Emperor Tenji

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Hear about Emperor Tenji on Episode 70 of our Podcast, the Japan Archives.

Emperor Tenji
Emperor Tenji depicted in the Ogura Hyakunin Isshu.

Emperor Tenji

Emperor Tenji (天智天皇) was the thirty-eighth Emperor of Japan, living from 626-672AD, and ruling from 661-72AD4. His son would become the later Emperor Kōbun and his brother was Emperor Tenmu. He and his brother are noted as two of the most powerful sovereigns in the line of succession.He was the son of Empress Kōgyoku.2 His daughter Princess Uno, would become the later Empress Jitō.4

Prior to Reign

Prior to being crowned Emperor, he was known as ”’Prince Naka no Ōe ”'(中大兄皇子). During this time as Prince he was recruited by Nakatomi no Kamatari to aid in the downfall of the soga. Together they killed Soga no Iruka in front of his mother the Empress leading finally to the destruction of Soga House. He declined the throne after Empress Kōgyoku abdicated, convinced to turn it down by Kamatari.

He was then made Crown Prince by Emperor Kōtoku and with the help of Kamatari created the Taika Reforms.1

His mother as Empress Saimei comes to throne a second time after Emperor Kōtoku to ensure her sons succession and Prince Naka is said to have held the real power during her second reign.2

His mother as Empress joined him in giving aid to the leader of Paekche (Korea) who had appealed to them for help to fight against Silla.2


As Emperor as a sign of gratitude to Kamatari for everything he had helped him with so far he gave him the new family name of Fujiwara in 669AD. Due to this he was reverred by the Fujiwara Clan, including its decendants such as Fujiwara no Teika.4

In 663 Abe no Hirafu led a force to Paekche to help protect them from the invasions of Silla. His naval forces were eventually routed at the Battle of Hakusuhinoe.3

After his Death

A succesion dispute breaks out following his death between Prince Oama and Prince Otomo, which would later be known as the Jinshin no Ran (壬申の乱). Oama would eventually prevail and ascend as Emperor Tenmu.4


Emperor Tenji was also known for his poet. One can be found in the Ogura Hyakunin Isshu (No.1) and goes as follows:

Japanese text5
Romanized Japanese4
English translation4
Aki no ta no
kari-o no io no
toma o arami
waga koromode wa
tsuyu ni nuretsutsu
In this makeshift hut
in the aumtumn field
gaps in the thatch
let dewdrops in,
moistening my sleeves.


1. Martin, P. (1997) ”The Chrysanthemum Throne”. Gloucestershire: Sutton Publishing Limited.
2. Tsurumi, P. (1981) “Early Female Emperors” Historical Reflections Vol.8 No.1 pp.41-49.
3. Kodansha. (1993) ”Japan: An Illustrated Encyclopedia”. Tokyo: Kodansha Ltd.
4. MacMillan, P. (2018) ”One Hundred Poets, One Poem Each: A Treasury of Classical Japanese Verse”. St. Ives: Penguin Classics.
5. Suzuki, H. et al. (1997) ”Genshoku: Ogura Hyakunin Isshu”. Tokyo: Bun’eidō.

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Emperor Tenji