Emperor Kanmu

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

Emperor Kanmu
Emperor Kammu large.jpg
Emperor of Japan
Reign30 April 781 – 9 April 806
Enthronement10 May 781
BornYamabe (山部)
4 February 736
Died9 April 806(806-04-09) (aged 70)
Kashiwabara no misasagi (Kyoto)
Among others...
Posthumous name
Chinese-style shigō:
Emperor Kanmu (桓武天皇)

Japanese-style shigō:
Yamatonekoamatsuhitsugiiyateri no Sumeramikoto (日本根子皇統弥照天皇)
FatherEmperor Kōnin
MotherTakano no Niigasa

Traditional narrativeEdit

Emperor Kanmu

Kanmu's personal name (imina) was Yamabe (山部).[4] He was the eldest son of Prince Shirakabe (later known as Emperor Kōnin), and was born prior to Shirakabe's ascension to the throne.[5] According to the Shoku Nihongi (続日本紀), 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, Kanmu's half-brother, Prince Osabe was appointed to the rank of crown prince. His mother was Princess Inoe, a daughter of Emperor Shōmu; but instead of Osabe, it was Kanmu who was later named to succeed their father. After Inoe and Prince Osabe were confined and then died in 775, Osabe's sister – Kanmu's half-sister Princess Sakahito – became Kanmu's wife.[7] Later, when he ascended to the throne in 781, Kanmu 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 Shōmu'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 shōgun, Ōtomo no Otomaro by Emperor Kanmu in 794 CE. The shōgun was the military dictator of Japan with near absolute power over territories via the military. Otomaro was declared "Sei-i Taishōgun" which means "Barbarian-subduing Great General".[8] Emperor Kanmu granted the second title of shōgun to Sakanoue no Tamuramaro for subduing the Emishi in northern Honshu.[9]

Kanmu 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 Kanmu Taira or Kanmu 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 Hōjō clan. The waka poet Ariwara no Narihira was one of his grandsons.

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

Events of Kanmu's lifeEdit

Kanmu was an active emperor who attempted to consolidate government hierarchies and functions. Kanmu appointed Sakanoue no Tamuramaro (758–811) to lead a military expedition against the Emishi.[10]

  • 737:[4] Kanmu was born.
  • 773:[11] Received the title of crown prince.
  • April 30, 781[12](Ten'ō 1, 3rd day of the 4th month[13]): In the 11th year of Kōnin's reign, he abdicated; and the succession was received by his son Kanmu.[14] Shortly thereafter, Emperor Kanmu is said to have ascended to the throne.[15] During his reign, the capital of Japan was moved from Nara (Heijō-kyō) to Nagaoka-kyō in 784.[16] Shortly thereafter, the capital would be moved again in 794.[17]
  • July 28, 782 (Enryaku 1, 14th day of the 6th month[18]): The sadaijin Fujiwara no Uona was involved in an incident that resulted in his removal from office and exile to Kyushi.[16] Claiming illness, Uona was permitted to return to the capital where he died; posthumously, the order of banishment was burned and his office restored.[16] 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.[19]
  • 783 (Enryaku 2, 3rd month[20]): The udaijin Tamaro died at the age of 62 years.[19]
  • 783 (Enryaku 2, 7th month[21]): Fujiwara no Korekimi became the new udaijin to replace the late Fujiwara no Tamaro.[19]
  • 793 (Enryaku 12[22]): Under the leadership of Dengyō, construction began on the Enryaku Temple.[17]
  • 794:[17] The capital was relocated again, this time to Heian-kyō, where the palace was named Heian no Miya (平安宮, "palace of peace/tranquility").[4]
  • November 17, 794 (Enryaku 13, 21st day of the 10th month[23]): The emperor traveled by carriage from Nara to the new capital of Heian-kyō in a grand procession.[17] This marks the beginning of the Heian period.
  • 794 appointed Ōtomo no Otomaro as the first Shōgun "Sei-i Taishōgun—"Barbarian-subduing Great General", together with Sakanoue no Tamuramaro subdues the Emishi in Northern Honshu.[8]
  • 806:[4] Kanmu died at the age of 70.[24] Kanmu's reign lasted for 25 years.

