Emperor Koko: Reigning Japan for Only Three Years

Up to this day, the imperial court still exists in Japan. Japan has a long and rich history of politics as well as imperialism. Numerous emperors have had the privilege of reigning this beautiful country. Each Japanese emperor strived to leave their own mark and legacy before they passed. One of these emperors was Emperor Koko.

Emperor Koko As A Son, Husband, and Father

By Shunsho Katsukawa (1726-1792) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

More commonly known as Koko-tenno in Japanese during his time, Emperor Koko was born in the year 830. Following the traditional order of succession, Emperor Koko was recognized as the 58th emperor of the country. His reign began in the year 884 and ended in the year 887 when he passed away.

The personal name, also known as imina in Japanese, of Emperor Koko was Tokiyatsu or Komatsu-tei. This was his name prior to ascending the Chrysanthemum Throne. Later on, he was also sometimes referred to as the “Emperor of Komatsu.” Because of this, an emperor later on also adopted the name Emperor Go-Komatsu, which translated to “Later Emperor Komatsu.”

Emperor Koko, bearing the name Tokiyatsu Shinno, was the third son of Emperor Nimmyo. He was given birth by his mother Fujiwara no Sawako. Emperor Koko had four Imperial Consorts. Collectively, he sired 41 Imperial children.

He was married to Princess Hanshi, who loved from the year 833 to the year 900. Princess Hanshi was the daughter of Imperial Prince Nakano, who was a son of Emperor Kanmu. With Princess Hanshi, Emperor Koko had several Imperial children. These children were Koretada, Koresada, Motonaga, Sadami, Tadako, Kanshi, Yasuko, and Ishi. Minamoto no Motonaga, however, passed away even before Emperor Koko succeeded the throne.

Imperial Prince Sadami, who lived from the year 867 to the year 931, went on to become Emperor Uda. On the other hand, his sisters the Imperial Princesses went on to marry different emperors. Imperial Princess Tadako was married to Emperor Seiwa while Imperial Princess Kanshi was married to Emperor Yozei. Similarly, Imperial Princess Yasuko was also married to Emperor Yozei. Finally, Imperial Princess Ishi was married to Emperor Daigo.

Emperor Koko also had daughters of Ministers as wives. These daughters were designated as Nyogo. The first woman was Fujiwara no Kamiko, who was the daughter of Fujiwara no Motutsune. The second woman was Taira no Motoko, also known as Toshi, who was the daughter of Taira no Yoshikaze. The third and last woman was Fujiwara no Motoyoshi, who was the daughter of Fujiwara no Yamakage.

Other wives of Emperor Koko also include Shigeno no Naoiko. With Naoiko, he had a daughter known as the Imperial Princess Shigeko. With a daughter of Sanuki no Naganao, Emperor Koko sired a child named Minamoto no Motomi. With a daughter of Fujiwara no Kadomune, Emperor Koko also sired a child named Minamoto no Koreshige.

Court ladies were also among the women who served Emperor Koko and sired him children. With court lady Princess Keishin, who was the daughter of Prince Masami, Emperor Koko had a daughter, Imperial Princess Bokushi. With court lady Sugawara no Ruishi, who was the daughter of Sugawara no Koreyoshi, Emperor Koko sired a child named Minamoto no Junshi, who married Fujiwara no Tadahira later on.

With a court lady who was also a daughter of the Tajihi clan, Emperor Koko sired a child named Minamoto no Kanshi or Ayako. With a court lady, this time a daughter of the Fuse clan, Emperor Koko had a child named Shigemizu no Kiyozane. The surname “Shigemizu” was given by the Emperor, Shisei Koka, in the year 886.

His other children with unknown women were Minamoto no Washi, Minamoto no Reishi, Minamoto no Onshi or Kusuko, Minamoto no Takaiko, Minamoto no Renshi or Tsurako, Minamoto no Reishi, Minamoto no Saishi, Minamoto no Kaishi, Minamoto no Mokushi, Minamoto no Heishi, Minamoto no Kenshi, Minamoto no Shinshi, Minamoto no Shūshi, Minamoto no Mitsuko, Minamoto no Kaishi, and Minamoto no Zenshi.

Significant Events in the Life of Emperor Koko

By Hannah [Public domain], from Wikimedia Commons

Before Koko ascended the throne, the emperor at the time was Emperor Yozei. However, the first kampaku Fujiwara no Mototsune wanted to depose Emperor Yozei. Through his strong influence, he was also to succeed in his goal and put Koko on the throne. During the deposition of Emperor Yozei, Prince Tokiyatsu was already serving as the Governor of Hitachi as well as the Chief Minister of Ceremonies known as Jibu-kyo.

There was an account by Kitabatake Chikafusa in the 4th century of what transpired to depose the late Emperor Yozei. According to this account, Mototsune thought of accomplishing his goal by paying a visit to Tokiyatsu. During his visit, Mototsune made sure to address Tokiyatsu as a sovereign. Mototsune also designated imperial guards to do certain tasks.

Tokiyatsu’s acceptance was made known by heading into the imperial palanquin. Upon his entrance, the prince was transported to the residence of Emperor Yozei, which was located inside the palace. During his travel, the prince was still adorned with the robes of a prince, unaware of what the future held.

On the 4th of February in the year 884, which was during the 8th year reign of Emperor Yozei, he was deposed. It was decided by the scholars to name the third son of Emperor Ninmyo, who was 55 years old at the time, as the next successor to the throne. This succession was known as the “senso.” Koko officially became the emperor of Japan on the 23rd of March in the year 884. The name of the era was updated accordingly in the year 885.

