Emperor Kanmu
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Emperor Kanmu

Emperor Kammu
Emperor Kammu large.jpg
Emperor of Japan
Reign30 April 781 - 9 April 806
Enthronement10 May 781
BornYamabe ()
4 February 736
Died9 April 806(806-04-09) (aged 70)
Kashiwabara no misasagi (Kyoto)
Among others...
Posthumous name
Kun'yomi: Yamatonekoamatsuhitsugiiyateri no Sumeramikoto (?),
also Amekuni-oshihirakiamenoshitashirasu Kashiwabara no Sumeramikoto (?),
also Kashiwabara no Mikado ()
On'yomi: Emperor Kammu (?)
FatherEmperor K?nin
MotherTakano no Niigasa

Emperor Kammu (?, Kammu-tenn?, 735 - 9 April 806), or Kanmu, was the 50th emperor of Japan,[1] according to the traditional order of succession.[2] Kammu reigned from 781 to 806, and it was during his reign that Japanese imperial power reached its peak.[3]

Traditional narrative

Kammu's personal name (imina) was Yamabe ().[4] He was the eldest son of Prince Shirakabe (later known as Emperor K?nin), and was born prior to Shirakabe's ascension to the throne.[5] According to the Shoku Nihongi (?), Yamabe's mother, Yamato no Niigasa (later called Takano no Niigasa), was a 10th generation descendant of Muryeong of Baekje.[6]

After his father became emperor, Kammu's half-brother, Prince Osabe was appointed to the rank of crown prince. His mother was Princess Inoe, a daughter of Emperor Sh?mu; but instead of Osabe, it was Kammu who was later named to succeed their father. After Inoe and Prince Osabe were confined and then died in 775, Osabe's sister - Kammu's half-sister Princess Sakahito - became Kammu's wife. Later, when he ascended to the throne in 781, Kammu appointed his young brother, Prince Sawara, whose mother was Takano no Niigasa, as crown prince. Hikami no Kawatsugu, a son of Emperor Tenmu's grandson Prince Shioyaki and Sh?mu's daughter Fuwa, attempted to carry out a coup d'état in 782, but it failed and Kawatsugu and his mother were sent into exile. In 785 Sawara was expelled and died in exile.

The Nara period saw the appointment of the first sh?gun, ?tomo no Otomaro by Emperor Kanmu in 794 CE. The sh?gun was the military dictator of Japan with near absolute power over territories via the military. Otomaro was declared "Sei-i Taish?gun" which means "Barbarian-subduing Great General".[7] Emperor Kanmu granted the second title of sh?gun to Sakanoue no Tamuramaro for subduing the Emishi in northern Honshu.[8]

Kammu had 16 empresses and consorts, and 32 imperial sons and daughters.[4] Among them, three sons would eventually ascend to the imperial throne: Emperor Heizei, Emperor Saga and Emperor Junna. Some of his descendants (known as the Kammu Taira or Kammu Heishi) took the Taira hereditary clan title, and in later generations became prominent warriors. Examples include Taira no Masakado, Taira no Kiyomori, and (with a further surname expansion) the H?j? clan. The waka poet Ariwara no Narihira was one of his grandsons.

Kammu is traditionally venerated at his tomb; the Imperial Household Agency designates Kashiwabara no Misasagi (, Kashiwabara Imperial Mausoleum), in Fushimi-ku, Kyoto, as the location of Kammu's mausoleum.[1]

Events of Kammu's life

Kammu was an active emperor who attempted to consolidate government hierarchies and functions. Kammu appointed Sakanoue no Tamuramaro (758-811) to lead a military expedition against the Emishi.[9]

