Emperor Kōkaku

Last updated
Emperor of Japan
Reign16 December 1780 – 7 May 1817
Predecessor Go-Momozono
Successor Ninkō
Daijō Tennō
Reign7 May 1817 – 11 December 1840
Born(1771-09-23)23 September 1771
Died11 December 1840(1840-12-11) (aged 69)
Spouse Princess Yoshiko
Among others...
Emperor Ninkō
House Yamato
FatherPrince Kan'in Sukehito
MotherŌe Iwashiro
Religion Shinto

Emperor Kōkaku(光格天皇,Kōkaku-tennō , September 23, 1771 – December 11, 1840) was the 119th emperor of Japan, according to the traditional order of succession. [1] [2] Kōkaku's reigned from December 16, 1780, until his abdication on May 7, 1817 in favor of his son. After his abdication he ruled as a Daijō Tennō (太上天皇, Abdicated Emperor) also known as a Jōkō (上皇) until his death in 1840. He has the distinction of being most recent Japanese emperor to have abdicated. [3]


Major events in Kōkaku's life included an ongoing famine that affected Japan early into his rule. The response he gave during the time was welcomed by the people, and helped to undermine the shōgun's authority. The Kansei Reforms came afterwards as a way for the shōgun to cure a range of perceived problems which had developed in mid-18th century but was met with partial success.

A member of a cadet branch of the imperial family, Kōkaku is the founder of the dynastic imperial branch which currently sits on the throne. Kōkaku had one spouse during his lifetime, and six concubines who gave birth to sixteen children. Only one son survived into adulthood and eventually became the next emperor. Genealogically, Kōkaku is the lineal ancestor of all the succeeding emperors of Japan up to the current Emperor, Akihito.

Events of Kōkaku's life

Early Life

Before Kōkaku's accession to the Chrysanthemum Throne, his personal name ( imina ) was Morohito(師仁). He was the sixth son of Imperial Prince Kan'in Sukehito (閑院宮典仁, 1733–1794) the second Prince Kan'in of the Kan'in-no-miya imperial collateral branch. As a younger son of a cadet branch, the Kan'in house, it was originally expected that Morohito would go into the priesthood at the Shugoin Temple. This situation changed in 1779 though, as the sonless emperor Go-Momozono was dying. In order to avoid a dynastic interregnum, former Empress Go-Sakuramachi (now retired) and the emperor's chief adviser encouraged Go-Momozono to hastily adopt Prince Morohito. The adopted prince was the emperor's second cousin once removed in the biological male line. Go-Momozono died on December 16, 1779, and a year later Morohito acceded to the throne at age eight as Emperor Kōkaku.

As Emperor

Coinage of Emperor Kōkaku

During his reign, Kōkaku attempted to re-assert some of the Imperial authority over the Shōgun (or bakufu). He undertook this by first implementing a relief program during the Great Tenmei famine, which not only undermined the effectiveness of the bakufu to look after their subjects, but also focused the subjects' attention back to the Imperial household. He also took an active interest in foreign affairs; keeping himself informed about the border dispute with Russia to the north, as well as keeping himself abreast of knowledge regarding foreign currency, both Chinese and European. The new era name of Tenmei (meaning "Dawn") was created to mark the enthronement of new emperor. The previous era ended and the new one commenced in An'ei 11, on the 2nd day of the 4th month. In his first year of reign, Kōkaku was instrumental in reviving old ceremonies involving the old Imperial Court, as well as those performed at the Iwashimizu and Kamono shrines.

An analysis of silver currency in China and Japan "Sin sen sen pou (Sin tchuan phou)" was presented to the emperor in 1782 by Kutsuki Masatsuna (1750–1802), also known as Kutsuki Oki-no kami Minamoto-no Masatsuna, hereditary daimyōs of Oki and Ōmi with holdings in Tanba and Fukuchiyama. [4] Masatsuna published Seiyō senpu (Notes on Western Coinage) five years later, with plates showing European and colonial currency. [5] Countrywide currency reforms later came after the Meiji Restoration when a new system was adopted around the Japanese yen. In 1786, former Empress Go-Sakuramachi engaged Go-Momozono's only child (Princess Yoshiko) to the new Emperor. Yoshiko formally became Empress consort to Emperor Kōkaku at age 15.

