Emperor Yūryaku

Yūryaku (雄略天皇, Yūryaku Tennō, or in his time Ohatsuse-Wakatake(ru)(-no-) Ōkimi; c. 418 - Sakurai, August 7, 479 (Kibi) was the twenty-first Emperor of Japan according to the traditional succession list.

No certain date can be assigned to his reign, but it is believed that he ruled in the second half of the 5th century AD.

Events and dates about him are recorded in the Annals of Japan (Nihongi 日本紀) and the Chronicles of Ancient Events (Kojiki 古事記), texts that were compiled in the early 8th century.

Biography of Emperor Yūryaku

According to the Kojiki and the Nihonshoki, Emperor Yūryaku at birth had the name of Prince Ohatsuse Wakatake. He was the fifth and youngest son of Emperor Ingyō.

Three months after the assassination of his older brother, Emperor Ankō, and after winning the fight for the throne against the other brothers, he became the new ruler. He was named Ohatsuse Wakatake.

Yūryaku did not reign with the current imperial title of "heavenly ruler" (tennō 天皇), which according to much of 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 seventh century that the "great kingdom" was called an empire, and the title of emperor was extended to all previous rulers of the dynasty.

According to the Kojiki, Yūryaku ruled from the thirteenth day of the eleventh month of 456 (Heishin) until his death on the seventh day of the eighth month of 479 (Kibi).

Inscriptions in swords found in some mounds (kofun), indicate that his name was great king (Ōkimi) Waka Takeru. Yūryaku was the name assigned to him posthumously in a later era.

When he ascended the throne, he moved the court in the new palace Hatsuse no Asakura that he built in Sakurai, the same city where the palace of Ankō was located, according to the tradition that saw a bad omen for a Japanese emperor to reside in the same palace of the deceased predecessor.

Of a changeable and violent character, the sovereign was feared at court and by his subjects, whom he had killed several times for reasons of little importance.

Among others, he had a concubine, princess of Baekje, sent by the ruler of that kingdom to cement the alliance between the two states, burned alive for infidelity.

During Yūryaku's reign, the Korean kingdom of Silla was a tributary of Yamato, but had not paid what it owed for eight years.

To reassert supremacy and obtain tribute, in 465 Yūryaku sent an army to protect Silla from invading troops from the northern kingdom of Goguryeo.

The expedition was successful but Silla continued the insubordination, so that the following year Yamato's army invaded the kingdom and restored order. In 469, Yūryaku had a revolt suppressed in Harima province and, in 474, one that broke out in Ise province.

According to Chinese annals of his time, it is conceivable that Yūryaku was known in China as King Bu of the kingdom of Wa, the name by which the kingdom of Yamato was called in China.

These sources report that King Bu between 477 and 478 sent ambassadors to the Southern Kingdoms of China, to the courts of the Liu Song Dynasty, the Southern Qi Dynasty, and the Liang Dynasty.

In addition to asking for military support to defend the Korean tributary kingdom of Baekje from the threat of the other Korean kingdom of Goguryeo, he obtained from the three emperors recognition of his sovereignty over the kingdom of Yamato. According to other sources King Bu was the Muryeong ruler of Baekje.

Yūryaku was also a man of letters; some of the poems attributed to him are included in the ancient text Man'yōshū (万葉集 - Collection of Ten Thousand Leaves) and some of his verses are also reported in the Nihonji and Kojiki.

Also in the Nihonji, he is also remembered for encouraging and spreading silkworm farming in the country.

In 478, Yūryaku appointed his son Prince Shiraka as heir to the throne.

Upon the emperor's death the following year in the court palace, his other son, Prince Hoshikawa, led a revolt to become the new ruler, but the army generals, loyal to Yūryaku's wishes, burned the rebels, barricaded in the treasury palace, alive, and Shiraka became emperor under the name Seinei.

The whereabouts of Yūryaku's remains are unknown; he is revered in the Tajii no Takawashi-hara no misasagi mausoleum in Osaka, which is dedicated to him.

Emperor Yūryaku Genealogy

He married as his first wife the Empress Kusaka no Hatabihime, who bore him no children. He had three other wives:

  • Katsuragi no Karahime (葛城韓媛), bore him two sons: prince Shiraka (白髪皇子), who would become Emperor Seinei (444?-484), and princess Takuhatahime (栲幡姫皇女) (?-459)
  • Kibi no Wakahime (吉備稚媛), gave him the two princes Iwaki (磐城皇子) and Hoshikawa no Wakamiya (星川稚宮皇子) (?-479)
  • Wani no Warawakimi (和珥童女君), gave him the princess Kasuga no Ōiratsume (春日大娘皇女), who would marry Emperor Ninken.