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Emperor Kōnin

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Title: Emperor Kōnin  
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Subject: Empress Kōken, Takano no Niigasa, Emperor Shōkō, Kōzan-ji, List of Emperors of Japan
Collection: 709 Births, 782 Deaths, 8Th-Century Monarchs in Asia, Japanese Emperors
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Emperor Kōnin

Emperor of Japan
Crown Prince (親王 Shinnō)
Reign 770
Coronation August 28, 770
Emperor (天皇 Tennō)
Reign 770–781
Enthronement October 23, 770
Predecessor Shōtoku
Successor Kammu
Born 709
Died 782
Heijō-kyō (Nara)
Burial Tahara no higashi no misasagi (Nara)
Empress Princess Inoe (Princess Ikami) (717–775), deposed in 772
Era name and dates
Hōki, Ten'ō: 770–781, 781–782
Father Prince Shiki, son of Tenji
Mother Ki no Tochihime, daughter of Ki no Morohito

Emperor Kōnin (光仁天皇 Kōnin-tennō, November 18, 709 – January 11, 782) was the 49th emperor of Japan,[1] according to the traditional order of succession.[2] Kōnin's reign lasted from 770 to 781.[3]


  • Traditional narrative 1
    • Events of Kōnin's life 1.1
    • Eras of Kōnin's reign 1.2
  • Legacy 2
  • Political conflict around his successors 3
  • Kugyō 4
  • Consorts and children 5
  • Notes 6
  • References 7
  • See also 8

Traditional narrative

The personal name of Emperor Kōnin (imina) was Shirakabe (白壁)[4] As a son of Imperial Prince Shiki and a grandson of Emperor Tenji,[5] his formal style was Prince Shirakabe. Initially, he was not in line for succession, as Emperor Temmu and his branch held the throne.

He married Imperial Princess Ikami, a daughter of Emperor Shōmu, producing a daughter and a son. After his sister in law, Empress Shōtoku (also Empress Kōken), died, he was named her heir. The high courtiers claimed the empress had left her will in a letter in which she had appointed him as her successor. Prior to this, he had been considered a gentle man without political ambition.

Kōnin had five wives and seven Imperial sons and daughters.[6]

Emperor Kōnin is traditionally venerated at his tomb; the Imperial Household Agency designates Tahara no Higashi no Misasagi (田原東陵, Tahara no Higashi Imperial Mausoleum), in Nara, Nara, as the location of Kōnin's mausoleum.[1]

Events of Kōnin's life

  • September 8, 769 (Jingo-keiun 3, 4th day of the 8th month[7]): In the 5th year of Empress Shōtoku's reign, she died; she is said to have written a letter designating Senior Counselor Prince Shirakabe as her heir and crown prince.[8]
  • August 28, 770[9] (Jingo-keiun 4, 4th day of the 8th month[10]): Exactly one (Japanese era-based) year later, the succession (senso) was received by Kōnin, who was the 62-year-old grandson of Emperor Tenji.[11]
  • October 23, 770 (Jingo-keiun 4, 1st day of the 10th month[12]): Emperor Kōnin was said to have acceded to the throne (sokui) in a formal ceremony, following the plans of the nobles and ministers to have him placed on the throne. The era name was also changed on this date, to Hōki[13]
  • 781 (Ten'ō 1, 4th month[14]): The emperor abdicated in favor of his son Yamabe, who became Emperor Kammu. Emperor Kōnin's reign had lasted for 11 years.[6]
  • 781 (Ten'ō 1, 12th month[15]): Kōnin died at the age of 73.[16]

Eras of Kōnin's reign

The years of Kammu's reign are more specifically identified by more than one era name (nengō).[17]


Kōnin attempted to reconstruct the state finance and administrative organizations, which had been corrupted under the reign of Empress Kōken.

Political conflict around his successors

Soon after his enthronement in 770 (Hōki 1), he promoted his wife Imperial Princess Ikami to the empress and appointed her son Imperial Prince Osabe to the crown prince in the next year. As a grandson of Emperor Shomu by his mother, Osabe was one of few descendants of Emperor Temmu, the line of Temmu however didn't success to the throne finally. In 772 Osabe was deprived of his crown prince rank and Imperial Prince Yamabe, an issue by another woman, later Emperor Kammu was named heir.

According to the Shoku Nihongi (続日本紀), the replacement happened as follows: in the third month of Hōki 3 (772), Ikami was accused of cursing her husband and Emperor Kōnin stripped her of the rank of Empress. In the fifth month of this year his son Osabe was deprived his crown prince status. In Hōki 4 (773), both were alleged to have murdered Imperial Princess Naniwa, a sister of Kōnin by cursing. This allegation made those two stripped of the rank of royals. Those two were together enclosed in a house in Yamato Province and died two years later in the same day, on the 27th day of the fourth month of Hōki 6 (in Julian Calendar, on May 29, 775).

In 772, soon after Osabe's deprivation of heir right, Prince Yamabe was named heir. His mother Takano no Niigasa, née Yamato no Niigasa, was a descendant of King Muryeong of Baekje. Since her clan had then no political power, his appointment had not been likely to happen without the deprivation of Osabe, the noblest male issue of Konin as the son of an Imperial Princess and Empress.

Today it is pointed out the accusations to Ikami and Osada were likely to be plotted for depriving her son of the throne, and they were likely to be assassinated, by Fujiwara no Momokawa.

