Chiten no Kimi (治天の君)

Chiten no Kimi was the word for the retired emperor or emperor who took control of politics as the head of Imperial Family from ancient times to the Medieval period. Chiten no Kimi in fact reigned as Emperor. When the retired emperor was actual Chiten no Kimi, the current emperor was called Zaii no Kimi. While a retired emperor governed the cloistered government as Chiten no Kimi, it was called Shinsei (Emperor's directly ruled government) when the current emperor takes control of the politics. Chiten no Kimi was also called Chitenka, Chiten, Seimu. From now on Chiten no Kimi is called 'Chiten' in this section.

The establishment and the meaning of Chiten

The rank of Chiten started in the late Heian period when the cloistered government was introduced. Until then, the regency government was run by the Northern House of the Fujiwara clan who took the actual control of politics as regent and chancellor (acted as Emperor's proxy or supporter). It was the Emperor who was at the top position of the organization of government, according to the ritsuryo codes, it was the source of regent and chancellor's authority to act as Emperor or to support the emperor. However, after Emperor Shirakawa started his cloister government, the retired Emperor still took the control of politics to use his direct paternal rights after he passed the position to his son, there was no basis for regency government to exist any longer. This change in politics could be seen as political power was taken away by the retired emperor who was the Emperor's paternal line, from the regent and chancellor families who were from maternal line of the Emperor.

From around the mid to the end of Heian period, it was gradually becoming popular for one noble family to succeed a certain government official positions in one family within the society of court nobles. To succeed the official government position means to have the right to receive profit that came with the position, the head of the family of the official government position had a right and a duty to contribute the profit to the family. This kind of social trend influenced the Imperial Family, it was presumed that the head of the Imperial Family started using authority that Emperor originally had.

This person, head of the Imperial Family was in fact the Emperor, he started to be called Chiten. Although there were times when some retired emperors existed, only one person was called Chiten, there was even an incidents of fighting between a retired emperor and the emperor to take the position of Chiten (the Hogen War). When Chiten became the actual Emperor, the Emperor was called as if he was Crown Prince. In fact, when the cloistered government developed full-scale, there was no need to have an official Crown Prince.

There were two main conditions required to become Chiten. First of all it should be a person who was once Emperor. Secondly he should be a direct ascendant of the current emperor. As the result of this, it was necessary to become Chiten to pass the Imperial succession to his descendant, therefore it was a matter of life and death to obtain the position of Chiten.

In the late Heian period

It was said the establishment of Chiten was when Emperor Shirakawa passed the Imperial succession to his biological son, Emperor Horikawa and started the cloistered government in 1086. Although Emperor Horikawa was Emperor, the Retired Emperor Shirakawa took control of the politics. Even after Emperor Horikawa died and his son, Emperor Toba succeeded to the throne, the Retired Emperor Shirakawa kept on ruling the government. After Shirakawa died, the Retired Emperor Toba, who passed the throne to Emperor Sutoku, became Chiten and started the cloistered government. Both Shirakawa and Toba worked to positively develop politics, it was criticized as the typical style of despotic cloistered government or the golden age of the cloistered government.

In 1156 after Toda died, the brothers of Emperor Sutoku and Emperor Goshirakawa fought against each other to take the position of Chiten, Emperor Goshirakawa won the battle (The Hogen War). After Goshirakawa abdicated from the throne two years later in 1158, he started the cloistered government, there were incidents that happened when Kiyomori TAIRA stopped the cloistered government or when Emperor Takakura took control of the cloistered government during this period, however Goshirakawa was in the position of Chiten until he died in 1192.

After the late era of Retired Emperor Shirakawa's government, there were many donations of private estates (owned by a noble, a temple or a shrine) to the retired Emperor's Palace, it caused the Imperial Palace to have an enormous financial base. These private estates were sorted by some groups and succeeded to different families individually. Examples of above are seen in groups of private estates, Hachijoin estate, in which Toba let his daughter Hachijoin to succeed, and others are the the estates of Chokodo which Goshirakawa donated to the temple called Chokodo. Chiten had a right to control those enormous groups of private estates as the head of the Imperial Family.

The Kamakura period

The next Chiten after Goshirakawa was his grandchild, Emperor Gotoba. In 1180 as the result of the Jisho, Juei War, the Kamakura bakufu (Japanese feudal government headed by shogun) was established in the eastern province and had their own right to rule the government, however Gotoba who had the absolute power to direct a despotic government as Chiten, he could not stand the existence of the bakufu. In 1221 soon after the bakufu was established, MINAMOTO no Sanetomo, who was the Seii Taishogun (literally, "great general subdues the barbarians"), was assassinated.
Toba attempted to overthrow the bakufu with armed force since he thought the bakufu was in an insecure condition without having the Seii Taishogun, but his forces lost the battle against the bakufu. (The Jokyu War)
Due to this, Gotoba and other retired Emperors and Emperors who were direct line of Gotoba, had their positions taken away, and Emperor Gohorikawa succeeded to the throne. Gohorikawa's father, Imperial Prince Morisada, was decided to become Chiten as the head of the Imperial Family, however the Prince had never been an Emperor and, therefore, did not satisfy conditions to become Chiten.
However it was considered that as an emergency, he became an exceptional Chiten, he started ruling the cloistered government as Gotakakurain. (Following the example of the Emperor, he received in go title (a posthumous title given to an emperor) after death.))
This showed that the existence of Chiten became necessary.