Eras of Kanmu's reignEdit

The years of Kanmu's reign are more specifically identified by more than one era name (nengō).[19]


Earlier Imperial sponsorship of Buddhism, beginning with Prince Shōtoku (574–622), had led to a general politicization of the clergy, along with an increase in intrigue and corruption. In 784 Kanmu shifted his capital from Nara to Nagaoka-kyō 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 Kūkai'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.[citation needed]

Meanwhile, Kanmu's armies were pushing back the boundaries of his empire. This led to an uprising, and in 789 a substantial defeat for Kanmu'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 Kanmu abolished national conscription, replacing it with a system wherein each province formed a militia from the local gentry. Then in 794 Kanmu suddenly shifted the capital again, this time to Heian-kyō, 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.[citation needed]

Politically Kanmu 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 Kanmu 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.[citation needed]

Kanmu also sponsored the travels of the monks Saichō and Kūkai to China, from where they returned to found the Japanese branches of, respectively, Tendai and Shingon Buddhism.[citation needed]


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.[25]

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 Kanmu's reign, this apex of the Daijō-kan included:

  • Sadaijin, Fujiwara no Uona (藤原魚名), 781–782.[16]
  • Sadaijin, Fujiwara no Tamaro (藤原田麿), 783.
  • Udaijin, Ōnakatomi no Kiyomaro (大中臣清麿), 771–781
  • Udaijin, Fujiwara no Tamaro (藤原田麿), 782–783.[16]
  • Udaijin, Fujiwara no Korekimi (藤原是公), 783–789.[16]
  • Udaijin, Fujiwara no Tsuginawa (藤原継縄),790–796.[16]
  • Udaijin, Miwa ōkimi or Miwa oh (神王), 798–806
  • Udaijin, Fujiwara no Uchimaro (藤原内麻呂) (756–812), 806–812.[16]
  • Dainagon

When the daughter of a chūnagon became the favored consort of the Crown Prince Ate (later known as Heizei-tennō), her father's power and position in court was affected. Kanmu disapproved of Fujiwara no Kusuko, daughter of Fujiwara no Tanetsugu; and Kanmu had her removed from his son's household.[26]

Consorts and childrenEdit

Emperor Kanmu's Imperial family included 36 children.[27]

Empress (Kōgō): Fujiwara no Otomuro (藤原乙牟漏), Fujiwara no Yoshitsugu’s daughter

  • First Son: Imperial Prince Ate (安殿親王) later Emperor Heizei
  • Fourth Son:[28] Imperial Prince Kamino (賀美能親王/神野親王) later Emperor Saga
  • Imperial Princess Koshi (高志内親王; 789–809), married to Emperor Junna

Bunin: Fujiwara no Tabiko (藤原旅子), Fujiwara no Momokawa’s daughter

  • Fifth Son: Imperial Prince Ōtomo (大伴親王) later Emperor Junna

Hi: Imperial Princess Sakahito (酒人内親王), Emperor Kōnin’s daughter

Bunin: Fujiwara no Yoshiko (藤原吉子; d.807), Fujiwara no Korekimi’s daughter

  • Second Son: Imperial Prince Iyo (伊予親王; 783–807)

Bunin: Tajihi no Mamune (多治比真宗; 769–823), Tajihi no Nagano's daughter

  • Sixth Son: Imperial Prince Kazurahara (葛原親王; 786–853)
  • Ninth Son: Imperial Prince Sami (佐味親王; 793–825)
  • Tenth Son: Imperial Prince Kaya (賀陽親王; 794–871)
  • Imperial Prince Ōno (大野親王/大徳親王; 798–803)
  • Imperial Princess Inaba (因幡内親王; d.824)
  • Imperial Princess Anou (安濃内親王; d.841)

Bunin: Fujiwara no Oguso (藤原小屎), Fujiwara no Washitori's daughter

  • Third Son: Imperial Prince Manta (万多親王; 788–830)

Nyōgo: Ki no Otoio (紀乙魚; d.840), Ki no Kotsuo's daughter

Nyōgo: Kudarao no Kyōhō (百済王教法; d.840), Kudara no Shuntetsu's daughter

Nyōgo: Tachibana no Miiko (橘御井子), daughter of Tachibana no Irii (橘入居)

  • Imperial Princess Sugawara (菅原内親王; d.825)
  • Sixteenth Daughter: Imperial Princess Kara (賀楽内親王; d.874)

Nyōgo: Fujiwara no Nakako (藤原仲子), Fujiwara no Ieyori's daughter

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

  • Ninth Daughter: Imperial Princess Ōyake (大宅内親王; d.849), married to Emperor Heizei

Nyōgo: Fujiwara no Shōshi (藤原正子), Fujiwara no Kiyonari's daughter

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

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

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

  • Twelfth Son: Imperial Prince Fujii (葛井親王; 800–850)
  • Imperial Princess Kasuga (春日内親王; d.833)

Court lady: Fujiwara no Kawako (藤原河子, d.838), Fujiwara no Ōtsugu's daughter

  • Thirteenth Son: Imperial Prince Nakano (仲野親王; 792–867)
  • Thirteenth Princess: Imperial Princess Ate (安勅内親王; d.855)
  • Imperial Princess Ōi (大井内親王; d.865)
  • Imperial Princess Ki (紀内親王; 799–886)
  • Imperial Princess Yoshihara (善原内親王; d.863)

