The Story of Empress Saimei

The empress who summoned a storm

The princess with mysterious powers ends the succession conflict. Events then take a tumultuous turn.

A dark horse takes the throne

Princess Takara, the eldest daughter of Prince Chinu and Princess Kibihime, married Emperor Jomei at the age of 37. When Jomei died without designating a successor, disagreement arose over who would follow him on the throne. Three men were candidates: Prince Furuhito, backed by the powerful Soga clan; Prince Yamashiro, a son of Prince Umayato (posthumously referred to as Prince Shotoku); and Prince Nakano-oe, born between Emperor Jomei and Princess Takara. But the selection of any of the three would have inevitably heightened political tensions. To break the three-way deadlock, Princess Takara was chosen at the request of statesman Soga no Emishi. She was 49 years old at the time. Whether she liked it or not, she was to follow the path of an empress.

Winning fame through her rain-making exploits

In the summer of 642 when Empress Kogyoku came to the throne, Asuka was hit by a serious drought. Superstitious locals blamed the natural disaster on their leaders’ lack of virtue. Soga no Emishi, the highest-ranking court official, summoned a large number of monks to offer prayers for rain. He had them read sutras for as long as four days but eventually gave up after seeing only meager results. Empress Kogyoku could not bear to see this. She set up a tower near Mebuchi waterfall in the upstream region of the Asuka River and there she prayed for rain. All of a sudden, heavy rains fell. The people praised the empress for her perfect virtue.

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