Empress Genmei (元明天皇)
Empress Genmei (also known as Empress Genmyo) (661 – December 29, 721) was the first tenno (emperor) in the Nara period and the forty-third tenno (empress regnant) who reigned from August 18, 707 – October 3, 715). Her name was Imperial Princess Ahe (Ahe no himemiko, which is written as "阿陪皇女" in Japanese). The name was also written as "阿閇皇女" in Japanese.
She was the fourth daughter of Emperor Tenchi (also read Tenji). Uno no Sarara no himemiko (Empress Jito) was her paternal half-sister, maternal cousin and mother-in-law (her husband's mother). Empress Genmei's mother was Mei no iratsume, a daughter of SOGA no Kura yamada ishikawa no maro. She was the lawful wife of Imperial Prince Kusakabe no miko, who was a son of Emperor Tenmu and Empress Jito.
Wado no Hijiri-jinja Shrine' in Kuroya, Chichibu City, Saitama Prefecture, known as the place where wado (Japanese copper) was first discovered, has a pair of male and female centipedes made of Japanese copper which were presented by Empress Genmei and have been enshrined as a votive offering to Shinto gods. On December 25, 722, Empress Genmei was enshrined together as Genmyo kagane no mikoto (the term mikoto is an honorific for gods or persons of great importance).
Husband: Kusakabe no miko. Children: Hitaka no himemiko (Empress Gensho), Karu no miko (Emperor Monmu) and Kibi naishinno (the term naishinno refers to the highest rank given by an emperor to his sisters and daughters). Grandchildren: Obito no miko (Emperor Shomu), Hironari no miko, Hiroyo no miko, Kashiwade no okimi (the term okimi here refers to a status given to emperor's siblings and offspring excluded from the imperial family and regarded as commoners), Katsuragi no okimi, Kagitori no okimi and Kuwata no okimi.
In 675, Ahe no himemiko visited the Ise-jingu Shrine with Tochi no himemiko. Around 679, she got married to her nephew, Kusakabe no miko, but he died young before enthronement. Instead of Kusakabe, Ahe's older sister and mother-in-law, Uno no Sarara no himemiko (Empress Jito), ascended the throne. After Empress Jito, Ahe's son Karu no miko succeeded to the throne as Emperor Monmu.
In May, 707, the anniversary of her husband Kusakabe no miko's death (May 22, 707) was designated as a kokki (national day of mourning). However, immediately after that, Emperor Monmu (her son) was taken with illness and died in bed, firmly refusing to admit abdication of the emperorship. Since the surviving grandchild, Obito no miko (the future Emperor Shomu), was too young, Ahe no himemiko succeeded to the throne to connect the Imperial line, as the first empress who had never been an empress consort before.
As wado (Japanese copper) was offered from Chichibu (Kuroya) in Musashi Province in 708, the Empress changed the name of an era into Wado and ordered the minting of Wado-kaichin coins. In that period, the important task was to improve and administer the Taiho Ritsuryo (Taiho Code) issued in 701, so that the Empress gave an important position to FUJIWARA no Fuhito who was competent in practical business.
In 710, she transferred the capital from Fujiwara-kyo to Heijo-kyo. She ordered Sadaijin (Minister of the Left) ISONOKAMI no Maro to remain in the Fujiwara-kyo as an administrator, and therefore Udaijin (Minister of the Right) FUJIWARA no Fuhito became the de facto supreme power-wielder.
On New Year's Day in 712, the Empress issued an imperial decree to let kokushi (provincial governors) care about stevedores. In the same year, the "Kojiki" (Records of Ancient Matters) was presented to the Empress, and in 713, compilation of Fudoki (a description of the natural features, culture and history of provinces) started.
In 715, the Empress enforced the village system (which is known as 'gori-sei' or 'kyori-sei' in Japanese). On October 3, 715, however, due to anxiety for her own old age and the still too young crown prince Obito no miko, she abdicated the throne in favor of her daughter, Hitaka no himemiko (Empress Gensho). The ex-Empress Genmei developed a disease in May, 721, and after asking Nagaya no okimi, her son-in-law, and FUJIWARA no Fusasaki to look after her family and affairs and leaving a will to have her funeral simplified, she passed away on December 29, 721.
