Emperor Sutoku

Emperor Sutoku (崇徳天皇, Sutoku Tennō, July 7, 1119 - September 14, 1164) was the 75th emperor of Japan, according to the traditional order of succession, and reigned nominally from 1123 to January 5, 1142, with power in effect being exercised by his great-grandfather, the retired emperor Shirakawa, and then by his father the retired emperor Toba.

His personal name was Prince Akihito (顕仁, note that the kanji composing his name are different from those of Emperor Akihito).

Emperor Sutoku Genealogy

Sutoku was the eldest son of emperor Toba and Fujiwara no Shoshi. According to some old books [unclear], Sutoku was in fact not the son of Toba but of his grandfather, emperor Shirakawa.

Biography of Emperor Sutoku

In 1123, under the pressure of the retired emperor Shirakawa, emperor Toba abdicated in favor of his 4 years old son Akihito.

Given the young age of the new emperor, Shirakawa could continue to rule de facto Japan until his death in 1129, Toba then taking over, and forcing him in his turn to retire from the throne in 1142, in favor of his half-brother Konoe.

In 1151, Sutoku ordered the compilation of the waka anthology, Shika Wakashū.

In 1156, upon the death of Toba, a power struggle arose between Sutoku, and the reigning emperor, Go-Shirakawa.

The latter then prevails in this civil war, known as the "Hōgen Rebellion," and Sutoku is exiled to Sanuki province (present-day Kagawa prefecture, on the island of Shikoku).

Suffering in exile away from the capital and its Miyabi-no-sekai, the world of elegance (at the time, exile was the second most severe sentence after capital punishment), ex-emperor Sutoku copied sutras and wrote poems.

His conversion to Buddhism alleviated his suffering and, in an effort to correspond to the ideal of the Bosatsu, he became merciful. Sutoku thus offers his sutras to his enemies at the imperial court, but believing in a curse, they refuse this gesture of forgiveness.

Among his poems, one of them says:

Though there is reflection
The moon itself is reflected
Without thinking about it.
Without thinking, the water
Of the Horizawa pond.

This poem, of extraordinary refinement and distinction, is the origin of the expression "the Moon in the water", of paramount importance in Japanese martial arts.

Of particular note is the Yagyū Shinkage-ryū, which gives it special importance. Although various interpretations exist according to Koryu styles, it is in essence a metaphor for non-thinking, mushin, as the text of the poem indicates.

After his death, Sutoku's enemies feel guilty for the suffering they inflicted on their ruler, and he is believed to have become an onryō (avenging spirit), or daitengu.

He is credited with the fall of the secular influence of the imperial court and the Fujiwara clan, as well as the rise to power of the samurai, especially the Minamoto clan of its loyal obligor and defender, the indomitable superhuman hero Chinzei Hachirō Minamoto no Tametomo, considered the greatest archer in Japanese history and the very first samurai to perform seppuku.

Given his reputation, Edo period folklore made Emperor Sutoku one of the four greatest supernatural demonic manifestations in Japanese history, the four daiyōkai.

The tengu are sometimes considered by medieval accounts (Heike Monogatari, Kakuichi.) as Buddhist scholars who sinned out of arrogance; when they die, they do not reincarnate as humans, and because they are Buddhists are not plunged into hell, but they do not become Buddhas:

their sins lead them to become tengu, living reclusively in the mountains, dressed as yamabushi.

As a result, Sutoku-Tennō was deified in the Shiramine-jingu shrine in Tokyo, in the hope that his vengeful spirit would be appeased (or sealed away), a relatively common custom for high-ranking officials who were victims of gross injustice and court conspiracies, such as Sugawara no Michizane, deified as Tenjin, the god of literature, worshipped ardently by Japanese students to pass their exams.

Emperor Sutoku is also worshipped in Kompira shrines (Kotohira-gū), related to shugendō, and thus to tengū.

Eras of Emperor Sutoku reign

  • Hōan era (1120-1124)
  • Tenji era (1124-1126)
  • Daiji era (1126-1131)
  • Tenshō era (1131-1132)
  • Chōshō Era (1132-1135)
  • Hōen Era (1135-1141)
  • Eiji era (1141-1142)

Emperor Sutoku's Empress, concubines and children

  • Fujiwara no Seishi (1121-1181), daughter of Fujiwara no Tadamichi and Fujiwara no Soshi; entered the Palace in 1129; imperial wife 6 II 1129; empress (chugu) 1 IV 1130; empress dowager (kotaigo) 25 I 1142; titled Kokamon-in 27 III 1150; nun Shojoe 25 XI 1156 + 11 I 1182.
  • Daughter of the bonze Shin-En, grandson of Fujiwara no Tsunesuke; adopted daughter of Minamoto no Yukimune (Sanjo Genji); ° (1120); nicknamed lady Hyoe no Suke, lady of the Palace; + after 1170, mother of :
    • prince Shigehito; ° 1140; imperial prince 31 XII 1141; entered religion 2 VIII 1156; + 13 II 1162.
  • A daughter of Minamoto no Morotsune; mother of
    • Prince Gensho ° ap 1140; + ap 1183; adopted by princess Toshi (Josaimon-In); bonze.