The Online Encyclopedia and Dictionary






Emperor Shirakawa of Japan

Emperor Shirakawa (白河天皇) (July 7, 1053 - July 24, 1129) was the 72nd imperial ruler of Japan. He reigned from January 18, 1073 to January 5, 1087. His name was Sadahito? (貞仁). He was the first to ostensibly retire to a monastery, but in fact continue to exert considerable influence over his successor. This process would become known as cloistered rule.



He was the eldest son of Emperor Go-Sanjō

  • 1074-1077 Imperial Prince Atsufumi (敦文親王)
  • 1075-1105 Prince Kakugyō (覚行法親王) - Buddhist Priest
  • 1076-1096 Imperial Princess ??ko (媞子内親王), Empress Dowager Ikuyoshi (郁芳門院)
  • 1076-1131 Imperial Princess Yoshiko? (善子内親王) - Rokkaku saigū (Imperial Princess serving at the Ise Shrine)
  • 1078-1144 Imperial Princess Reiko? (令子内親王) - saigū
  • 1079-1107 Imperial Princes Taruhito (善仁親王) - Emperor Horikawa
  • 1081-1156 Imperial Princess ??ko (禛子内親王) - Tsuchimikado Saiin (土御門斎院)
  • 1090-???? Imperial Princess Miyako? (宮子内親王) - Saiin (斎院)
  • 1092-1153 Prince ?? (覚法法親王) - Buddhist Priest
  • 1093-1132 Imperial Princess Junko (恂子内親王) - ?? saigū 樋口斎宮
  • 1094-1137 Prince Kiyoe? (聖恵法親王) - Buddhist Priest
  • 1101-1165 Gyōkei (行慶) - High Priest
  • 1128-???? Engyō? (円行)
  •  ?? (静證)

Note: there's also a theory that Shirakawa was the actual father of Emperor Sutoku, officially the son of Emperor Toba, Shirakawa's grandson.

Consorts and Empresses

  • 1057-1084 Empress (chūgū): Fujiwara ??ko (藤原賢子) - daughter of Minamoto Akifusa (源顕房), adopted by Fujiwara Morozane (藤原師実); mother of Emperor Horikawa
  • 1042-1132 Court Lady: Fujiwara Michiko? (藤原道子) - daughter of Fujiwara ?? (藤原能長)
  • 1070-1148 Court Lady: Minamoto Moroko? (源師子) - daughter of Minamoto Akifusa (源顕房), later wife of Fujiwara no Tadazane (藤原忠実)
  • Lady-in-waiting Fujiwara Yoshiko? (藤原佳子)


When he was very young, his relations with his father were very cold, but in 1068, when his father was enthroned, he was proclaimed a shinnō (Imperial Prince), becoming Imperial Prince Sadahito? (貞仁親王). In 1069, he became Crown Prince and in 1073, at the age of 19, he became Emperor.

A kampaku was put in place, but when his father died later that year, he attempted to rule directly, like his father. He attempted to regulate the shōen (manor) system, working to weaken the influence of the sekkan lines.

Go-Sanjō wished for Shirakawa's younger half-brother Imperial Prince ??hito (実仁親王) to succeed him to the throne. Upon Shirakawa's enthronement, ??hito became kōtaitei (heir who is a younger brother). Shirakawa opposed this, but in 1085, the prince died of illness, and his own son, Imperial Prince Taruhito (善仁親王) became Crown Prince. On the same day as Taruhito's establishment as Crown Prince, Shirakawa abdicated, and Taruhito became Emperor Horikawa. The now-retired Emperor Shirakawa began the custom of cloistered rule, ruling from the Shirakawa-in (lit. "White River Mansion/Temple"). Nominal sesshō and kampaku continued to exist for a long time.

When Horikawa became and adult, Shirakawa did not return power to him, but continued to rule as an autocrat.

Believing strongly in Buddhism, in 1096, on the occassion of his daughter's death, he entered a monastary under the name of Yūkan? (融観), becoming a hōō (法皇), a former Emperor who became a monk.

After the death of Emperor Horikawa, his son became Emperor Toba. Shirakawa was still alive when Toba abdicated in turn to his son, who became Emperor Sutoku. By the time of his death in 1129, he had ruled as cloistered Emperor for 41 years and through the reigns of three Emperors.


The name Shirakawa comes from Shirakawa-in (白河院), the name of the residence from which he conducted his cloistered rule after his abdication. Another name was Rokujō Mikado (六条帝, Mikado being an old name for the Emperor of Japan).

Eras of his reign

  • Enkyū
  • Jōhō
  • Jōryaku
  • Eihō
  • Ōtoku
Preceded by:
Emperor of Japan Succeeded by:

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