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Emperor Go Shirakawa

Emperor Go Shirakawa

Go-Shirakawa Tennō (後白河天皇) (October 18, 1127 - April 26, 1192) was the 77th emperor of Japan, according to the traditional order of succession. He reigned between the years 1155 and 1158.

Prior to his ascension to the "Chrysanthemum Throne", his personal name (imina) was Prince Imperial Masahito (雅仁親王 Masahito-shinnō).

Emperor Go Shirakawa Genealogy

Emperor Go-Shirakawa was the fourth son of Toba Tennō His mother was Shōko (璋子), daughter of Fujiwara no Kinzane (藤原公実).

  • Empress (Chūgū): Tokudaiji (Fujiwara)
  • Consort: Minamoto Atsushiko (源懿子)
  • First son: Imperial Prince Morihito (守仁親王, future Emperor Nijō)
  • Court Lady: Sanjō (Fujiwara) Sōko (三条(藤原)琮子)
  • Court Lady: Taira no Shigeko (平滋子)
  • Seventh son: Imperial Prince Norihito (憲仁親王, future Emperor Takakura)
  • Consort: Fujiwara Naruko (藤原成子)
  • Third son: Imperial Prince Mochihito (以仁王)

Emperor Go Shirakawa Biography

Imperial Prince Masahito was a candidate to assume the throne in 1155, following the sudden death of his brother, Emperor Konoe; his ascension to the throne was supported by his father, Emperor Toba and Fujiwara no Tadamichi, a key member of the Fujiwara clan.

The retired Emperor Sutoku was opposed to Emperor Go-Shirakawa's son taking over as Emperor; but Imperial Prince Masahito was crowned that year, at the age of 28, as Emperor Go-Shirakawa.

His ascension increased the tension between Emperor Toba and Emperor Sutoku; Emperor Toba took over as Emperor Enclaved at the beginning of his reign, until his death in 1156.

With the death of Emperor Toba, the Hōgen Rebellion began, initially a power struggle between members of the Imperial Family, but in that conflict the samurai class supported Emperor Go-Shirakawa.

Among these warriors were Minamoto no Yoshitomo and Taira no Kiyomori, leaders of the Minamoto and Taira clans respectively. With this support, Emperor Sutoku's forces were defeated.

Thus Emperor Go-Shirakawa had a strengthening of his power as ruler, and only the samurai class would be the counterweight to that power.

In fact, Emperor Go-Shirakawa was one of the characters that allowed the beginning of the decline of the power of the Fujiwara clan and the beginning of the rise of the samurai class,

which would be definitively consolidated shortly before his death, with the creation of the Kamakura shogunate in 1192, and which marks the beginning of the dominance of the samurai through the shogunate for seven centuries until the Meiji Restoration in the mid-nineteenth century.

In 1158, Emperor Go-Shirakawa abdicates at the age of 31, in favor of his son, Emperor Nijō, and becomes Enshrined Emperor to five emperors (Emperor Nijō, Emperor Rokujō, Emperor Takakura, Emperor Antoku and Emperor Go-Toba) until his death in 1192.

After taking over as Emperor Enclaved, he establishes good relations with Taira no Kiyomori, and both are agreeable to the initiation of trade relations with China.

However, after the Heiji Rebellion in 1159, the rivalry between the Taira and Minamoto clans began, with the Minamoto losing and the Taira gaining power. With this fact, the Enclaved Emperor Go-Shirakawa decided to sever the relationship with Kiyomori;

and planned a coup d'état against Kiyomori in 1177, but failed. Kiyomori removes his title of Enclaved Emperor and forcibly sends him to Toba-in, the former palace of his father, Emperor Toba, in 1179.

Taira no Kiyomori decided that his grandson, Imperial Prince Tokihito, would be Crown Prince and future Emperor of Japan.

Emperor Go-Shirakawa, in order to regain power, secretly sent his son, Imperial Prince Mochihito to meet with the Minamoto and declare war on the Taira.

In 1180, Prince Mochihito and Minamoto no Yorimasa initiated the Genpei Wars, a series of battles between the two samurai clans, but initially the Taira held the upper hand in the conflict.

With the death of Kiyomori in 1182, the power of the Taira clan weakened and Emperor Go-Shirakawa was able to regain power as Emperor Enclaved.

With the defeat of the Taira clan in 1185, the Minamoto clan took over the power left behind; creating friction between Emperor Go-Shirakawa and the leader of the Minamoto clan, Yoritomo.

Yoritomo decided to eliminate all his rivals, including his own brother, Yoshitsune. Soon after, both Yoritomo and Emperor Go-Shirakawa reconcile and Emperor Go-Shirakawa allows Yoritomo to found the Kamakura shogunate.

Shortly thereafter, Emperor Go-Shirakawa dies at the age of 64.


Kugyō (公卿) is the collective term for the most powerful personages directly linked to the service of the emperor in pre-Meiji Restoration Japan.

They were hereditary courtiers whose experience and prestige had brought them to the top of the courtly ladder.

  • Kanpaku: Fujiwara no Tadamichi (1099 - 1164)5
  • Daijō Daijin: Sanjō Saneyuki (1099 - 1162)5
  • Sadaijin: Fujiwara no Yorinaga (1120 - 1156)5
  • Udaijin:
  • Nadaijin:
  • Dainagon:

Emperor Go Shirakawa Eras

  • Kyūju (1154 - 1156)
  • Hōgen (1156 - 1159)