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A History of the Japanese People by F. Brinkley

He encountered opposition from Prince Nagaya


THE FORTY-FOURTH SOVEREIGN, THE EMPRESS GENSHO (A.D. 715-723)

In the year 715, the Empress Gemmyo, after a reign of seven years, abdicated in favour of her daughter, Gensho. This is the only instance in Japanese history of an Empress succeeding an Empress.

HISTORICAL COMPILATION

The reigns of these two Empresses are memorable for the compilation of the two oldest Japanese histories which have been handed down to the present epoch, the Kojiki and the Nihongi; but as the circumstances in which these works, as well as the Fudoki (Records of Natural Features), were written have been sufficiently described already (vide Chapter I), it remains only to refer to a custom inaugurated by Gemmyo in the year (721) after the compilation of the Nihongi, the custom of summoning to Court learned men (hakase) and requiring them to deliver lectures on that work. Subsequent generations of sovereigns followed this example, and to this day one of the features of the New Year's observances is a historical discourse in the palace. The writing of history became thenceforth an imperially patronized occupation. Six works, covering the period from 697 to 887, appeared in succession and were known through all ages as the Six National Histories. It is noticeable that in the compilation of all these a leading part was taken by one or another of the great Fujiwara ministers, and that the fifth numbered among its authors the illustrious Sugawara Michizane.

THE FORTY-FIFTH SOVEREIGN, THE EMPEROR SHOMU (A.D. 724-748)

When the Emperor Mommu died (707), his son, the Prince Imperial, was too young to succeed. Therefore the sceptre came into the hands of Mommu's mother, who, after a reign of seven years, abdicated in favour of her daughter, the Empress Gensho, and, eight years later, the latter in turn abdicated in favour of her nephew, Shomu, who had now reached man's estate. Shomu's mother, Higami, was a daughter of Fujiwara Fuhito, and as the Fujiwara family did not belong to the Kwobetsu class, she had not attained the rank of Empress, but had remained simply Mommu's consort (fujiri). Her son, the Emperor Shomu, married another daughter of the same Fujiwara Fuhito by a different mother; that is to say, he took for consort his own mother's half-sister, Asuka. This lady, Asuka, laboured under the same disadvantage of lineage and could not properly be recognized as Empress. It is necessary to note these details for they constitute the preface to a remarkable page of Japanese history. Of Fujiwara Fuhito's two daughters, one, Higami, was the mother of the reigning Emperor, Shomu, and the other, Asuka, was his consort. The blood relationship of the Fujiwara family to the Court could scarcely have been more marked, but its public recognition was impeded by the defect in the family's lineage.

THE FUJIWARA CONSPIRACY

Immediately after Shomu's accession, his mother, Higami, received the title of Kwo-taifujin (Imperial Great Lady). But the ambition of her family was to have her named Kwo-taiko (Empress Dowager). The Emperor also desired to raise his consort, Asuka, to the position of Empress. Consulting his ministers on the subject, he encountered opposition from Prince Nagaya, minister of the Left. This prince, a great-grandson of the Emperor Temmu, enjoyed high reputation as a scholar, was looked up to as a statesman of great wisdom, and possessed much influence owing to his exalted official position. He urged that neither precedent nor law sanctioned nomination of a lady of the Shimbetsu class to the rank of Empress. The Daiho code was indeed very explicit on the subject. In China, whither the drafters of the code went for models, no restrictions were imposed on a sovereign's choice of wife. But the Japanese legislators clearly enacted that an Empress must be taken from among Imperial princesses. Prince Nagaya, in his position as minister of the Left, opposed any departure from that law and thus thwarted the designs of the Fujiwara.


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