Takano no Niigasa (高野新笠)

TAKANO no Niigasa (? - January 21, 790) was the birth mother of Emperor Kanmu. She was the concubine of Emperor Konin, and went on to become Daibunin (also referred to as Taifujin; a title of respect for an Emperor's mother). Her official name was TAKANO no Asomi Niigasa.

Brief Biography
Niigasa was the daughter of YAMATO no Ototsugu. Her mother was HAJI no Sukune (later OE no Asomi) Maimo. She became the concubine of Emperor Tenchi's grandson Shirakabe no Okimi (Prince Shirakabe, the future Emperor Konin, 709 - 782) with whom she gave birth to Imperial Princess Noto in 733, Yamabe no Okimi (Prince Yamabe, the future Emperor Kanmu) in 737, and later Imperial Prince Sawara. However, Shirakabe no Okimi married Emperor Shomu's daughter Imperial Princess Inoe in 744, and was backed to succeed the imperial throne, becoming Emperor Kojin in 770 at the age of 62 (he reigned from 770 to 781). When considering the high status of Inoue and the low status of Niigasa, it was only natural that Imperial Princess Inoe would become empress, and that her son Imperial Prince Osabe would become crown prince.

Although it appeared as though Niigasa's children stood no chance of succeeding the imperial throne, Empress Inoe was suddenly dethroned in 722 for plotting to commit treason using a curse. Empress's child, Imperial Prince Osabe, was also deposed from his status as crown prince before being expelled from the capital, and two years later Imperial Princess Inoe and Imperial Prince Osabe passed away in succession at the place to which they were confined. It is said that the dethronement of the empress and the crown prince was a conspiracy by FUJIWARA no Momokawa and others. Niigasa didn't become an empress due to her low social status but her child, Imperial Prince Yamanobe, was installed as the Crown Prince and went on to become Emperor Kanmu (he reigned from 781 to 806). When Emperor Kanmu ascended to the imperial throne, his younger brother by the same mother, Imperial Prince Sawara, was named as crown prince. However, Imperial Prince Sawara was implicated in the assassination of FUJIWARA no Tanetsugu, and exiled to Awaji but starved himself to death on the way.

Niigasa was referred to as Kotaifujin (a title for the wife of an emperor who had previously retired) after the enthronement of Emperor Kanmu. After she passed away in 789, she was posthumously conferred the court rank of Empress Dowager in 790 and then Grand Empress Dowager in 806. She was entombed at TAKANO no Niigasa Oe ryo (Mausoleum) in Nishikyo Ward, Kyoto City (managed by Imperial Household Agency).

Niigasa's Origins

Her father, YAMATO no Ototsugu, was a descendant of clans that had migrated from Kudara (Baekje; an ancient kingdom located in southwest Korea), and his kabane (hereditary title) is assumed to have been YAMATO no Fubito but this is not certain. She changed her name to TAKANO no Asomi after the enthronement of Shirakabe no Okimi. The article of December 28, 790 in Shoku Nihongi (Chronicle of Japan Continued) is said as follows.

The kabane (hereditary title) of the Empress Dowager was "Yamato", her imina (personal name) was "Niigasa", and she was the daughter of Ototsugu who held the rank of Shoichii (Senior First Rank).'
Her mother was OE no Asomi Maimo, who held the rank of Shoichii (Senior First Rank).'
The Empress Dowager was the descendant of Crown Prince Sunta, son of King Muryeong of Baekje.'
According to the Empress Dowager, she is the descendant of the sun itself; for her distant Baekje ancestor King Tomo was the child born when the daughter of the Hebo river god felt the light of the sun against her.'

It is clear that the Yamato clan descended from King Muryeong of the Baekje royal family. According to Nihonshoki (Chronicles of Japan), Prince Junda of Baekje passed away in 513, and there are scholars who believe that Sunta and Junda were the same person. However, Korean sources contain no references to an individual who was the son of King Muryeong and could be assumed to be Sunta or Junda. It is for this reason that there are those who view the origins of TAKANO no Niigasa with skepticism.

In addition, there is a discrepancy of more than 200 years between the year in which Prince Junda died and the estimated year in which TAKANO no Niigasa was born (710 - 710). Even if the Yamato clan were settlers from Baekje, they were not naturalized new arrivals like the descendants of the Baekje royal family, but arrived considerably further back in time. YAMATO no Ototsugu's name also indicates that he was a member of a clan that had been naturalized as Japanese citizens.

