Emperor Kōkaku

Emperor Kōkaku

Emperor of Japan
Reign 1780–1817
Predecessor Go-Momozono
Successor Ninkō
Born (1771-09-23)23 September 1771
Died 11 December 1840(1840-12-11) (aged 69)
Burial Nochi no tsukinowa no misasagi (Kyoto)
Father Prince Kan'in-no-miya Sukehito-shinnō
Religion Shinto

Emperor Kōkaku (光格天皇 Kōkaku-tennō, September 23, 1771 – December 11, 1840) was the 119th emperor of Japan,[1] according to the traditional order of succession.[2]

Kōkaku's reign spanned the years from 1780 through 1817.[3]


  • Events of Kōkaku's life 1
    • Kugyō 1.1
  • Eras of Kōkaku's reign 2
  • See also 3
  • Notes 4
  • References 5
  • External links 6

Events of Kōkaku's life

He reigned from December 16, 1779 until May 7, 1817.

As a younger son of an imperial collateral branch the Kan'in house, it was originally expected that he (then called Tomohito-shinnō) would go into the priesthood at the Shugoin Temple. However, in 1779, the sonless and dying emperor Go-Momozono hurriedly adopted him on his deathbed.

Kōkaku was very talented and had a zeal for scholarship, reviving festivals at the Iwashimizu and Kamono shrines, and working hard at reviving ceremonies surrounding the Imperial Court. The Bakufu gave his father the honorary title of Retired Emperor (Daijō Tennō, 太上天皇). Genealogically, Kōkaku is the founder of the dynastic imperial branch currently on the throne. Kōkaku is the lineal ancestor of all the succeeding emperors of Japan up to present monarch, Akihito.

During Kōkaku's reign, the Imperial Court attempted to re-assert some of its authority by proposing a relief program to the Bakufu at the time of the Great Tenmei famine (1782–1788) and receiving information about negotiations with Russia over disputes in the north.

  • 1781 (Tenmei 1): Kōkaku was instrumental in reviving old ceremonies involving the old Imperial Court, as well as those performed at the Iwashimizu and Kamono shrines.

In addition, he 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.

  • 1782 (Tenmei 2): An analysis of silver currency in China and Japan "Sin sen sen pou (Sin tchuan phou)" was presented to the emperor by Kutsuki Masatsuna (1750–1802), also known as Kutsuki Oki-no kami Minamoto-no Masatsuna, hereditary daimyo of Oki and Ōmi with holdings in Tamba and Fukuchiyamarelated note at Tenmei 7 below.[4]
  • 1783 (Tenmei 3): Mount Asama (浅間山, Asama-yama) erupted in Shinano, one of the old provinces of Japan. (Today, Asama-yama's location is better described as on the border between Gunma and Nagano prefectures.) Japanologist Isaac Titsingh's published account of the Asama-yama eruption will become first of its kind in the West (1820).[5] The volcano's devastation makes the Great Tenmei Famine even worse.
  • 1784 (Tenmei 4): Country-wide celebrations in honor of Kūkai (also known as Kōbō-Daishi, 弘法大師), founder of Shingon Buddhism) who died 950 years earlier.[4]
  • September 17, 1786 (Tenmei 6, 15th day of the 8th month): Tokugawa Ieharu) died and was buried in Yedo.[4]
  • 1787 (Tenmei 7): Kutsuki Masatsuna published Seiyō senpu (Notes on Western Coinage), with plates showing European and colonial currency – related note at Tenmei 2 above.[6] – see online image of 2 adjacent pages from library collection of Kyoto University of Foreign Studies and Kyoto Junior College of Foreign Languages
  • 1788 (Tenmei 88): Great Fire of Miyako. A fire in the city, which began at 3 o'clock in the morning of the 29th day of the 1st month of Tenmei 8 (March 6, 1788), continued to burn uncontrolled until the 1st day of the second month (March 8); and embers smoldered until they were extinguished by heavy rain on the 4th day of the second month (March 11). The emperor and his court fled the fire, and the Imperial Palace was destroyed. No other re-construction was permitted until a new palace was completed. This fire was considered a major event. 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."[7]

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.

The last Emperor to rule as a Jōkō (Jōkō (上皇) is a shortened Japanese term for an emperor who abdicated in favor of a successor) was Emperor Kōkaku (1779–1817). The Emperor later created an incident called the "Songo incident" (the "respectful title incident"). The emperor came into dispute with the Tokugawa Shogunate about his intention to give a title of Abdicated Emperor (Daijō-ten'nō) to his father, who was an Imperial Prince Sukehito.[8]

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 Tsukinowa 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.[9] Empress Dowager Yoshikō is also entombed at this Imperial mausoleum complex.[10]


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]

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). , pp. 420–421.Annales des empereurs du japon
  4. ^ a b c d Titsingh, p. 420.
  5. ^ Screech, T. (2006), Secret Memoirs of the Shoguns: Isaac Titsingh and Japan, 1779–1822, pp. 146–148; Titsingh, p. 420.
  6. ^ Screech, T. (2000). Shogun's Painted Culture: Fear and Creativity in the Japanese States, 1760–1829, pp. 123, 125.
  7. ^ Screech, Secret Memoirs, pp. 152–154, 249–250
  8. ^ National Archives of Japan : see caption textSakuramachiden Gyokozu...
  9. ^ Ponsonby-Fane, p. 423.
  10. ^ Ponsonby-Fane, pp. 333–334.


  • Meyer, Eva-Maria. (1999). Japans Kaiserhof in der Edo-Zeit: unter besonderer Berücksichtigung der Jahre 1846 bis 1867. Münster: LIT Verlag. ISBN 978-3-8258-3939-0; OCLC 42041594
  • Ponsonby-Fane, Richard Arthur Brabazon. (1959). The Imperial House of Japan. Kyoto: Ponsonby Memorial Society. OCLC 194887
  • Screech, Timon. (2006). Secret Memoirs of the Shoguns: Isaac Titsingh and Japan, 1779–1822. London: RoutledgeCurzon. ISBN 978-0-203-09985-8; OCLC 65177072
  • __________. (2000). Shogun's Painted Culture: Fear and Creativity in the Japanese States, 1760–1829. London: Reaktion. IBN 9781861890641; OCLC 42699671
  • Titsingh, Isaac. (1834). Nihon Odai Ichiran; ou, Annales des empereurs du Japon. Paris: Royal Asiatic Society, Oriental Translation Fund of Great Britain and Ireland. OCLC 5850691
  • Varley, H. Paul. (1980). Jinnō Shōtōki: A Chronicle of Gods and Sovereigns. New York: Columbia University Press. ISBN 978-0-231-04940-5; OCLC 59145842

External links

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

Succeeded by
Emperor Ninkō