Emperor Suinin

Emperor Suinin
Artistic depiction of Emperor Suinin.

Emperor Suinin

Emperor Suinin (垂仁天皇) was the eleventh Emperor of Japan also known as Ikumeiribikoisachi (活目入彦五十狭茅天皇)123. He ruled from 29BC-70AD.3

According to the kojiki he was ten feet and two inches tall, his legs alone measuring four feet and one inch.2


Suinin is recorded to have had a large family consisting of 16 children with 8 different women. We find some chidlren and wives only mentioned in certain texts.

Emperor Suinin was the son of Emperor Sujin and Mimakihime.1

With Sahobime (Sahaji2) he had a child by the name of Homutsuwake.12

With Hibasuhime he had 5 children called Inishikinoiribiko, Emperor Keikō, Ohonakatsuhiko, Yamatohime and Wakakiiribiko.12

With Nubatanoiribika he had two children called Nutarashiwake and Igatarashihiko.12

Matonuhime was a concubine.1

With Azaminoiribime he had two children called Ikobayawake and Azamitsuhime.12

With Kaguyahime he had one child by the name of Wozabe.2

With Karibatatobe he had three children called Ochiwake no miko, Ikatarashihiko no miko and Itoshiwake.12

With Otokaribatatobe he had two children called Ihatsukuwake12 and Ihatsukubime.2


Emperor Suinin ascended the throne in 29BC according to the Jinnō Shōtōki and Ponsonby.35 This was after being made heir to the throne in the 48th year of his fathers reign,3 at the age of 24.1

His palace was known as Tamaki Palace and was located in Shiki3 (Tamaki Palace, Makimuku.45)

Connections to Korea

At the start of his reign, after his marriage to Sahobime and the birth of their son Homutsuwake a man by the name of Sonaka Cheulchi asked the Emperor to return to Imna.

A gift of 100 pieces of soft red silk are given to him when he departs, however, on his return journey he is robbed by the people of Silla which was the cause of enmity between Japan and the Kingdom of Silla.

Later, in the 3rd year of his reign the Silla Prince Amanohihoko arrives with a gift of three gems (Habuto, Ashidaka and Ukaka) as well as an Idzushi short sword, Idzushi spear, sun mirror, and Kumahimorogi. These were stored in Tajima and made divine items.1

Assassination Plot

Sahobime in Flames by Tsukioka Yoshitoshi

In his fifth year, Sahobiko, brother to the Emperors wife Sahobime approached his sister asking who is most dearest to her. Him or her husband.

Handing her a stiletto a plan is devised where the Empress would take the Emperors life. When the Emperor visits Kume, his wife almost takes his life, however she cries and her tears wake the Emperor. The Emperor relates he had a similar dream of falling water and so she tells him the truth of the plot.12

Nihongi Version

In retaliation for the attempt on his life he rallies an army, led by a man called Yatsunada, to attack Sahobiko.

For months the Emperors forces attack Sahobiko’s self made castle, however, they were unable to breach it. Sahobime mourning that she nearly took her husbands life, sneaks into her brothers castle with the prince Homutsuwake.

The attacks intensify, with the enemy refusing to give up the Empress and her child. And so Yatsunada sets fire to the castle.

Sahobime then leaves the castle saying she had hoped her brother would be absolved of his crime after she had entered it. But as this had not happened she wishers the Emperors life to be filled with wives worthy of him and so tells him of the five daughters of Michinoushi.

The Emperor agrees to take as wives those worthy of him and so she and her brother die in the fires of the castle.

Following the end of the battle the Emperor promotes Yatsunada giving him the name Yamatohimuketaketakehimukehiko Yatsunada.1

Kojiki Version

In the kojiki the tears Sahobime sheds wakes the Emperor as they fall on his face, and he says had a dream about a violent rain from Saho with a snake coiling aorud his neck.

The Empress had not yet given birth, and so after entering the castle the Emperor turned aside his armies to allow her to have her child. After this the child was put outside the stronghold. The Emperor being told if he considered the boy his child he could come and take him.

He sends his men to take the child and to also try and capture the Empress.

The Empress had dressed shoddily and had shaved her hair (placing it back upon her head) and so when the men attempted to grab her, her clothes tore, and her hair fell off allowing her to escape.

Angered by this the Emperor asks her to choose the childs name. As he had been born as the castle burnt she gave him the name Homutsuwake (Fire-possessing Lord)

Suinin then asked how he should raise the child, Sahobime saying to give him a foster mother and bathing women.

He then asks who should remove the girdle she placed around his waist and in reply she says Yehime and Otohime, daughters of Tatsumichinoushi Prince of Taniha as their parentage is unsullied.

And so the Empreror kills Sahobiko and his sister is also killed.