It seemed like a revival was the theme during the rule of Emperor Koko. There were several ancient court rituals and ceremonies that were revived at the time of his reign. An example of this was the imperial hawking excursion to Serikawa. This ritual was first conducted by Emperor Kanmu in the year 796. It died out through the year and was only revived after 50 years by Emperor Koko.

On the 11th of January in the year 886, Emperor Koko revived this tradition and went to Serigawa to hunt with falcons. This type of hunting was very enjoyable for the emperor. Hence, he also made sure to take some time out of his busy schedule to participate in this type of activity. Sadly, after more than just a year since its revival, Emperor Koko passed away on the 17th of September in the year 887 at the age of 57.

The reign of Emperor Koko was short-lived. Unlike some emperors, the actual site of the grave of Emperor Koko is known. Traditionally, Emperor Koko was venerated at a memorial Shinto shrine located in Kyoto, Japan. This place was designated as the official mausoleum of Emperor Koko by the Imperial Household Agency. Its formal name was Kaguragaoka no Higashi no misasagi.

At the time when Emperor Koko was reigning Japan, there was a term called in reference to the group of few men in the country considered to be the most powerful that had connections to the Emperor of Japan. This term was known as the kugyo. These men had some associations to the court of the Emperor, which made them influential as well as powerful.

Recognized as an elite group, the kugyo was typically composed of only three to four men at a given time. These men were hereditary courtiers who were backed by not just their family background but also their experience in politics. These aspects led them to the pinnacle of their career during their lifetime.

During the rule of Emperor Koko, the Daijo-kan included some of the most formidable men at the time of this era. These were Fujiwara no Mototsune, who was considered to be the first kampaku as well as Daijo-daijin; Minamoto no Toru, who served as Sadaijinl Minamoto no Masaru, who served as Udaijin; and Fujiwara no Yoshiyo and Fujiwara no Fuyuo, who both served as Dainagon. No one was appointed as Naidaijin during the rule of Emperor Koko.

Probably the most formidable of them was Fujiwara no Mototsune. He was formerly the sessho or regent at the time of minority of an emperor for Emperor Yozei. However, upon the former emperor’s abdication, Mototsune proceeded to serve the next emperor, Emperor Koko, as regent.

This was how Mototsune became the first official kampaku, which was the position of regent for an adult emperor. After Emperor Koko’s demise in the year 887, he was succeeded his son Emperor Uda.

The Hyakunin Isshu: Poem 15 Composed by Emperor Koko

By UBC Library Digitization Centre (Hyakunin isshu [Ogura hyakunin isshu] [Page 170]) [No restrictions], via Wikimedia Commons

Aside from being an Emperor of Japan, Emperor Koko was also known to be a poet. One of his works was actually included in the Ogura Hyakunin Isshu. The Ogura Hyakunin Isshu is basically a classical Japanese anthology. It is composed of 100 Japanese waka composed by a hundred different poets. The anthology was compiled by Fujiwara no Teika during his residence in Kyoto, Japan.

The poem composed by Emperor Koko that was included in the famous Japanese anthology was called Poem 15. The poem goes, “Kimi ga tame; haru no no ni idete; waka-na tsumu; wa ga koromo-de ni; yuki ha furitsutsu.” This can be translated to, “For my lord’s sake; I went out into the fields of spring; to pick young greens; while on my robe-sleeves; the snow kept falling and falling.”

This poem was accompanied by a headnote in the Kokinshu that states, “A poem sent together with young greens to someone when the Ninna Emperor [Koko] was still a prince.” The “young greens” mentioned here refers to the term “waka-na” in the poem. Basically, young greens were accumulated and eaten as part of the many customs done during the New Year.

Poem 15 was composed to serve as an accompaniment to the said greens that were given as a gift as well as a greeting for the New Year’s celebrations. Because Poem 15 was composed by the emperor, it is said that the poem should not be taken literally but metaphorically. Medieval commentators believe that this poem was composed to denote the sympathy of the emperor with the struggles of his subjects.

Though the poem had political interpretations, these did not have much effect on the visualizations of the poem. There were two approaches to the interpretations of the pictures that accompanied this poem. The first approach is depicting an aristocrat receiving the said young green offered and being cut by a courtier. The second approach is depicting a courtier of high rank giving directions in the accumulation of such greens.

Emperor Uda: Emperor Koko’s Son and Successor

By Emperor_Uda_large.jpg: unknownderivative work: bamse (Emperor_Uda_large.jpg) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

With so many sons who were eligible to succeed Emperor Koko’s throne after his passing, the man who finally ascended the throne was Emperor Uda. Emperor Uda was previously known as Sadami or Chojiin-tei. His reign began in the year 887 and ended in the year 897. In Japanese, he was known as Uda-tennou.

He was most well-known as the founder of Ninna-ji, which he founded in the year 888. He also got involved in the struggles over the regency as well as other high positions of influence within the Imperial court. Emperor Uda was the third son of Emperor Koko. He was given birth by his moth Empress Dowager Hanshi, who was a daughter of Prince Nakano. Emperor Uda’s maternal great-grandfather was Emperor Kanmu, who was Prince Nakano’s father.

Emperor Uda had five Imperial consorts. With them, he had 20 Imperial children. The two sons that had great influence over Japan the following years were Prince Atsuhito and Prince Atsuzane. Following his father’s ruling, Emperor Uda continued to use the services of Fujiwara no Mototsune. However, being somewhat threatened by Mototsune’s power, Emperor Uda wanted to weaken Mototsune’s influence by not naming the latter as the official kampaku.

Emperor Uda finally abdicated in the year 897. After which, he lived in Ninna-ji for more or less 30 years. His position was the Emperor of Japan was succeeded by one of his sons. This son was known as Emperor Daigo.