Emperor Kanmu

Emperor Kanmu
Emperor of Japan
Crown Prince (親王 Shinnō)
Reign 773–81
Coronation 773
Emperor (天皇 Tennō)
Reign 781–806
Enthronement April 30, 781
Predecessor Emperor Kōnin
Successor Heizei
Born 737
Died February 5, 806(806-02-05) (aged 70)
Burial Kashiwabara no misasagi (Kyoto)
Consorts Fujiwara no Otomuro (Empress)
Princess Sakahito (minor wife)
Era name and dates
Ten'ō, Enryaku: 781–82, 782–806
Father Emperor Kōnin
Mother Takano no Niigasa

Emperor Kanmu (桓武天皇 Kanmu-tennō, 737–806) was the 50th emperor of Japan,[1] according to the traditional order of succession.[2] Kanmu reigned from 781 to 806.[3]

Traditional narrative

Kanmu's personal name (imina) was Yamabe (山部).[4] He was the eldest son of Prince Shirakabe (later known as Emperor Kōnin), and was born prior to Shirakabe's ascension to the throne.[5] According to the Shoku Nihongi (続日本紀), Yamabe's mother, Yamato no Niigasa (later called Takano no Niigasa), was a 10th generation descendant of Muryeong of Baekje.[6]

After his father became emperor, Kanmu's half-brother, Prince Osabe was appointed to the rank of crown prince. His mother was Princess Inoe, a daughter of Emperor Shōmu; but instead of Osabe, it was Kanmu who was later named to succeed their father. After Inoe and Prince Osabe were confined and then died in 775, Osabe's sister – Kanmu's half-sister Princess Sakahito – became Kanmu's wife. Later, when he ascended to the throne in 781, Kanmu appointed his young brother, Prince Sawara, whose mother was Takano no Niigasa, as crown prince. Hikami no Kawatsugu, a son of Emperor Temmu's grandson Prince Shioyaki and Shōmu's daughter Fuwa, attempted to carry out a coup d'état in 782, but it failed and Kawatsugu and his mother were sent into exile. In 785 Sawara was expelled and died in exile.

Kanmu had 16 empresses and consorts, and 32 imperial sons and daughters.[4] Among them, three sons would eventually ascend to the imperial throne: Emperor Heizei, Emperor Saga and Emperor Junna. Some of his descendants (known as the Kanmu Taira or Kanmu Heishi) took the Taira hereditary clan title, and in later generations became prominent warriors. Examples include Taira no Masakado, Taira no Kiyomori, and (with a further surname expansion) the Hōjō clan. The waka poet Ariwara no Narihira was one of his grandsons.

Kanmu is traditionally venerated at his tomb; the Imperial Household Agency designates Kashiwabara no Misasagi (柏原陵?, Kashiwabara Imperial Mausoleum) , in Fushimi-ku, Kyoto, as the location of Kanmu's mausoleum.[1]

Events of Kanmu's life

Kanmu was an active emperor who attempted to consolidate government hierarchies and functions. Kanmu appointed Sakanoue no Tamuramaro (758–811) to lead a military expedition against the Emishi.[7]

Eras of Kanmu's reign

The years of Kanmu's reign are more specifically identified by more than one era name (nengō).[16]


Earlier Imperial sponsorship of Buddhism, beginning with Prince Shōtoku (574–622), had led to a general politicization of the clergy, along with an increase in intrigue and corruption. In 784 Kanmu shifted his capital from Nara to Nagaoka-kyō in a move that was said to be designed to edge the powerful Nara Buddhist establishments out of state politics—while the capital moved, the major Buddhist temples, and their officials, stayed put. Indeed, there was a steady stream of edicts issued from 771 right through the period of Kūkai's studies which, for instance, sought to limit the number of Buddhist priests, and the building of temples. However the move was to prove disastrous and was followed by a series of natural disasters including the flooding of half the city. In 785 the principal architect of the new capital, and royal favourite, Fujiwara no Tanetsugu, was assassinated.