  • 737:[4] Kammu was born.
  • 773:[10] Received the title of crown prince.
  • April 30, 781[11](Ten'? 1, 3rd day of the 4th month[12]): In the 11th year of K?nin's reign, he abdicated; and the succession was received by his son Kammu.[13] Shortly thereafter, Emperor Kammu is said to have ascended to the throne.[14] During his reign, the capital of Japan was moved from Nara (Heij?-ky?) to Nagaoka-ky? in 784.[15] Shortly thereafter, the capital would be moved again in 794.[16]
  • July 28, 782 (Enryaku 1, 14th day of the 6th month[17]): The sadaijin Fujiwara no Uona was involved in an incident that resulted in his removal from office and exile to Kyushi.[15] Claiming illness, Uona was permitted to return to the capital where he died; posthumously, the order of banishment was burned and his office restored.[15] In the same general time frame, Fujiwara no Tamaro was named Udaijin. During these days in which the offices of sadaijin and udaijin were vacant, the major counselors (the dainagon) and the emperor assumed responsibilities and powers which would have been otherwise delegated.[18]
  • 783 (Enryaku 2, 3rd month[19]): The udaijin Tamaro died at the age of 62 years.[18]
  • 783 (Enryaku 2, 7th month[20]): Fujiwara no Korekimi became the new udaijin to replace the late Fujiwara no Tamaro.[18]
  • 793 (Enryaku 12[21]): Under the leadership of Dengy?, construction began on the Enryaku Temple.[16]
  • 794:[16] The capital was relocated again, this time to Heian-ky?, where the palace was named Heian no Miya (, "palace of peace/tranquility").[4]
  • November 17, 794 (Enryaku 13, 21st day of the 10th month[22]): The emperor traveled by carriage from Nara to the new capital of Heian-ky? in a grand procession.[16] This marks the beginning of the Heian period.
  • 794 appointed ?tomo no Otomaro as the first Sh?gun "Sei-i Taish?gun--"Barbarian-subduing Great General", together with Sakanoue no Tamuramaro subdues the Emishi in Northern Honshu.[7]
  • 806:[4] Kammu died at the age of 70.[23] Kammu's reign lasted for 25 years.

Eras of Kammu's reign

The years of Kammu's reign are more specifically identified by more than one era name (neng?).[18]


Earlier Imperial sponsorship of Buddhism, beginning with Prince Sh?toku (574-622), had led to a general politicization of the clergy, along with an increase in intrigue and corruption. In 784 Kammu shifted his capital from Nara to Nagaoka-ky? in a move that was said to be designed to edge the powerful Nara Buddhist establishments out of state politics--while the capital moved, the major Buddhist temples, and their officials, stayed put. Indeed, there was a steady stream of edicts issued from 771 right through the period of K?kai's studies which, for instance, sought to limit the number of Buddhist priests, and the building of temples. However the move was to prove disastrous and was followed by a series of natural disasters including the flooding of half the city. In 785 the principal architect of the new capital, and royal favourite, Fujiwara no Tanetsugu, was assassinated.[]

Meanwhile, Kammu's armies were pushing back the boundaries of his empire. This led to an uprising, and in 789 a substantial defeat for Kammu's troops. Also in 789 there was a severe drought and famine--the streets of the capital were clogged with the sick, and people avoiding being drafted into the military, or into forced labour. Many disguised themselves as Buddhist priests for the same reason. Consequently, in 792 Kammu abolished national conscription, replacing it with a system wherein each province formed a militia from the local gentry. Then in 794 Kammu suddenly shifted the capital again, this time to Heian-ky?, which is modern day Kyoto. The new capital was started early the previous year, but the change was abrupt and led to even more confusion amongst the populace.[]

Politically Kammu shored up his rule by changing the syllabus of the university. Confucian ideology still provided the raison d'être for the Imperial government. In 784 Kammu authorised the teaching of a new course based on the Spring and Autumn Annals based on two newly imported commentaries: Kung-yang and Ku-liang. These commentaries used political rhetoric to promote a state in which the Emperor, as "Son of Heaven," should extend his sphere of influence to barbarous lands, thereby gladdening the people. In 798 the two commentaries became required reading at the government university.[]

Kammu also sponsored the travels of the monks Saich? and K?kai to China, from where they returned to found the Japanese branches of, respectively, Tendai and Shingon Buddhism.[]


Kugy? () is a collective term for the very few most powerful men attached to the court of the Emperor of Japan in pre-Meiji eras.[24]

