Emperor Tenmu was 55 (56) years old when he passed away and the year of birth should be in 631 if you back-calculate, even though the papers like "Ichidaiyoki" say he was 65 years old, because the academy thinks that the compilers of those papers mistook 55 for 65 in the text-editing operation. In either case his accurate year of birth is unknown.

The dates of birth of the Emperor Tenchi and the Emperor Tenmu indicated in major historical papers other than "Nihonshoki" (left: the Emperor Tenchi, right: the Emperor Tenmu).

"Ichidaiyoki" - 619, 622

"Renshou Mirror" - 614, unknown

"Short Chronicle of Kofuku-ji Temple" - 631, 640

"Jinno Shotoki" (A Chronicle of Gods and Sovereigns) and "Chronicle of Nyoze-in Temple" - 614, 614

"Jinno Shoto-roku" (a record of authentic line of emperor) and "Honcho koin jounroku" (the Emperor's family tree, made in the Muromachi period) - 614, 622

"Konendai ryakki" - 614, 623

Chronological list of the main events

631(unknown): The Emperor Tenmu was born.

668: It is said that he was put up to be the Kotaitei of the Emperor Tenchi (some disagree).

671: Although the Emperor Tenchi, who was severely ill, he asked the Prince Oama (the Emperor Tenmu) to look after his affairs when he was gone, the Prince Oama (the Emperor Tenmu) refused firmly and became a priest, moving to Yoshino.

672: the Prince Oama defeated the son of the Emperor Tenchi the Prince Otomo (the Emperor Kobun) in the Jinshin War

673: The Emperor Tenmu ascended the throne at the Asuka Kiyohara no miya Imperial residence.

675: The Emperor Tenmu abolished Buqu (a serf). He established Senseidai.

676: The Emperor Tenmu established Onmyoryo.

678: The Emperor Tenmu set up the promotion system related to the service evaluation and rank promotion of government officials.

679: The Emperor Tenmu visited Yoshino. He made the people like the Empress and the Prince Kusakabe swear not to fight each other over the right of succession to the imperial throne (Yoshino Pact).

680: The Emperor Tenmu built Yakushi-ji Temple wishing the Empress to get back on her feet.

681: The Emperor Tenmu established Asukakiyomihararyo. He put the Prince Kusakabe to be the crown prince.

682: The Emperor Tenmu abolished genuflect (a salute on bended knee) and adopted standing bow.

683: The Emperor Tenmu issued Fuhonsen coin.

684: The Emperor Tenmu established Yakusa no Kabane.

685: The Emperor Tenmu established the 48 grades of cap rank.

686: The Emperor Tenmu passed away (Hogyo, demise).

Imperial descendant
After the death of the Empress Shotoku, the great-great-granddaughter of the Emperor Tenmu, the grandson of the Emperor Tenchi the Emperor Konin took over the imperial line. Although the Emperor Konin's empress was the Imperial Princess Inoe who was the paternal half-sister of the Empress Shotoku, the Emperor Kanmu, the son of the Emperor Konin and his concubine, took over the imperial line and it has continued up until today.

Although the blood line of the Emperor Tenmu completely vanished from the Imperial line, a descendant of Imperial Prince Toneri was given the family name of KIYOHARA no Mahito and became the patriarch of the Kiyohara clan, and a descendant of Prince Takechi was given the family name of TAKASHINA no Mahito and became the patriarch of the Takashina clan; they both prospered for a long time. However, as for the Takashina clan, because TAKASHINA no Morohisa, the eighth generation decedent of the Emperor Tenmu, was an adopted son, the line of Emperor Tenmu stopped there.
Imperial mausoleum

The Imperial mausoleum, Hinokuma no Ouchi no Misasagi Mausoleum (Noguchino Ono-haka Tumulus), is located at Oaza Noguchi, Asuka-mura, Takaichi-gun, Nara Prefecture. He was being laid to rest with his wife the Empress Jito. This mausoleum is authorized by the Imperial Household Agency, and it is rare for an Emperor's tomb built in ancient times. The mausoleum was robbed and most of the funerary goods were taken away in 1235. It is said that the casket was opened and the body was pulled out, hence the Emperor's skeleton and gray hair were all over in the sepulcher. The cremains (her body was cremated) of his wife, the Empress Jito, were abandoned nearby and only the cinerary urn was taken away.

The episode of the grave robbing is written in "Meigetsuki" (Chronicle of the Bright Moon) by FUJIWARA no Sadaie. Also the condition of the rock chamber at that time was depicted in "Aoki no Sanryoki" written when the grave robbing happened.

[Original Japanese]