Where three dates are given, the second date represents the retirement of the
emperor (or, later, the Shogun or
Regent). This came to be a device by which Fujiwara ministers, starting with the Regent
(Sessho) Fujiwara Yoshifusa (858-872), could exercise control over minor Emperors.
Fujiwara power declined, retired Emperors, who had become monks, began to exercise
influence from their monasteries. This became the institution of the "Cloistered
Emperors." Such emperors were known by the title "In," hence, Shirakawa In - who himself was
the first to assume authority in this way, in 1086.
The names of Cloistered Emperors are given in coloured
type, as are the dates of their assumption of Cloistered power. Usually this is identical
to the dates of their retirement, but sometimes there is a delay between retirement and
the assumption of Cloistered power (eg. Toba). There may also be a second retirement date.
Go-Toba was the last effective Cloistered Emperor. His second retirement was forced
after his abortive attack on the Hojo Regent Yoshitoki, the
Jokyu War, in 1221. He was exiled for the rest of his life to the remote Oki Islands,
where, among other things, he worked on forging a sword.
This was to replace the sword of
the Imperial Regalia that had been lost at sea, with the child Emperor Antoku, in the
battle of Dan-no-ura. He also intended to use it to kill the Hojos, something which he
Later in Japanese history, it became common for many figures, Regents and Shoguns as
well as Emperors, to retire from office but sometimes to continue exercising much of their
A dramatic exception to that practice was when the Emperor Go-Daigo refused to accept
retirement in 1331. Instead, he organised a rebellion against the Hojos and succeeded in
overthrowing them in 1333. However, he was then betrayed in 1336 by the Ashikagas, who, like
the Hojos, installed their own counter-emperor.
Go-Daigo and three successors were able to
hold out in Yoshino and elsewhere against the Ashikagas until 1392. Although Go-Daigo's
line was then accepted as legitimate, it was the Ashikaga counter-emperor who was
installed (Go-Komatsu), and an agreement to alternate between the two lines was never
End of the Tairas
The Heian Period ends with the naval battle of Dan-no-ura in 1185. The Taira (or
Heike) Clan had dominated the Court under Kiyomori (1118-1181), but the Minamoto (or Genji) Clan
overwhelmed them after his death.
The leader of the Minamotos was Yoritomo (1147-1199),
who became the first Kamakura Shogun; but it was his brother, Yoshitsune (1159-1189),
who commanded the Minamoto forces and who destroyed the Tairas at Dan-no-ura.
ended with one of the most dramatic and poignant moments in world history. Kiyomori's
widow, Nii-no-ama, with her grandson, the seven-year-old Emperor Antoku, decided to leap
into the sea, carrying the Imperial Regalia with them, rather than be taken by their
enemies. (The scene is recounted in the epic Heike-Monogatari and hauntingly
portrayed in Masaki Kobayashi's feature film Shin Heike Monogatari (1964).)