Empress Genmei

Empress Genmei
Artistic rendering of Empress Genmei

Empress Genmei

Empress Genmei (元明 天皇) was the 43rd Emperor of Japan. Known before her ascension to the throne as Princess Abe.1 She lived from 661-721AD.2


Genmei was the mother of Emperor Monmu and wife to Prince Kusakabe, with her daughter being the later Empress Genshō.


After the death of her son Monmu, she declares herself Emperor stating it was the will of Empress Jitō and Monmu, and in accord with the ‘immutable law’ of her father. All of this was an attempt to secure the throne for her grandson (Prince Obito), and she garnered support from the Fujiwara Clan, in particular Fujiwara no Fubito, likely due to the fact her grandson’s mother and also his wife were Fubito’s daughters.

She was a fearless ruler throughout her reign, but eventually abdicated in 715, remaining afterwards as an important figure in highest councils of state.1

Her reign saw much cultural advancement with the creation of the first wadō (coinage), the move of the capital to Nara in 710, and the completion of Kojiki in 712.2

However she did not allow Prince Obito to succeed, seeing her daughter Genshō as a better choice.1


In the last year of her life she fell ill and so the state ordered that ‘a hundred consecrated men and women shoud be dedicated to reigion as votaries to secure her recovery. However she died within the year.2

Her death in 721 ruined the important balance of power between herself and the Minister of the Left.1


Empress Genmei has two poems in the Man’yōshū, poem number 35 and 76.2


1. Tsurumi, P. (1981) “Early Female Emperors” Historical Reflections Vol.8 No.1 pp.41-49.
2. Miller, R. A.. (1981) “The Lost Poetic Sequence of the Priest Manzei”. Monumenta Nipponica. Vol.36 No.2 pp.133-172

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