Empress Suiko - Traditional Narrative - Events of Suiko's Life

Events of Suiko's Life

Empress Suiko was a consort to her half-brother, Emperor Bidatsu, but after Bidatsu's first wife died she became his official consort and was given the title Ōkisaki (official consort of the emperor). She bore two sons and three daughters.

After Bidatsu's death, Suiko's brother, Emperor Yōmei, came to power for about two years before dying of illness. Upon Yōmei's death, another power struggle arose between the Soga clan and the Mononobe clan, with the Sogas supporting Prince Hatsusebe and the Mononobes supporting Prince Anahobe. The Sogas prevailed once again and Prince Hatsusebe acceded to the throne as Emperor Sushun in 587. However, Sushun began to resent the power of Soga no Umako, the head of the Soga clan, and Umako, perhaps out of fear that Sushun might strike first, had him assassinated by Yamatoaya no Ataikoma (東漢直駒?) in 592. When asked to accede to the throne to fill the power vacuum that subsequently developed, Suiko became the first of what would be several examples in Japanese history where a woman was chosen to accede to the throne to avert a power struggle.

  • 593 : In the 2nd year of Sushun-tennō 's reign (崇峻天皇2年), he died; and contemporary scholars then construed that the succession (‘‘senso’’) was received by the consort of former Emperor Bidatsu. Shortly thereafter, Empress Suiko is said to have acceded to the throne (‘‘sokui’’).

Suiko's contemporary title would not have been tennō, as most historians believe this title was not introduced until the reigns of Emperor Tenmu and Empress Jitō. Rather, it was presumably Sumeramikoto or Amenoshita Shiroshimesu Ōkimi (治天下大王), meaning "the great Queen who rules all under heaven." Alternatively, Suiko might have been referred to as (ヤマト大王/大君) or the "Great Queen of Yamato."

Prince Shōtoku was appointed regent the following year. Although political power during Suiko's reign is widely viewed as having been wielded by Prince Shōtoku and Soga no Umako, Suiko was far from powerless. The mere fact that she survived and her reign endured suggests she had significant political skills.

In 599, an earthquake destroyed buildings throughout Yamato province in what is now Nara Prefecture.

Suiko's refusal to grant Soga no Umako's request that he be granted the imperial territory known as Kazuraki no Agata in 624 is cited as evidence of her independence from his influence. Some of the many achievements under Empress Suiko's reign include the official recognition of Buddhism by the issuance of the Flourishing Three Treasures Edict in 594. Suiko was also one of the first Buddhist monarchs in Japan and had taken the vows of a nun shortly before becoming empress.

The reign of this empress was marked by the opening of relations with the Sui court in 600, the adoption of the Twelve Level Cap and Rank System in 603 and the adoption of the Seventeen-article constitution in 604.

The adoption of the Sexegenary cycle calendar (Jikkan Jūnishi) in Japan is attributed to Empress Suiko in 604.

At a time when imperial succession was generally determined by clan leaders, rather than the emperor, Suiko left only vague indications of succession to two candidates while on her deathbed. One, Prince Tamura, was a grandson of Emperor Bidatsu and was supported by the main line of Sogas, including Soga no Emishi. The other, Prince Yamashiro, was a son of Prince Shōtoku and had the support of some lesser members of the Soga clan. After a brief struggle within the Soga clan in which one of Prince Yamashiro's main supporters was killed, Prince Tamura was chosen and he acceded to the throne as Emperor Jomei in 629.

Empress Suiko ruled for 35 years. Although there were seven other reigning empresses, their successors were most often selected from amongst the males of the paternal Imperial bloodline, which is why some conservative scholars argue that the women's reigns were temporary and that male-only succession tradition must be maintained in the 21st century. Empress Gemmei, who was followed on the throne by her daughter, Empress Genshō, remains the sole exception to this conventional argument.

The actual site of Suiko's grave is known. This empress is traditionally venerated at a memorial Shinto shrine (misasagi) at Osaka.

The Imperial Household Agency designates this location as Suiko's mausoleum. It is formally named Shinaga no Yamada no misasagi.

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