Emperor Yōzei

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Emperor Yōzei (陽成天皇 Yōzei-tennō?, 869–949) was the 57th emperor of Japan,[1] according to the traditional order of succession.[2]

Yōzei's reign spanned the years from 876 through 884.[3]


Traditional narrative

Before his ascension to the Chrysanthemum Throne, his personal name (his imina)[4] was Sadaakira Shinnō (貞明親王).[5]

Yōzei was the oldest son of Emperor Seiwa. His mother was the Empress Fujiwara no Takakiko, who was also known after Seiwa's abdication as the Nijo empress.[6] Yōzei's mother was the sister of Fujiwara no Mototsune, who would figure prominently in the young emperor's life.[7]

In ancient Japan, there were four noble clans, the Gempeitōkitsu (源平藤橘). One of these clans, the Minamoto clan (源氏)are also known as Genji, and of these, the Yōzei Genji (陽成源氏) are descended from the 57th emperor Yōzei.

Yōzei had nine Imperial sons, born after he had abdicated.[8]

Events of Yōzei's life

Yōzei was made emperor when he was an immature, unformed young boy.

  • 869 (Jōgan 10): Yōzei was born, and he is named Seiwa's heir in the following year.[9]
  • December 18, 876 (Jōgan 18, 29th day of the 11th month): In the 18th year of Emperor Seiwa's reign (清和天皇18年), he ceded his throne to his son, which meant that the young child received the succession (senso). Shortly thereafter, Emperor Yōzei formally acceded to the throne (sokui).[10]
  • January 20, 877 (Gangyō 1, 3rd day of the 1st month): Yōzei was formally enthroned at age 8; and the beginning of a new nengō was proclaimed. However, the new residence being constructed for the emperor had not been completed; and initially, he must live elsewhere in the palace compound.[9]
  • 877 (Gangyō 1, 2nd month): Ambassadors from Baekje arrived in the province of Izumo; but they were turned back.[9]
  • 877 (Gangyō 1, 6th month): There was a great drought; and sacrifices were made at the temples of Hachiman, Kamo and other temples in Ise province. Eventually, it rained.[9]
  • 883 (Gangyō 7, 1st month): In his early teens, Yōzei often spent time alone; and sometimes he would feed live frogs to snakes so that he could watch the reptile swallowing; or sometimes, he would find pleasure in setting dogs and monkeys to fight. In time, these amusements became more dangerous. He himself executed criminals. When he became angry, he sometimes chased after those who dared speak up; and he sometimes tried to use his sword. Fujiwara no Mototsune, the Kanpaku, used every possible opportunity to turn Yōzei towards more seemly conduct, but the emperor closed his ears to all remonstrances.[11]
  • 884 (Gangyō 8, 1st month): The extravagant and dangerous habits of the emperor continued unabated. At one point, Mototsune came to the court and discovered that Yōzei had arranged a bizarre scenario for his diversion: He ordered some men to climb high into trees, and then he ordered others to use sharp lances to poke at these men in trees until they fell to their deaths. This extraordinary event convinced Motosune that the emperor was too "undignified" to reign. Mototsune reluctantly realized that someone needed to devise a strategy for deposing the emperor. Shortly thereafter, Mototsune approached Yōzei and remarked that it must be boring to be so often alone, and then Mototsune suggested that the emperor might be amused by a horse race. Yōzei was attracted to this proposition, and he eagerly encouraged Mototsune to set a time and place for the event. It was decided that this special amusement for the emperor would take place on the 4th day of the 2nd month of Gangyō 8.[12]
  • March 4, 884 (Gangyō 8, 4th day of the 2nd month): The pretext of a special horse race enticed the emperor to leave his palace. Yōzei traveled in a carriage which was quickly surrounded by a heavy guard. The carriage was redirected to "Yo seí in" palace ("Yang tchhing yuan") at "Ni zio", a town situated a short distance to the south-west of Miyako. Mototsune confronted the emperor, explaining that his demented behavior made him incapable of reigning, and that he was being dethroned. At this news, Yōzei cried sincerely, which did attract feelings of compassion from those who witnessed his contrition.[12]

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