An Overview about Emperor Tenji

The emperors of Japan were always notable to matter what their role in the Japanese history was. There have been ruthless emperors as well as compassionate ones too. All of them have interesting stories and each of their stories are different from one another which makes it refreshing to learn about each of their lives. Amongst all the emperors in Japan’s history, if you are looking for the ones whose lives were filled up action, drama, and adventure, you need not look further than the 38th emperor of Japan who was Emperor Tenji.

By Published by 東京造画館 ("Tokyo Drawing Pavillion", if translated literally) ("古今偉傑全身肖像") [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

The Lineage of Emperor Tenji

Emperor Tenji was the son of Emperor Jomei and Empress Saimei or Empress Kogyoku. As the emperor, he would marry 5 lovely women who were Yamato Hime no Okimi, Soga no Ochi no Iratsume, Soga no Mei no Iratsume, Soga no Hitachi no Iratsume, and Abe no Tachibana no Iratsume. Aside from these women, Emperor Tenji also were involved with court ladies who were namely Oshinumi no Shikibuko no Iratsume, Koshi no Michi no Iratsume, Kurikuma no Kurohime no Iratsume, and Yakako no Iratsume.

By Jon Rawlinson (geisha dance) [CC BY 2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

With this being said, you can almost be sure that this guy would have a lot of children and this is exactly the case because all in all, he had 14 children with all his partners. He had Princess Ota, Princess Uno no Sarara, and Prince Takeru with Soga no Ochi no Iratsume. With Soga no Mei no Iratsume, he had Princess Minabe and Princess Abe, who would eventually be Empress Genmei. With Soga no Hitachi no Iratsume, he had Princess Yamabe. With Abe no Tachibana no Iratsume, he had Princess Asuka and Princess Niitabe. With court lady Oshinumi, he had Prince Kawashima. With court lady Koshi no Michi, he had Princess Oe, Prince Shiki, and Princess Izumi. With court lady Kurikuma, he had Princess Minushi and with court lady Yakako, he had Prince Otomo who would eventually be Emperor Kobun.

Do not judge the man for spreading his seeds wildly because, during those times in Japan, society actually encouraged this because they wanted as many male heirs to their thrones or seats or power as possible. In the end, it did work out that way because some of his children ended up as emperors and empresses of Japan somewhere along the line.

The Rise and Rule of Emperor Tenji

By Vokabre [CC BY-SA 2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

Before Emperor Tenji rose to power, he was known as Prince Naka no Oe. There are other stories told by people like Brown and Ishida about the rise of Emperor Tenji but the most commonly told story about the subject is the one involving the Isshi Incident. As a prince, he already played an essential role in Japanese history because his actions paved the way for him to become the heir apparent. This happened in the year of 644 when they noticed that the Soga clan was continuously gaining power at an alarming rate. Because of the fear created by the Soga’s nearly complete control over the Imperial family, he ended up conniving with Nakatomi no Kamatari and Soga no Kurayamada no Ishikawa no Maro to put an end to Soga no Iruka’s life and cause chaos and delay to the strengthening of the Soga.

This is event or incident that would be referred to as the Isshi Incident and although their plan didn’t work out the exactly the way they wanted, their actions still ended up killing Iruka. After Soga no Iruka’s death, his father, Soga no Emishi, committed suicide. These series of events forced any opposition to Naka no Oe to disappear and it enabled him to be named the heir apparent without contest. Aside from this, he also married the daughter of Kurayamada to ensure that the Soga will side with him when the time came.

The prince became the emperor at the end of his mother’s era as the empress in the year of 661. His reign would last until the time of his death in 672 and despite the shortness of his reign, Emperor Tenji was able to have a lot accomplished in his years of service. He is given recognition for being the person responsible for the first Japanese legal code known to modern historians. This code was called the Omi Code and it was made up of 22 volumes.

It was also during his reign that the first mention of petrochemical oil ever in Japanese history was recorded. It specifically happened during the year of 668 which was also the 7th year of Tenji’s reign. In historical records, the oil was described as flammable water that was offered to Emperor Tenji by a traveler from the Echigo Province. This gift-giving happened at the same time that the Tenji’s ceremonial confirmation as emperor was to happen because he postponed the rites until his mother’s mausoleum was done.

In his passing, there was a succession or senso dispute because of all the children he had. Each of his 14 children had a shot at the throne or the sokui after him but in the end, the throne was handed to Prince Otomo who would be known as Emperor Kobun during his time of reign. Emperor Kobun would then be replaced by Tenji’s brother, Emperor Tenmu. 100 years after the death of Tenji, the throne of the emperor would once again land on a descendant of Tenji and it was his grandson, Emperor Konin. It should also be noted that he was a believer of the Taika reforms and his belief in these things became apparent with his activeness in improving the military institutions of Japan which had been established during the said reforms.

Emperor Tenji as a Writer and His Poems

By Association of Cultural Properties [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Aside from the drama in his life brought about by his lineage and ascension to power and taking into account that Emperor Tenji did, in fact, have a lot of love interests in his lifetime, he has surely experienced enough to be an expert at love in a way or at least it seemed that way because of the poetry he was able to create. For those who do not know, there is a collection of poems that is attributed to several emperors and empresses and it is called the Manyoshu. This collection had a simple narrative called “The Three Hills” and it was about the mountains named Mount Kagu, Mount Miminashi, and Mount Unebi. For the longest time, it was understood by many to be able a love triangle between two males and a female. Despite this, there are still some that think that it was actually the other way around because they thought of the two males as females fighting over a male hill. This mysterious narrative was made by Emperor Tenji.

Aside from this particular work of art that he made, his 31- letter poem was also chosen by Fujiwara to Teika to be a part of the immensely popular anthology called Hyakunin Isshu or One Hundred Poets. The piece that Teika chose to include in the Hyakunin Isshu seems to be able farming but looking deeper into it, it still talks about love and how rushing it destroys its quality. Poems are tricky to critic because the understanding a person can get from it varies depending on the experiences that a particular person has gone through. In the case of this piece, people may take it in different ways but the quality of the writing and the thought put into it really comes out from the get go so it isn’t hard to understand or appreciate why it was given as much recognition and praise as it did.

In some way, the life of the emperor contributes a lot to the interest his literature gets because his life was filled with experiences so intense that putting them to paper made people feel and understand what he was really trying to say. Considering that he was from a wealthy family and a man of power, to have such skills in literature and in writing just makes him all the more amazing because it’s like he is a jack of all trades. He turned out to be great at all the things he put his heart into and that is what makes him an iconic person in Japanese history the most. Saying this shouldn’t take away anything from the quality and beauty of his work because his works truly are great. It just goes to show just how talented this man was to be able to contribute all the things he did within the span of his life.