Jito (645–702)

views updated

Jitō (645–702)

The 41st Japanese sovereign, who completed the centralization of the Japanese state under imperial rule. Name variations: Princess Uno, Sasara, or Hirono; Empress Jito; Jito-tennō or Jitō Tenno. Pronunciation: jhee-TOE. Born in 645 (some sources cite 625) in the capital, Naniwa; died in 702 (some sources cite 701) in Fujiwara, Japan; daughter of emperor Tenji (also seen as Tenchi) and Oichi; sister of Gemmei (c. 661–721); married Prince Oama who later became Emperor Temmu; children: Prince Kusakabe (r. 690–697).

Jitō was born in 645 in the capital, Naniwa, the daughter of Emperor Tenji and Oichi , the sister of Empress Gemmei . In her youth, Jitō was known for her intelligence; she studied the Chinese classics, which were usually taught only to boys. She was also politically astute, initially assisting her husband, Emperor Temmu, in his ascent to the throne by developing successful military strategies and heroically commanding the troops at Ise (the Ise Shrine, dedicated to the sun goddess, symbolized imperial rule). Jitō educated herself on matters of law and drafted regulations during Temmu's reign. In order to forestall power struggles following Temmu's death, Jitō assumed the throne and moved immediately to consolidate central political authority: she ordered a national census in order to more effectively collect taxes, and she established the army and drafted their training regulations and service codes. In 694, Jitō established a new national capital in Fujiwara.

While these achievements were relatively short-lived, Jitō also made several long-term contributions. First, a government bureaucracy was created (Taika Reforms). The tribal (kingship) system was ended, and the Japanese state was placed under a single sovereign (tennō) rather than many chieftains. Second, as a patron of Buddhism, Jitō supervised efforts to proselytize throughout Japan. Finally, a poet herself, she was a patron of the arts. Her poems were included in the imperial anthology, the Manyōshu. On the death of her husband, she wrote:

Sadness I feel at eve,
And heart-rending grief at morn—
The sleeves of my coarse-cloth robe
Are never for a moment dry.

Jitō also recognized local artists and performers, particularly those skilled in the martial arts. She abdicated in 697, installing her grandson, Emperor Mommu, on the throne. She became the first to use the title dōjo-tennō (ex-empress), which enabled her to continue wielding power until her death in 702.


Aoki, Michiko Y. "Jitō Tennō: The Female Sovereign," in Heroic with Grace: Legendary Women of Japan. Edited by Chieko Irie Mulhern. Armonk, NY: M.E. Sharpe, 1991, pp. 40–76.

suggested reading:

Kidder, J. Edward. Early Buddhist Japan. NY: Praeger, 1972.

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