Gensho (680–748)

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Genshō (680–748)

Japanese empress, during whose reign the Yōro Code—which established the rule of her family, the imperial clan—throughout Japan, was promulgated. Name variations: Princess Hidaka or Hitaka (before ascending the throne); Gensho-tenno. Pronunciation: Gen-SHOW. Born in 680 (some sources cite 679), most likely in the Japanese capital Naniwa; died in 748 in Nara, a later capital of Japan; daughter of Empress Gemmei (c. 661–721) and Prince Kusakabe; sister of Emperor Mommu; niece of Empress Jitō (645–702); never married; no children.

Born in 680, the daughter of Empress Gemmei , Princess Hidaka would follow in her illustrious mother's footsteps by encouraging continued growth in the arts, sciences, literature, and economic life after her ascent to the imperial throne. In 708, age 28, she wrote a poem addressed to her mother on the eve of a battle: "Be not concerned, O my Sovereign; Am I not here,/I, whom the ancestral gods endowed with life, Next of kin to yourself?"

As Empress Genshō, Hidaka reigned from 715 to 724 as the 44th sovereign during the Nara Period, the sixth of ten empresses who have reigned to date in Japanese history. She came to the throne upon the abdication of her mother, though Gemmei continued to oversee the affairs of state until 721. During Genshō's tenure, however, the high point of the centralization of the Japanese state was achieved. In 718, the Yōro Code was promulgated and extended the rule of the central government—particularly with respect to the administration of land and the establishment of the imperial bureaucracy—throughout Japan.

Following her mother's path, Empress Genshō also commissioned a second national history of Japan, the Nihongi, a meticulous chronicle of Japanese court and aristocratic life to the year 697 (it was completed in the middle of her reign, in the year 720). The Nihongi was more scholarly than the previous national history, the Kojiki. After nine years of rule, Empress Genshō abdicated in favor of her nephew Shomu when he reached the age of 25 in the year 724. She died in 748 at the age of 68.


Aoki, Michiko Y. "Jitō Tennō: the Female Sovereign," in Heroic With Grace: Legendary Women of Japan. Armonk, NY: M.E. Sharpe, 1991, pp. 40–76.

Miner, Earl Roy, Hiroko Odagiri, and Robert E. Morrell. The Princeton Companion to Classical Japanese Literature. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1985.

Nelson, Andrew N. The New Nelson Japanese-English Character Dictionary. Rutland, VT: C.E. Tuttle, 1997.

Papinot, Edmond. Historical and Geographical Dictionary of Japan. Ann Arbor, MI: Overbeck Company, 1948.

Linda L. Johnson , Professor of History, Concordia College, Moorhead, Minnesota