Marie Sakurada: The Empress in Ancient Japan

The tennô of Japan possessed all the authority and privileges of rulership as long as he occupies the throne and regardless of his age, even if an infant. In contrast, what were the authority and privileges of his senior consort, the kôgô? The Chinese canonical work, the Liji (Book of Rites)『礼記』, states that while the emperor is in charge of political affairs, his empress is in charge of family domestic affairs. Previous research in Japan suggests that the tennô’s senior consort was a co-ruler with her ruler-husband, as head of the backpalace. In this paper, I want to clarify the authority and privileges of the kôgô and classify them as political or domestic affairs. To understanding her activities as co-ruler, I have examined sources said to demonstrate that the senior consort exercised her mate’s royal authority, and whether in the seventh century or earlier rulers’ wives exercised their authority as prescribed by the eighth-century system. My conclusion is that wives of rulers up to and during the seventh century sometimes exercised the ruler’s authority: they served as the masters of ceremony when rituals of delayed interment were conducted right after the death of the monarch. In these cases, however, being the master of the ceremony was not limited to rulers’ wives, and so it was not an aspect of their authority. And after the eighth century, the kôgô was never involved in political affairs—she did not possess such authority. To understand the ruler’s senior wife as the head of the backpalace, I have studied the ritsuryō code and the Engishiki『延喜式』。My research shows that it was the tennô who possessed the authority to oversee the female officials in the backpalace, and to select wives other than the senior consort. In other words, the empress did not possess any authority over the backpalace. Therefore, I have concluded that the senior wife of the monarch in the seventh and eighth centuries and beyond did not possess any real authority, contrary to previous assertions.