The emperor and his court were forced to flee from a fire that consumed the city of Kyoto in 1788, the Imperial Palace was destroyed as a result. No other re-construction was permitted until a new palace was completed. The Dutch VOC Opperhoofd in Dejima noted in his official record book that "people are considering it to be a great and extraordinary heavenly portent." [6] The new era name of Kansei (meaning "Tolerant Government" or "Broad-minded Government") was created in 1789 to mark a number of calamities including the devastating fire at the Imperial Palace. The previous era ended and a new one commenced in Tenmei 9, on the 25th day of the 1st month. During the same year, the emperor came into dispute with the Tokugawa shogunate about his intention to give the title of Abdicated Emperor ((Daijō Tennō , 太上天皇) to his father, Prince Sukehito. This dispute was later called the "Songo incident" (the "respectful title incident"), and was resolved when the Bakufu gave his father the honorary title of "Retired Emperor". [7]

Two more eras would follow during Kōkaku's reign, on February 5, 1801 a new era name (Kyōwa) was created because of the belief that the 58th year of every cycle of the Chinese zodiac brings great changes. Three years later the new era name of Bunka (meaning "Culture" or "Civilization") was created to mark the start of a new 60-year cycle of the Heavenly Stem and Earthly Branch system of the Chinese calendar which was on New Year's Day. During this year, Daigaku-no-kami Hayashi Jussai (1768–1841) explained the shogunate foreign policy to Emperor Kōkaku in Kyoto. [8] The rest of Kōkaku's reign was quiet aside from two 6.6m earthquakes which struck Honshū in the years 1810 and 1812. [9] The effects on the population from these earthquakes (if any) is unknown.

Abdication and death

Emperor Kōkaku leaving for Sentō Imperial Palace after abdicating in 1817

In 1817, Kōkaku abdicated in favor of his son, Emperor Ninkō. In the two centuries before Kōkaku's reign most emperors died young or were forced to abdicate. Kōkaku was the first Japanese monarch to remain on the throne past the age of 40 since the abdication of Emperor Ōgimachi in 1586.[ citation needed ] He was also the last Emperor to rule as a Jōkō (上皇), an emperor who abdicated in favor of a successor (it has been announced that the current Emperor, Akihito, has plans to abdicate in 2019, however, and would thus be the first Jōkō since then). Kōkaku travelled in procession to Sento Imperial Palace, a palace of an abdicated emperor. The Sento Palace at that time was called Sakura Machi Palace. It had been built by the Tokugawa shogunate for former-Emperor Go-Mizunoo. [10]

After Kōkaku's death in 1840, he was enshrined in the Imperial mausoleum, Nochi no Tsukinowa no Higashiyama no misasagi(後月輪東山陵), which is at Sennyū-ji in Higashiyama-ku, Kyoto. Also enshrined in Tsuki no wa no misasagi , at Sennyū-ji are this emperor's immediate Imperial predecessors since Emperor Go-MizunooMeishō, Go-Kōmyō, Go-Sai, Reigen, Higashiyama, Nakamikado, Sakuramachi, Momozono, Go-Sakuramachi and Go-Momozono. This mausoleum complex also includes misasagi for Kōkaku's immediate successors – Ninkō and Kōmei. [11] Empress Dowager Yoshikō is also entombed at this Imperial mausoleum complex. [12]

Kansei Reforms

The Kansei Reforms(寛政の改革,Kansei no kaikaku) were a series of reactionary policy changes and edicts which were intended to cure a range of perceived problems which had developed in mid-18th century Tokugawa Japan. Kansei refers to the nengō , or (Japanese era name) that spanned the years from 1789 through 1801 (after " Tenmei " and before " Kyōwa ";) the reforms occurred during Kansei. In the end, the shogunate's interventions were only partly successful. Intervening factors like famine, floods and other disasters exacerbated some of the conditions which the shōgun intended to ameliorate.

Matsudaira Sadanobu (1759–1829) was named the shōgun's chief councilor ( rōjū ) in the summer of 1787; and early in the next year, he became the regent for the 11th shōgun, Tokugawa Ienari. [13] As the chief administrative decision-maker in the bakufu hierarchy, he was in a position to effect radical change; and his initial actions represented an aggressive break with the recent past. Sadanobu's efforts were focused on strengthening the government by reversing many of the policies and practices which had become commonplace under the regime of the previous shōgun, Tokugawa Ieharu.

