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Emperor Kinmei

Emperor Kinmei

Kinmei, (欽明天皇 Kinmei-tennō), who reigned under the name Amekuni Oshiharaki Hironiwa (509 - Asuka-kyō, 571), was the 29th emperor of Japan (539-571) according to the traditional order of succession.

He is the first sovereign of the country to which modern historiography assigns sufficiently credible dates even if, especially with regard to the early years of his reign, sometimes dates and events overlap with those of his predecessor, his half-brother Senka.

The events and dates concerning him are reported in the Annals of Japan (日本紀 Nihongi or Nihonshoki) and in the Chronicles of Ancient Events (古事記 Kojiki), texts that were compiled at the beginning of the eighth century.

According to the Nihongi, it was with his reign that began, in 550, the Asuka period, the first part of the classical period of the ancient province of Yamato and Japan, while according to other sources this period begins in 538, leaving room for the hypothesis that his reign began before 539.

Biography of Emperor Kinmei

His name was Amekuni Oshiharaki Hironiwa, and he was the son of Emperor Keitai and Empress Consort Tashikara. He was the only son of Empress Tashikara and the rightful heir to the throne of Chrysanthemum.

However, he succeeded his half-brother Senka, who had appointed him as his heir, after he died on March 15, 539. He became ruler at the age of thirty years, two months after the death of Senka.

Kinmei did not reign with the current imperial title of "heavenly ruler" (tennō 天皇), which according to much of the historiography was introduced for the reign of Emperor Tenmu.

His title was "great king who rules all that is under the sky" (Sumeramikoto or Amenoshita Shiroshimesu Ōkimi 治天下大王), or even "great king of Yamato" (ヤマト大王/大君).

The clans of the ancient province of Yamato, which corresponds to the current prefecture of Nara, formed the kingdom that, in the Kofun period (250-538), expanded and conquered most of the territories of the islands of Honshū, Kyūshū and Shikoku.

Following these conquests, the rulers of Yamato were given the title of "great king" (Ōkimi 大王) of Yamato.

It was not until the 7th century that the "great kingdom" was called an empire, and the title of emperor was extended to all previous rulers of the dynasty.

When he ascended the throne, Kinmei moved the capital from Sakurai to nearby Asuka-kyō, according to the tradition that sees a bad omen for a Japanese emperor to reside in the same palace of the deceased predecessor, and built the imperial palace Shikishima no Kanazashi (磯城嶋金刺宮).

These localities were located in the province of Yamato, whose territory corresponds to that of today's Nara Prefecture.

A month after his investiture, he married Princess Iwa, daughter of Emperor Senka; his wife was therefore also his niece.

His most influential ministers were:

  • Otomo no Kanemura "Ōmuraji", head of the Nakatomi clan, master ceremonialist of the sacred Shinto rites of the court
  • Mononobe no Okoshi "Ōmuraji," head of the Mononobe clan, who had control of the army
  • Soga no Iname "Ōomi" (office equivalent to that of prime minister), head of the Soga clan

While the Nakatomi and Mononobe were devoted to the ancient Shinto tradition, the Soga, of Korean descent, were Buddhists and worked to introduce their religion to the court.

This generated a power struggle between the three clans that would last for over a century.

During Kinmei's reign, Soga no Iname gained great power, giving the young ruler two of his daughters, Soga no Kitashi-Hime and Soga no Oane-Hime, as wives.

These would give birth to three of the next emperors, Yōmei, Sushun and Suiko, the first female ruler of Japan.

The foreign policy of that time saw the meddling of the court of Yamato in the internal affairs of the three kingdoms of Korea, favoring the kingdom of Baekje, with which the ancient alliance was cemented.

The ruler of that country sent Buddha statues and sacred Buddhist texts to Japan, which were received by the emperor with joy.

After Soga no Iname's approval and doubts expressed by the Mononobe and Nakatomi, Kinmei accepted the gifts and Soga no Iname founded a Buddhist temple to house the sacred objects.

This momentous event caused the resentment of the Mononobe and Nakatomi who, taking advantage of a plague epidemic that was spreading, convinced the emperor that the acceptance of Buddhism had awakened the anger of the Shinto deities, and he had the statues thrown into the sea and set fire to the temple.

These events did not change the esteem of Kinmei for Iname, who retained the office of Ōomi and continued to be one of the most trusted men of the sovereign.

In the years to follow, Japanese war efforts in Korea intensified in defense of the allies of Baekje and Gaya from the attacks of the kingdoms of Goguryeo and Silla. Much of the events of Kinmei's reign relate to the wars, subsequent reconciliations, and diplomatic relations with the Korean kingdoms.

Kinmei died in the summer of 571 in his imperial palace, and left the kingdom to his son Nunakura no Futotamashiki, whom he had named heir to the throne and would become Emperor Bidatsu.

According to the Nihongi, Kinmei was buried in the Hinokuma no saki Ai no misasagi mausoleum dedicated to him, located in Nara.

Emperor Kinmei Genealogy

According to the Nihongi, Kinmei had six wives and 25 children, 16 boys and 9 girls, while according to the Kojiki he had five wives.

The first three were daughters of his half-brother Senka and two others were daughters of the Ōomi Soga no Iname

Princess Ishi-Hime (or Iwa-hime), daughter of Senka and Empress Consort Tachibana no Nakatsu, became Empress Consort in 540 and bore him three sons:

  • Prince Yata no Tamakatsu no Oe
  • Prince Nunakura Futotama-Shiki, born in 538, who became his successor, the emperor Bidatsu
  • Princess Kasanui

Princess Kura Wayaka-Hime, daughter of Senka and Tachibana no Nakatsu, was his second consort and bore him a son:

  • Prince Iso no Kami

Princess Hikage, daughter of Senka and a minor consort, was his third consort and bore him a son:

  • Prince Kura

Soga no Kitashi Hime, daughter of Soga no Iname, became his fourth consort and bore him 13 children:

  • Prince Tachibana no Toyohi no Mikoto, also known as Oe or Ikebe, who became Emperor Yomei
  • Princess Ihane-hime
  • Prince Atori
  • Princess Nukatabe, who would become the first female sovereign of Japan, Empress Suiko
  • Prince Maroko
  • Princess Ohoyake
  • Prince Iso no Kami Be
  • Prince Yamashiro
  • Princess Ohotomo or Ohomata
  • Prince Sakurawi
  • Princess Katano
  • Prince Tachibana Moto no Wakugo
  • Princess Toneri
Soga no Oane hime, daughter of Soga no Iname, became his fifth consort and bore him five children:
  • Prince Mubaragi
  • Prince Katsuraki
  • Princess Hasetsukabe no Anahobe no Hashihito, who became consort of Emperor Yomei
  • Prince Amatsukabe Anahobe
  • Prince Hatsusebe, who would become Emperor Sushun

Nukako no Iratsume, daughter of Kasuga no Hifuri no Omi, was his sixth consort and bore him 2 children:

  • Princess Kasuga no Yamada no Iratsume
  • Prince Tachibana no Maro