Emperor Tenmu

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Emperor Tenmu
Artistic rendering of Emperor Tenmu.

Emperor Tenmu

Emperor Tenmu (天武天皇) (Prince Oama7) was the 40th Emperor of Japan reigning from 673-86AD. He was the brother of Emperor Tenji and uncle to Emperor Kōbun1, his mother was the Empress Kōgyoku and his son was Prince Kusakabe. His wife would become the later Empress Jitō.2

Jinshin no Ran

The Jinshin no Ran (壬申の乱) was a battle involving the forces of Temmu and Kōbun who at the time was on the throne. Temmu was growing impatient for the throne and so raised an army against his nephew. Though Kōbun fought alongside his troops he was bested in battle and committed suicide, thus allowing Temmu could cease the throne.1

During the war in 672 members of the Haji supported Emperor Tenmu, though one Haji was caught by the future Emperors forces. Haji no Umate fought during the Jinshin War seeing a long career afterwards before his death in 711AD.5


During his reign, he strengthened his position by taking nine wives. Four were his nieces, two were daughters of Fujiwara no Kamatari and the another was of the Soga Clan.

He was not a fan of Buddhism and it was this Emperor who instated the tradition of rebuilding the Ise Grand Shrine every twenty years as a symbol of rebirth.1

During the first year of Tenmu’s reign Jitō

followed the Emperor when he took refuge in the Eastern provinces. She addressed the troops and mingled in the throng, until at length they together formed a plan by which several tens of thousands of fearless men were separately ordered to take up their posts in all the most defensible positions.

For 14 years Tenmu left the position of Great Minister vacant as he and Jitō governed jointly with a team of Imperial Princes, making decisions with them and without consulting the Council of Nobles.

In 681 he decrees an edict for the creation of law-codes known as the Asuka no Kyomihara Ritsuryō. During this decree he and his wife sat in the same seats befitting those of equal status.2

In AD682 Tenmu commissioned his Princes and High Officials to prepare:

a history of the Emperor’s and of matters of high antiquity

which would eventually lead to the creation of the Kojiki.34

In 684 we see the Emperor establish the Yakusa no Kabane to strengthen imperial authority. This system involved bestowing eight honorary titles (kabane) to certain families after the events of the Jinshin no Ran.6

In 687 he decrees:

all matters of the Empire, without distinction of great and small, should be referred to the Empress-Consort (Jitō) and the Prince Imperial (Prince Kusakabe).2


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. Yasumaro. O, translated by Gustav Heldt. (2014) “Kojiki. An Account of Ancient Matters”. New York: Columbia University Press.
4. Aston. W.G. (1896) “Nihongi Volume 1: Chronicles of Japan from the Earliest Times to AD697″. Tuttle Publishing.
5. Borgen, R. (1975) “The Origins of the Sugawara. A History of the Haji Family”. Monumenta Nipponica. Vol.30 No.4 pp.405-422.
6. Kodansha. (1993) ”Japan: An Illustrated Encyclopedia”. Tokyo: Kodansha Ltd.
7. MacMillan, P. (2018) ”One Hundred Poets, One Poem Each: A Treasury of Classical Japanese Verse”. St. Ives: Penguin Classics.

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