These reform policies could be interpreted as a reactionary response to the excesses of his rōjū predecessor, Tanuma Okitsugu (1719–1788). [14] The result was that the Tanuma-initiated, liberalizing reforms within the bakufu and the relaxation of sakoku (Japan's "closed-door" policy of strict control of foreign merchants) were reversed or blocked. [15] Education policy was changed through the Kansei Edict (寛政異学の禁 kansei igaku no kin) of 1790 which enforced teaching of the Neo-Confucianism of Zhu Xi as the official Confucian philosophy of Japan. [16] The decree banned certain publications and enjoined strict observance of Neo-Confucian doctrine, especially with regard to the curriculum of the official Hayashi school. [17]

This reform movement was accompanied by three others during the Edo period: the Kyōhō reforms (1716–1736), the Tenpō reforms of the 1830s and the Keiō Reforms (1866–1867). [18]


Kugyō (公卿) is a collective term for the very few most powerful men attached to the court of the Emperor of Japan in pre-Meiji eras. Even during those years in which the court's actual influence outside the palace walls was minimal, the hierarchic organization persisted.

In general, this elite group included only three to four men at a time. These were hereditary courtiers whose experience and background would have brought them to the pinnacle of a life's career. During Kōkaku's reign, this apex of the Daijō-kan included:

Eras of Kōkaku's reign

The years of Kōkaku's reign are more specifically identified by more than one era name or nengō . [4]



ChūgūImperial Imperial Princess Yoshiko (欣子内親王)11 March 177911 August 1846 Emperor Go-Momozono Third Son: Imperial Prince Masuhito
Seventh Son: Imperial Prince Toshihito

Yoshiko was the only child of former Emperor Go-Momozono. She formally became Empress consort (chūgū) to Emperor Kōkaku at age 15 after she was engaged to the new emperor by former empress Go-Sakuramachi. The couple had two sons but both died before reaching adulthood. Yoshiko eventually functioned as an official mother though to the heir who would become Emperor Ninkō [19] In 1816, Emperor Ninkō granted Empress Yoshiko the title of Empress Dowager after Emperor Kōkaku abdicated. [20] She later became a Buddhist nun after her husband died, and changed her name to Shin-Seiwa-In(新清和院,Shin-seiwa-in) in 1841. [20]


unknownunknownunknownunknownDaughter: Kaijin’in-miya
Hamuro Yoriko (葉室頼子)17731846Hamuro YorihiroFirst Son: Imperial Prince Ayahito
First Daughter: Princess Noto
Second Son: Prince Toshi
Kajyūji Tadako (勧修寺婧子)December 1, 1780April 20, 1843Kajyūji TsunehayaFourth Son: Imperial Prince Ayahito, the future Emperor Ninkō
Second Daughter: Princess Tashi
Fourth Daughter: Princess Nori
Takano Masako (高野正子)17741846Takano YasukaSixth Son: Prince Ishi
Anekouji Toshiko (姉小路聡子)17941888Anekouji KōsōFifth Daughter: Princess Eijun
Eighth Daughter: Princess Seisho
Eighth Son: Prince Kana
Higashiboujo Kazuko (東坊城和子)17821811Higashiboujo MasunagaFifth Son: Imperial Prince Katsura-no-miya Takehito
Third Daughter: Princess Reimyoshin'in
Tominokōji Akiko (富小路明子)unknown1828Tominokōji SadanaoSixth Daughter: Princess Haru
Seventh Daughter: Imperial Princess Shinko
Ninth Daughter: Princess Katsu
Nagahashi-no-tsubone (Title)unknownunknownunknownDaughter: Princess Juraku'in-


Emperor Kōkaku fathered a total of 16 children (8 sons and 8 daughters) but only one of them survived into adulthood. The sole surviving child (Prince Ayahito) later became Emperor Ninkō when Kōkaku abdicated the throne.