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 Kammu's reign, this apex of the Daij?-kan included:

When the daughter of a ch?nagon became the favored consort of the Crown Prince Ate (later known as Heizei-tenn?), her father's power and position in court was affected. Kammu disapproved of Fujiwara no Kusuko (?, d. 810), daughter of Fujiwara no Tadanushi; and Kammu had her removed from his son's household.[25]

Consorts and children

Emperor Kammu's Imperial family included 36 children.[26]

Empress (K?g?): Fujiwara no Otomuro (), Fujiwara no Yoshitsugu's daughter

Bunin: Fujiwara no Tabiko (?), Fujiwara no Momokawa's daughter

Hi: Imperial Princess Sakahito (), Emperor K?nin's daughter

Bunin: Fujiwara no Yoshiko (?; d.807), Fujiwara no Korekimi's daughter

  • Second Son: Imperial Prince Iyo (?; 783-807)

Bunin: Tajihi no Mamune (; 769-823), Tajihi no Nagano's daughter

  • Sixth Son: Imperial Prince Kazurahara (?; 786-853)
  • Ninth Son: Imperial Prince Sami (?; 793-825)
  • Tenth Son: Imperial Prince Kaya (?; 794-871)
  • Imperial Prince ?no (?/?; 798-803)
  • Imperial Princess Inaba (; d.824)
  • Imperial Princess Anou (; d.841)

Bunin: Fujiwara no Oguso (?), Fujiwara no Washitori's daughter

  • Third Son: Imperial Prince Manta (?; 788-830)

Ny?go: Ki no Otoio (; d.840), Ki no Kotsuo's daughter

Ny?go: Kudarao no Ky?h? (; d.840), Kudara no Shuntetsu's daughter

Ny?go: Tachibana no Miiko (?), daughter of Tachibana no Irii ()

  • Imperial Princess Sugawara (; d.825)
  • Sixteenth Daughter: Imperial Princess Kara (; d.874)

Ny?go: Fujiwara no Nakako (?), Fujiwara no Ieyori's daughter

Court lady: Tachibana no Tsuneko (; 788-817), Tachibana no Shimadamaro's daughter

  • Ninth Daughter: Imperial Princess ?yake (; d.849), married to Emperor Heizei

Ny?go: Fujiwara no Sh?shi (?), Fujiwara no Kiyonari's daughter

Court lady: Sakanoue no Matako (?, d.790), Sakanoue no Karitamaro's daughter

  • Twelfth Daughter: Imperial Princess Takatsu (; d.841), married to Emperor Saga

Court lady: Sakanoue no Haruko (?, d.834), Sakanoue no Tamuramaro's daughter

  • Twelfth Son: Imperial Prince Fujii (?; 800-850)
  • Imperial Princess Kasuga (; d.833)

Court lady: Fujiwara no Kawako (?, d.838), Fujiwara no ?tsugu's daughter

  • Thirteenth Son: Imperial Prince Nakano (?; 792-867)
  • Thirteenth Princess: Imperial Princess Ate (; d.855)
  • Imperial Princess ?i (; d.865)
  • Imperial Princess Ki (?; 799-886)
  • Imperial Princess Yoshihara (; d.863)

Court lady: Fujiwara no Azumako (?, d.816), Fujiwara no Tanetsugu's daughter

Court lady: Fujiwara no Heishi/Nanshi (?/, d.833), Fujiwara no Takatoshi's daughter

Court lady: Ki no Wakako (), Ki no Funamori's daughter

  • Seventh Son: Imperial Prince Asuka (, d.834)

Court lady: Fujiwara no Kamiko (?), Fujiwara no Oguromaro's daughter

  • Imperial Princess Shigeno (, 809-857)

Court lady: Tachibana no Tamurako (?), Tachibana no Irii's daughter

  • Imperial Princess Ikenoe (, d.868)

Court lady: Kawakami no Manu (), Nishikibe no Haruhito's daughter

  • Imperial Prince Sakamoto (?, 793-818)

