Emperor Kanmu

Emperor Kanmu

Kanmu Tennō (桓武天皇) (737-806) was the fiftieth emperor of Japan according to the traditional order of succession.

During his reign (781-806) the capital was moved from Heijō-kyō in Nara, first to Nagaoka-kyō and later to Heian-kyō in Kyoto.

This marks the beginning of the Heian era of Japanese history. He was an active emperor who set up new governmental organizations and fought against the Ezo tribes in the north of the country.

Emperor Kanmu in Politics

Early support for Buddhism, beginning with Prince Shōtoku (574-622), led to a general politicization of the clergy, as well as an increase in intrigue and corruption.

In 784 Kammu moved his capital from Nara to Nagaoka, a move designed to leave the powerful Buddhists of Nara on the fringes of state politics, for although the capital was moved, the great Buddhist temples and their regents remained in Nara.

He also promulgated a long series of edicts that sought to limit the number of Buddhist priests and the construction of clan temples.

The move was disastrous, however, and was followed by a series of natural disasters, including the flooding of half the city. In 785 the chief architect of the new capital and royal favorite, Fujiwara no Tanetsugu, would be assassinated.

Meanwhile, Kanmu's armies were extending the borders of the empire. This led to a revolt and, in 789, to a major defeat of Kanmu's troops. In 798 famine also spread; the streets of the capital were flooded with the sick, and people avoided being enlisted in the army, or in forced labor.

Many posed as Buddhist priests for these reasons. In 794 Kanmu suddenly moved the capital again, this time to Heian-kyō, modern Kyoto. The change was so abrupt that it brought new confusion among the people.

Politically Kanmu shored up his rule by changing the university curriculum. Confucian ideology still provided the raison d'être of the imperial government.

In 784 Kanmu authorized the teaching of a new course based on the Spring and Autumn Annals with two new commentaries: Kung-yang and Ku-liang.

These commentaries employed political rhetoric to promote a state in which the emperor, as "Son of Heaven," was to extend his influence to the barbarian lands. In 798 the two commentaries became compulsory reading at the government university.

Kanmu also supported the travels of the monks Saichō and Kūkai to China, from where they returned to found the Japanese branches of, respectively, the Tiantai (Tendaishū) Buddhist School and Shingon Buddhism.

Emperor Kanmu Genealogy

Kanmu was the son of Emperor Kōnin.

According to the Shoku Nihongi, (続日本紀), Emperor Kanmu's mother, Yamato no Niigasa, later Takano no Niigasa, was a descendant of King Muryeong of Baekje, Korea.

Kanmu was born after his father Kōnin's ascension to the throne. Following this event, Kanmu's half-brother was appointed crown prince. But instead of his half-brother, it would be Kanmu who would eventually succeed his father.

Later, when he came to the throne, Kanmu appointed his younger brother, Prince Sawara, whose mother was Takano no Niigasa, as crown prince. Prince Sawara was subsequently ousted, and died in exile.

Kanmu had many consorts and concubines, and consequently had many sons and daughters. Among them, three sons would eventually become emperors: Heizei Tennō, Saga Tennō and Junna Tennō. The Empress of Kanmu was Fujiwara no Otomuro.

Some of her descendants (known as Kanmu Taira or Kanmu Heishi) took the hereditary title of the Taira, and in later generations would be prominent warriors.

For example: Taira no Masakado, Taira no Kiyomori, and the Hōjō clan. The waka poet Ariwara no Narihira was one of their grandsons.