DaughterPrincess Kaijin'in(開示院宮)(stillborn daughter)17891789UnknownN/AN/A
First SonImperial Prince Ayahito(礼仁親王)17901791Hamuro YorikoN/AN/A
DaughterPrincess Juraku'in(受楽院宮)(stillborn daughter)17921792Nagahashi-no-tsuboneN/AN/A
First DaughterPrincess Noto(能布宮)17921793Hamuro YorikoN/AN/A
Second SonPrince Toshi(俊宮)17931794Hamuro YorikoN/AN/A
Third SonImperial Prince Masuhito(温仁親王)(stillborn son)18001800 Imperial Princess Yoshiko N/AN/A
Fourth Son Imperial Prince Ayahito (2nd) (恵仁親王), the future Emperor Ninko 18001846Kajyūji TadakoFujiwara no Tsunako Princess Sumiko
Emperor Kōmei
Princess Kazu
Second DaughterPrincess Tashi(多祉宮)(stillborn daughter)18081808Kajyūji TadakoN/AN/A
Fifth SonImperial Prince Katsura-no-Miya Takehito(桂宮盛仁親王)18101811Higashiboujo KazukoN/AN/A
Third DaughterPrincess Reimyoshin'in(霊妙心院宮)(stillborn daughter)18111811Higashiboujo KazukoN/AN/A
Sixth SonPrince Ishi(猗宮)18151819Takano MasakoN/AN/A
Seventh SonImperial Prince Toshihito(悦仁親王)18161821 Imperial Princess Yoshiko N/AN/A
Fourth DaughterPrincess Nori(娍宮)18171819Kajyūji TadakoN/AN/A
Fifth DaughterPrincess Eijun(永潤女王)18201830Anekouji ToshikoN/AN/A
Sixth DaughterPrincess Haru(治宮)18221822Tominokōji AkikoN/AN/A
Seventh DaughterImperial Princess Shinko(蓁子内親王)18241842Tominokōji AkikoN/AN/A
Eighth DaughterPrincess Seisho(聖清女王)18261827Anekouji ToshikoN/AN/A
Ninth DaughterPrincess Katsu(勝宮)18261827Tominokōji AkikoN/AN/A
Eighth SonPrince Kana(嘉糯宮)18331835Anekouji ToshikoN/AN/A


See also


Japanese Imperial kamon — a stylized chrysanthemum blossom
  1. Imperial Household Agency (Kunaichō): 光格天皇 (119)
  2. Ponsonby-Fane, Richard. (1959). The Imperial House of Japan, pp. 120–122.
  3. Titsingh, Isaac. (1834). Annales des empereurs du japon, pp. 420–421.
  4. 1 2 Titsingh, p. 420.
  5. Screech, T. (2000). Shogun's Painted Culture: Fear and Creativity in the Japanese States, 1760–1829, pp. 123, 125.
  6. Screech, Secret Memoirs, pp. 152–154, 249–250
  7. National Archives of Japan ...Sakuramachiden Gyokozu: see caption text Archived 2008-01-19 at the Wayback Machine .
  8. Cullen, L.M. (2003). A History of Japan, 1582–1941: Internal and External Worlds, pp. 117, 163.
  9. NOAA/Japan "Significant Earthquake Database" -- U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), National Geophysical Data Center (NGDC)
  10. National Ditigial Archives of Japan, ...see caption describing image of scroll Archived 2008-01-19 at the Wayback Machine .
  11. Ponsonby-Fane, p. 423.
  12. Ponsonby-Fane, pp. 333–334.
  13. Totman, Conrad. Politics in the Tokugawa Bakufu. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1988, p. 224
  14. Hall, J. (1955). Tanuma Okitsugu: Forerunner of Modern Japan, 1719–1788. pp. 131–142.
  15. Screech, T. (2006). Secret Memoirs of the Shoguns: Isaac Titsingh and Japan, 1779–1822, pp. 148–151, 163–170, 248.
  16. Nosco, Peter. (1997). Confucianism and Tokugawa Culture, p. 20.
  17. Bodart-Bailey, Beatrice. (2002). "Confucianism in Japan", in Companion Encyclopedia of Asian Philosophy , p. 668, at Google Books; excerpt, "Scholars vary in their opinion on how far this heterodoxy was enforced and whether this first official insistence on heterodoxy constituted the high point of Confucianism in government affairs or signalled its decline."
  18. Traugott, Mark. (1995). Repertoires and Cycles of Collective Action, p. 147.
  19. Ponsonby-Fane, Richard. (1859). The Imperial House of Japan, p. 333.
  20. 1 2 Ponsonby-Fane, p. 334.
  21. "Genealogy". Reichsarchiv. Retrieved 19 January 2018.(in Japanese)


Regnal titles
Preceded by
Emperor Go-Momozono
Emperor of Japan:

Succeeded by
Emperor Ninkō