Nukata no Okimi (額田王)

Nukata no Okimi (also known as Nukata no Kimi) (dates of birth and death unknown) was a leading female Japanese poet who was active during the reigns of the emperors Kogyoku and Jito with poems in the "Manyoshu" (Collection of Ten-Thousand Leaves). She was a wife of Emperor Tenmu (according to some accounts, she was an uneme, a woman from a provincial official or notable family sent to court as a maid-in-waiting). Her name is usually written as 額田王 (as described in "Manyoshu"), while 額田姫王 (as described in "Nihon Shoki" (Chronicles of Japan)) and 額田部姫王 (as described in "Yakushiji Engi" (The History of The Yakushi-ji Temple)) are also used.

Relatives, etc.

According to "Nihon Shoki," Nukata no Okimi was a daughter of Kagami no Okimi who married Oama no miko (Prince Oama, later Emperor Tenmu) and gave birth to Tochi no Himemiko (also pronounced Toichi; Princess Tochi). Kagami no Okimi may have been a member of the ozoku (kozoku (the Imperial Family) who are second- to the fifth-generation descendants of an emperor) judging by the title '王' (O, which was used by male descendants of emperors up to the fifth generation), although his name does not appear in any other historical source; moreover, according to one theory, he may have been a great-grandson of Emperor Senka. Another theory is that he may have been part of the powerful family that ruled Kagamisato, Yasu County in Omi Province, and died in the Jinshin War.

According to some theories, the birthplace of Nukata no Okimi may be traced back to the former Nukata no sato village, Hegurino-kori in Yamato Province (the present-day Yamatokoriyama City, Nara Prefecture) or the eastern part of Shimane Prefecture (formerly Ou-no-kori in Izumo Province).

A theory (by Norinaga MOTOORI in his essay "Tamakatsuma" (A Jeweled Basket)) states that Kagami no Okimi (鏡王女), who appears in "Manyoshu" and "Nihon Shoki" may be an elder sister of Nukata no Okimi, assuming that '鏡王女' means '女 (daughter of) 鏡王(Kagami no O)', but this may be far-fetched. A new hypothesis derived from the same assumption states that '女 (daughter of) 鏡王' might actually have been Nukata no Okimi herself.

The story that after she gave birth to Tochi no Himemiko, Nukata no Okimi was loved by Nakano Oe no Oji (also pronounced Nakano Oe no Miko; Prince Nakano Oe, later Emperor Tenchi), who was the elder brother of Emperor Tenmu, is widely believed but there is no proof. The only circumstantial evidence consisted of the poems in "Manyoshu." The following two poems are generally read with the assumption that Nukata no Okimi was involved in a love triangle with Emperor Tenchi and Emperor Tenmu.

As you ride back and forth through the fields of gromwell plants, As you ride back and forth through the Imperial hunting fields marked off with sacred ropes, will not the field-watchers have seen your waving of the sleeves at me? (Vol. 1: 20, composed by Nukata no Okimi)
If I did not care for you, beautiful as the gromwell flower, would I still love you, even though you are another's wife? (Vol. 1: 21, composed by Oama no miko)
On the contrary, because Yasaburo IKEDA and Kenkichi YAMAMOTO wrote in "Manyo Hyakka" (A Hundred Poems from the Manyo-shu) that these two poems might have been composed for entertainment during a banquet, their view has been accepted as the common view among academics. Among her late poems, Nukata no Okimi had Zotoka (poetry exchanged between a man and a woman) with Yuge no miko (Prince Yuge) when the Prince accompanied Empress Jito to Yoshino; judging by the period of the imperial visit, Nukata no Okimi would certainly have lived into her sixties.

Itsuko OKABE, Takeshi UMEHARA and others presented a new view that an inscription '比売朝臣額田' found in 'National Treasures of Tanzan-jinja' (National Treasure) owned by Tanzan-jinja shrine may be the new name for Nukata no Okimi after descending to the status of a subject. Although the truth remains unknown due to the lack of historical sources, it was somewhat doubtful that Nukata no Okimi, who was a member of ozoku was granted the title Ason (also pronounced Asomi, granted to powerful families descended from the Imperial Family). If this was the case, Nukata no Okimi remarried NAKATOMI no Oshima, who was a leading member of the Fujiwara clan of those days, and lived to be nearly 80 years old.


It is a commonly accepted view in novels that Nukata no Okimi was a woman of unmatched beauty. However, there are few remaining historical sources about Nukata no Okimi and none regarding her appearance. According to Nobuyuki Kajikawa (in his "Tsukurareta Manyo no Kajin: Nukada no Okimi" (Fabricated Manyo Poet: Nukada no Okimi)), "Kogane Isago" (A Commentary on Manyoshu), written by Akinari UEDA, was one of the earliest examples in which a description of Nukata no Okimi's appearance was given. Descriptions of her appearance were added based on the above poems which suggest a love triangle. Some of the earliest descriptions of the love triangle were made in the Edo period by people such as Mitsue FUJITANI (in his "Manyoshu tomoshibi" (Light on Manyoshu)) and Nobutomo BAN (in his "Nagara no Yamakaze" (The Mountain Wind of Nagara)). In any case, 'legends' are so deeply rooted that, according to Kajikawa, his remarks that Nukata no Okimi's beauty was groundless once made his audiences turn on him. Haku ITO (scholar of Manyo) had a similar anecdote that a woman asked him to withdraw the remarks he had made in his lecture, which was also that there was no proof regarding the generally accepted impression of Nukata no Okimi ("Manyo no Kajin to Sakuhin" (Poets and their Works in Manyoshu)). Akira FUJIEDA had a similar anecdote concerning his lecture on Prince Shotoku (Seiichi OYAMA "'Shotoku Taishi' no tanjo" (The Birth of 'Shotoku Taishi')). The above-mentioned cases are examples of the large gap between what is understood regarding a historical figure from historical sources and what is generally thought about the figure.

[Original Japanese]