Court lady: Kudarao no Ky?nin (), Kudara no Buky?'s daughter

  • Imperial Prince ?ta (?, d.808)

Court lady: Kudarao no J?ky? (), Kudara no Ky?toku's daughter

  • Imperial Princess Suruga (, 801-820)

Court lady: Nakatomi no Toyoko (?), Nakatomi no ?io's daughter

  • Fifth Daughter: Imperial Princess Fuse (, d.812), 13th Sai? in Ise Shrine, 797-806

Court lady (Nyoju): Tajihi no Toyotsugu (), Tajihi no Hironari's daughter

  • Nagaoka no Okanari (?, d.848), removed from the Imperial Family by receiving the family name from Emperor (Shisei K?ka, ?) in 787

Court lady: Kudara no Y?kei (?), Asukabe no Natomaro's daughter

  • Yoshimine no Yasuyo (?, 785-830), removed from the Imperial Family by receiving the family name from Emperor (Shisei K?ka, ?) in 802




In 2001, Japan's emperor Akihito told reporters "I, on my part, feel a certain kinship with Korea, given the fact that it is recorded in the Chronicles of Japan that the mother of Emperor Kammu was of the line of King Muryong of Baekje." It was the first time that a Japanese emperor publicly acknowledged Korean blood in the imperial line.[29] According to the Shoku Nihongi, Emperor Kammu's mother, Takano no Niigasa, is a descendant of Prince Junda, son of Muryeong, who died in Japan in 513 (Nihon Shoki, Chapter 17).

See also


  1. ^ a b Imperial Household Agency (Kunaich?): ? (50); retrieved 2013-8-22.
  2. ^ Nussbaum, Louis-Frédéric. (2005). "Etch?" in Japan Encyclopedia, p. 464; Ponsonby-Fane, Richard. (1959). The Imperial House of Japan, pp. 61-62.
  3. ^ Titsingh, Isaac. (1834). Annales des empereurs du Japon, pp. 86-95, p. 86, at Google Books; Brown, Delmer M. Gukansh?, pp. 277-279; Varley, H. Paul. Jinn? Sh?t?ki, pp. 148-150.
  4. ^ a b c d e Brown, p. 277.
  5. ^ Titsingh, p. 86, p. 86, at Google Books; Varley, p. 149.
  6. ^ Watts, Jonathan. "The emperor's new roots: The Japanese emperor has finally laid to rest rumours that he has Korean blood, by admitting that it is true," The Guardian (London). December 28, 2001.
  7. ^ a b "Shogun". Encyclopædia Britannica. Retrieved 2014.
  8. ^ Varley, H. Paul. (1980). Jinn? Sh?t?ki, p. 272.
  9. ^ Titsingh, pp. 91-2, p. 91, at Google Books; Brown, pp. 278-79; Varley, p. 272.
  10. ^ Brown, p. 34.
  11. ^ Julian dates derived from NengoCalc
  12. ^
  13. ^ Titsingh, pp. 85-6, p. 85, at Google Books; Brown, p. 277.
  14. ^ Titsingh, p. 86, p. 86, at Google Books; Varley, p. 44; a distinct act of senso is unrecognized prior to Emperor Tenji; and all sovereigns except Jit?, Y?zei, Go-Toba, and Fushimi have senso and sokui in the same year until the reign of Emperor Go-Murakami.
  15. ^ a b c d e f g h Brown, 278.
  16. ^ a b c d Brown, 279.
  17. ^
  18. ^ a b c d Titsingh, p. 86, p. 86, at Google Books.
  19. ^
  20. ^
  21. ^ ?
  22. ^
  23. ^ Varley, p. 150.
  24. ^ - kugy? of Kammu-tenn?
  25. ^ a b Ponsonby-Fane, p. 318.
  26. ^ Ponsonby-Fane, p. 62.
  27. ^ Emperor Saga (?)
  28. ^ "Genealogy". Reichsarchiv (in Japanese). Retrieved 2018.
  29. ^ Guardian.co.uk


Regnal titles
Preceded by
Emperor K?nin
Emperor of Japan:

Succeeded by
Emperor Heizei

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