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

  • Imperial Princess Kannabi (甘南備内親王, 800–817), Married to Emperor Heizei

Court lady: Fujiwara no Heishi/Nanshi (藤原平子/南子, d.833), Fujiwara no Takatoshi's daughter

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

  • Seventh Son: Imperial Prince Asuka (明日香親王, d.834)

Court lady: Fujiwara no Kamiko (藤原上子), Fujiwara no Oguromaro's daughter

  • Imperial Princess Shigeno (滋野内親王, 809–857)

Court lady: Tachibana no Tamurako (橘田村子), Tachibana no Irii's daughter

  • Imperial Princess Ikenoe (池上内親王, d.868)

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

  • Imperial Prince Sakamoto (坂本親王, 793–818)

Court lady: Kudarao no Kyōnin (百済王教仁), Kudara no Bukyō's daughter

  • Imperial Prince Ōta (大田親王, d.808)

Court lady: Kudarao no Jōkyō (百済王貞香), Kudara no Kyōtoku's daughter

  • Imperial Princess Suruga (駿河内親王, 801–820)

Court lady: Nakatomi no Toyoko (中臣豊子), Nakatomi no Ōio's daughter

  • Fifth Daughter: Imperial Princess Fuse (布勢内親王, d.812), 13th Saiō in Ise Shrine, 797–806

Court lady (Nyoju): Tajihi no Toyotsugu (多治比豊継), Tajihi no Hironari's daughter

  • Nagaoka no Okanari (長岡岡成, d.848), removed from the Imperial Family by receiving the family name from Emperor (Shisei Kōka, 賜姓降下) in 787

Court lady: Kudara no Yōkei (百済永継), Asukabe no Natomaro's daughter

  • Yoshimine no Yasuyo (良岑安世, 785–830), removed from the Imperial Family by receiving the family name from Emperor (Shisei Kōka, 賜姓降下) 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 Kanmu 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.[30] According to the Shoku Nihongi, Emperor Kanmu'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 alsoEdit


  1. ^ a b Imperial Household Agency (Kunaichō): 桓武天皇 (50); retrieved 2013-8-22.
  2. ^ Nussbaum, Louis-Frédéric. (2005). "Etchū" 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. Gukanshō, pp. 277–279; Varley, H. Paul. Jinnō Shōtōki, 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. ^ Van Goethem, Ellen (2008). Bolitho, H.; Radtke, K. (eds.). Nagaoka: Japan's Forgotten Capital. Brill’s Japanese Studies Library. Vol. 29. Leiden; Boston: Brill. p. 229. doi:10.1163/ej.9789004166004.i-370. ISBN 978-90-474-3325-5. ISSN 0925-6512. OCLC 592756297. Kanmu’s next consort was his half-sister Sakahito. She had been appointed high priestess of the Ise shrine in 772, but upon the death of her mother in 775, Sakahito returned to the capital and married Kanmu.
  8. ^ a b "Shogun". Encyclopædia Britannica. Retrieved November 19, 2014.
  9. ^ Varley, H. Paul. (1980). Jinnō Shōtōki, p. 272.
  10. ^ Titsingh, pp. 91–2, p. 91, at Google Books; Brown, pp. 278–79; Varley, p. 272.
  11. ^ Brown, p. 34.
  12. ^ Julian dates derived from NengoCalc
  13. ^ 天安一年四月三日
  14. ^ Titsingh, pp. 85–6, p. 85, at Google Books; Brown, p. 277.
  15. ^ 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 Jitō, Yōzei, Go-Toba, and Fushimi have senso and sokui in the same year until the reign of Emperor Go-Murakami.
  16. ^ a b c d e f g h Brown, 278.
  17. ^ a b c d Brown, 279.
  18. ^ 延暦一年六月十四日
  19. ^ a b c d Titsingh, p. 86, p. 86, at Google Books.
  20. ^ 延暦二年三月
  21. ^ 延暦二年七月
  22. ^ 延暦十二年
  23. ^ 延暦十三年十月二十一日
  24. ^ Varley, p. 150.
  25. ^ "– kugyō of Kanmu-tennō".
  26. ^ a b Ponsonby-Fane, p. 318.
  27. ^ Ponsonby-Fane, p. 62.
  28. ^ "Emperor Saga (嵯峨天皇)".
  29. ^ "Genealogy". Reichsarchiv (in Japanese). Retrieved January 28, 2018.
  30. ^ "Guardian.co.uk".


Regnal titles
Preceded by Emperor of Japan:

Succeeded by