Homuchiwake was then entertained after they made a canoe for him from cedar from Ahidzu in Wohari and they placed it in the pools of Ichishi and Karu in Yamato.2

Kuyehama and Nomi no Sukune

Nomi no Sukune wrestling Kuehaya by Tsukioka Yoshitoshi.

During the 7th year of his reign a man known as Kuehaya of Taima was declared so strong that he could break horns and straighten out hooks; Kuehaya claiming that no-one could beat him. One minister by the name of Nagaochi was sent to bring Nomi no Sukune and they were ordered to wrestle.

Both initially kick one another but Kuehaya is killed after being kicked in the ribs and groin, and Nomi no Sukune was then given his lands and allowed to stay at court.1

This story is likely a fabrication and a way to show how the Haji took over land in Yamato from older less influential familes.

These exploits have seen him credited with founding sumo, though not of modern rules.4

The 5 Women of Tamba

Nihongi Version

In the nihongi by the 15th year of his reign he sends for the daughters of Michinoushi. These daughters being Hibasuhime, Nubatanoiribika, Matounuhime, Azaminoiribime and Takanohime.

Hibasuhime was made Empress and all of the others were made concubines save for Takanohime who was sent away for being ugly. Ashamed she returns home, but on the way tumbles purposefully from her carriage and dies.1

Kojiki Version

The kojiki only lists Hibasuhime, Nubatanoiribika, Matonuhime and another woman by the name of Utakorihime. And additionally says that he sends back both Utakorihime and Matonuhime due to their ugliness.

In this version Matonuhime is the one who kills herself. First in a failed attempt when she tries to hang herself from a tree in Yamashiro Province, and later a successful attempt by drowning herself in a place called Ochikuni.

Additionally this event occurs after Homutsuwake learns to talk in the kojiki.2

Homutsuwake learns to talk

Nihongi Version

By now Homutsuwake was 30 years old and still did not speak. One day he sees a swan and finally talks saying ‘what is this thing?’

The Emperor happy at this asks who will go and collect this swan for his son. Amano Yukaha Tana volunteers and pursues it all the way to Tajima.

After capturing the swan, he returns and presents it to Homutsuwake and he finally learns to speak.

The Emperor then gives Amano the title of Tottori no Miyakko and also at this time established the Be of Torikahibe and Homutsube.

Later on the Emperor then gathers the Five Daibu Takenu Kahawake, Hikokunifuku, Ohokashima, Tochine no Ōmuraji and Takehi to talk of the wisdom of Emperor Sujin.1

Kojiki Version

It is said someone by the name of Yamanobe no Ohotaka was sent to go and collect the swan.

He followed the swan through Harima to Kii, Inaba to Tanba, Tajima then eastwards until AfumiMinu to Wohari, and finally Shinano to Koshi. There in the estuary of Wanami he caught it and brought it to the Emperor.

The emperor thought seeing the bird again would make the prince talk, but it did not, and so the Emperor retired and had a dream. He dreamt a kami said if he built a shrine like his abode then the prince would speak.

The next day he asks an oracle to see which deity spoke finding out it was Ōkuninushi who had placed this curse on the prince. The Emperor readied the Prince to go to the shrine to pay reverence, with a man called Aketatsu being sent to attend to him.

Aketatsu swore a sacred oath ‘if there is an answer to be found in adoring this kami, then let the heron I see on Sagisu no ike fall dead.’ And the heron then died.

In reply to this he said ‘by this oath live’ and the heron came back to life. By his oath he then made wither and come back to life an oak upon Cape Amakashi (Amakashi no saki)

They also leave with Prince Unakami and after arriving at the shrine, they pray and return. A temporary Palace is then made for Homutsuwake in the middle of the River Hi. And when food was about to be presented to Homutsuwake he finally spoke.

‘This mountain is not a mountain, perhaps it is the court of those who worship Ashiharashikowo.’

And so they informed the Emperor and he rejoiced, and the prince was left to live in the palace of Nagaho in Ajimasa. The Emperor then established the Totori Clan, Torikahi Clan, Homuji Clan, Ohoyuwe (Old Bath attendants) and Wakeyuwe (Younger Bath Attendants). The Emperor then sent Unakami to build the shrine for Ōkuninushi.2

Sacred Regalia / Divine Treasures

The care of Amaterasu is passed from Toyosukiiribime to Yamatohime. She goes searching for a place to enshrine Amaterasu travelling through Sasahata in Uda, then Mino and finally reaches Ise.1 The Jinnō Shōtōki says she toured the provinces at Amaterasu’s command, further saying she chose the headwaters of the Isuzu River in the Watarai District of Ise.5

Here the kami communes with Yamatohime saying she wishes to dwell in Ise and so a shrine was built. When the shrine was first built Amaterasu made a descent from Heaven.1 And so following this the Emperor takes the Sacred Regalia and houses them in the Naiku Shrine here.3

The Emperor then notes he has not heard of the Divine Treasures for some time and so sends the Mononobe Tochine no Ōmuraji to check on them. He makes a report and is put in charge of them.