After the Jokyu War, Chiten did not have absolute political authority like it use to have, it became common to have meetings with the bakufu to decide an important issue. After middle of thirteenth century, there was a conflict between Emperor Gofukakusa's line (Jimyoin Imperial line) and Emperor Kameyama's line (Daikakuji Imperial line) to succeed to the next position of Chiten, but Emperor Gosaga died and left his will to have Emperor Kameyama's line succeed to the throne, Emperor Gofukakusa's line was against it and asked the bakufu to support their force. Finally, the bakufu worked as mediator between the two parties, and it was decided to have Ryoto tetsuritsu (sharing the Imperial succession) become Chiten by turns. Originally Chiten would have appointed the next successor to the position, but the authority to appoint the successor was requested to the bakufu, this proved that Chiten's authority became weak and the bakufu partly acted to use the authority of Chiten.

In 1318 Emperor Godaigo of Daikakuji Imperial line dramatically changed the above situation. First of all, he stopped his father, Emperor Uda's cloistered government and started to rule the government directly by himself, he tried to overthrow the bakufu twice although he failed, it was presumed that these attempts were both aimed at having concentrated political power (unification of authority).

The Muromachi period

The Kenmu Restoration started by Emperor Godaigo in 1333, ended in just a few years, the person in power at that time, Takauji ASHIKAGA was to open the bakufu (the Muromachi bakufu (Japanese feudal government headed by a shogun)). At that time Takauji himself became Seii Taishogun, while he appointed Emperor Kogon, of the Jimyoin Imperial line, as Chiten, and also appointed his younger brother, Emperor Komyo as Emperor. Although Emperor Godaigo denied the need for the position of Chiten, it showed that it was necessary for society. Later on Military governor of Mino Province, Yorito TOKI threw an arrow at the Retired Emperor Kogon, Takauji's younger brother, Tadayoshi ASHIKAGA, who was asked to deal with this incident from Takauji, did not take the advice of other people inside and outside of the bakufu to save Yorito's life, and forced the death penalty on him. Tadayoshi understood that only authority from the Retired Emperor Kogon as Chiten, would have proved the legitimate political power of the Muromachi bakufu.

In 1352 the Southern Court that was going against the Northern Court and the bakufu, attempted to cause the Kanno Disturbance and was able to kidnap the Chiten, Emperor, and Crown Prince of the Northern Court. Since Chiten had to give official approval for making any political decision even though it may be just a formality, the bakufu and the court nobles of Northern Court started working on restoring the Northern Court. They thought it would be hard to get their Chiten, Emperor, and Crown Prince back, they appointed Imperial Prince Iyahito (Emperor Kogon's son) as Emperor Gokogon, who was in the priesthood, they also decided to appoint Kogimonin (Neishi/Yasuko SAIONJI, Gofushimi's Nyogo (high-ranking lady in the court, Emperor Kogon's birth mother) as Chiten, who had the highest rank in the Imperial Family among those who remained in Kyoto. It was the first time to have a female Chiten who was not from Imperial Family, however due to this succession, the Northern Court was able to survive. Whatever the political form was, it was necessary to keep the style of Chiten as it was.

The last Chiten might have been Emperor Goenyu, who was Emperor Gokogon's son. Emperor Goenyu died in 1393. After that although some retired emperor ruled the cloistered government, it was different from the head of the Imperial Family ruling politics, therefore, this type of government could not be called Chiten. For example Emperor Goenyu's son, Emperor Gokomatsu made the unity of the Southern and the Northern Courts happen in 1392, and became the only Emperor since Emperor Godaigo's era, he then passed the Imperial throne to his Prince, Emperor Shoko to start his cloistered government, after Emperor Shoko died in 1428 and there was no one to succeed to the throne, he appointed Emperor Gohanazono from the Fushiminomiya family as a successor to continue to rule his government. This was planned by Shogun, Yoshimitsu ASHIKAGA who tried to cancel the mutual agreement of Ryoto tetsuritsu between the Southern and the Northern Courts, and to make the Imperial succession of the Jimyoin Imperial line become an existing fact. After Goenyu died, Yoshimitsu ASHIKAGA was the actual Chiten, there was a theory that he planned to appoint his son, Yoshitsugu, as Emperor. It was also presumed that Emperor Gohanazono was appointed to Emperor after Yoshimitsu died from Retired Emperor Gokomatsu's intention as Chiten.