Empress Jitō

Empress Jitō
Empress Jitō.jpg
Picture of Jitō
Empress of Japan
Reign 686–697
Predecessor Tenmu
Successor Monmu
Born Uno-no-sarara (鸕野讚良)
Died 13 January 703 (aged 57–58)
Fujiwara-kyō, Japan
Hinokuma-no-Ōuchi no misasagi (Nara)
Spouse Emperor Tenmu
Issue Prince Kusakabe
Posthumous name
Japanese style: Takamanoharahiro-no-hime no Sumeramikoto (高天原広野姫天皇)
also Ohoyamatonekoamenohiro-no-hime no Mikoto (大倭根子天之広野日女尊)
Chinese style: Empress Jitō (持統天皇)
House Yamato
Father Emperor Tenji
Mother Soga no Ochi-no-iratsume

Empress Jitō (持統天皇, Jitō-tennō, 645 – 13 January 703)[1] was the 41st monarch of Japan,[2] according to the traditional order of succession.[3]

Jitō's reign spanned the years from 686 through 697.[4]

In the history of Japan, Jitō was the third of eight women to take on the role of empress regnant. The two female monarchs before Jitō were Suiko and Kōgyoku/Saimei. The five women sovereigns reigning after Jitō were Genmei, Genshō, Kōken/Shōtoku, Meishō, and Go-Sakuramachi.

Traditional narrative

Poem by Empress Jitō

Empress Jitō was the daughter of Emperor Tenji. Her mother was Ochi-no-Iratsume, the daughter of Minister Ō-omi Soga no Yamada-no Ishikawa Maro. She was the wife of Tenji's full brother Emperor Tenmu, whom she succeeded on the throne.[5]

Empress Jitō's given name was Unonosarara or Unonosasara (鸕野讚良), or alternately Uno.[6]

Events of Jitō's reign

Jitō took responsibility for court administration after the death of her husband, Emperor Tenmu, who was also her uncle. She acceded to the throne in 687 in order to ensure the eventual succession of her son, Kusakabe-shinnō. Throughout this period, Empress Jitō ruled from the Fujiwara Palace in Yamato.[5] In 689, Jitō prohibited Sugoroku,[7] in 690 at enthronement she performed special ritual then gave pardon and in 692 she travelled to Ise against the counsel of minister Miwa-no-Asono-Takechimaro.[8]

Prince Kusakabe was named as crown prince to succeed Jitō, but he died at a young age. Kusakabe's son, Karu-no-o, was then named as Jitō's successor. He eventually would become known as Emperor Monmu.[5]

Empress Jitō reigned for eleven years. Although there were seven other reigning empresses, their successors were most often selected from amongst the males of the paternal Imperial bloodline, which is why some conservative scholars argue that the women's reigns were temporary and that male-only succession tradition must be maintained in the 21st century.[9] Empress Genmei, who was followed on the throne by her daughter, Empress Genshō, remains the sole exception to this conventional argument.

In 697, Jitō abdicated in Mommu's favor; and as a retired sovereign, she took the post-reign title daijō-tennō. After this, her imperial successors who retired took the same title after abdication.[5]

Jitō continued to hold power as a cloistered ruler, which became a persistent trend in Japanese politics.

Memorial Shinto shrine and mausoleum honoring Empress Jitō

The actual site of Jitō's grave is known.[2] This empress is traditionally venerated at a memorial Shinto shrine (misasagi) at Nara.

The Imperial Household Agency designates this location as Jitō's mausoleum. It is formally named Ochi-no-Okanoe no misasagi.[10]


Kugyō (公卿) is a collective term for the very few most powerful men attached to the court of the Emperor of Japan in pre-Meiji eras.

In general, this elite group included only three to four men at a time. These were hereditary courtiers whose experience and background would have brought them to the pinnacle of a life's career. During Jitō's reign, this apex of the Daijō-kan included:

Non-nengō period

Jitō's reign is not linked by scholars to any era or nengō.[4] The Taika era innovation of naming time periods – nengō – languished until Mommu reasserted an imperial right by proclaiming the commencement of Taihō in 701.

However, Brown and Ishida's translation of Gukanshō offers an explanation which muddies a sense of easy clarity:

"The eras that fell in this reign were: (1) the remaining seven years of Shuchō [(686+7=692?)]; and (2) Taika, which was four years long [695–698]. (The first year of this era was kinoto-hitsuji [695].) ... In the third year of the Taka era [697], Empress Jitō yielded the throne to the Crown Prince."[6]


The Man'yōshū includes poems said to have been composed by Jitō. This one was composed after the death of the Emperor Tenmu:[11]

Japanese Rōmaji English

やすみしし 我が大君の
夕されば 見したまふらし
明け来れば 問ひたまふらし
神岳の 山の黄葉を
今日もかも 問ひたまはまし
明日もかも 見したまはまし
その山を 振り放け見つつ
夕されば あやに悲しみ

Yasumishishi waga ōkimi no
Yū sareba meshita furashi
Akekureba toita furashi
Kamuoka no yama no momichi to
Kyō mo ka mo toita mawamashi
Asu mo ka mo meshita mawamashi
Sono yama o furisakemitsutsu
Yū sareba aya ni kanashimi
Aratae no
Koromo no sode wa
Furu toki mo nashi

Oh, the autumn foliage
Of the hill of Kamioka![12]
My good Lord and Sovereign
Would see it in the evening
And ask of it in the morning.
On that very hill from afar
I gaze, wondering
If he sees it to-day,
Or asks of it to-morrow.
Sadness I feel at eve,
And heart-rending grief at morn—
The sleeves of my coarse-cloth robe
Are never for a moment dry.

One of the poems attributed to Empress Jitō was selected by Fujiwara no Teika for inclusion in the very popular anthology Hyakunin Isshu:

Japanese[13] Rōmaji[13] English[13]


Haru sugite
Natsu kinikerashi
Shirotae no
Koromo hosu chō
Ama no Kaguyama

The spring has passed
And the summer come again
For the silk-white robes
So they say, are spread to dry
On Mount Kaguyama



See also