Meanwhile, Kanmu's armies were pushing back the boundaries of his empire. This led to an uprising, and in 789 a substantial defeat for Kanmu's troops. Also in 789 there was a severe drought and famine—the streets of the capital were clogged with the sick, and people avoiding being drafted into the military, or into forced labour. Many disguised themselves as Buddhist priests for the same reason. Then in 794 Kanmu suddenly shifted the capital again, this time to Heian-kyō, which is modern day Kyoto. The new capital was started early the previous year, but the change was abrupt and led to even more confusion amongst the populace.

Politically Kanmu shored up his rule by changing the syllabus of the university. Confucian ideology still provided the raison d'être for the Imperial government. In 784 Kanmu authorised the teaching of a new course based on the Spring and Autumn Annals based on two newly imported commentaries: Kung-yang and Ku-liang. These commentaries used political rhetoric to promote a state in which the Emperor, as "Son of Heaven," should extend his sphere of influence to barbarous lands, thereby gladdening the people. In 798 the two commentaries became required reading at the government university.

Kanmu also sponsored the travels of the monks Saichō and Kūkai to China, from where they returned to found the Japanese branches of, respectively, Tendai and Shingon Buddhism.


Kugyō (公卿) is a collective term for the very few most powerful men attached to the court of the Emperor of Japan in pre-Meiji eras.[22]

In general, this elite group included only three to four men at a time. These were hereditary courtiers whose experience and background would have brought them to the pinnacle of a life's career. During Kanmu's reign, this apex of the Daijō-kan included:

When the daughter of a chūnagon became the favored consort of the Crown Prince Ate (later known as Heizei-tennō), her father's power and position in court was affected. Kanmu disapproved of Fujiwara no Kusuko (藤原薬子 ?-810), daughter of Fujiwara no Tadanushi; and Kanmu had her removed from his son's household.[23]

Consorts and children

For more details on terms related to imperial consorts, see Kōkyū § consorts.

Emperor Kanmu's Imperial family included 36 children.[24]

His Empress was Fujiwara no Otomuro (藤原乙牟漏) (760–790), daughter of Fujiwara no Yoshitsugu (藤原良継)

Hi: Princess Sakahito (酒人内親王) (754–829), daughter of Emperor Kōnin

Bunin: Fujiwara no Tabiko (藤原旅子) (759–788), daughter of Fujiwara no Momokawa

Bunin: Fujiwara no Yoshiko (藤原吉子) (?–807), daughter of Fujiwara no Korekimi

Bunin: Tajihi no Mamune (多治比真宗) (769–823), daughter of Tajihi no Nagano (多治比長野)

Bunin: Fujiwara no Oguso (藤原小屎), daughter of Fujiwara no Washitori

Nyōgo: Tachibana no Miiko (橘御井子), daughter of Tachibana no Irii (橘入居)

Nyōgo: Fujiwara no Nakako (藤原仲子), daughter of Fujiwara no Ieyori (藤原家依)

Nyōgo: Fujiwara no Shōshi (藤原正子), daughter of Fujiwara no Kiyonari (藤原清成)

Nyōgo: Ki no Otoio (紀乙魚) (?–840)

Nyōgo: Kudara no Kyōhō (百済教法) (?–840), daughter of Kudara no Shuntetsu (百済俊哲)

Court lady: Fujiwara no Kamiko (藤原上子), daughter of Fujiwara no Oguromaro (藤原小黒麻呂)

Court lady: Tachibana no Tsuneko (橘常子) (788–817), daughter of Tachibana no Shimadamaro (橘島田麻呂)

Court lady: Sakanoue no Matako (坂上全子) (?–790), daughter of Sakanoue no Karitamaro (坂上刈田麻呂)

Court lady: Ki no Wakako (紀若子), daughter of Ki no Funamori (紀船守)

Court lady: Fujiwara no Kawako (藤原河子) (?–838), daughter of Fujiwara no Ōtsugu (藤原大継)

Court lady: Kudara no Kyōnin (百済教仁), daughter of Kudara no Bukyō (百済武鏡)

