The Story of Empress Jito

Nurturing dreams and love in Yoshino

With foresight and belief in her husband, she keeps a low profile—for a while

Japan’s first chancellor, Prince Otomo

Prince Oama had a political rival in his nephew Prince Otomo, the son of Emperor Tenchi and Iga no Unemeno-yakakono-iratsume. Though a generation apart in age, the rivals are thought to have enjoyed equal status under Tenchi. At the time, the rules of imperial succession were unclear. Oama, being the emperor’s younger brother, was widely expected to inherit the throne. As well as being popular, he was thought to possess the competence required to be the supreme ruler. Yet Tenchi named his favorite son, Otomo, as his successor, after appointing him to the newly established post of daijo-daijin (chancellor). The Kaifuso, the oldest existing collection of Chinese poetry written by Japanese poets, gives a contemporary account of Otomo. He was said to be brilliant—“a very learned man to whom subordinates gave their reverence and obedience.” This account should be taken with a grain of salt, as the Kaifuso was probably compiled by Otomo’s great grandson Omi no Mifune. Anyway, after Oama left the world of politics to become a monk, Otomo became the undisputed heir to Tenchi and a central figure in politics.

The best partner in public and private life

Prince Oama is believed to have had 10 consorts. They included Sarara’s older sister, Princess Ota (who died young), Sarara’s younger half-sisters Princess Oe and Princess Niitabe, Lady Nukata (who won fame for her poetry), and two daughters of the statesman Nakatomi no Kamatari: Hikamino-iratsume and Ioeno-iratsume. Sarara must have been concerned about all these other women vying for Oama’s attention. Yet Sarara was the only wife he took with him to Yoshino. In the seclusion of this remote rural location, the couple talked about their dream of building a nation. Sarara won a special place in Oama’s heart. As well as being his favorite, she was someone he could talk politics with.

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