The Story of Empress Saimei

Inheriting her determination

Her unprecedented ability to take action paves the way for a nation

Family ties

In 668, Prince Nakano-oe ascended to the throne as Emperor Tenchi. His younger brother, Prince Ooama, later became Emperor Tenmu. The name Saimei was at the center of the family tree, which included the emperors Jomei, Kotoku, Tenchi, and Tenmu. Saimei did whatever it took to defend the imperial bloodline, going so far as to renounce the throne and later reascend to it. Such extraordinary acts made her an outstanding figure in the battle for succession to the throne. Nakano-oe had a son called Prince Takeru, upon whom Saimei doted. When her grandson died at the tender age of eight, she grieved deeply and gave strict orders for her own body to be buried alongside his when she died. She also wrote three poems lamenting the boy’s death and would shed tears as she read them to herself. With her amazing energy, Empress Saimei pushed forward with numerous projects. At the same time, she valued family ties and bestowed great affection upon family members. The blend of her motherly and fatherly qualities helped shape the nation of Japan.

Life of Empress Saimei (Kogyoku)

Born as the eldest daughter of Prince Chinu and Princess Kibihime.
Marries Emperor Jomei at the age of 37.
Emperor Jomei passes away.
Empress Kogyoku enthroned at the age of 49. Performs rain-making ritual in the upstream region of Asuka River, which brings heavy rain. Soga no Iruka attacks Prince Yamashiro, forcing him to kill himself.
Soga no Emishi and his son Iruka build a mansion on Amakashino-oka.
Isshi Incident. Prince Nakano-oe and Nakatomi no Kamatari kill Iruka. Empress Kogyoku abdicates the throne and is replaced by her younger brother Emperor Kotoku. Emperor Kotoku names the era “Taika” and moves to Naniwano-nagarano-toyosakino-miya palace (in present-day Osaka).
Issues Taika Reform Edicts.
Emperor Kotoku dies at Naniwano-miya palace (in present-day Osaka).
Empress Saimei reascends to the throne at the age of 62.
Saimei builds Nochino-asuka-okamotono-miya palace, Futatsukino-miya palace, and the Taburegokorono-mizo canal in Asuka.
Abe no Hirafu conquers the northern Emishi tribe.
Allied Tang and Silla forces overthrow Baekje.
Saimei heads for Kyushu in an expedition to resurrect Baekje. Dies at Asakurano-miya palace at the age of 68.
Imperial naval fleet suffers heavy defeat at the Battle of Hakusukinoe.
Saimei is buried together with her daughter, Princess Hashihito.

Note: Ages are rendered in the traditional Japanese age-reckoning system, in which newborns start from one instead of zero, and age is incremented on New Year’s Day. L’âge est donné selon la façon traditionnelle japonaise de compter, consistant à donner un an à la naissance et à ajouter un an supplémentaire à chaque nouvel an.
Editor’s note: While edited for readability, this story is based on actual historical accounts. Empress Saimei (Kogyoku) was without doubt one of the “Heroines of Asuka”. We hope her life story will inspire your interest in the culture and history of Asuka.

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