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Kogyoku-Saimei (594–661)

Kōgyoku-Saimei (594–661)

Japanese empress, the 35th and 37th sovereign of Japan, who witnessed her son commit murder. Name variations: Princess Takaru; (first reign) Empress Kōgyoku; (second reign) Empress Saimei; Kogyokutennō. Pronunciation: KOE-gyoe-koo Sigh-may. Reigned from 642 to 645 and from 655 to 661. Born in 594; died in Kyushu, Japan, in 661, while seeing off her forces to Korea to defend the Paekche kingdom from the Chinese invasion; grandmother of Empress Jitō (645–702); married Emperor Jomei; children: Emperor Tenji; Emperor Oama; and the consort of Emperor Kotoku.

With the power struggles following the death of her husband, Emperor Jomei, Kōgyoku was installed as sovereign by the imperial counselors. The power struggles continued, however, and dramatically in 645 her own son Prince Naka (later Emperor Tenji) murdered an ambitious minister before her eyes. Stunned, she nevertheless questioned her son, who contended that the minister had committed treason. Kōgyoku left the murder scene without uttering a word and abdicated two days later. Nine years later, upon the death of her successor, Emperor Kotoku, she was again called upon to take the throne and served until her death in 661. During her second reign, Kōgyoku frequently sent military expeditions to the northern part of Japan to subdue the aboriginal people there.


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

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

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