When the characters used to write Yamato Province (大倭国) was changed to '大和' in 757, the characters in all azana (common names) such as 'YAMATO no Sukune' (大倭宿禰) also changed to 'YAMATO' (大和), and it is highly likely that the name of the Yamato clan was originally written using the characters 倭. The Makino grave of YAMATO no Ototsugu is assumed to be the Bakuya-zuka burial mound in Koryo-cho, Nara Prefecture, but this is a kofun (tumulus) of the Umami burial mounds, which were all constructed in different periods.

Additionally, the azana 'Takano' is thought to correspond to present-day Takanohara in Nara City. It is the new residential area located behind the Mausoleum of Empress Jingu. In "Manyoshu" (Collection of Ten Thousand Leaves) it was described as a bleak area, and the mausoleum of Empress Koken had recently been built there but it area had no significance as a honganchi (place written in a family register) or a residential area. Nearby were the Haji clan bases of Sugawarafushimi and Akishino in which temples including Sugawara-ji Temple stood. Even considering that Nagaoka-kyo (the ancient capital of Nagaoka) was located in Oe, it is clear that the Haji clan of her mother's side were revered as nobles, which was a marked contrast to the status of her father's side commoners. Little is known of what happened to the Yamato clan after their name was revised to TAKANO no Asomi.

The Hirano-jinja and Kudo-jinja Shrines
The Engishiki myojin taisha (shrine listed in Engishiki (codes and procedures on national rites and prayers)), Hirano-jinja Shrine located in present-day Hiranomiyamoto-cho, Kita Ward, Kyoto City, had a deep connection to TAKANO no Niigasa. The four enshrined deities of Hirano-jinja Shrine; Imaki-no-kami, Kudo-no-kami, Fukuraki-no-kami and Hime-no-kami, were transferred to Kyoto due to the transfer of the national capital to Heian-kyo (the ancient capital of Japan in current Kyoto). The "Imaki" of "Imaki-no-kami" means "newly arrived" and signifies the peoples who settled in ancient Japan. It has been determined that Imakino-Okami of Tamurakokyu during the period of Heijo-kyo (the ancient capital of Japan in current Nara) was enshrined by TAKANO no Niigasa and Imperial Prince Yamanobe.

Moreover, Kudono-kami was regarded as Kamadogami (the god of kitchen stoves), and Kundo-kami was enshrined in the Engishikinaisha (a shrine listed in the Engishiki laws) Kudo-jinja Shrine in modern-day Oji-cho, Kitakatsuragi-gun County, Nara Prefecture. Because the tomb of YAMATO no Ototsugu is located nearby, it is thought that Kundo-no-kami was enshrined by the Yamato clan which came to Japan from Baekje. It is for this reason that the stronghold of the Yamato clan is assumed to be in this area. However because Kundo-no-kami of Hirano-jinja Shrine had been enshrined in the Naizenshi (Imperial Table Office) of Heijo-kyo, it is thought that Kundo-no-kami was transferred from Kudo-jinja Shrine in Oji-cho to Heijo-kyu Palace before being subsequently transferred to Hirano-jinja Shrine.

Belief in Hachiman

As the relationship with Silla became strained during the Nara period, Hachimanshin (God of War) was transferred from Usa to Kyoto and, as demonstrated by the case in which the deity appeared to WAKE no Kiyomaro as an oracle, belief in Hachiman suddenly increased.
It was thought that Hachimanshin was enshrined by Empress Jingu and Emperor Ojin, and the association of the deity with tales of the subjugation of the three Korean kingdoms meant that it was believed to purify enemies of the Imperial Court and plagues which arrived in Japan that were considered to be caused by 'poisonous air from foreign lands.'
Empress Jingu was 'a descendant of clans that had migrated from Baekje.'
It was therefore natural that emperors including Emperor Kanmu who grew up during this period would emphasize the ambiguous lineage of their mother in order to gain control of Silla if they believed that they had the right to conquer the Korean Peninsula.

During the reigns of Empress Koken and Emperor Shotoku, Shirakabe no Okimi feared that he would be assassinated, so he resigned as dainagon (chief councilor of state) and stayed at the Tamura-tei residence in the suburbs where he spent 'wild' days indulging in the sensual pleasures of drink and women. At that time, it was common for low-ranking ladies-in-waiting to serve persons of noble status, and it is probably true that Niigasa who served as a lady-in-waiting would occasionally catch the eye of Shirakabe no Okimi, attended at his bedside, and received his affection. Emphasis of the emperor's lineage from naturalized settlers was done in order to overcome the negative image of having deposed and expelled Empress Inoe and her followers, and it is natural to regard the move as a plan formulated by the backers of Emperor Kanmu.