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Emperor Tenji

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Predecessor  Saimei
Successor  Kobun

Name  Emperor Tenji
Siblings  Emperor Tenmu
Emperor Tenji FileEmperor Tenjijpg Wikimedia Commons

Reign  661–668 (regency)668–672
Burial  Yamashina no misasagi (Kyoto)
Spouse  Yamato (?–?),daughter of Prince Furuhito-no-Oe
Issue  Princess Ota, Empress Jito and Prince Takeru by Ochi-no-iratsumePrincess Minabe and Empress Gemmei by Mei-no-iratsumePrincess Yamanobe by Hitachi-no-iratsumePrincess Asuka and Princess Niitabe by Tachibana-no-iratsumePrince Shiki by Michinokimi-no-iratsumeEmperor Kobun by Yakako-no-iratsumePrince Kawashima, Princess Oe and Princess Izumi by Shikobuko-no-iratsumePrincess Minushi by Kurohime-no-iratsume
Died  January 7, 672 AD, Shiga Prefecture, Japan
Children  Empress Jito, Emperor Kobun, Empress Genmei
Parents  Empress Kogyoku, Emperor Jomei
Grandchildren  Prince Nagaya, Prince Toneri, Emperor Monmu
Similar People  Emperor Tenmu, Fujiwara no Kamatari, Emperor Jomei, Emperor Monmu, Prince Shotoku

The Jinshin War | History of Japan 23

Emperor Tenji (天智天皇, Tenji-tennō, 626 – January 7, 672), also known as Emperor Tenchi, was the 38th emperor of Japan, according to the traditional order of succession.


Tenji's reign spanned the years from 661 through 672.

Traditional narrative

He was the son of Emperor Jomei, but was preceded as ruler by his mother Empress Saimei.

Prior to his accession, he was known as Prince Naka-no-Ōe (中大兄皇子, Naka-no-Ōe no Ōji).

Events of Tenji's life

As prince, Naka no Ōe played a crucial role in ending the near-total control the Soga clan had over the imperial family. In 644, seeing the Soga continue to gain power, he conspired with Nakatomi no Kamatari and Soga no Kurayamada no Ishikawa no Maro to assassinate Soga no Iruka in what has come to be known as the Isshi Incident. Although the assassination did not go exactly as planned, Iruka was killed, and his father and predecessor, Soga no Emishi, committed suicide soon after. Following the Isshi Incident, Iruka's adherents dispersed largely without a fight, and Naka no Ōe was named heir apparent. He also married the daughter of his ally Soga no Kurayamada, thus ensuring that a significant portion of the Soga clan's power was on his side.

Events of Tenji's reign

Naka no Ōe reigned as Emperor Tenji from 661 to 672.

  • 661: In the 3rd year of Saimei's reign (斉明天皇三年), the empress designated her son as her heir; and modern scholars construe this as meaning that this son would have received the succession (senso) after her death or abdication. Shortly after, she died, and Emperor Tenji could be said to have acceded to the throne (sokui).
  • 662: Tenji is said to have compiled the first Japanese legal code known to modern historians. The Ōmi Code, consisting of 22 volumes, was promulgated in the last year of Tenji's reign. This legal codification is no longer extant, but it is said to have been refined in what is known as the Asuka Kiyomihara ritsu-ryō of 689; and these are understood to have been a forerunner of the Taihō ritsu-ryō of 701.
  • 668: An account in Nihon Shoki becomes the first mention of petrochemical oil in Japan. In the 7th year of Tenji's reign (天智七年), flammable water (possibly petroleum) was presented as an offering to Emperor Tenji from Echigo Province (now known as a part of Niigata Prefecture). This presentation coincided with the emperor's ceremonial confirmation as emperor. He had postponed formalities during the period that the mausoleum of his mother was being constructed; and when the work was finished, he could delay no longer. Up until this time, although he had been de facto monarch, he had retained the title of Crown Prince.
  • Tenji was particularly active in improving the military institutions which had been established during the Taika reforms.

    Death of the emperor

    Following his death in 672, there ensued a succession dispute between his fourteen children (many by different mothers). In the end, he was succeeded by his son, Prince Ōtomo, also known as Emperor Kōbun, then by Tenji's brother Prince Ōama, also known as Emperor Tenmu. Almost one hundred years after Tenji's death, the throne passed to his grandson Emperor Kōnin.

