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Emperor Shōmu

Emperor Shōmu

Emperor Shōmu (聖武天皇, Shōmu Tennō, 701-4 June 756) was the forty-fifth emperor of Japan according to the traditional order of succession, reigning from 724 to 749.

Emperor Shōmu Genealogy

Shōmu was the son of Emperor Monmu and Fujiwara no Miyako, a daughter of Fujiwara no Fuhito. His empress was Kōmyō (光明皇后), his mother's half-sister, who bore him two children: princess Abe (阿倍内親王, future empress Kōken (孝謙天皇), born in 718, and crown prince Motoi (基皇太子, born and died in 727).

Shōmu also had three children by Agata Inukai no Hirotoji (県犬養広刀自): princess Higami (井上内親王 who married Emperor Kōnin), Prince Asuka (安積親王), who died in 744, and Princess Fuwa (不破内親王).

Biography of Emperor Shōmu

Shōmu succeeded his aunt Empress Genshō, who left him the throne by abdicating in 724.

In 739, Shōmu received a Nestorian delegation (consisting, among others, of the Persian physician Rimitsu) at his court, marking one of the first contacts between Japan and Christianity.

Shōmu is best known for commissioning the statue of Vairocana Buddha at Tōdai-ji in Nara. At the time, the undertaking was so large (the Nara daibutsu is 16 meters high) that later chroniclers accuse him of having completely exhausted the country's supply of bronze and precious metals.

The former emperor himself painted the eyes of the statue during the opening ceremony in 752 and declared himself the servant of the Three Jewels: the Buddha, the teachings and the Buddhist community, almost raising Buddhism to the rank of official religion.

He likewise established the system of provincial temples.

Shōmu is also known as the first emperor whose titular empress was not born into the Imperial House:

Kōmyō was a Fujiwara, and like her mother a daughter of Fujiwara no Fuhito. Their son having died very young, it was in favor of his daughter empress Kōken that he abdicated in 749, but in fact continued to control the government.