The late years of Konin reign and the early years of Kammu reign suffered disasters respectively. The contemporary people took those disasters as vengeance of noble victims of political conflicts, including late Ikami and Osada. In 800 during the reign of Kammu, the late Princess Ikami was restored into the rank of Empress. Several shrines and temples were also founded for redemption, including Kamigoryo Shrine (上御霊神社).


Kugyō (公卿) is a collective term for the very few most powerful men attached to the court of the Emperor of Japan in pre-Meiji eras.

In general, this elite group included only three to four men at a time. These were hereditary courtiers whose experience and background would have brought them to the pinnacle of a life's career. During Kōnin's reign, this apex of the Daijō-kan included:

  • Sadaijin, Fujiwara no Nagate (藤原永手) (714–771), 766–771.[6]
  • Sadaijin, Fujiwara no Uona (藤原魚名) (721–783), 781–782.[6]
  • Udaijin, Ōnakatomi Kiyomaro (大中臣清麿) (702–788), 771–781.[6]
  • Naidaijin, Fujiwara no Yoshitsugu (藤原良継) (716–777), 771–777.[6]
  • Naidaijin, Fujiwara no Uona (藤原魚名) (721–783), 778–781
  • Dainagon, Fun'ya no Ōchi (文室大市) (704–780), 771–777
  • Dainagon, Fujiwara no Uona (藤原魚名) (721–783), 771–778
  • Sangi, Fujiwara no Momokawa (藤原百川), 732–779.[6]

Consorts and children

Empress (deposed in 772): Imperial Princess Inoe(Princess Ikami) (井上内親王) (717–775), daughter of Emperor Shōmu

Hi: Princess Owari (尾張女王), daughter of Imperial Prince Yuhara (湯原親王) (son of Prince Shiki)

  • Imperial Prince Hieda (稗田親王) (751–781)

Bunin: Takano no Niigasa (高野新笠) (?–790), daughter of Yamato no Ototsugu (和史乙継)

  • Imperial Princess Noto (能登内親王) (733–781), married to Prince Ichihara (市原王)
  • Imperial Prince Yamabe (山部親王) (Emperor Kammu) (737–806)
  • Imperial Prince Sawara (早良親王) (750–785), the Crown Prince (deposed in 785)

Bunin: Fujiwara no Sōshi (藤原曹子), daughter of Fujiwara no Nagate (藤原永手)

Bunin: Ki no Miyako (紀宮子), daughter of Ki no Ineko (紀稲子)

Bunin: Fujiwara no Nariko (藤原産子), daughter of Fujiwara no Momokawa (藤原百川)

Court lady: Agatanushi no Shimahime (県主嶋姫), daughter of Agatanushi no Emishi (県主毛人)

  • Imperial Princess Minuma (弥努摩内親王) (?–810), married to Prince Miwa (神王)

Court lady (Nyoju): Agatainukai no Isamimi(Omimi) (県犬養勇耳/男耳)

  • Hirone no Morokatsu (広根諸勝), removed from the Imperial Family by receiving the family name from Emperor (Shisei Kōka賜姓降下) in 787


  1. ^ a b Emperor Kōnin, Tahara no Higashi Imperial Mausoleum, Imperial Household Agency
  2. ^ Ponsonby-Fane, Richard. (1959). The Imperial House of Japan, p. 60.
  3. ^ Brown and Ishida. Gukanshō, pp. 276–277; Varley, H. Paul. Jinnō Shōtōki, pp. 147–148; Titsingh, Isaac. (1834). pp. 81–85.Annales des empereurs du Japon, , p. 81, at Google Books
  4. ^ Brown and Ishida, p. 276, Varley p. 149.
  5. ^ Varley, p. 147.
  6. ^ a b c d e f g Brown and Ishida, p. 277.
  7. ^ 神護景雲四年八月四日
  8. ^ Brown and Ishida, pp. 276–277.
  9. ^ Julian dates derived from NengoCalc
  10. ^ 神護景雲四年八月四日
  11. ^ Brown and Ishida, p. 276; Varley, p. 44, 148; a distinct act of senso is unrecognized prior to Emperor Tenji; and all sovereigns except Jitō, Yōzei, Go-Toba, and Fushimi have senso and sokui in the same year until the reign of Emperor Go-Murakami.
  12. ^ 神護景雲四年十月一日
  13. ^ Titsingh, p. 81; Brown and Ishida, p. 277; Varley, p. 44, 148.
  14. ^ 天応一年四月
  15. ^ 天応一年十二月
  16. ^ Brown and Ishida, p. 277; Varley, p. 148.
  17. ^ Titsingh, p. 81; Brown and Ishida, p. 277.


  • Brown, Delmer M.; Ishida, Ichirō (1979). The Future and the Past (a translation and study of the  
  • Imperial Household Agency (2004). 光仁天皇 田原東陵 [Emperor Kōnin, Tahara no Higashi Imperial Mausoleum] (in Japanese). Retrieved February 4, 2011. 
  • Ponsonby-Fane, Richard Arthur Brabazon. (1959). The Imperial House of Japan. Kyoto: Ponsonby Memorial Society. OCLC 194887
  • Titsingh, Isaac. (1834). Nihon Odai Ichiran; ou, Annales des empereurs du Japon. Paris: Royal Asiatic Society, Oriental Translation Fund of Great Britain and Ireland. OCLC 5850691
  • Varley, H. Paul. (1980). Jinnō Shōtōki: A Chronicle of Gods and Sovereigns. New York: Columbia University Press. ISBN 978-0-231-04940-5; OCLC 59145842

See also

Regnal titles
Preceded by
Empress Shōtoku
Emperor of Japan:

Succeeded by
Emperor Kammu
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