    Post-Meiji chronology
  • In the 10th year of Tenji, in the 11th month (671): Emperor Tenji, in the 10th year of his reign (天智天皇十年), designated his son as his heir; and modern scholars construe this as meaning that the son would have received the succession (senso) after his father's death. Shortly thereafter, Emperor Kōbun is said to have acceded to the throne (sokui). If this understanding were valid, then it would follow:
  • In the 1st year of Kōbun (672): Emperor Kōbun, in the 1st year of his reign (弘文天皇一年), died; and his uncle Ōaomi-shinnō received the succession (senso) after the death of his nephew. Shortly thereafter, Emperor Tenmu could be said to have acceded to the throne (sokui).
  • Pre-Meiji chronologyPrior to the 19th century, Ōtomo was understood to have been a mere interloper, a pretender, an anomaly; and therefore, if that commonly accepted understanding were to have been valid, then it would have followed:
  • In the 10th year of Tenji, in the 11th month (671): Emperor Tenji, in the 10th year of his reign (天智天皇十年), died; and despite any military confrontations which ensued, the brother of the dead sovereign would have received the succession (senso); and after a time, it would have been understood that Emperor Tenmu rightfully acceded to the throne (sokui).
  • The actual site of Tenji's grave is known. This emperor is traditionally venerated at a memorial Shinto shrine (misasagi) at Yamashina-ku, Kyoto.

    The Imperial Household Agency designates this location as Tenji's mausoleum. It is formally named Yamashina no misasagi.


    The Man'yōshū includes poems attributed to emperors and empresses; and according to Donald Keene, evolving Man'yōshū studies have affected the interpretation of even simple narratives like "The Three Hills." The poem was long considered to be about two male hills in a quarrel over a female hill, but scholars now consider that Kagu and Mimihashi might be female hills in love with the same male hill, Unebi. This still-unresolved enigma in poetic form is said to have been composed by Emperor Tenji while he was still Crown Prince during the reign of Empress Saimei:

    One of his 31-letters poems was chosen by Fujiwara no Teika as the first in the very popular anthology Hyakunin Isshu.

    After his death, his wife, Empress Yamato wrote a song of longing about her husband.


    The top court officials (公卿, Kugyō) during Emperor Tenji's reign included:

  • Daijō-daijin: Ōtomo no Ōji (大友皇子), 671–672.
  • Naishin(内臣): Fujiwara no Kamatari (藤原鎌足) (614–669), 645–669.
  • Prince Ōtomo (Ōtomo-shinnō) was the favorite son of Emperor Tenji; and he was also the first to be accorded the title of Daijō-daijin.

    Non-nengō period

    The years of Tenji's reign are not linked by scholars to any era or nengō. The Taika era innovation of naming time periods – nengō – languished until Mommu reasserted an imperial right by proclaiming the commencement of Taihō in 701.

  • See Japanese era name – "Non-nengo periods"
  • See Tenji period (661).
  • In this context, Brown and Ishida's translation of Gukanshō offers an explanation about the years of Empress Jitō's reign which muddies a sense of easy clarity in the pre-Taiho time-frame:

    Consorts and children

    Empress: Yamato Hime no Ōkimi (倭姫王) (?–?), daughter of Prince Furuhito-no-Ōe (son of Emperor Jomei).

    Hin: Soga no Ochi-no-iratsume (蘇我遠智娘) (d. c. 651), daughter of Soga no Kura-no-yamada no Ishikawa-no-maro

  • Princess Ōta (大田皇女) (644–667), married to Emperor Tenmu
  • Princess Uno-no-sarara (鸕野讃良皇女) (Empress Jitō) (645–703)
  • Prince Takeru (建皇子) (651–658)
  • Hin: Soga no Mei-no-iratsume (蘇我姪娘), daughter of Soga no Kura-no-yamada no Ishikawa-no-maro

  • Princess Minabe (御名部皇女) (b. c. 658), married to Prince Takechi
  • Princess Abe (Princess Ahe) (阿閇皇女) (Empress Genmei) (661–721)
  • Hin: Soga no Hitachi-no-iratsume (蘇我常陸娘), daughter of Soga no Akae

  • Princess Yamabe (山辺皇女) (d. 686), married to Prince Ōtsu
  • Hin: Abe no Tachibana-no-iratsume (阿部橘娘) (d. 681), daughter of Abe no Kurahashi-maro

  • Princess Asuka (明日香皇女) (d. 700), married to Prince Osakabe
  • Princess Niitabe (新田部皇女) (d. 699), married to Emperor Tenmu
  • Court lady: Oshinumi no Shikibuko-no-iratsume (忍海色夫古娘)

  • Prince Kawashima (川島皇子) (657–691)
  • Court lady: Koshi-no-michi no Iratsume (越道伊羅都売)

  • Princess Ōe (大江皇女) (d. 699), married to Emperor Tenmu
  • Prince Shiki (施基皇子/志貴皇子) (d. 716), Father of Emperor Kōnin
  • Princess Izumi (泉皇女) (d. 699), Saiō in Ise Shrine (701–706)
  • Court lady: Kurikuma no Kurohime-no-iratsume (栗隈黒媛娘)

  • Princess Minushi (水主皇女) (d. 737)
  • Court lady (Uneme): Yakako-no-iratsume, a lower court lady from Iga (伊賀采女宅子娘) (Iga no Uneme)

  • Prince Ōtomo (大友皇子) (Emperor Kōbun) (648–672)
  • Portrayed by Ahn Hong-jin in the 2012–2013 KBS1 TV series The King's Dream.
  • References

    Emperor Tenji Wikipedia