Later the Emperor ask the Department of Worship to decide what weapons should be offered to the kami as offerings. And so arrows and swords were deposited at all shrines. Granaries were later built in Kume.1

Human Sacrifice

In his 28th year Yamatohiko died and he is buried in Tsukizaka in Musa. His attendants were buried alongside him, alive and standing upright in the precinct of his misasagi. It took several days for them to die, the Emperor overhearing their weeping as they passed away. And after their passing crows and dogs came to feast on them.

The Emperor hearing their wails as they died asks what can be done about this custom.1

When the Empress Hibasuhime later died he asked what should be done, his ministers saying they should follow the old traditions of burying retainers alongside her as had been done upon the death of Yamatohiko.

However, Nomi no Sukune stepped in with another idea saying human sacrifice was contrary to a benevolent government. And so he took 300 potters and made images in clay. The Emperor liked what had been created, dubbing them haniwa and this became the replacement of human sacrifice. For his work he was given the name of Haji ‘master potter’ and was put incharge of pottery workers (Haji Be) and funerary rites.14

The mentioning of Nomi no Sukune is not seen in the pages of the kojiki, however it does state that the Haji Be were founded during this Emperors reign.24

One branch of the Haji lived near the site apparently that of Emperor Suinins tomb, which may have helped in joining the Haji Clan with the story of the haniwa in later records.4

Choosing an heir

In the 30th year, he commands his sons Inishiki no Mikoto and Ohotarashihiko to state what it is that they want. Inishiki says all he wants is a bow and arrow, Ohotarashihiko saying he wanted the throne.

Due to this the asked for gifts were given and Ohotarashihiko was made heir officially in his 37th year of his ruling.1

His final wives

After his marriage to Karihatatohe he learns of Otokaribatatobe whilst visiting Yamashiro. Vowing to make her his wife he sees an omen in the form of a large tortoise in a river.

The Emperor throwing his spear at the tortoise sees it turn into a white stone and following this he sends for Otokaribatatobe and they are wed.1

Divine Treasures

The Emperor decides to take charge of the divine treasures from Iso no Kami shrine himself.

Many years laters he sends for the Divine Treasures brought at the start of his reign by Amanohihoko from Tajima.

The request is recieved by Amanohihoko’s great-grandson Kiyohiko who brings them for the Emperor to see. However, he attempts to hide one of the swords from the Emperor in his robes until he accidently shows it after drinking some sake.

After this the Emperor decides to take all the treasures and place them in the Sacred Treasury.

Following another inspection the sword again is found missing, Kiyohiko is asked about its whereabouts telling the Emperor it appeared by him during the night but was gone by morning.

It was later found in Ahajishima where it was them given a shrine and worshipped as a kami.1


In his 90th year, he sends Tajima Mori to the island of Tokoyo to collect the Tachibana fruit, however before he returns the Emperor passes away.

Emperor Suinin died in the 99th year, Autumn, 7th month, 14th day according to the nihongi at the age of 140.1 This is all agreed in the Jinnō Shōtōki.5 The kojiki says he died aged 153.2

His misasagi is located in Fushimi, Sugahara.1 (Mitachi, Sugahara2).

Tajima Mori returned the following year with the fruit and makes a speech lamenting the Emperors death.

‘Ten thousand ri I crossed the waves,
Distantly I passed over the weak water.
This Eternal Land.
Is no other than the mysterious realm of Gods and Genji
To which ordinary mortals cannot attain;
Therefore in going thither and returning
Ten years have naturally passed.
Beyond my expectation, I braved alone the towering billows,
Turning my way again towards my own land.
Thus, thrusting in the spirits of the Emperors,
I hardly accomplished my return.
But now the Emperor is dead,
I am unable to report my mission.
Though I should remain alive,
What more would it avail me?’

He then dies weeping, facing the Emperors tomb.1

The kojiki also says he brought back with him 80 leafy branches and 80 bare branches. He placedd 40 of each of Hibasuhime’s mausoleum and the rest on the Emperors mausoleum as well as the Tachibana.2


1. Aston. W.G. (1896) “Nihongi Volume 1: Chronicles of Japan from the Earliest Times to AD697”. Tuttle Publishing.
2. Yasumaro. O, translated by Gustav Heldt. (2014) “Kojiki. An Account of Ancient Matters”. New York: Columbia University Press.
3. Ponsonby, F. (1959) “The Imperial House of Japan.” Kyoto: Ponsonby Memorial Society.
4. Borgen, R. (1975) “The Origins of the Sugawara. A History of the Haji Family”. Monumenta Nipponica. Vol.30 No.4 pp.405-422.
5. Varley, H.P (1980) “A Chronicle of Gods and Sovereigns: Jinnō Shōtōki of Kitabatake Chikafusa.” New York: Columbia University Press.

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