Waka (poems) related to Empress Genmei
The following waka appear in "Manyoshu" (Collection of Ten Thousand Leaves).
A preface to the following waka goes: a poem which Ahe no himemiko composed when going over Seinoyama (Mt. Sei). This is the famous Seinoyama on the way to Kii Province, which mountain I longed for when I was in Yamato. The original preface of this waka is as follows: "越勢能山時阿閇皇女御作歌" (Seinoyama o koyuru toki ni Ahe no himemiko no tsukurasu uta). The original waka (in the "Manyoshu," volume 1-35) is written as follows: "此也是能 倭尓四手者 我戀流 木路尓有云 名二負勢能山" (Koreya kono Yamato nishite ha waga kouru Kiji ni arito iu na ni ou Seinoyama). A preface to the following waka goes: a poem composed by the Empress in 708. I can hear brave men shooting arrows; I guess Minister Mononobe is preparing the target. The original waka (in the "Manyoshu," volume 1-76) is written as follows: "大夫之 鞆乃音為奈利 物部乃 大臣 楯立良思母" (Masurao no tomo no oto sunari Mononobe no omaetsugimi tate tatsu rashimo).
Empress Genmei's mausoleum is the Nahoyama no higashi no misasagi (literally, Mt. Naho east mausoleum) in Narazaka-cho, Nara City, Nara Prefecture. The mausoleum has the shape of a hill. It is a knoll-like round tumulus. Empress Genmei passed away on December 29, 721. She ordered before her death as follows: "After my death, construct a furnace in Sahoyama yoranomine, Sounokami-no-kori County, Yamato Province, and cremate my body there; don't do this in any other places," and "Do not dig the hill; construct the furnace in the hill, cut thorns, open a ground and arrange it as a place for mourning; and plant ever green trees there and build a stone monument bearing an inscription." On January 4, 722, therefore, her body was buried in Narayama no misasagi (mausoleum) without the funeral. The name of the mausoleum is recorded as follows: 'Narayama no misasagi' in an article on imperial funerals in "Shoku Nihongi" (Chronicles of Japan Continued); 'Naoyama no misasagi' in an article under the heading of leap March in the fourth year of the Tenpyo-shoho era; and 'Sahoyama yoranomine' in the Empress's own will. According to Engi shoryo-shiki (codes and procedures on national rites for mausoleums), the name of the mausoleum was 'Narayama no higashi no misasagi' (literally, Mt. Nara east mausoleum), the graveyard size being '3-cho (approximately 327.3 meters wide) in an east-west direction, and 5-cho (approximately 545.5 meters long) in a north-south direction,' which was provided with five Shuko households (the term Shuko refers to grave keepers) and the mausoleum was counted as an Enryo (a mausoleum of emperor or empress distantly related to the present Emperor). In medieval times, the whereabouts of the mausoleum were unknown. The "Zen-o byoryo ki" (a study on the past emperors' mausoleums) supposed the location to be Nafuji Haka (tomb), whereas "Yamatoshi" (a topography of ancient Nara) supposed it to be Onabe-kofun Tumulus. At the restoration of the imperial tombs in the last years of the Edo period, the present mausoleum was authorized, thereby being restored. On April 11, 1865, Hirohashi Uemon-no-kami (Captain of the Right Division of Outer Guards) was sent to the mausoleum, where he confirmed the completion of restoration and offered a heihaku (Shinto offering of hemp cloth, rope, paper etc., to a Shinto shrine deity). In medieval times, the 'monument bearing an inscription' built according to the Empress's will fell between rice fields due to the collapse of the mausoleum. Afterward, the monument was unearthed and enshrined in Kasuga-sha Shrine in Nara. During the Meiwa era, Teikan TO (also called Sadamoto FUJIWARA, or mistakenly Sadamoto FUJII) saw the monument, and taking "Todaiji Yoroku" (literally, Digest Record of Todai-ji Temple) into consideration, he identified it as the Empress Genmei's inscribed monument that used to stand at her mausoleum. At the restoration during the Bunkyu era, the monument was transferred to the side of the mausoleum. In 1896, an imitation of the monument was built nearby, based on To's "Nahoyama goryo-ko" (literally, a study of imperial mausoleum of Mt. Naho).