Court lady: Fujiwara no Azumako (藤原東子) (?–816), daughter of Fujiwara no Tanetsugu (藤原種継)

Court lady: Sakanoue no Haruko (坂上春子) (?–834), daughter of Sakanoue no Tamuramaro (坂上田村麻呂)

Court lady: Fujiwara no Heishi/Nanshi (藤原平子/南子) (?–833), daughter of Fujiwara no Takatoshi (藤原乙叡)

Court lady: Tachubana no Tamurako (橘田村子), daughter of Tachibana no Irii (橘入居)

Court lady: Kudara no Jōkyō (百済貞香), daughter of Kudara no Kyōtoku (百済教徳)

Court lady: Nakatomi no Toyoko (中臣豊子), daughter of Nakatomi no Ōio (中臣大魚)

Court lady: Kawakami no Manu (河上真奴), daughter of Nishikibe no Haruhito (錦部春人)

Court lady (Nyoju): Tajihi no Toyotsugu (多治比豊継), daughter of Tajihi no Hironari (多治比広成)

Court lady: Kudara no Yōkei (百済永継), daughter of Asukabe no Natomaro (飛鳥部奈止麻呂)


In 2001, Japan's emperor Akihito told reporters "I, on my part, feel a certain kinship with Korea, given the fact that it is recorded in the Chronicles of Japan that the mother of Emperor Kanmu was of the line of King Muryong of Baekje." It was the first time that a Japanese emperor publicly acknowledged Korean blood in the imperial line.[25] According to the Shoku Nihongi, Emperor Kammu's mother, Takano no Niigasa is a descendant of Prince Junda, son of Muryeong, who died in Japan in 513 (Nihon Shoki Chapter 17).

See also


Japanese Imperial kamon — a stylized chrysanthemum blossom
  1. 1 2 Imperial Household Agency (Kunaichō): 桓武天皇 (50); retrieved 2013-8-22.
  2. Nussbaum, Louis-Frédéric. (2005). "Etchū" in Japan Encyclopedia, p. 464; Ponsonby-Fane, Richard. (1959). The Imperial House of Japan, pp. 61–62.
  3. Titsingh, Isaac. (1834). Annales des empereurs du Japon, pp. 86–95, p. 86, at Google Books; Brown, Delmer M. Gukanshō, pp. 277–279; Varley, H. Paul. Jinnō Shōtōki, pp. 148–150.
  4. 1 2 3 4 5 Brown, p. 277.
  5. Titsingh, p. 86, p. 86, at Google Books; Varley, p. 149.
  6. Watts, Jonathan. "The emperor's new roots: The Japanese emperor has finally laid to rest rumours that he has Korean blood, by admitting that it is true," The Guardian (London). December 28, 2001.
  7. Titsingh, pp. 91–2, p. 91, at Google Books; Brown, pp. 278–79; Varley, p. 272.
  8. Brown, p. 34.
  9. Julian dates derived from NengoCalc
  10. 天安一年四月三日
  11. Titsingh, pp. 85–6, p. 85, at Google Books; Brown, p. 277.
  12. Titsingh, p. 86, p. 86, at Google Books; Varley, p. 44; a distinct act of senso is unrecognized prior to Emperor Tenji; and all sovereigns except Jitō, Yōzei, Go-Toba, and Fushimi have senso and sokui in the same year until the reign of Emperor Go-Murakami.
  13. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 Brown, 278.
  14. 1 2 3 4 Brown, 279.
  15. 延暦一年六月十四日
  16. 1 2 3 4 Titsingh, p. 86, p. 86, at Google Books.
  17. 延暦二年三月
  18. 延暦二年七月
  19. 延暦十に
  20. 延暦十三年十月二十一日
  21. Varley, p. 150.
  22. kugyō of Kammu-tennō
  23. 1 2 Ponsonby-Fane, p. 318.
  24. Ponsonby-Fane, p. 62.
  25. Guardian.co.uk


Regnal titles
Preceded by
Emperor Kōnin
Emperor of Japan:

Succeeded by
Emperor Heizei
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