Empress Suiko Tenno (Heavenly Sovereign) was Japan’s first female empress and a member of the powerful Soga clan through her mother, Soga no Kitashihime. She was the daughter of Emperor Kimmei, and half-sister of the emperors Bidatsu, Yomei, and Sushun. She was also known as the Empress Toyomike Kashikiya hime no Mikoto, as well as Nakudabe in her childhood. According to the classical Japanese history chronicle Nihon Shoki, she was acclaimed as empress consort of Emperor Bidatsu at eighteen years old. But Bidatsu died after a reign of thirteen years, and he was followed by his half-brothers Yomei (reigned for two years) and Sushun (reigned for five years). Together, Empress Suiko and Emperor Bidatsu had seven sons. She is recorded on the Biblical Timeline Chart with World History between 593 – 628 AD.
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When Suiko was thirty-nine years old when the Soga clan leader Soga no Umako had the Emperor Sushun assassinated. This left the royal throne vacant which led the ministers to convince Suiko, the most qualified of the royal children, to claim the throne. She initially refused, but the ministers were adamant until she finally accepted the role of Empress in 593 AD. Prince Shotoku Taishi (Mŭmayado no Toyotomimi), the second child of Emperor Yomei, was acclaimed as Imperial Prince in the same year and appointed as regent, as well as chief administrator of the government.
Rise of Buddhism
Buddhism played a large part in Suiko’s youth after her father, Emperor Kimmei, accepted the gifts of the Baekje King Seong. During her first year as Empress, Suiko commissioned the construction of the Temple of Hokoji which was famed for having the relics of Buddha inside the foundation stone of one of its pagoda pillars. The popularity of Buddhism peaked during her reign and was marked by the increase of construction of Buddhist shrines as well as the arrival of Buddhist priests from the Korean peninsula. Two of the earliest arrivals were Hye-cha from Koryo and Hye-chong from Baekje. She allowed the Buddhist priests to live in the Temple of Hokoji. In 606 AD, Suiko commissioned for a 16-foot copper statue of Buddha to be installed inside the Golden Hall of the Gangoji Temple.
Three Kingdoms of Korea
The wars between the kingdoms of Silla, Baekje, and Imna (Gaya confederacy) still simmered during the reign of Suiko, but by 600 AD, Baekje had pretty much faded into the background and was on the verge of collapse. In the same year, a full-scale war flared up between the two remaining kingdoms. Imna was forced to ask Suiko for support against Silla. The Empress agreed to send some troops to the peninsula to help Imna defeat Silla. Both kingdoms sent tributes to Suiko after peace was established, but it would not last as they fought once again after Suiko recalled her generals from the peninsula.
Suiko was compelled to help out Imna in 602 AD, but this time, she decided to send her navy to Silla for an invasion. Preparations for an invasion were underway when Prince Kume, the general of the expedition, fell ill and died. Prince Tahema replaced him as the leader of the expedition, but his wife died on the way to Silla, an event which forced the navy to return to Japan. Empress Suiko canceled the expedition. She would not interfere with Silla-Imna affairs until 622 AD. She died after an illness in 628 AD at the age of 75 and was succeeded by Emperor Jomei as ruler of Japan.
Prince Shotoku Taishi as Coregent
Prince Shotoku Taishi proved to be a capable administrator for Empress Suiko and helped her improve diplomatic relations between Japan and its immediate neighbors. He sent ambassadors to China more than ten years after his appointment as coregent and established a government system based on the ancient Chinese meritocracy. In 604 AD, he issued the Seventeen-Article Constitution based on the values of the Yamato dynasty and established the emperor as the only one who held the highest authority in the land. He also wrote a chronicle of the history of past emperors in 620 AD but died in the following year in the Palace of Ikaruga.
Picture By Unknown – , Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=29620597
Brown, Delmer Myers. The Cambridge History of Japan. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press, 1993.
“List of Rulers of Japan | Lists of Rulers | Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History | The Metropolitan Museum of Art.” The Met’s Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History. Accessed August 09, 2016. http://www.metmuseum.org/toah/hd/jaru/hd_jaru.htm.
Louis-Frédéric, and Käthe Roth. Japan Encyclopedia. Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2002.
“Nihongi: Chronicles of Japan from the Earliest Times to A.D. 697/Book XIX.” – Wikisource, the Free Online Library. Accessed August 09, 2016. https://en.wikisource.org/wiki/Nihongi:_Chronicles_of_Japan_from_the_Earliest_Times_to_A.D._697/Book_XIX.
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